I WANT to tell you a secret. Since the age of fifteen I have struggled with self-harm and suicidal thoughts. It’s something I kept secret for most of my life because I felt alone.
Yet in the time I have been involved with King’s LGBT+ I have encountered countless students who experienced the exact same issues as me.
Suicidal thoughts and self-harm effect all sorts of people from all walks of life, but they disproportionately affect people of different sexual orientations and gender identities.
So as LGBT+ history month comes to a close, I wanted to share my experiences in the hope of shedding light on this taboo issue and starting some serious conversations about it affects our student community.
It all began when I was a teenager at secondary school in a small, middle-of-nowhere town in rural Somerset. I was a sort of painfully nerdy teenager who got bullied a lot for having a weird name, but for the most part pretty content.
‘Ruined by a boy’
I got good grades, I had nice friends and life was simple. Secondary schools are awkward places because they are full of teenagers thinking about sex, and my school was no exception.
The boys would be constantly talking about girls and if they were lucky would crowd around dirty magazines on the top field in their lunch break.
As I went through secondary school however, I started to become aware that I wasn’t into girls the way that other boys my age seemed to be. I told myself I was “just going through a phase.” Which worked until – like with so many things in my life – it was all ruined by a boy.
He was short, he played the guitar and he was my best friend. I started to realize however, that what I felt for him was more than just friendship.
I didn’t know any other boys who liked boys. Queer and trans people had been totally invisible throughout my childhood, and throughout my education. That being said, I knew exactly what my peers thought of them.
‘Self-harm wasn’t poetic it was self-loathing’
Words like ‘gay,’ ‘lesbo’ or ’tranny’ were banded around endlessly. These words were never picked up on by teachers, and so I didn’t know if I could talk to them about what I was feeling.
I definitely felt I couldn’t tell my Eastern European parents, and so I ended up turning to the Bible. I remember going to the school library on a typically British, mild, mid-week, grey autumn day and fingering the pages of a little red Gideon bible looking for Leviticus 20:13:
“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.” Leviticus 20:13, NRSV
It felt like even God was against me. I was young, vulnerable and I had no one to turn to. I didn’t want to be a boy who liked boys, and I blamed myself for it. Over time the fear and isolation began to grow. At first I started drinking to cope, and then I started to cut myself.
Some people speak of self-harm as if it has an artistic quality or poetic quality, but for me it was an expression of total self-loathing. I saw my life as being worth less because of my sexuality, and it made me think very seriously about taking my own life.
Over time I found peace with the Bible: I began to read interpretations of the Bible that stressed love and acceptance over violence and discrimination. Today I see my sexuality as one of my greatest blessings.
Stories like mine are surprisingly common. A survey carried out by LGBT charity Metro last year reported that 52% of young LGBT people have self-harmed either now or in the past, and four in ten have considered suicide.
In fact LGBT individuals are on average ten times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. The fact of the matter is that we live in a society that still systematically drives queer and trans teenagers to killing themselves.
Legal reforms like equal marriage have been an excellent step forward, but the government has failed to address the key cultural issues that make LGBTQ+ individuals live unbearable.
‘Unnatural and sinful’
LGBTQ+ sex education is still not compulsory in primary or secondary schools, the state fails to acknowledge alternative gender identities and window-dwelling alumni such as Lord Carey are only the tip of the iceberg but when you consider that the three biggest religious groups in Britain propagate the belief that same-sex relationships are unnatural and sinful.
To put it simply, we need to create a culture that doesn’t simply tolerate LGBTQ+ individuals, but we need to create a culture that celebrates them.
Today, I am out and very proud, but the thought that there are still teenagers in this country, as young as I was or younger, thinking of taking their lives is terrifying.
This is an issue we need to start talking about as a student community, but it’s an issue with ramifications for the whole of the UK.
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