LGBT Pride: Growing up Bisexual in the Forest of Dean

From school to local politics to my friendship group, growing up as a self-hating bisexual in the rural district of the Forest of Dean has not exactly been the least traumatising of experiences — writes Zac Arnold.

I haven’t said this here yet and to be honest it took me being outed at School in about 2013 and assaulted in public in 2020 for me to say this in those respective forums. Now, I’m taking control and making my own choice to write this.

I’m greedy, indecisive and incapable of having a relationship without picking a side. More accurately, I’m bisexual.

I was born in Gloucester and have lived in the Forest of Dean for all but about 10 months of my life. Its a left-behind rural community with strong views and a strong connection to their, let’s say, rather unique heritage.

Growing up is bad enough. School is bad enough. But the culture around talking about LGBT issues can be traumatising. The constant gay jokes and the homophobic nicknames are a struggle at the best of times, but in a rural community like this where a LGBT community all but doesn’t exist in public, there is very little support or solidarity to help get us through. I can’t absolve myself from responsibility here either though, joining in with the jokes and telling myself that the way I dealt with issues was to laugh them off. In reality, I was not dealing with it at all.

When I realised I was bisexual, I confided in a friend. A friend that, to be fair to them, didn’t see the harm in outing me to the rest of the school resulting in chants of “angry Zac likes angry anal” all day every day for almost four years. I internalised this homophobia which contributed to one of many reasons why I hated myself, and to a large extent still do.

Throughout my childhood, my dad would use homophobic language with no idea who he was saying it in front of. I overheard him saying he would be disappointed if I turned out to be gay. To this day, he’s adamant that the reasons for his disappointment would be a lack of grandkids, but his language generally suggested this was not the case. My uncle too said he would be disappointed if his son turned out gay, but that he would accept it. Other members of my extended family on my dad’s side would make jokes about me being gay from a young age. This generally feeling that I would be a disappointment to my family if I was LGBT is what contributed to me not coming out.

Even as a member and officer of my local Labour Party, with a gay parliamentary candidate, I did not feel comfortable coming out. I had to sit for two years in meetings listening to Mel Farrant, who would later be selected to stand in local elections with me and my dad in a three member ward, referring to our parliamentary candidate as a ‘poof’, a ‘bender’ and ‘queer.’ Then I’d be tasked with being the campaign coordinator responsible for electing him, watching my face on a leaflet next to his and my dad’s going through doors across the town. What was the point in me being a member of the Labour Party? Was I letting myself and the rest of the LGBT community down by not standing up and being counted? What was I really worth if I was stood side-by-side with two homophobes seeking to get them elected? The conclusion I came to, I was worth nothing. I was a disappointment, but not in the way my father saw me.

I tried to make a move without explicitly tackling the issue when I stood to be LGBT officer of my constituency party, only to be met with the response that ‘it had to be Shaun (the parliamentary candidate), doesn’t it’ as if the only gay in the village is the one that shouts the loudest and uses it to enhance his chances at slipping through the quotas. It would be impossible to just presume that I was standing for that position for a reason.

The years after this saw things get worse, I was assaulted — I think, partly due to my sexuality — in June 2020 by somebody who I had gotten quite close too. What changed? He found out that I had feelings stronger than mere friendship. As far as I was aware he was straight, so I didn’t mention it. What would it seek to achieve? Just make things awkward, or worse ruin the friendship entirely. But then one day, he said someone had told him and asked me if it was true. At first, I lied. Then I changed my mind and decided that it was better to just tackle it once and for all. At first, things were a bit awkward but there didn’t seem to be much change until suddenly shouts of ‘Princesses’ were being aimed at me and a friend and then two months later I was being jumped from behind by him and another boy in the middle of the night.

To conclude, what do I feel about my sexuality. Disappointment. Disappointment that I couldn’t just be accepted for what I was. Disappointed that I was not made to feel comfortable in all of these environments to be myself, and that I did not have the courage to not care about that comfort and stand up anyway. Disappointed that even within the LGBT community Bisexual people are still erased and ignored.

So… that’s me, finally coming out properly on my own terms and in my own words. Solidarity to everyone struggling with their sexuality or gender identity, and more generally anyone that is a square peg in a round hole. You are perfect the way you are, don’t let any of these bastards tell you otherwise. Live your life as fully as you can and as confidently as you can and tell your truth, that is the only way there will ever be a light at the end of this tunnel.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn by Zac Arnold. You can view the original post here: (1) LGBT Pride: Growing up Bisexual in the Forest of Dean | LinkedIn

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