When I was six, I would come home from school with fingernail scratches across my face. At thirteen, stones would be thrown at me and my friends in the school playground. At fifteen, I would be chased down the streets of suburban East London being punched and kicked until the attackers realised I was crying too much for it to be fun.
I never understood why, and it’s a fool’s errand to try and figure it out. All I knew was that it wasn’t fair, so I bloody mindedly stuck to trying to be fair and nice to everyone else.
It’s a common ambition to be liked by everyone, but mine has been turbocharged by a guttural fear that violence will ensue if they don’t. I hold myself smaller, to convince people I’m not a threat. I tiptoe and do everything in my power to de-escalate. I will do anything to stop someone from being angry.
I’m an adult now
Up until my mid-20s, this coping mechanism had some advantages: I could pull off the friendly, young, innocent nerd.
For example: even when I helped organise a party of tens of thousands of people that shut down large sections of the London Underground, I did interviews that successfully portrayed myself as a butter-wouldn’t-melt harmless boy (enabled by some white privilege of course).
This wasn’t calculated manipulation, I believed it myself. It had to be true, I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I was honest about the controversy inherent in my actions.
But at 32, this tactic is obviously absurd. I am 6'1, healthy, male, white and relatively wealthy. Nerds aren’t seen so innocently now. Fewer people are convinced by my self-image as a friendly, harmless, just-trying-to-help-everyone do-gooder. It’s getting in the way of both my professional and personal growth.
It was ludicrous of me to waltz into Labour HQ at the age of 27 the way I did, and not expect to be thoroughly chewed up by it.
I may have entered telling myself and everyone else I was just there to make the databases work, but if there’s one thing that people who have worked in politics their entire lives know, it is power. They saw straight through me and understood my help came with me gaining power. They were having none of it.
While I was working at Labour, I used to wake up in the middle of the night in sweats from nightmares that I was an MP, and so many people were angry with me. I was not a fan. Publicly and honestly holding power is still terrifying to me.
So this coping mechanism is neither effective nor particularly ethical, but giving it up is scary, and I’m not very experienced in navigating the world without it.
Men are sexy now
One gender is the king of violence. I associated men with violence so much that the idea that anyone could be intimate with them impossible to imagine. It doesn’t help that most men seem to do everything they can to hide their ability to be intimate from each other.
As my violent teen years faded away, I grew a little less afraid, and a little more intrigued. One day I discovered it is very possible to be intimate with a man. It turns out I’m a fan!
I found it strange to discover I’m bisexual at 30 years old, considering I grew up in a supportive liberal home with positive gay role models present my entire life. While I have become conscious of socialised racism and sexism within me, I have never been able to identify any internalised homophobia within me (oo boy, I may regret typing that publicly).
I think I associated men with violence so much that I genuinely couldn’t find them sexually attractive. Which is sad, isn’t it? I blame toxic masculinity for stealing part of me for 15 years.
Anyway! In case you didn’t notice, this is me coming out. Hi, I’m James, and I’m bisexual.