SCHOOL – a place of learning or torturing?

This is a true story.  The person who wrote this wishes to be anonymous.   Her story, her own experience at a leading all girls school in Colombo is all true and very compelling.  If you have experiences like this and want to share it with others – please do email us at equalground@gmail.com or mail us on this site.  We will keep your name out if you wish – but your story really needs telling so use this space to tell it.

SCHOOL

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The foundation of who a child grows up to be is set when in school. We spend most of our waking hours of our childhood and teen years at school surrounded by our teachers and classmates. Rules in a Buddhist ladies school were far from lenient. From extremely strict dress codes to almost offensively invasive codes of conduct. Homophobia and transphobia was a given. In an environment so sexist, racist, classist and victim-blaming it’s no surprise that they’d be anti-LGBTIQ. Much like the lack of sex-ed, we had no LGBTIQ sensitizing either. Sex was an unspeakable act practiced by those most vulgar and sexually promiscuous. That was all we were told and according to them that was all we needed to know.

We were told to follow the principles of Buddhism and to be demure and decent girls. As Sinhala Buddhist women, our purpose was to be good mothers and more importantly to be worthy and disciplined wives. Monks would encourage us to breed as it was our responsibility as Sinhalese Buddhist women to keep our race the dominant race of Sri Lanka during the weekly morning preaching. The teachers would nod along with a sage “hmm”. Coming from a family of faith witnessing the disgusting hypocracy, the intolerance and the self-righteousness in the name of religion in an institution of education whose reputation of having done no wrong not only robbed me of faith in religion but also faith in justice.  Homosexuality was painted as despicable a sin as pedophilia and necrophilia. As girls we were told that pre-marital sex made us whores and that we were to cater to our husbands and nobody else, teachers went to uncomfortable lengths to suppress our sexualities. Among the students there’d be whispered discussions of lesbians followed by gasps, faux gagging and giggles. It was a juicy topic for gossip. The word “lesbian” alone was the most horrific insult a girl in our school could receive. Once spat out in front of an audience the reputation that came with it was impossible to shake. The rumour of you being a lesbian was enough for the teachers to mistreat you, for them to drop hints in the middle of the lesson and use you as a cautionary tale. For you to be bullied relentlessly by your peers or worse to be boycotted by them. Your reputation of being a lesbian whether true or not will haunt you until you graduate. It’s not something you can shake. Two girls in grade 11 were once caught texting “inappropriate things”. Their texts had consisted of nothing sexual and were innocent declarations of love but they were separated in school and their parents were instructed to keep them apart. Meanwhile they had to endure hours of snarky comments and the appalled speeches of their teachers. Our head coordinator told all three of our A/L Arts classes as a cautionary tale for any girls “who were so desperate”. For them bisexuality was a myth. Some form of sexual experimentation reserved for the most indecent.  So growing up, I never had a proper understanding of bisexuality. I assumed that I was a lesbian. From the ninth grade I knew that I wasn’t straight though I didn’t come to terms with it until three years later. Enduring all the gay and trans jokes were equal parts hurtful and mortifying. The far spread rumour of you being a lesbian is enough for your parents to be summoned to the principal’s office for a serious discussion of your future and your behaviour which could lead to a suspension if they see fit. Any “evidence” of any “vulgarity” such as letters, texts or inappropriate behaviour it would be grounds for a long suspension or an expulsion.

2015 was my last year in school. A girl in the grade below me whom I knew in passing and whom I knew to be lovely, was rumoured to be a lesbian. She and her girlfriend were then caught by a teacher and a prefect who both very firmly stated that their public display of affection was completely inappropriate and mortifying. Nobody but the four of them know what really happened that day but that didn’t stop from the speculations. Eyes would widen, there’d be snickering and heated whispers whenever those two poor girls would pass by. Bisexuality was simply an impossibility so their reputation of being “dykes” was set in stone. I found myself being overwhelmingly protective of her though we’ve only spoken about 3 times. She and I would wave and smile at each other in the corridor. I was once with my classmates when I saw her and we waved at each other. A friend of mine looked appalled at said “You know she’s a lesbian right?” I was so shocked that when I turned to see if she had she was already gone. My “So?” wasn’t surprising given my long and passionate rants about equality during our free literature periods. It never fails to amaze me how they’d all nod and agree with me with a chorus of ‘yes’s and exasperated sighs at the intolerance of the ignorant. Yet outside of the crammed and dusty lit room they are as ignorant and cruel as the very people they criticize. The homophobia and transphobia are so interwoven into the people they’ve become that no amount of passionate rants from their closeted bisexual friend or Oscar winning movies or beautiful tragic books or pleas of their LGBT child to forgive them will change their way of thinking.

The teen years are dedicated to “finding oneself”. To properly develop their tastes in the arts, to discover where their passion and purpose lies and for their proper personalities to be shaped. One’s sexual orientation and gender identity is a big part of who a person is. We are so discouraged from even thinking about anything remotely sexual let alone to find ourselves that we’re 20 by the time we can even think about our sexual orientations or gender identities. But the homophobia, transphobia and general intolerance is so inbred and has become a part of who we are as people. The internalized homophobia and transphobia later progresses to a lot of resentment, depression, anxiety and self-isolation. It was a while after I graduated from school that I felt comfortable with labeling myself a bisexual/pansexual.

My mother tells me that we can change. That we can choose to change no matter what we were taught. How can a house stand when its very foundation is caving in? Severe anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, resentment towards authority, compulsive lying, self-harm and an eating disorder are a few of the quirks I have school to thank for. The relentless bullying of the providers of education most certainly played a massive part in it. Even right now school still haunts me. Internalized homophobia and biphobia still makes me ashamed and afraid. It keeps me in the closet. It keeps me from picking a fight with my homophobic relatives. It keeps me from sharing this huge part of who I am from my mother who I know will understand, to spare her from the burden of this secret. When the foundation of who you are is toxic it’s not something you can escape. Whether slowly or quickly it poisons you, it corrodes you from the inside, kills you each passing day. The minute the torture ends and you are released from years of captivity you’d either succumb to Stockholm syndrome or like me you’d desperately claw at yourself to be rid of any trace of the effect it had on you. No number of piercings, tattoos, rebelling or declarations of liberalism will undo what you were told, what you once believed and their narrow prejudices that you’ve now inherited.

Depression, anxiety, learning disorders, eating disorders and bisexuality weren’t considered to be real. They were all alien concepts dreamed up by the West as excuses to be lazy or vulgar. It wasn’t in our culture and therefore non-existent. The problem was all those were things I had, it was who I was. Being told that being a bisexual was a sin and unnatural and that the pain I was enduring was irrelevant by teachers years older and mothers themselves added to it all. Having been told over and over to ‘get over it’ by my teachers, parents, cousins, friends and relatives made me reserved. Now they all accuse me of being cold and closed off. Talking about my problems make me ‘annoying’ and ‘selfish’. Keeping it all bottled up makes me ‘resentful’, ‘closed off’ and ‘cold’. Sometimes I wish I had taken a beating instead. That I had photographs of blue bruises and a black eye, healing scratch marks, a split lip or a lisp from a chipped tooth. Something. Proof that they’ve put me through hell. That I’m a survivor and not some girl who cried wolf. So I could point to each scar each picture and give its gory origin. Instead I have emotional baggage and hurt that is shrugged off for being petty, bitter and nothing. I’m constantly having to explain to people why I am the way I am and having to apologize for how I am. But no one ever apologized for breaking me.  I know for a fact that no one ever will. A student’s mental well being means so little to the teachers that it’s no wonder that they end up birthing generations upon generations of insensitive and narrow minded adults.

-HH-

 

 

1 Comment

  1. so this is the real story, full of insights. Brilliantly written. We are grateful to you for sharing this story.


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