Sun | May 28, 2017

Gay man tells of tough trials in Jamaican schools

Published:Saturday | May 16, 2015 | 5:00 AMDervin Osbourne

Tomorrow, May 17, is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, a day dedicated to acknowledging the horrors that many members of the LGBT community experience and to acknowledge their resilience.

I want to share my story of being bullied and teased ever since I was six years old because I was different.

I wondered how I wanted this message to be delivered and what emotions I should appeal to. I asked myself, at the end of this, do I want my readers to feel angry, to sympathise with me, to feel guilt or should I end on a note that will allow them to feel content. Then I realised that my story is what it is and it cannot be changed.

I'm not the most masculine person. My strange gender behaviour and expression were highlighted since primary school. I was teased a lot at an age where words hurt the most. Being called a sissy and 'gyal [girl] boy' or 'mantu' at age 10 is not the best feeling, and a 10-year-old is not usually equipped to deal with such harassment. Eventually, like always, the teasing died down as my schoolmates became more familiar with me.

When I left for high school, I promised myself that I wouldn't let what happened in primary school reoccur. For the first few months, I tried my best to be 'manly'. It didn't work.

Change impossible

I had an extremely hard time. I realised that despite my efforts, changing who you are and have been for 13 years overnight is impossible.

Two months after starting high school, the teasing started again. I handled it like I usually did. I stayed by myself to wallow in self-pity, then got over it. It got worse in grade eight when the older students noticed that I was 'different'.

My grades fell drastically. I was a true truant - skipping classes and skipping school. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I didn't want to be in the hostile environment that, at the time, I thought I had created for myself. I blamed myself for the situation I was in. I used to pray and beg God to change who I was. Most mornings, I got up to go to school and just stayed in bed and cried.

I tried changing myself again. I paid close attention to the guys who were teasing me. I looked at how they dressed, how they talked, how they did their hair. I endeavoured to emulate them. I wanted to belong. So I bleached my face, started wearing tight pants, curled my hair and dyed it jet black, because that's how the popular boys carried themselves. I also started disrespecting my teachers and getting suspensions every week.

I remember one day I heard my form teacher saying to another teacher, "A fish dat enuh," as I walked passed them. There was also an instance when I was called to the principal's office, and when she asked a male teacher how I looked, he responded, "Him look like a fish." The principal said nothing.

No action

I could not confide in anyone in the school. I don't blame them, though, because most teachers are not equipped to counsel students who are different.

For years while in high school, I reported the problems I was having, but there was no action. I remember watching my parents grow frustrated and watching them trying to hide it; they were hurting, too.

It was when I was in grade 11, my final year, that the school finally did something. This was after I was almost attacked on the street by a group of schoolmates. This is after I learned that students were taking knives to school to 'have fun' with me.

At the end of grade eight, I had an epiphany. I realised I couldn't allow negativity to steer me in the wrong way. I am who I am, and who I am is who I am. I have friends who support and accept me for me. I have a loving family who loves me for who I am, and that's all that matters.

However, I also know of the vast majority of students who are like me but do not have such support or are too scared to find out if their families and friends would support them.

To those who are being bullied, for whatever reason, I would say to them, it gets better. Don't forget that there are good people in the world, and they are the ones who you should focus on, even if it's just one.

It does get better, but don't be naive it doesn't go away completely.

I will forever be thankful for the some of the teachers I had. They proved to me that being a teacher is far more than just writing on the board.

I have taken my past and it has made my future very clear. I want to be a teacher, I want to be a motivational speaker, I want to be able to do what I'm doing now. I want to be that person to help others and let them know that I've been through it and to tell them that self-worth is the only requirement.

- Dervin Osbourne is human rights advocate for youth. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and osbournedervin@gmail.com.