Comment: The truth about being a gay 16-year-old at an all boys boarding school
16-year-old Olly Hudson writes for PinkNews.co.uk about his experiences of being gay at a private all boys boarding school in the UK. He despairs at the homophobic environment and the lack of acknowledgement by the school that homosexuality even exists.
My name’s Olly, and I’m a 16-year-old from South Wales. I’m also gay. I decided to write this, mainly because I feel it’s time for someone of my background, to speak up for a whole swathe of the young gay population, who right now, are effectively ignored and left to fend for themselves by the mainstream media, and the environment in which they grow up.
I’m talking about being middle class. I’m talking about going to an independent day/boarding boys’ school, and I’m trying to get across to those who’ll listen, what it means to try and grow up in an environment where, perhaps, the most active and healthy part of any young person’s life, their sexuality, is repressed, ridiculed, though for the most part, willfully ignored by teachers and adults in positions of authority around them.
I haven’t always been a student at a private school, which for now will remain nameless. Until the age of 13, I, like most people, went to a comprehensive school. There, I was most comfortable and indeed spent most of my time in the company of girls. A seeming failure to ever really integrate and become ‘one of the boys’ was I’d admit, the main driving factor behind my decision to leave the school. When I reflect upon it, I wouldn’t have made the same decision to leave, had I my time again, though having not fully come to terms with my sexuality by the age of 13, this would never have played into any decision at the time. But leave I did, and I ended up in an all boys’ school. Again, probably not the most sensible decision on reflection, though that’s something that, really, I’ve realised more recently, as I finally accepted my sexuality, and came out to my closest friends.
I suppose, I wrote this too, to try and dispel a common-held ‘urban myth’ regarding boys’ schools, and boarding schools in particular. Generally, they’re seen as hives of latent homosexuality, places where boys, frustrated only in the company of other boys, inevitably turn to one another to experiment sexually, gay or not. It’s something widely caricatured in popular culture, though is let me assure you, a load of nonsense.
The reality is very much the opposite. So conscious are most of the boys in my school of the abundance of males (and rarity of females), not to mention the homosexual stereotype, that they go over and above to assert their masculinity, an apparently quintessential aspect of which is to see whose ‘banter’ can descend to the deepest depths of homophobic, inane, misogynistic abuse.
For most of the guys, this constitutes ‘banter’. In any other context, namely one in which women are present – i.e. real life – this would be abuse, though they refuse to see it as such, for who in an all boys’ school could possibly be offended or hurt in any way by this loutishness, when nobody who it affects is seemingly there to hear it? That is of course, forgetting the gay guys. There aren’t many of us, though naturally, there are more than you might think, though we are forced to sit there in silence, and endure an endless torrent of homophobic abuse, most of which is invariably ignored by male teachers. Would they continue if we outed ourselves? Who knows, but who are we to turn round and counter a class full of rowdy, senseless boys on a testosterone high? If we did, goodness knows the onslaught of abuse that would result.
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As I said, I think most of this comes out of an insecure, alpha-male desire to demonstrate conclusively to the other apes, that ‘I’m not gay’, but there are more, pernicious, and continually dangerous factors at play. I feel let down by those in positions of authority within the school. I feel angry, that in all my time at this particular school, I’ve had not one PSHE (personal, social and health education) lesson on the subject of homosexuality. Not one assembly on homophobia and its consequences. Not even the slightest acknowledgement – unless prompted – from many members of staff, that homosexuality even exists. I felt liberated in a recent philosophy class, led by an outside teacher, to be able to start a discussion on the nature of sexuality, and to really try and get my peers to acknowledge that being gay exists, and that it’s not something to suppress or live in willful blindness of. I think that was probably the first time I used the word ‘homosexuality’ in a classroom.
Although incredibly damaging to countless gay teenagers going through the school, this conspiracy of silence is also incredibly dangerous. How can we expect to do anything about the worrying rise in HIV diagnosis rates among young gay men, when from my experience, there exists not little, but zero homosexual sex education? Those who are perhaps less conscious of the risks of anal sex, owing often, to parental silence on the topic, are time and again being let down by a system which at present, is abjectly refusing to equip young men like myself, with the vital information to ensure that they run no risk of contracting a potentially devastating chronic illness.
I’ve thought about it more and more, and every time I do, it enrages me no end. That’s why homophobic arguments from the bigoted right against same-sex marriage, in fear that it might prompt the teaching of homosexual sex in schools, are actually life-threatening. In this case, prejudice, leading to silence on the issue, actually serves young men with a death-sentence.
I don’t pretend that things are all rosy for gay guys in state schools, because they most definitely aren’t. Prejudice exists in all corners of our society. But there can be no doubt that more is done, at least to make teenagers aware of the nature of homosexuality in the state system, than is done in the private sector, where it feels often, like the school has some kind of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy in place.
I just wish that the taboo of talking about all things gay could be broken, and that has to emanate from the example set by authority. If senior teachers in private schools like mine, are making no effort to counter the disgraceful tide of homophobia that is just so virulent across the independent system, then we simply won’t see a shift in attitudes in this, affluent, and of course, influential sector of the population. And that’s the really scary bit. Unfortunately, the statistics tell us, that generally speaking, it’s going to be these guys who are the leaders of tomorrow, both in the world of business, and in spheres of political influence, and as a gay man, that scares me, it really does.
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