“What are you doing?!” My Mum said sternly.
“I just…they felt nice…” I lowered my head, dropped the tights and ran out of my parents bedroom.
It was an average Saturday morning so I was with my parents buying food at Finefare. As we turned the corner and we passed the food stuff, Dad grabbed a pair of tights from the shelf and began teasing me. “You want some of these , little lassie ?” A smile across his face. There were lots of people around. My face flushed red. He put them back and we continued with our shopping. All I really understood was that if I ever went near ‘girls’ clothing again I would be mocked publicly.
Twelve years old and off up North on a school trip for a week with my class mates. We were sent to the boy’s dorm section of the building to unpack and get ready for orientation. We had abseiling, archery, canoeing, hiking and lots of fun games that week. It was also the week that shaped the rest of my life. I had the bottom bunk at the back of the room. The third morning I awoke to Will trying to steal my blankets. Everyone laughed. I leapt out of bed to chase him. Unfortunately, I failed to notice that I had my first morning erection. The entire room, about 20 males from my school, began laughing and accusing me of fancying him. I didn’t understand. I began trying to explain I was dreaming of –insert ‘female’ name – Two of my close friends who were in the other room seemed to believe me when I lied to them later. The truth was that I wasn’t sexually aroused about any one. It was purely mechanical. I didn’t even know I could get turned on at that age.
As this was the last year of primary school I thought that it would all go away when I went to high school. New people. A new me.. I was very, very wrong. Shouts of ‘Gay’, ‘Homo’ , ‘Boy George’ and ‘Fag’ came after only a few days . Re-enforced when I was asked by some of the ‘cool’ kids what music I was into. Turns out mentioning Pet Shop Boys, Eurasia and Depeche Mode was not the correct things to say as a ‘guy’ . I began growing my hair long a few months after this. It didn’t help. I began wearing mostly black and hanging around with the other kids who were picked on a lot, a few of whom came out quite early on and were some of the bravest people I ever knew. I was 15 years old when I first started playing with horror makeup, moving to Goth pretty much straight after. I started listening to my brother’s Sisters of Mercy records, Fields of Nephilim, as well as my N.I.N album, a lot. By the age of 16 I was experimenting with kissing boys, and one very beautiful Italian man who looked like Trent Reznor with the beauty of Johnny Depp. His shoulder length black curly hair framed a beautiful slim face with gorgeous hazel eyes. I enjoyed that kiss quite a bit, but still wasn’t sure.
Several more beatings later, in my home town, I decided I only liked girls. I began having sex with my partner at that age, but found I couldn’t orgasm. This didn’t change with my next partner, not through intercourse any way. At the same time I started trying to fit into the masculinity box, hoping it might stop the bullying. The aggression against me taught me that being a ‘man’ meant being mean and uncaring and trying to be like this broke my head a little bit, so I went to the doctors for help. I was prescribed Seroxat and no other help, no counselling, no therapy. I began hurting myself.
18 years old and I accepted a bet from my friend to wear one of her dresses with high heels and tights. My hair was very long at that time, black as night. Some white foundation, black eye liner and lipstick and I was ready to go. Winning the bet meant walking to the petrol station near a night club with my friends for some smokes. The stares from men walking by struck me hard. It felt like being sized up for a kill, as though they were foxes drooling over a rabbit bounding by. This realization cut into me deep, making me hate myself for having ever acted like ‘them’. I enjoyed wearing those clothes, felt comfortable in them, but the risk of being beaten again made me push it to the back of my mind.
As time went by I found myself having to limit my natural tendencies more and more. Partners would accuse me of being too camp or of dancing like a ‘girl’, mocking me if I boogied to ‘I will survive’ and telling me it was ‘gay’. I started faking orgasms whenever I was taken home by a woman afraid when partners became upset. I was drinking and smoking a hell of a lot and by the time I hit 19 or twenty I decided to quit drinking and spent endless amounts of time on my own in a small bed-sit room. Unable to hold down a job for very long due to mental health issues I became terminally unemployed.
Aged 26 I had stopped wearing makeup. I had my hair dreaded and mostly wore baggy clothing. Shouts in the street went from ‘fucking gay boy’ to ‘Hey! Marley man ! Got any weed ?’ At this point I had buried stuff so deeply that I had little idea where my self-destructive impulses came from, aside from some parental issues. Accusations of being too ‘camp’ or ‘gay’ or ‘girly’ continued in long term relationships that inevitably failed and pretty much every job I ever had seemed full of sexist, homophobic and transphobic people who would say “It’s just a laugh mate.” Even the floor managers would do this, claiming it was just a bit of fun. I can’t recall a job where I didn’t end up having panic attacks at some point. The clash between the outside world’s acceptable norm and what I knew to be horribly wrong was too great. It still is.
Before I was thirty-four I had never heard of terms like gender fluid, gender queer, bi romantic and so on. That there were wonderfully brilliant and brave people who had found the strength to be who they truly were was inspiring to me. I met quite a few of these people through political activism. Being at the point of deconstructing all of the fences I built up around myself is terrifying. I had hoped it would not be, but I realize it has been much more scary and horrible for many, many others out there. When being yourself means not fitting into any of the prescribed boxes of society, life becomes a frightening place.