This will not be an easy post to write. I have some music playing in the background, and a glass of wine beside me. I can already feel my eyes tearing up. Mostly because I've never told anyone this before, and I never thought much about it until recently.
I didn't think about it again until recently because I never thought it was odd. Or rather, I didn't see any significance in it, if that makes sense. I'm finding it difficult to get words out, they are in a mixed up mess with a lot of feelings and thoughts and I'm not quite sure how to talk about this, or where to start.
When I was about 7, I wanted to be a boy.
It feels very strange to have those words staring up at me. I have thought and thought and thought about them in the past few weeks, but I haven't said them. I wanted to be a boy. My friends were boys, I played with boys at break time, I liked the girls I was friends with, but I identified with the boys more. And so I told my friends I was deciding to be a boy. And told them to call me Ash instead of Aisling. And thought this wasn't unreasonable at all.
And of course, in a typical seven-year-old way, nobody else thought this was the most normal thing in the world (I've never directly talked to my parents about this sort of stuff, but I know that they have been instrumental in me becoming who I am. Although this sort of thing I find difficult to talk about with anyone, I know that they love me entirely and have been so wonderful at making my sisters and I the open minded people we are today. My mum always tells a story - TANGENT, SOZ - about how when I was about four, I was in my Granda's car when he was bringing us somewhere or other, and he asked why I only had two of my girl Barbies with me rather than bringing one of the boy ones, and I told him not to be silly, Granda, they're lesbians. And he had no idea how I knew what lesbians were. I have no idea how I knew either, but that's not the point. The point is that this sort of stuff was never odd to me, at all. And I have my parents to thank for that). The girls told me I couldn't play with them any more and that I wasn't allowed in the girls' toilets either. The boys' toilets terrified me. I'm not quite sure why. It was maybe the fear of not knowing what they were like behind the door. I don't really know.
And then I dropped it. I didn't want to be left out, I was seven years old. I dropped it and I remember feeling annoyed that people had laughed and didn't think that it was perfectly reasonable, but I got over it. But it was one of those memories that you remember, clearly. I have a picture in my head, I can remember how I felt. I didn't think about it too much. Except the times, as I grew up, when I'd be told my hair was a mess when I was playing rounders, and I told them I didn't care. When I felt pressured to shave my legs at the age of twelve, as if there was something wrong with the hair that was on them.
What would have happened if, when I was seven years old, it had been fine? It had been fine to suddenly announce to your classmates that you wanted to be a boy, and that they just better get used to it. We didn't even get to wear trousers in primary school, never mind secondary school. I wore a pinafore in secondary school.
This is upsetting, but the kind of upsetting that needed to come out, at some time or other. What I would give to tell the seven-year-old me that there was nothing wrong with wanting to be a boy, to tell the twelve-year-old me that taking out my self-hatred on myself wouldn't make the problems go away, to tell fifteen-year-old me that I didn't need to wear make up if I didn't want to, to tell seventeen-year-old me to stop thinking about how seemingly huge I looked in my formal dress and to just try and enjoy your night.
I don't know how to tell myself now that the problems constantly circling around my head are, often, the result of the society I live in. It is not acceptable to be different. Especially in Northern Ireland, but it obviously isn't a problem only here. It is lonely and isolating to live in a place where your Health Minister thinks that blood from a gay man is dirty, where you rarely say the words "I AM QUEER" because you know that most people will either laugh or look confused.
This is upsetting to write and upsetting to think about, because I usually don't let myself do so. The anger at the injustice usually wins out- which is great, because it shows, for the most part, my mental health isn't being too badly affected (in the past it has been very badly affected by this kind of stuff). The anger at the sheer ridiculousness of the lack of equality always wins out. I don't let myself think about how upsetting it is when someone thinks that you don't deserve something that they take for granted everyday. When something is core to your being, to have it dismissed, again and again, is very difficult to deal with. Of course, you all know this. You're maybe nodding your head- even if we're talking about different things in terms of the specifics, we all understand what I'm talking about. Whether it's equal marriage or the right to choose or the right to hold your partner's hand on the street without getting abuse hurled at you, it's all the same. We fight because it is how we deal with these things, and we don't let ourselves feel the hurt. We don't because we can't let them win. We can't give up, because they will have won. We can't give up because we will be on the right side of history and they will not. We can't give up because it is the fucking right thing to do.
This has gone off into a bit of a tangent. But I don't care. I used to write a lot when I was young. Stories, poems, songs, I did it all. I was that kid in school who went over the word limit by seven pages with a massive story that I just had to get out because it would be too unreasonable to stick to the three page word limit. I used to use words to just get it all out and I've only started to do it again, publicly, in the last while. I wrote my post about identifying as Queer on this blog. I suppose one thing it definitely shows is how much my generation are babies of the technological age, but you know what I mean. I don't feel the need to 'announce' it to anyone, but I feel the need to recognise it. This is who I am and this is how I feel and that is okay, even if it wasn't okay for so many years.
I'm in tears, and I don't know if they're happy tears or sad tears, or need-to-define-them-at-all tears, but they're there and that's okay. I wish I could be at LGBT Conference right now. I am so happy that my union finally sent someone (and I know he will have an incredible time! I've been tagging him in a million tweets all week introducing him to people I want him to meet). At Women's Conference, once I got over the anxiety and stuff that I'd been feeling, I don't think I'd ever felt more accepted in a group of people before. You didn't have to explain, you didn't have to validate why you were there or how you felt or anything, and it was great. It was so, so great.
The fact that I can acknowledge this, whatever this is, is both overwhelming and wonderful. The reason I can is because of a few people.
I first met Hel on NUS Women's Committee this year. And Hel is a fucking genius. Literally, a fountain of wisdom. But not only that, Hel is the nicest person in the entire world. I don't think I've ever met someone with more patience, ever. Always willing and ready to answer any questions, write you up a blog post, facilitate a workshop- anyone who knows Hel knows what I'm talking about. It is the combination of Hel's way with words (link to the blog), immense and unending kindness and willingness to approach every single little thing with the best of attitudes and the most positive of outlooks. I can't express, really, how much knowing Hel has made me feel able to talk about these kinds of things. At all.
When I first got involved in NUS-USI (which, realistically, has been pretty life changing) Adrianne was there to pick up the pieces and show me what to do. Show me how to get through, show me what to avoid, educate me, lead me, tell me just how much of a fucking right I had to be there with the men. Adrianne was the catalyst to me being able to come to terms with and discover a hell of a lot of things about myself and I will never forget that. Ever. THIS HAS TURNED INTO A BLOG ABOUT HOW MUCH I LOVE PEOPLE. I think I've just accepted that it is a medley of thoughts..
And Sky. Sky, Sky, Sky. I don't really have the words, but anyone who knows Sky knows what I'm talking about without me even having to say it. In so many ways, Sky has done so much without even realising it. And a lot consciously, too. To have someone who is so unequivocally themselves is the best thing I can see, as someone who is really confused and not sure what the hell is going on, ever. I'm almost sure I'm not the only one who thinks this, but to have Sky as one of the leaders of our LGBT campaign in terms of NUS, is one of the best things I have been privileged to witness this year and I literally don't want to think about when Sky leaves.
It obviously hasn't been just these people, the support and love from people like Kelley and Maryam will never go unnoticed. They have all been mentors and comforters and supporters and leaders and fucking good friends, people like this inspire me every single day and it is one of the reasons I am so thankful for getting involved the way I have this year. Without it, I wouldn't be helping people. Without it, I would probably be as screwed up as I was a few years ago. I am determined to make 2013 a year with no hospital stays, with no dips that last for months, I will not let myself stop trying to accept myself, even when it is hard. These people are the reason that I can remember to keep going on.
This has been a post composed of a lot of things. But I am ending on a happy note. These people have helped me realise and accept things about myself that I never could have dreamed I could accept, things I didn't know existed until an embarrassingly short time ago. And for that, I am eternally grateful. This is why we do what we do. For people like this.