I’ve written before about my experiences of being racially bullied and ostracised at high school. In a bid to get away from that, I enrolled myself into a college in an area known for being “multicultural” 40 minutes away from my home. It was the right choice to make.
I’d often heard people talk down about the college’s students and its teachers, but it turned out to be the first place I’d ever attended where I felt like I comfortably blended in. My confidence grew, quickly, and the absence of dread each morning granted me the space to explore parts of myself that I’d previously left to collect dust.
I came out as bisexual to my parents when I was 15. I’d had feelings for two females at that point: a teacher, and a friend. I was never ashamed of what they would think; the household I grew up in was, in many respects, open-minded. My mum told me she was happy for me, my dad said he already knew. So that was it – at home I was “out”, and at school I certainly wasn’t.
I knew that was another thing I’d be judged for, and I really didn’t need things to add to the list. So, my sexuality went largely unspoken until I had left school and settled into college. I soon met a girl, and in true stereotypical lesbian fashion, things moved very quickly. I spent five nights a week at her town-centre flat, and two nights at home. I’d watched The L Word in its entirety prior to my sexual liberation and I can still laugh at how well it mirrors my experience.
“The anxieties I’d held onto about my race and my sexuality were things I found myself talking about openly and honestly”
I found myself totally immersed in the Manchester LGBTQ+ scene, spending each weekend on the well-known Canal Street, and slotted seamlessly into a tight-knit group of lesbian friends, some of whom were also Women of Colour (WoC). I was the youngest one, and I was welcomed with open arms.
The anxieties I’d held onto about my race and my sexuality were things I found myself talking about openly and honestly. As they began to lose their power, I could see myself as an appreciated part of a collective identity. Surrounded by women that I could relate to, I was happy – I’d come a long way from the bigoted classrooms of my younger years, and I felt proud.
Living in a city centre did wonders for how I still see the world. I felt a million miles away from the predominantly white, leafy suburb that I’d grown up in. People of Colour were no longer such an obvious minority to me. This was perhaps the most valuable lesson of all – the WoC that I met wore their skin proudly, taking no steps to whitewash themselves like I had done. It was nothing short of liberating.
I met a girl with a grandparent from Belize, something I’d never expected to have in common with a stranger. She made it sound exciting and beautiful, not strange and foreign. I found myself circling “bisexual” on application forms that asked about my sexuality, no longer ashamed. I walked through the streets with an unshakeable self-assurance, granted by the women I’d met and their lessons in self-love.
My infatuation with my girlfriend, her friends and my new fast-paced lifestyle took its toll on my education. Despite everything I’d been through at secondary school, I’d remained academically talented, sailing through exams. But, I hadn’t been attending college much. I rushed through my coursework, and I have such a clear memory of when I opened my A-level politics exam paper in a crowded hall and all I could do was stare at it and mouth “what the fuck” to myself, unable to write more than 20 words for the duration of the exam. I got my results back – two E’s and D.
“It was obvious I couldn’t keep up with having both my girlfriend and good grades, so I had to make a choice”
I was upset, but my parents were dumbfounded. How could this have happened? They each blamed themselves for giving me too much freedom. At the time I thought I was all grown-up, almost 17, experimenting with drinking and drugs, living off fast food. Fun, normal stuff – but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
As my parents saw it, I was still only 16, heading down a precarious path, in with a crowd of bad influences, and much too thin. It’s bewildering to look back and see how differently we saw the situation, although with hindsight I now know they were right about almost everything. It was obvious I couldn’t keep up with both, so I had to make a choice – girlfriend or grades.
I took myself out of college. More besotted with my girlfriend than ever before, we spent each day and night together. Wherever she was, I wasn’t far behind. My parents did their best to understand, but I avoided them out of the knowledge that I had become a disappointment.
Things continued how they had been for a while longer – we went out a lot, drank some more, took some more drugs, experimented with our sexuality, shared some more experiences. Nobody said it out loud, but I imagine they would agree – it was no longer a thrill. Instead, it was mundane, an obvious waste of time. One by one, I saw people walk away from the group without a second thought.
“I noticed how easily people were replaced by new girls with wide eyes, and instead of feeling upset, I was filled with an instant relief”
Different things had led them elsewhere; a break-up, a breakthrough, and in one instance, an emotional breakdown. I noticed how easily they were replaced by new girls with wide eyes, and instead of feeling upset, I was filled with an instant relief. How easy it could be for me to start afresh, and disappear. I began looking into re-enrolling at college on my phone as I lay beside my girlfriend after yet another argument.
I saw a college that offered the A-levels I was interested in. It was a different place this time – closer to home, better reviews, whiter, but it wasn’t as oppressive as the school had been in before. I attended an open day and took my confidence with me. I signed up and moved back home.
After only a few months back with my parents, a deleted Facebook account and a new phone number, I found myself making plans for the future. Moving away from my now ex-girlfriend’s flat and back into the small bedroom I’d grown up in, I was reunited with my bookshelf.
As I read each spine, I realised I hadn’t read a single book whilst I’d been away. So, in true dramatic fashion, I vowed to make them my priority. I was going to pursue words for the rest of my life. Then all of a sudden, it was so clear; I wanted to attend university to study English literature, and I was going to write.
Two years later, I got an acceptance letter and my results – A*AB. I moved to a new city, Liverpool, and arrived as a self-assured brown, bisexual woman. Whilst I am thankful for everything Manchester and its women taught me, for now at least, Liverpool is my home.