I am 16 and living in the UK. From the ages of 11-16, every UK teenager must attend secondary school and complete their GCSE exams in the last two years (General Certificate of Secondary Education), partly compulsory subjects, and partly chosen subjects. I have just finished compulsory education, AKA secondary school, from which I am going to study A Levels in Spanish, media studies, English literature and creative writing (A Levels being one of the many options for 16-18 year olds).
Through my time in secondary school, I came to realise that I was an LGBTQ member of society in gender and in sexuality. Here are 5 things that being in secondary education as an LGBTQ person taught me, that I wish I’d known on my first day at my new school in year 7.
1. You’re not the only one out there
When I came out out as queer in school, I was 13, almost 14. I knew one gay guy at my school, which was one of my friends, and one of my other mates had recently come out to our friendship group as bisexual. Apart from that, though, I seemed to be the only person out of the 250 odd students in my year group who was not heterosexual. I felt isolated, and for the first year or so of being an out-and-proud queer in my school, I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my queerness or queerness as a whole, really. I think I was very much in the dark about both myself as a queer person, and the queer community in general, in that time, because I didn’t have anyone who wasn’t CIShet that I could simply talk to. I felt like that automatically made me ‘the weird one’ even more so than I already seemed to be, and a whispers in the classroom here and there, although mostly not outright, made me feel like no one quite understood. However, by year 11, my final year in secondary school, over half of my friendship group, including my best friend (who I’m going to college with) had come out as queer, and LGBTQ life frequented our Friday lunchtime conversations while everyone ate their fish and chips. On top of this, I found a fellow transgender person in the year below me, who I ended up spending time with almost every day. I discovered that all I had to do was wait for other people to find themselves and tell others about it, and that I wasn’t always going to be alienated, by myself or others. You will also find that you’re not the only queer in your school, however long it takes for you to discover it.
2. There will be support for you within the school – you might just have to search for it
In my secondary school, we had the occasional ‘gay is okay’ assembly run by students, but that was about it. We had no sex ed, apart from one roleplay workshop about peer pressure. There was no LGBTQ society, no LGBTQ fundraising, not a single Stonewall poster up around the school… Aside a counsellor only available for year 7-year 9s, there really weren’t any helpful resources, and there wasn’t any direct inclusion by the school altogether. This was very offputting in general. Despite this, in year 11, I discovered that there was a gay teacher who wanted to hold a workshop on LGBTQ students for teachers (read about it here). I also found out that some sixth formers wanted to create an LGBTQ soc, which hasn’t yet got off the ground to my knowledge, but we had a couple of meetings; simply, the fact that some people wanted to do it in the first place was beyond reassuring. I also received advice and support from a favourite teacher of mine. Our bond formed over our mutual love for comics, but turned into many lunchtimes spent in her classroom on the history corridor, discussing everything from Deadpool to lesbian culture on Tumblr. Furthermore, I found support in the LGBTQ friends I found inside and outside the school corridors, who were in the same boat as me, yet still improved my life as a young person. Reassuringly, although you may have to work hard and seek it out, there is support for you in school if you’re LGBTQ.
3. You’ll probably have to take responsibility for your own learning about LGBTQ life, but there are endless options out there
Depending on what school you go to, you may or may not have sex education. As previously mentioned, I had the bare minimum. I also had no citizenship courses beyond the age of 13, so naturally, no LGBTQ lessons appeared in my timetable either. Unfortunately, this is a similar truth for many people. In consequence, the internet, the library, and LGBTQ kin might be the best answer for you if you want to learn about LGBTQ life. Luckily, the internet is so vast that you can get all the information you want or need about being LGBTQ, as it’s a very queer place on the whole. From searching the ‘queer’ tag on Tumblr to seeking out charities such as GLAAD to to exploring the Gender Wiki, there’s an answer to every question you might have on being an LGBTQ individual. On top of this, more and more libraries and bookshops are now inducting queer books into their collections, with some even having entire sections dedicated to the LGBTQ community! Queer books ranging from an exploration of gay male culture and studies David M. Halperin’s ‘How To Be Gay’, to the legendary coming-of-age lesbian fictional graphic novel ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ (which now has a film adaptation), are available for borrowing or purchase all over the world. There’s something for everyone in print as well as online. Finally, going to other LGBTQ people you know is always a valuable action. From your wise gay uncle to your transgender best friend, getting some advice or chit-chat of any kind from another LGBTQ person in society that you’re comfortable with brings you aid like no other method will. It may not be in school, but help is out there!
Also, I thought it would be helpful to ask for contributions from other teenagers on what they learned about being LGBTQ while in school – what they wish they’d known when they started. Here are some of their answers!
“Only sexuality was ever addressed. I never received any ‘education’ on being trans.” – Chris, 15
“I learnt that there were people like us, but I didn’t learn how to have safe sex, as I was taught penis-vagina sex.” – Louis, 16
“I learnt that lesbian and gay sex ed wouldn’t be taught, that at my all-girls school every girl thought I was hitting on her, and that the more confident and proud you are of yourself and your sexuality, the more people accept you for you.” – Natasha, 17
“I learnt that people will make assumptions but it’s funnier and easier to go with it than to make a big deal out of it.” Nouha, 16
“After seeing rejection and dismissal on an almost daily basis, I learned that we still have a long way for LGBTQ to be accepted” – anonymous, 18
“That everyone pretends to care about us but they really don’t. They’ll talk about ‘gay history’ maybe once and then never mention us ever again. They don’t care about us having safe sex, about us being bullied, about us existing… I just learnt that you gotta fight to be heard because otherwise no one’s gonna pay attention to you.” – Tyler, 15
“I learnt to always be proud of my sexuality and to teach people that I deserve the same amount of respect as a heterosexual person. I learned that my sexual identity is a part of me, but doesn’t define me and it helped me to accept myself a lot more than I did when I was questioning myself. I’m not “Daisy the bisexual”, I’m “daisy with a whole lot of other parts to her character that matter too.” I also found that owning your sexuality is important, and that I shouldn’t limit myself. If my friends talk about boys constantly, why shouldn’t i talk about girls? I learnt to not care about making other people ‘uncomfortable’ with my sexuality. If they want to think, “Oh, she’s bisexual, she must have a crush on me” then think it. All I really think then is that you’re an asshole.” – Daisy, 16
“That there’s always someone who’s like you, they just might be hiding. You’ll find people who you can be yourself around.” – Robin, 15
“I guess it was just kinda researching stuff like all the different sexualities and genders and finding something that I felt really applied to me and that’s when I pretty much tagged myself as bisexual. There are things even now I still am curious about but I’d like to learn more!” – Sian, 19
“I learned that there are multiple genders, and that the genitalia you were born with do not ‘assign’ you your gender. Also that bisexuals are hugely discriminated against and made to feel invalid, especially by gay girls.” – Maya, 16
“I learned that about how fluid sexuality is and that attractions can change, that its okay to play with labels till something fits.” – Kaliane, 19
“My GCSEs classmates probably made me realise I was on the asexual spectrum. Most kept on talking about sex and how they found whichever celebrity at the time ‘sexy’, and I just didn’t feel that way at all towards anyone. The whole concept of sex made me very uncomfortable, but I told myself it was because I was shy, I was a ‘late bloomer’ or whatever (I may have told myself I was weird at some point too). Basically, I lied to myself for way too long and then found out what asexuality was in 2014, which gave my lack of sexual attraction a name and not just me thinking I was strange. In short: the seemingly sex-obsessed people in my year 10/11class helped me figure out my sexuality” – anonymous, 18
“I guess a big thing I learned (and this was pretty recent) is that it’s okay to not be CIShet even though that may be what is most ‘common’, you’re not alone and there are more people around you going through the same thing than you initially think!” – Georgia, 19
I hope this helps anyone going into a new year at school, moving to a different stage of education or even just first starting school as a teenager! If you’ve already experienced your school years, I hope you can find something to relate to or reassure you. You’re not the only one who had a big learning curve about LGBTQ life in school!
Comment below with what you learned as a teenager in school about being LGBTQ.