Ben’s Story – Things Get Better
Publish Date: 18/11/2011
I remember my first day at school, back in the early 1990’s. I walked into school with my new uniform on, feeling rather fresh, with my little green book bag at my side. I felt rather daunted by the size of everything. I felt like a small fish in a big pond.
As the day progressed I started to like my new environment, I was starting to make new friends and mix in, that was until the lunch hour.
During the lunch break a two or three boys started to pick on me for being different, being of a young age I didn’t know what it was about, but I know I felt unhappy. During my first week things got worse with me being pushed about and left out of things. I started to feel alone and isolated in a strange place, my first perception of the new adventure started to turn sour.
During the year things got worse, I went home with bloodied shirts from where the group of boys had deliberately kicked a football at my face, or hit me causing my nose to explode. I was pushed and shoved around, often going through a pair of trousers in a week with holes in the knees.
When my family asked what was wrong I used to just make out I was clumsy and have accidents. They took this up with the school, and questions were raised to what was going on.
The school denied that there was any bullying going on, but this just lead to things getting worse.
The boys in question plagued me from the start of my school life all the way though. I had always been taught that it was wrong to fight, and being one of five, the squabbles that I used to encounter were immense, yet I never raised a hand in anger, I just bit my tongue and let things happen.
It was as if the staff at the school turned a blind eye, until year 3 came. I had put up with over two years of bulling and being victimised. My life was being made a living hell, but one day I snapped. One lad started to punch me in the stomach and kicking me, from somewhere I found the strength to shove the boy back.
The results of this then happened in slow motion, I saw the boy, Jamie, with a look of shock in his face that I had turned. He slowly fell backwards from my shove, falling to the ground where he hit his head.
I felt a strange happiness, I had won a battle and stood up for myself, but this feeling would be short lived. The other children around watched what happened, and started to gasp, they saw Jamie lying sprawled out on the floor with blood coming from his head. He had fallen and hit his head on an edge in the playground. The ambulance came and took him away, whilst I was hulled off to the Head Masters office.
I was accused of being a bully and attacking Jamie, they wouldn’t believe what I was telling them saying the boy I had ‘attacked’ wouldn’t have been bullying me as it wasn’t his nature, he was a ‘good boy’.
Things went bad to worse, I faced expulsion from the school for standing up to the bullies. My family again became involved and again things became worse. I was allowed to stay in school, and the school’s hand was forced to admit that there was an issue, but they still denied there was any form of bullying to me going on.
That was the last time I stood up for myself, the problems it caused I felt were not worth the hassle of the brief alleviation of the bullying.
I progressed though the school with things getting worse, when I joined the juniors section the bullying went from basic physical shoving and pushing and the odd name calling to a new level. A level that took me by shock, to which I couldn’t get my head around. I started to get called a ‘Gay Lord’ and a ‘Bum Boy’. My heart broke when this started. I didn’t know where to turn. I thought the physical side of things were hard enough to deal with, but the verbal bullying cut me to my soul, verbal words can hurt more than physical actions at times.
I started to hate going to school, I would find an excuse to delay my leaving the house in the mornings to go to school, and started to refuse having school meals so I could go home for lunch times, so I didn’t have to face the problems.
The teachers weren’t worried, there approach to things were its growing up. I also started to question things as all the other lads were having girlfriends, yet there was me, not going out with anyone, or going to any of the parties due to the bullying.
I started to question myself to why I wasn’t attracted to girls, which was what I was being taught as normal, and preferred the look of boys. With the bullying and the sexual confusion at a young age my head was all over the place I hated it.
This changed in the mid-90s when one of my new teachers who was new to the school said I was a victim of bullying. The Head Master still denied this fact that it wasn’t happening in the school, but this new set of eyes helped, and gave me some relief. This was short lived as the verbal and basic bullying I suffered took to a new level.
During the final few weeks of term I was ganged up on by a group of lads who attacked me physically, shouting homophobic abuse at me whilst doing it. I could see in their eyes they were getting off on the torture and humiliation they were subjecting me to. Just as the bell rang to go back to class from the lunch break I was shoved, I fell and landed in a heap in the playground. Tears rolling down my face, I felt so much agony and pain I couldn’t move, I was frozen. I couldn’t make a noise but for the quiet sobbing.
My teacher at the time shouted at me to get up and get back into class, as I was still sprawled out on the tarmac of the playground.
When I didn’t respond the teacher came over to me and was shocked at what he found. My lip was split open, I had a cut to my forehead, and blood pouring from my nose. He sat me up but as doing so I screamed in almighty agony, and grabbed my right wrist. Looking at it I knew something was wrong.
The school nurse took one look at me and said I was off to hospital. My right wrist had been broken in two places during the attack. I faced the summer holidays, my only time away from the bullies with my arm in plaster from my fingers to my shoulder. I hated life, I thought what more could go wrong, I just wanted it all to end.
The bullying continued when I returned to school, this time after the attack, the school agreed then there was a bullying issue but said they were powerless to do anything about it. They were only aware of the physical things, I kept the verbal homophobic abuse I was suffering to myself as I was too ashamed to say anything about it. At the time I didn’t know what it was either, I just said they were name calling which was brushed off.
The final year in my primary school things were under preparation for moving to senior school, it was at that time the staff said I had to go to a different area, as the new school couldn’t maintain my safety and they said the issues were going to get worse if I went to the local secondary school.
I thought finally, relief would come with the start of secondary school, the bullies were behind me, but boy was I wrong. The change just signalled the start of a whole new chapter of bullying.
Everyone in the new school fought for their place in the pecking order, trying to work out who was top dog. Yet again, I was picked as the one they were going to pick on. It started off just being verbal bullying being called all sorts of names, I tried to work out why they were doing it, and put it down to the fact I was different to them.
I was hiding the true me after the bullying and homophobic reactions I suffered in junior school, I hid my true self from everyone.
The new school saw problems, and thought I was being abused at home, and that’s why I was being bullied in school. I was taken out of school by the Police and Social Services and questioned. My home life and family were put under the microscope scrutinising everything. I was sent to see councillors and other specialists to try and work things out. The response Social Services gave was everything was fine.
I continued at school, but the bullying still continued. I had said about the problems I was facing in school, but still kept the homophobic side of things quiet, just making out it was normal bullying as I was too ashamed to say anything more.
As the months passed, the gay taunts got worse, the words being used became more and more hurtful, I was labelled the school queer by the bullies and felt as if I had a target painted on my back.
There were several occasions where staff from the school had to break up things happening and stop the bullying but the damage was already done.
Halfway through secondary school I had had enough, I hated life, I hated school and didn’t know what to do, I started to play truant, skipping lessons and just hiding in the quiet on my own. Too ashamed to tell my family the true extent of things going on.
My truanting was brought to an abrupt end, by the Head Master of the secondary school who caught me in the act. I was hauled over the coals by him and given the what for, for not telling the true extent of the bullying. But still, I hid the fact that I was gay and the bullying was homophobic, I so wanted to say something, but the fear of rejection was overwhelming.
After the Head Master intervened with the bullying things settled down for a bit, the odd gripe still happened, the odd taunt here and there, but nothing like it used to be.
I thought this was the end of things, and that things were starting to make a change for the better as I started year 10 and my GCSEs. I had prospects to look forward to, I had hopes and started to feel a bit better in myself. I thought things were getting better, but sadly I was wrong. A few months into the new school year, a sexual assault allegation was made against me.
The bullies had set a trap, I either admitted I had assaulted the girl in the year below, or denied it all to give them more fuel for their fire of bullying. After weeks of things being looked into, and me finally breaking down in tears and blurring out the fact to one of the senior staff that I was gay, and had no interest in girls was the allegation dropped.
Nothing more was said, I felt ashamed of coming out, but also some relief as I started to get a little support from senior staff at the school who started to crack down on the bullying. Again I thought things were getting better.
During late 2001, an argument had broken out between me and a group of the bullies, they were back to their old tricks, calling me a ‘queer faggot’ amongst other things, and my heart sank. Later that day, what seemed to many as a ‘school prank’ where one of the bullies shouted to another lad, that they would give them a pound if they punched me, took a major turn. Before I knew what was happening I felt a sharp burning sensation in my back.
I jumped up from my desk and turned, I saw the lad that was meant to thump me with a knife in his hands with blood on it. I ran, I thought that was the end. I ran as fast as I could away from the area towards safety, thinking I was going to be chased and killed. I was taken to hospital, where I was told I was extremely lucky, the knife hadn’t caused any serious damage. I was sent home to recover. This happened on the Friday.
The weekend passed, and I was going through everything in my head trying to make head or tale of what had happened, not just on that Friday, but also throughout the rest of my school life. I couldn’t work it out.
But one thing I did know, I was determined to prove to the bullies that they had not won. I shocked the others in my year group along with the staff, by walking into school the following Monday and trying to continue as if the Friday hadn’t happened – it was difficult and I was bricking it, but I was determined to show them whatever they threw at me, I wouldn’t let it get the better of me.
I continued with my GCSE learning, but due to stress, I ended up only attending school on a Monday and Friday, doing all my work from home via email and teachers notes. My head was all over the place, still trying to come to terms with my sexual thoughts, and the fact I knew I was gay. I hated it when the talk of the school was who was going out with who, and there was me, on my own, fighting the world with no end in sight and no reprise from the bullies or happiness.
I passed my GCSEs, gaining 11 passes, I was proud that the amount of problems I had been though, yet I still proved to myself it didn’t affect me. I continued to do A Levels in school. During my AS levels, I was grabbed and a lad tried to strangle me, punching me in the face, a group around were egging him on, shouting at him to mess up my looks etc, and chanting amongst other things ‘gay faggot’.
Again I was sent to hospital, with this time a broken cheek bone. I didn’t return to school after that. The bullies had won, but it wasn’t a major issue, as there was only 3 weeks before study leave started, so I just started my studies earlier. During this time I approached a new school to transfer to, I transferred after my exams to the new school, to which I felt so much more at ease.
I had finally beaten the bullies and left them behind.
My worries about what was going to happen soon dropped. In the same year as me there was an openly gay lad, everyone loved him. I didn’t have the nerve to come out as gay, but left it to if someone asked I would give them the honest answer, rather than at my old school where I would hide the fact.
I had a reason to feel good in myself, things started to get better. Due to the change I ended up having to sit my AS and A Levels together in one year, but I had the support of new friends around me to get me through this.
Although my past still haunts me, and I am not proud of my thoughts of wanting to find a way out of it all, it helped me build on my future. I hid my true self from the world whilst I was at school – I tried to act less gay, but feel it caused more issues now I look back on things.
I am now happy to admit, I am Gay and I am Proud to be Gay.
It’s not an illness or a phase, it is my own feelings and desires which shouldn’t have to be hidden. I landed myself a job, in which my new boss took a sympathetic view on my past and took me under his wing. I was given the chance to shine, something I was never given before, and things took off.
I wish though I had had the courage to find help earlier with the bullying. When I ran out of options with the school, I wish I had known of who else to turn to, but over the past few years, there is more awareness of bullying and gay issues and lots of great organisations that can help.
It isn’t a sign of weakness to ask for help, it is a sign of true strength and desire to aspire better things.
What Ben went through nobody should have to, though many of us in many different ways. It's true, things do get better, but you can help right now by donating to a Safer Schools Pack - whether it be for your local school, your kids schools, or your old school - which will help them to set up a safe space and educate school kids that homophobia is unacceptable.
As part of the campaign, the LGF keep up to date with schools to see what difference your donations and the packs are making. You can donate now at lgbt.foundation/schoolspack
Joe Paterson, 16, used the Safer School Pack PowerPoint in his school assembly. “After I presented the assembly to the school year my boyfriend is in, one of the boys approached my boyfriend and apologised for anything he may have said, and wished my boyfriend and I all the best. That really made me realise that the message was getting through to everyone, and that people were learning.”