I went to a catholic school which seemed to only personify all the fears of sexuality and coming out. The casual homophobia was prominent throughout my time at this school (a whole 7 years!).
I remember so vividly being told by an openly gay drama teacher (rare and pretty cool), that when he got married one of the only teachers to acknowledge the marriage was my music teacher (arts supporting arts).
This wouldn’t have seemed that major to a lot of my straighter classmates but being told that so few of the staff members I had tried to look up to over the 7 years I was at the school had acknowledged their friend and colleague's MARRIAGE really put a bullet into my tiny bisexual brain.
It was in passing but it meant something.
We weren’t taught about homosexuality in anything but Religious Education (R.E) which in turn led to a whole section about the difference between liberal christians attitudes to Homosexuality vs Catholic attitudes to homosexuality: big shock they are against it. I’d like to remind you this was a CATHOLIC SCHOOL.
So my school was against me.
I didn’t know who I was and every day I had to spend 6 hours locked in classrooms with not one adult representative who would help me to understand my own sexual awakenings.
The attempt to understand my sexuality was broadened by my attempts at coming out in a catholic school.
I came out on my 14th birthday (or a few days before this) and was met by positive (!) responses. One girl sulked for a few hours because she thought I liked her, but overall positive.
Stupidly 14 year old me thought that discussing a crush I had on a female classmate would be met with the same discussion we would have had if it were a male classmate I was talking about.
It was the same. Until it wasn’t. Because I got outed.
To this day I’m pretty sure the girl who outed me didn’t realise what she did was wrong. But when you’re 14 and walk into your morning registration to be met with “hey Alison, are you a lesbo” shouted across a classroom of 30 kids who aren’t meant to know you’re anything but straight, it kind of scared me.
I was beginning to present myself as some sort of ‘activist’ within this school but even then I couldn’t do anything but deny it.
I politely said no and went on with my day.
It wasn’t technically a lie.
I wasn’t a lesbian. But I knew he wanted to know if I liked women and I still denied it.
At lunch the girl I liked was ignoring me.
Someone had told her.
And that’s how they all knew.
Nothing seemed crazy, in hindsight, no one said much more to me (I think partly people were a little scared of lil old me) but I knew they knew and I KNEW they were talking about me. AND I WAS SCARED.
I hadn’t even told my parents yet.
My friends and I spoke about my bisexuality sporadically throughout the rest of that year of school.
People began to forget I liked women because I actively discussed the men I liked.
The teachers forgot.
Eventually someone else did something bad and I was old news.
But the utter repression had started.
I was an imposter.
I wasn’t good enough because I had started to deny it.
Upper school (aged 16-18) got better because for a split second I got a girlfriend and I finally started to recognise that maybe what I was feeling was valid. I was bisexual.
I mean people made comments: mostly about whether or not men could have a threesome with me and this woman. That was constant, one boy said it to me almost every single time I saw him.
But I could deal with it - constant fetishisation within bisexual relationships isn't exactly uncommon, especially when you go to such a repressive school. Sex was taboo, LGBT+ sex was unheard of. Most of these boys knew about woman x woman sex from porn.
My relationship was an extension of these porn sites. It's fucked but you deal with it.
The relationship fell apart very quickly. And that led to so much more.
I think the main thing I take away from the upper school years and the subsequent failure of that relationship is that I really didn’t think I was bisexual because I didn’t really have very strong feelings towards the woman I had dated. The relationship was with an incredibly good friend of mine and I had a lot of confused feelings of platonic vs romantic. So when the relationship broke down I really thought that maybe I had made up all and every attraction to women I had. I didn’t like her ‘THAT’ much so maybe I didn’t like some ‘AT ALL’.
Hindsight tells me bullshit.
But everything continued to point me in the direction of not really liking women.
I had a few shitty, few week relationships with men following my ex-girlfriend and I didn’t like them even HALF as much as I had liked this woman but when they fell apart I didn’t dismiss it as everything because being heterosexual is normal? Right?
My obsession with relationships, failing or succeeding, was going to be my downfall if I didn’t start to understand that physical, emotional and romantic attraction was subjective to the person not the gender. I still am not sure how much I have come to terms with that. But at least I’m sure I like women now.
School was easy when it came to friendships and grades. I knew what I was doing 95% of the time and fighting against sexist uniform rules became a favourite pass time for me and my best friend at the time.
Then I got into a serious relationship, with a man. Got really into faith and christianity and moved into a little bit more of my repression of sexuality. It was easy because I was so very easily fitting into the mould of heterosexual, catholic girl chic.
Then one of my closest friends said this:
‘I respect gay people but I don’t think they should get married’
Boom. My world was continuing to fall apart as I sat in a R.E classroom, surrounded by people who weren’t actually respectful of my whole being. I suddenly realised that I had created a school Christian Union with a bunch of ‘friends’ who didn’t give a fuck if my sexuality and identity was falling apart due to their beliefs and their ideals.
Faith and sexuality couldn’t link in their eyes.
It couldn’t link in the eyes of the school that was supposed to look after me.
I was falling apart.
My sexuality was falling apart.
Sat in an R.E room with my boyfriend, my best friend and her boyfriend.
In a Catholic school.
I realised maybe I needed to pay attention to my head, my thoughts and my heart SCREAMING at me to pay attention to my sexuality.
Only in hindsight do I realise how much my school life affected my entire being as a bisexual woman.
As I attempted to surround myself with LGBT peers, the whole nature of the school I was in seemed to suppress any ability to express my sexuality. We had field trips to convents where we learnt exciting things like:
“If you hold a man’s hand for 15 seconds you WILL fall in love with him”
Crazy. What’s more crazy is they believed it.
Separating us into boys and girls as they tried to explain how to be in a relationship. I reckon I could tell you the catholic beliefs on family values better than I could tell you the names of our past 10 prime ministers. Neither of these things matter but both seem so important.
School is life affirming, life changing and helps to shape who you are as a person. Of course it does.
But it's hard when you are trapped in an ever confusing and conflicting world.
Faith and sexuality can and should link but the school that shaped me didn't allow for that.
Which meant I didn't allow for that.
Nowadays I understand the link but nothing will change what my school tried to drill into me.