For me personally, I couldn’t leave school any faster than I did. While most education establishments in this country are broken in some way BY FAR the worst is our schools, from primary education to senior, schools continue to baffle me as to just how awful they still are!
With mental health awareness on the rise and society getting better at understanding difference, why is it schools still insist on outdated dress codes, huge punishments for the smallest of things (Like dying your hair) and continuing to push for attendance over well being? You may be thinking ‘oh but kids need to learn respect and prepare for the working world’ maybe so but this is NOT the way to do it. Children who can express themselves are proven to be way happier, it’s just a known thing, what schools do is punish difference, dye your hair, DETENTION, wear jewellery, DETENTION, wear trainers that YOU feel comfortable in, DETENTION. You think you’re teaching them that expressing yourself outside of a formal setting should be punished, well I’m here to say being different is what MAKES these kids, for some of them it’s all they’ve got. Being able to express yourself is the best feeling in the world, I should know, I spent 18 years in the closet hiding from my sexuality and gender identity, I felt angry that ‘boys’ were forced to wear ties at school and ‘girls’ weren’t, I was isolated but we all looked the same, not a soul dared to defy the school because they threated expulsion! When my mental health hit rock bottom I wanted to die, I couldn’t cope with this environment anymore, punishing anyone for being different is ridiculous but that especially counts for young LGBTQ+ kids, it can be such a battle for us and being forced to conform to such tight rules is just damaging. My only friend in secondary school was my Geography teacher, she wasn’t like other teachers, she was fun, kind and understanding, the UK needs more teachers like her but she was driven out of the school because of stricter marking and teaching rules. On her last day, I went to her classroom after school and cried. She really was my only friend at school and she wouldn’t be at school come Monday morning. That weekend was tough but come Monday I stayed in bed, I point blank refused to go back to school, ever.
6 months down the line and lots of ‘taster’ days to try and convince me to return to school I was officially moved to a specialist school, a school without a uniform policy, one that understood my needs and barriers and supported me rather than just fought for a tick on the register. During that one year, I started to speak to people again (hard to believe now but throughout the 4 years at the previous school I’d been selective mute) I dyed my hair and got praise and love rather than punishment. It was a one in a million chance I found and got a place at that school and I still believe to this day it saved my life, showing me the world is full of different and diverse people instead of just white Catholic children in uniforms because for such a long time that’s all I knew and I hated it.
Both my sisters have had similar problems at the same school, however, this is where double standards come into play. With me, the school actively tried to get me to return even though I was adamant I wouldn’t, yet my sisters were basically pushed out. Yeah! The only explanation is because they didn’t attend as often as me and had much lower grades, to me, that means they’re happy to just kick the failing kids out but if the kids are getting good grades get em’ back in!
It doesn’t even end there. Both my sisters currently attend specialist schools yet (AGAIN) because of schools being REQUIRED to keep up attendance or face LOSING FUNDING, the school insist on my younger sister going in DESPITE her obvious objections. She’s crying most mornings and nights, self-harms and is offen forgotten about completely because she doesn’t speak. THIS SCHOOL IS FAILING A VULNERABLE CHILD TO GET A TICK ON THE REGISTER. This is where a LOT of problems come from, the kids that need funding and support the most are kicked out of school if they don’t attend because the schools lose funding for them if the kid doesn’t attend all the time which is such a broken system I want to SCREAM.
Yeah, that was a mess but I hope that highlights just some of the things wrong with our school system in this country. While the conversation is ripe I wanted this to be highlighted so that any other in this position know that they’re not alone and we’re fighting for better!
This week is Mental Health Awareness week and I had actual time on my hands this weekend to sit down and write this blog. I work for YoungMinds, if you’re unsure who they are, they’re a charity fighting for young people’s mental health support, services and awareness. The work they do is amazing, however, today I want to think about YOU! You reading this right now! Yes, you! How are you? I haven’t seen you in a while, you doing ok? it may seem simple but checking in with your friends like that could have a much greater effect than you even realise. Our Mental health issues can be so brutal, I should know I’m battling fucking loads of them, and the tiniest thing like messaging me, could absolutely make my day! I’m serious! I can’t by any means speak for everyone but I certainly over analyse everything, from how you word messages to me all the way to who messages first. I think it’s no secret that I don’t hold myself very highly, like AT ALL, yet being the one who isn’t initiating things makes me feel that bit better about myself, ‘maybe I am likeable’ as thinking I’m not likeable is something I do a lot and so anyone that messages first is a blessing!
Something I’ve learned really recently is that mental health problems can sometimes be side effects from other things happening in your life, therefore, to reach the problem you must first take a huge step back and really look at yourself, and I know how hard it is but you understand yourself way better than anyone else, and with such an underfunded and stretched mental health system in the UK, going to your appointment with an idea and lots of notes can offen speed up the process a little, you get to avoid the ‘give it 4 weeks then come back if it doesn’t improve or gets worse’ trick. I can give you an example from my own life. On my latest Gay Culture Podcast I opened up about my gender identity and I feel way better in myself having finally accepted that part of me! Don’t get me wrong, I still have huge anxieties over just about anything but I’ve noticed some subtle changes to my mental health which I confidently put down to finally being open about both my gender identity and sexuality for the first time, that stuff really builds up.
So on Mental Health Awareness week, even though it shouldn’t just be a week. I ask that you be kind to someone in your life, your best friend, a friend you’ve not spoken to for a while, your quieter friends, anyone at all! You never know who’s day you might be making by messaging and being kind!
On Friday the 4th of May 2018 (May the Fourth Be With You Bish) I attended the Stonewall Youth Awards after completing the Stonewall Young Campaigners Program! The day was a chance to celebrate the work we’d all done or the therefor lack of work I’d done (I’m so busy it’s horrible!) it was so good seeing the friends I made on the residential and meeting even more new people from the south version of the program, including a Tory LGBT+ activist! (which I’m still trying to get my head around)
Jade from Little Mix was there to present the Young Campaigner of the Year award and to speak of why being an Ally is important to her! Seeing the amazing people I went on the residential with was so special! I love them all so bloody much! They are the people who inspired me to start You Are You, Gay Culture ‘The Podcast’ as well as to accept my gender and sexuality just as it is. Because believe it or not before my work with Stonewall I knew very little about this stuff, even my own sexuality was confusing to me, and now I know so much and continue to learn every day about myself and others and how anyone could hate such a beautiful, diverse and accepting community is beyond me!
By far my personal highlight was meeting Ruth Hunt! Me and fellow young campaigner Tom weren’t over fussed that one of Little Mix was there but we were keen to meet Ruth! After debating if we should we did and she was even more amazing in real life! Meeting someone in real life after seeing loads of videos online is totally different, it feels real and speaking to her face to face was everything! She has a way with words that is both calming and inspiring!