Having two fathers in a grammar school

When I was younger, not by much mind, I’m still only twenty, but between the ages of eleven and eighteen I attended a grammar school in the south of England, Essex to be exact. This grammar school, amongst other things, boasted a multitude of good grades, and a constant high ranking on the league tables (something in which it took great pride and on which it focused the majority of its energy to achieve). It was a good school, I’d never argue otherwise, I myself came out with a number of good grades in the exams I took at GSCE and A-Levels, and this was the case for many others, mind.

It sounds fairly utopian, right ?

That school was the reason for some of the worst experiences of my life.

You have to understand that the school, given its reputation, constant success and grammar school status (ie one needs to pass the 11+ exam to get anywhere near it), attracted the interests mostly of the Chelsea-tractor driving middle class families; those who never seemed to have enough.

I was not from this backdrop.

Instead I came from far more humble origins, in comparison. I’m not saying I was the Charlie Buckett-esque character on the sidelines, but I lived in an average-sized house, and we’ve never owned a pony.

This was the first thing they picked upon.

They. By ‘they’ I mean the offspring of the aforementioned families, those who grew up without worry or drama, whose parents had stayed together through it all, etcetera etcetera.

So yes, I didn’t fit in for that reason, and between the ages of eleven and thirteen I was bullied for not having odious amounts of disposable income or a paddock or a shooting range or a pony named Tarquinius. It’s laughable now, but it really was an issue. I couldn’t have house parties out of fear of being laughed at further, and my capacity for friendships diminished much more than they did at primary school, where, to the vast extent, we were all in the same boat.

At the age of thirteen, however, things changed, and not in one of those ‘all for the best’ willy wonka-like (sorry for the chocolate factory references) movie scenarios where the poor, downtrodden boy’s life is turned around.

I wish.

No, instead at the beginning of year nine I came down with the flu, terrible, I was bed ridden for about a week and a half, and still felt like death warmed up when I returned to school. When I did return, however, I came into school and saw my friend standing outside the classroom before the bell rang to signify form time. As usual I walked up to him, and said the usual “hello, how are you, I’ve been off, was so ill.”

His response wasn’t what I had expected at all.

Instead, without answering my questions or making comment on my absence, he quite simply asked me: “Did you tell anyone else?”

At that point my heart sank, and I felt on the verge of breaking down.

To give you some context, my friend James, nice guy, was a fairly close friend at the time. We’d hang out a lot at school and talk a fair amount. On a black tie dinner night at school…

Before I go on I’ll give you a bit of background knowledge, when I was about three or four my father left my mother. I still have nightmares about the whole experience; my father, sat in a wooden chair, picking up the pieces of china from the plates, bowls and so on that my mother was throwing at the walls around him. I, upon hearing the noises, clamber down the stairs and stare at the crying wreck that was my dad, quite literally picking up the pieces. He sees me in the corner of his eye, picks me up, puts me in the lounge and sits me on the sofa. I grasp my teddy tight, and he goes back into the dining room. The shouting continues for a while, and eventually I hear the sound of the front door slamming. He’s gone. After this my mother meets my stepfather and thereafter starts the long, 6 or 7 year series of trials and tribulations, consisting of an array of arguments between my mother, stepfather and I, with me thinking that my father could get back with my mother. At ten and a half I had had enough, and realised the only way to ensure the continued relationship between my mother and I, I would need to move out before we got to a point that we couldn’t even talk to each other anymore. On the journey moving out, my father told me he was gay, my mother had known for years, but figured it was not her place to say anything to me.

I was fine with this, but my peers at school would not be. Back to the black tie dinner…

Every year, the school held, and still holds, an array of events for both pupils and parents, including black tie evenings, plays, musicals, the works. In light of this, my father decided to get involved and so at the end of year 8 he decided to go to the school’s regular black tie dinner with his partner. They went to two of these events in my school life, once in year 7 and then again in year 8. In year 7, they met my friend James and his parents on the same dinner table, this is how he came to knowing about my father’s sexuality and becoming arguably closer friends with me, and this was fine, as he was a nice guy as I’ve said.

At the end of year 8, however, they were on a different table, with the parents of a certain boy in the same year, Tom. Tom was not like James at all, and to be honest at the time I knew him very little. We had neither spoken, nor had any form of interaction altogether.

Tom would be the origin of the next three years of torment in my life.

As I say, this black tie dinner was at the end of year 8, and so the next time I was at school was at the start of year 9. I, however, would not be there for the first week and a half of term, as I was suffering from a bad case of the flu. On the very first day I returned came that dreaded question:

“Did you tell anyone else?”

By this, as I had feared, James meant “had I let anyone else (specifically Tom) find out about my father being gay?”

My answer of course was no, I didn’t want anyone else knowing out of fear that it, too, would be held against me, a reality I was to come against not ten seconds later as I entered the form room.

When a person has been off for a while, there’s always that sense of uncertainty as to why when they return. Now add to this the fact that a rumour has now, over the space of a week and a half, been spread about this ill person having two fathers, a suffocating amount of pressure is conjured up for the target of all this confusion.

So there I was, standing at the door of my form room, having been told by James that Tom, upon hearing from his parents that my father was indeed homosexual, had told almost everyone in my year as well as others this news.

When I stood at that door everything stopped. I can still remember the sea of eyes on me as I entered the room, judging me.

And then the taunting started. That was to be one of the worst days of my life. As more and more people learned of my father’s sexuality, something I had kept a secret for the two previous years, insults came into play. From that day onwards, I was to be the way target; the one every could pick on, fresh meat for new insults day on day.

For the next three years I would be the one that the ‘cool’, middle class and close-minded kids could pick on. I was alone, and being so I had no chance to fight back. The only support I received was that from my french teacher and form tutor, a man for whom I still retain an unbelievably high level of respect and admiration for.

In order to avoid further insult, I began to deny the rumours about my father. Other pupils, out of spite and to make fun of me would daily ask me if my father was actually gay. After all, they had only heard through Tom that my father was, and still had no proof. I was bullied; verbally, physically and psychologically on the basis of a rumour, nothing else.

This denial only led to me feeling worse; by saying no I felt that I was being ashamed of my father; rejecting him, and yet the complete opposite is true and to this day I am lucky to be friends with a multitude of gay people. Through being bullied, however, I felt as if I was made to reject him, which slowly destroyed me.

There were groups of people in particular who would, on a daily basis, aim solely to ruin my day, as if it were the only thing which made theirs. From being verbally harassed to being beaten up by four or five people at a time, bullying became a daily reality for me.

To this day I wonder if the reaction to the news about my father would have been different elsewhere, maybe at the comprehensive down the road. Would they have sought so desperately to separate me from the herd ? Or would it have gone down the same way wherever I went ?

But now I’m at university, a place of open-minded people where everything goes. Plus, when I was sixteen I had a rather large growth spurt; something which seemed to discourage those who wanted to attack me physically. Some tried, and I retaliated. Needless to say they stuck to the verbal abuse after that surprise.

For anyone who may be in the same boat, please do not take how I reacted as advice. In fact, I still regret my actions of denial to this day.

Had I said “Yes! Yes I do!” to that continuous question of “haha Liam is it true your dad’s gay?” then I’m sure my life would have been a lot different. For one, I wouldn’t have had the paranoia which came with every visit to the shops with my father and his partner, the constant looking over my shoulder in case another pupil was in town and saw us all together.

Be honest. That’s my advice. You need to be, otherwise your life will become a string of lies, ‘oh no that’s my uncle’, ‘no no my mum was at the last parent’s evening, didn’t you see her?’, being two main examples. At the end of the day, people will bully whether it’s based on a rumour or if they know outright, I know full well. Now I’m not saying that bullying is acceptable, it’s a blight and its damage can be seen year on year. I do however realise that it’s not going to be resolved any time soon. The only way to deal with it is to stand up against it.

So my advice is to face it. Own your differences, whether you’re bullied for being overweight or having two fathers like I was, or for any other reason, stand against it, because as soon as you let it sink in it will destroy you and you’ll only regret it later on.

So that’s my story anyway, well a large part of it.

Don’t let others dictate how you feel, despite how hard it can get. It’ll be alright eventually.

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