Twyla Tharp

As soon as I was old enough to move out, I did. I wasn’t getting on with my family at all. There was no communication, no understanding and any sort of love (if you could call it that) was deteriorating. They never really contacted me, nor did I contact them. We kept our distance from each other and got on with our lives. I know my parents worked hard to give us all the best chance in life, there’s no denying that. With that came a certain (misguided) level of expectation. From the age of 11, I was sent to a private school. I had no choice in leaving my friends behind and had to start all over again making new ones. As the eldest son (eurgh, I fucking hate that term) in the family, I was expected to perform well and to be successful. I was under a lot of pressure to not let the family down – especially when they had invested so much in me. Literally.

When I was about 12 or 13, I became a loner. The few friends I had suddenly turned their back on me one lunchtime. They were the only friends I had, so I basically lost everything. To this day, I still don’t know why. We were at badminton practice and they suddenly started giving me funny looks and calling each other over to talk about me. I ran out of the gym, trying hard not to cry. That’s also when the bullying started. I wouldn’t have minded if it was the physical sort – although people did walk into me or push their desk/chair into me “by accident”. Instead, they would bully me mentally. Whispering and laughing at me, making sure I could see what they were doing. They recruited everyone and the ones that hated me already simply hated me even more. I wasn’t good at sport and so I was an easy target during those classes. It got to the point where I hated school and became even more self-conscious. I hated sitting with anybody behind me as I was so paranoid they’d be talking about me or preparing to throw something at me…but I couldn’t sit at the back either because I wasn’t cool enough. I spent every single lesson full of anxiety and fear. I was even too afraid to put my hand up or contribute to class. If I didn’t understand something, I was too scared to ask. I did everything I could to be invisible. Changing rooms were especially traumatising. Being in the boys changing room and getting ready for sport was a chance for them to bully me more – especially for my body and the way I looked. This was on top of the fact that I knew I didn’t fit in. I didn’t want to be with the boys. Inside I was screaming and crying but on the outside I was numb. Void of emotion, making sure nobody suspected anything.

I always loved art so that became my distraction. As years went by, the number of people in art class got smaller and I felt more relaxed. I loved having an environment I could feel safe in. I still had trouble expressing myself though, so certain styles escaped me. Instead I became more technical, taking a graphic style – a style that involved thought, planning and control. From the day I started at that school, to the day I left, there were 2 people that stood out in art classes: me and a girl. She was very popular so for her name to be mentioned was nothing. For me, it was fucking scary. I didn’t want people to speak my name because it just gave them reason to bully me even more. I preferred to remain in the background, hiding. One thing did become clear to me at that time though: I was a boy, she wasn’t…yet we could both do well at art. That’s probably one of the first times I realised that ability had nothing to do with gender.

By the time I sat my GCSE exams, I was a completely different person to the one who started at the school 5 years earlier. I had no confidence and only 1 friend. Throughout my time there, I had to deal with the bullying and pressure of not letting my parents down. How the fuck I managed those exams, I’ll never know. I was so convinced that I was going to fail that I secretly enrolled at the local college to do my A Levels there. That way when I disappointed my dad, I could soften the blow by telling him I’d been accepted elsewhere. When I got my results, I was shocked. Really fucking shocked. I passed everything. Convincingly too: I got seven A’s and two B’s. I felt so much relief. When I told my dad, I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe some kind of positivity? No. His words were “couldn’t you have made those two B’s into A’s as well??” Yeh, thanks dad. Father of the Year material, right there. That’s not all either. Unknown to me, my dad had already signed me up stay on for Sixth Form. I had to endure 2 more years of hell whilst I did my A Levels. Luckily the main people that bullied me failed their exams and weren’t allowed to stay on at the school. That was something, at least. Still, life wasn’t much better and I was still seen as a misfit. By the time I finished my A Levels, I felt so lost. So…behind…under-developed. I’d lost out on so many years of friendship, learning and growing up. I’d spent it all trying to stay hidden. We’d all gone through puberty too. That was something else that I felt lost on. I’d hit puberty, yeh…but male puberty. I hated it. It felt wrong. It happened without my approval. I was no longer a skinny human with an androgynous build. I was most definitely becoming more male – this terrified me. I needed to tell somebody there’d been a mistake. I was screaming and shouting but no sound was coming out of my mouth. Just like I have nobody to talk to now, I had nobody then. Besides, I didn’t fully understand why I felt it was wrong. Nothing really made sense. I’m only able to acknowledge things now. Gender or identity issues were unheard of back then anyway. I would have been bullied even more if people knew. All the time, my parents were trying to get me to be this successful man, to carry on the family name. I wasn’t in control of anything. No wonder I found sanctuary in an eating disorder.

If I open up about what I feel, my family would never understand nor would they accept me. Despite being born here, my sister and brother aren’t very open-minded. Especially my sister, who is a bit ditzy. They don’t understand a lot of the basic choices I make now, let alone something like this!! They give advice (what I like to call “patronising support”) and I know they do care but this is way out of their league. My sister gave birth to my nephew a couple of years ago, so he’s at the stage where he is scared of strangers (me included, as I only get to see him when I back to visit them all every few months) and wants to know about the world around him. How the fuck is he going to be able to digest why his uncle (eurgh, another term that I hate) is so messed up? It’s not just my immediate family that are affected either. This will undoubtedly affect my wife’s family. Her dad seems to like me, from what I gather, and has always encouraged me with my music. In fact, he’s been more supportive of me as a musician than my own family. How disappointed is he going to be when he finds out his son in law is a messed up and confused hybrid?!? On her mom’s side of the family, one of her brothers has just become a dad, so that’s like my nephew situation repeated. I’m not sure what her mom thinks of me. I get the impression she isn’t my biggest fan. I’m not sure why I think that, I just have a weird feeling about it. Besides, she shares stuff on Facebook about keeping immigrants out of the UK or how non-white people are to blame for the country’s problems. It’s quite racist and I took offence, so I deleted her from my Facebook. I’ve heard her refer to gay people in a less than positive way so (e.g. “It’s what those gays are like”) so she’s really going to be disgusted with me if she ever finds out.

Now as much as other people’s opinions shouldn’t matter, they do. Well, they certainly affect me. I’m no longer invisible to them. Of course they’ll want answers but I won’t be there to stand up for myself or set the record straight. I’ll forever be a talking point for them, a funny story to tell at Christmas parties or to my wife’s new partner – because let’s face it, that’s the way it’ll go when she finds out and no longer wants anything to do with me. I will be everybody’s punchline, their scandalous story to spread around. Even more reason to try and keep a lid on all of this then, right? Easier said than done.

One thought on “Outcast

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