searching for my history

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Your teenage years are a weird time of life. 

Add in realising halfway through Year Nine that girls are so much nicer than boys in every single way - and then promptly pushing that thought to the very back of your mind to deal with later on (anyone else procrastinate dealing with their sexuality or was that just me) my teenage years were a very weird, confusing time for me.  I had no idea why I felt like I had to actively pick a boy to crush on when it seemed that most people around me seemed to just fall into liking someone.

The secondary school I attended was a very rural, surrounded by fields, Church of England type school and while some of my memories are pretty fuzzy I think I'd remember the first time I heard the word lesbian.  'Gay' I heard, normally within the context of something that was stupid or silly but my own label remains firmly absent and along with it so does any mention of LGBTQ+ history.

I remember a traumatic having-to-put-a-condom-on-a-foam-penis incident, I remember stomping along a beach measuring stones, I remember lots of vague random facts about the Tudors and the Black Plague and the Aztecs; more than I will probably never ever need to know in my life.  But I don't remember being taught any queer history, any of my history.

99% of what I know has come from my own research, either purposefully looking to find out specific things I was confused about or as a result of a rabbit warren of links and Wikipedia pages.  

The Stonewall Riots in 1969 were the turning point for queer rights in the western world and the first time I heard anything about them was aged 20 in a university lecture.  Homosexual men and women were freed from the concentration camps only to be exiled within society and the first time I ever knew that was last year. 

When all the books were burnt in Nazi Germany was also when the library and archives consisting of 20,000 books and journals from the Institute of Sex Research - a pioneering place for homosexual and transgender rights as well as advocating for sex education and women's emancipation - were burnt.  Decades of research and information lost in one giant flame of hatred and yet I had no idea.  I'd never heard of the Institute of Sex Research or Magnus Hirchfield or the pink triangle.  I studied History right up to leaving school and one of the main topics for my GCSE's was Nazi Germany; even now I can rattle off a bunch of facts about that time but nowhere, not once in two years was it mentioned that 'oh by the way this was also a queer thing.'  I don't know if it would have made any difference to the confusion swirling around my head at the time but it might have helped when it settled.  

Actually, there's no might have.  I know it would.

It would have helped.  It would have helped to know that there was a word at the end of this questioning.  It would have helped to learn my history before I knew it was mine.  It would have helped to know that there were people who struggled and fought and created history, even if it had been erased, it would have helped to know it existed in the first place.

Now I don't blame my school for this, well not completely anyway, I do refuse to believe that every single teacher was unaware of any queer history facts but I also understand that if it's not on the curriculum then it must be incredibly difficult to put into lessons.  And why would a government that took seventy years to pardon Alan Turing, a man who changed the course of the war and saved thousands of lives only to afterwards be convicted as a criminal for having a boyfriend, why would they care about putting my history into classrooms?  Why would a government that took decades to debate whether or not my love is a crime even bother to think about the damage they cause by not purposefully ensuring that my history is taught?

I know that LGBTQ+ history month is different in every country but I also know that here in the UK it was established in 2005.  That's two years before I started secondary school and five years before I started really learning history and yet not once do I remember being taught any LGBTQ+ history.  

I have no idea what is currently being taught in schools but I hope it's different.  

I hope that a fifteen year old girl is allowed to sit in a classroom and learn about a history she might belong to.  I hope that young straight teenagers are taught my history too because if they don't learn when they have to they might not ever.  I hope that the next generation of queer school-goers don't have to google and wikipedia-search their way to knowledge about them, about their community.

Whilst I won't deny that I am angry that I never got the chance to be taught instead of teaching myself I am hopeful that things will get better.  I am hopeful that with every February that passes more and more people, children and adults alike, learn about the history that has shaped my community.  I am hopeful that we keep moving forward, that education becomes a space for everybody, that both the horrific and the heroic are taught because it's the only way to ensure we remember.

I am hopeful that queer history becomes something taught by teachers in the middle of Thursday afternoon to a classroom of students who are doodling and daydreaming like they do in every other lesson.  I am hopeful that it becomes commonplace to know random facts about the Stonewall Riots and I am hopeful that somewhere in a rural, surrounded by fields, Church of England type school there is a girl hearing the word lesbian for the first time, hearing it surrounded by positive, wonderful, amazing history and feeling a little less muddled because of it.

Below are a few links to UK based LGBTQ+ websites if you want to do some searching of your own:

The LGBTQ+ History Month Website
Young Stonewall
LGBT+ Archive

eloise x


  1. wow! loved reading this, I agree, I think that if we all would have learned about LGBTQ History, people well (young teenagers) would have taken lgbtq people a lot more seriously, it is the same with sex education, a lot more needs to be taught, i only got taught about periods and condoms, nothing about vaginas (hardly) or consent or grooming, and its the same with Black History, you only get taught a little, well I did anyway and I would have loved to have been taught more, oops ive gone on a bit but I loved reading this post :) x

    1. Oh yes I completely agree! Sex education in general is very sparse, especially when it comes to anything connected to women; and Black History Month is another thing that I don't really remember hearing mentioned in school either. Thankyou so much! :D xx

  2. I find it baffling how people don't find this problematic! The whole erasure of LGBTQ+ history from the canon is simply stepped over while it not only could help to create a 'normalised attitude' (instead of othering it, creating this nonsensical binary and stereotyping in favour of what?). By seperating it and make it a subject unspoken, you ignore such a huge part of real life and experiences from our so called collective knowledge that not only deserves to be heard but is actually NEEDED to be heard, acknowledged and (critically) assessed.

    It's when you are made aware of this background you are able to connect and work with it (for the better), not only as someone who perhaps identifies as LGBTQ+, but as you rightfully said also those who don't. I'm no expert on how these topics are handled nowadays at school, but it definitely should be part of the curriculum (beyond the awkward 'hey kids, bullying isn't ok, even when it comes to sexuality' talks that must achieve something I guess, because otherwise they wouldn't keep it up for so long but mainly -at my school at least- instigates more bullying or name-calling as there was no basis layed out in the first place on which a conversation could be build on and it also wasn't further picked up afterwards which, you know, doesn't change anything and only 'others' the situation even more).

    Sorry, this is a bit of a ramble. Anyway... Thank you for sharing your experiences!


    1. Thankyou so much for your rambly comment! It means a lot :D and I totally agree with you; there's no space for conversation with things like that - it's a very structured & simple 'don't do that' and then nothing more. Lots of things need changing or at least adjusting! xx

  3. I feel ashamed to say this has never, ever occured to me. Though sexuality is discussed openly in our schools and classes now (here in Aus, at least), LGBTQ+ history is never taught or covered. That's ridiculous, and terrible. It needs to change!!!
    Abby -

    1. There's no need to feel ashamed at all! It's one of those things where if it isn't mentioned then you don't know you don't know it - sexuality being discussed is definitely a step in the right direction though! Thankyou so much for your comment xx