#NOBYSTANDERS | MY BULLYING STORY
TW/CN: Discussion of self-harm, suicidal ideation, disordered eating habits, abuse. Please only read this if you are fully comfortable and feel safe to do so.
One of the reasons that I wanted to work for Stonewall was because of its commitment to tackling bullying through education, and for its #NoBystanders campaign.
Earlier this year I spoke to the BBC about the bullying I experienced as a teen, but this was a brief conversation, mostly focused on my appearance - I suffered from severe acne throughout my teens. It didn't touch on my reluctance to come out sooner for fear of being bullied as I witnessed others were.
I don’t think I’ve ever really talked about how profoundly it affected me, and the different forms I found my bullying came in. I was lucky, it was never physical, it was more manipulative, verbally abusive, taunting, chanting, following me home. At one point, there was a song about my shiny forehead. (It was kinda fabulous, tbh. A natural 'strobing'). When I see one of the people that used to bully me whenever I go home, there's usually a threat to bottle me in there somewhere.
Recently I took part in a programme called the Stonewall Young Leaders programme, and I met a boy that went to my high school, but was a few years younger than me. After the programme, we chatted about the profoundly negative impact our school had on us. He wasn't even out as LGBT at school, just happened to be shorter than other people, and was on the receiving end of horrific homophobic bullying. We have the strength to discuss our experiences now, but neither of us could have uttered a word to anyone. Neither of us wanted to upset our families. Neither of us wanted to appear as weak.
My coping mechanisms were dangerous and damaging, sadly not uncommon of other bullied young people. I never talked about the self harm, the starvation, the suicidal fantasies, the binging, the purging, the desperation to have some sort of control over my appearance. I never spoke about how I idolised everyone with clear skin, how I prayed to a God I convinced myself to believe in every single night ‘Please make my spots go away. Please.’, how every 11:11 and birthday wish was the same hope. How for 11 years I was on one medication or another to try and make it stop, including a year on Roaccutane (he way I saw it was that I would have killed myself either way, so I might as well take it despite the risks). How I used every skin-care product under the sun. How I convinced myself that I was hideous, unlovable, and how I sought out any sort of normalcy. I just wanted to be like other people and look like other people.
I'm sure this is the reason I conformed to heteronormativity for so long. I didn't have the nerve not to.
I felt pressured to make friends with my bullies, to do things for them, to try and win them over in the hope that it would stop. They’d see that behind the appearance that they ripped to shreds that I was ~cool~, or whatever. I pushed every part of who I was to the back of my mind, out of my mind entirely, and lost all sense of control. I lost everything in the end, and I hated myself for it.
I knew I wasn’t straight when I was 13. I also watched people torn apart for being gay at school and said and did nothing. I don’t think I had anything left in me to give, so I just let it happen.
According to Stonewall research, bullying can have a devastating impact on self-esteem with one in three pupils changing their future educational plans because of it. I changed schools more times than I can count between the ages of 11-17, and my life was revolutionised a few years ago. I finally became who I am, let go of everything else and moved past the vulnerable, crumbling human I used to be. I nurture her now, I protect her. I keep her safe and contained in my beautiful, blemished, thick skin. When I was 19 I opened my heart up to my complicated, colourful sexuality and my soul began to heal.
As adults, we're not taught to take ownership of the things we've experienced. We're taught to feel ashamed of our weaknesses, of the times we've messed up, or could have done something differently. This year alone over 75,000 young people will be bullied simply for who they are. If you can stand up against it all, then you should. Reflect on your life and the choices you've made.
I'm now at a point in my life where I can use every ounce of strength that I have to fight for other people if they need me to. To project other people's voices if they want me to. To help share other people's stories. I'm so proud to be a part of Stonewall, and can't believe that campaigning against bullying and for the fairer lives of LGBT folk worldwide is what I get to do every day.
So, stand with me and with Stonewall and pledge to not let bullying and abuse pass you by without a thought of calling it out. Sometimes it's not plausible, and that's ok. Sometimes you can't - it's important to keep yourself safe. But where you can, take responsibility and contribute to ending bullying culture forever.
Don't be a bystander. Sign the pledge now.