School became a battleground and I became an expert in navigating its tricky terrain. Lunch time became synonymous with library time, I quickly learnt which areas were no-go zones (typically areas that teacher didn’t patrol, which I subsequently avoided at all costs) and I developed my creativity skills (otherwise known as lying) in a desperate attempt to avoid any form of class-based physical exercise.
But that was then, surely things are better now…right? Comparing 1990s Australia with the modern, vibrant and increasingly progressive country we live in today isn’t fair. Australia has changed, and so has the world. Marriage equality has gone from a trickle to a flood with more and more countries making it legal. The LGBT community is a lot more visible across all media. People’s ‘hearts and minds’ really seem to have changed.
And then I read ‘Beyond ‘Priscilla’ by Daniel Witthaus. The book documents Daniel’s 38 week long drive around all parts of Australia, yes even those parts not on the Eastern seaboard. His goal? To discover the true state of homophobia in towns and schools across rural and remote regions of Australia. Despite fears from loved ones before the tour, Daniel survived unscathed and unhurt. But he did notice a few things, one of them being that homophobia is still rife in our high school system.
One passage in the book, really spoke to me. A social worker in Geelong, Victoria described Year 8 and Year 9 as ”some of the harshest places in the world, especially for young men.”
Wait, what? How can this be? How can homophobia still exist on this sort of scale and have this much of an impact and teenagers in high school? We have 72% of all Aussie supporting marriage equality, we have Mitch and Cam on Modern Family, and Ellen – and so much progress that’s being made. It doesn’t make sense.
Despite things looking better on the surface, the truth it seems is that every day life for LGBT students is still tough, scary and lonely. In addition to the hormonal battles raging inside their bodies, external battles are still being fought.
Because of my own high school experience being unpleasant to say the least, I don’t spend a lot of my time thinking about those years. I’m now a relatively well-adjusted and happy adult, so I focus on adult-things like mortgage payments, family, friends and running a business.
Reading ‘Beyond Priscilla’ has turned my thoughts back towards my own high school experience for the first time in years. One question that I’ve asked myself is – could I survive if I had to re-do those years all over again? Even with all the knowledge, experience and strength that I now have – the answer isn’t a clear cut one for me.
Back in the 90s, school time finished at 3.20. That’s when the daily torture was over, and I would literally start to feel lighter as the weight and stress of the day leaving me, as I walked back home. I could find sanctuary for the rest of the day in my room, listening to CDs and reading magazines. When school ended, it ended. Today – are we ever really disconnected?
Face to face bullying and intimidation can easily bleed into the online/digital/social realm, making it almost impossible to escape and find sanctuary. Despite access to more information than ever, complex privacy and disclosure issues exist. So while the information may be at your fingertips, keeping it private and ensuring no one else sees it, can be tricky.
And then there’s the issue of increased visibility. While there are undoubtedly a multitude of benefits of increased LGBT visibility, there is as with all things, a down side as well. In the 90s (in Queensland at least) ‘gay issues’ weren’t seen or discussed as much as they are today. This meant the issue was largely ignored. Today, the opposite is true. LGBT rights are covered in mainstream media, and almost eves ingle show has an LGBT character. This means that LGBT issues are front of mind, and being discussed more openly.
Which is great – unless you’re a sexually confused teenager sitting in a classroom with people around you talking about last night’s episode of Glee when some kid decides launch a tirade against all “poofs and fags on the show. Or a teacher ….
High school is still unfortunately not a safe space for many LGBT students. While it really is true that ‘it gets better’ when you leave high school and move on with your life, those words can be little consolation to the people still at high school for the near and foreseeable future. So what do you think? Could you go back to high school and survive, or does the the thought fill you with dread?
Regular readers of the blog know I don’t believe in advertising on the blog, but I would seriously recommend reading Dan’s book ‘Beyond Priscilla‘. It’s a great read and really insightful.