For five years, at my High School, Otago Boys’ High School, I experienced incredible alienation. Very early on in my first year at the school, a teacher saw fit to ‘label’ me a faggot. (Yes, I too have often wondered since then what gave rise to such an accurate gaydar in one apparently better suited to scientific enquiry). He wasn’t informing me of anything I didn’t already know. Of course I was different. Not in an ‘accepting diversity’ sense though, but in a deeply unacceptable way.
Even before High School I had always felt different. I cultivated many personal beliefs that I used to explain this, circumstances that I recruited to explain to myself why I didn’t want to be an All-Black; my parents had long since separated, I was so-called intelligent, I preferred cooking to digging in the garden, I was terrified of climbing trees – a terror only eclipsed by my terror of my peers, the kids in my neighbourhood and at my school against whom my ‘otherness’ was put into the sharpest of relief. I spent too much time in my bedroom. I was not engaged by sport (I was never bad at sport really, I was bad at fitting in. It was as if the closer I had to come into contact with kids my age the more deeply alienated I felt. I simply didn’t understand how they operated. “Sport” was competitive team sport, of course). I threw ‘like a girl’. I liked bright-coloured cardigans (unimaginable even to me these days).
Then, at the age of 13, it was all made clear. I was a faggot (Oh, how strongly, even now, I desire to wrap that word safely in puctuation, quotation marks). Naturally there was no-one in my life who I could look to as a model of what a homosexual is meant to be. No matter, my school and my society could teach me what I was, how to view myself. The teachers and people in authority could confirm it all by silently looking on, or turning a ‘blind’ eye and thus placing their tacit stamp of approval on the proceedings.
A gay boy was treated with disdain, disgust and outright hatred. But it wasn’t this that truly did the trick. Sure, I was spat on, punched, tripped, made to prostrate and humiliate myself, made a scapegoat, jeered at, had my work defaced – stolen only to find it strewn in the school urinals… the list is as endless as it is banal. My school was a daily living hell. I learned that there was no point fighting. Who would care? Why tell a teacher of actions taken by students when the teacher was present when it occurred. He had eyes of his own. I only ‘brought it on myself’, as one of them famously said.
Yet, no matter how tough all of that was, I know it was of the time. I feel I have let go of much of the sadness it caused. I’m not a victim. I make myself. I no longer believe that my entire society is appalled by me. I know there are many others like me and I know that they live lives of love and joy. We are sometimes even respected.
What sticks with me now is the unspoken distancing I experienced. People steered clear. I existed within my own untouchable bubble. I was the only one of me.
What I cannot seem to yet let go of, to shake, is that disassociation that I felt always, and that was cemented through those years of High School. I learned to step out of myself and watch everything from a critical distance. I became self-conscious. Aware of my every gay movement, gesture, sound. I raised an academic screen around myself. I predicted every situation and person and reaction, so that I was prepared when the inevitable happened.
I can’t seem to reel it back. To come back to myself. I feel apart.
I reckon that may explain why I find time by myself to be such a relief. I can finally relax. I can be ‘myself’ completely and unconsciously. It may explain why I document my life online in this way. My missives and messages that are produced, edited, filtered, normalised and screened for public consumption. It’s just so much easier to do it this way than in the intellectually-acrobatic real-time. It may explain why I always take positions of control. The aerobics instructor, the teacher, the manager, the non-drinker, the list goes on.
It has been 17 years since I finished High School. I was only there for 5 years. They taught me where to put the apostrophe. I think it’s high time I let go. Writing this helps. Letting go of control would be a good idea too…
It was heartening to read, on the school’s website that the new Rector, Clive Rennie, believes:
|Public scrutiny has meant we have examined our codes of behaviour and as a result can now point to a community that is safe and cares for all those who belong.|
One day they may even be part of such a community rather than ‘pointing to’ it from their limestone and granite towers.