As a talented dancer, Kat Hawkins didn’t always believe that anybody could dance. It was a difficult journey for Kat to realise that all bodies are worthy of expressing themselves through dance. Here’s how Kat discovered that however you dance, you deserve to have your own rhythm this new year…

The words are in my head forever.

“I’m really sorry but we’re going to have to amputate your leg, it’s not healing.” What followed is a blur, it seems that the human body has the capability of protecting you from the worst moments, fading the edges so it’s not as sharp as it should be. I remember screaming out loud. Again it’s not a scream in my memory, but a tempered groan of pure pain. My first thought was dance. My one love, gone forever…

Without legs, I couldn’t dance. No way. It wasn’t possible.

I was 18, and in my third month of sleeping in a hospital bed, hospital food, medication, the painful 8 pm ending of family visits. The news that I would need my leg amputating below the knee was almost too much to deal with. Almost.

A few months down the road, and with both legs amputated, I was in a physio session talking about how dance was helping me learn to walk on prosthetics quickly. “It’s your core strength balance,” my physio said, as I struggled to hold on to the bars that were stopping me from falling straight on to the floor while pulling my incredibly baggy jeans up around my waist. The months of life-support, medication, meningitis, feeding tubes and surgeries had taken their toll on my weight. “We have had amputees dance before, it won’t be anything like you’re used to, but we might be able to get you back to a club on the dancefloor.”

No, I remember thinking. This is not what dance is to me. It’s really moving, it’s spinning, it’s circles and swirls. It’s jumping so high you might as well be flying.

No, dance is not for me anymore, that has been taken from me and it’s gone. And so, I pushed dance away. I shut down thoughts about it. I moved choreography ideas into a sealed box and silently cried after every dream in which my legs were back and I was dancing.

Until one day, I found Candoco whilst looking for disabled dance classes online and a glimmer of hope re-opened. They were a professional dance company made up of disabled and non-disabled dancers. Their view of the human body in all its differences and its place in dance changed my entire outlook on who is an isn’t a dancer. Suddenly every misconception I’d ever had was challenged.

Anybody can dance, all bodies are valid, all bodies are interesting and worthy and able of expression. How had I missed this?

That was it. I knew I needed to move again, to dance. At first, literally with nobody watching and then, as I got used to my changed body, with others and in front of an audience. Growing up, all I knew about dance really was of one body type with mild variations. Two arms, two legs, mostly slim, mostly average height, standing. But, what is dance really? It’s so much more than set routines or steps. It’s humans revealing, it’s humans interacting, learning, showing and enjoying.

That’s the most important thing for me. I enjoy dance again, and I hope you can too.


Keep up with Kat:

Instagram: @amputee_kat
Website: amputeekat.com

student mental health

University is so often talked about as being the best years of your life, a place where you will make lifelong friends, get involved with many societies and gain independence. However, this is a large leap in a person’s life and it can bring with it a number of difficulties.

Students are warned about the stress that studying at university will bring with it, as well as potential mental health issues that may arise. The number of students dropping out of university courses due to mental illness has been increasing significantly in recent years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, mental health difficulties are more prevalent in university students than the general population, with 75% of all mental health difficulties developing in individuals by their mid-20s (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2010).

So, whether you’re new to uni life, have friends or family going to university or for anyone in education, here are the ten things that you need to know about mental health at university…

1. Academic pressure can fuel mental health difficulties

Whilst the majority of students will have joined university straight after completing their A-levels or similar qualifications and work pressure is nothing new to them, the sheer intensity can come as quite a shock. University is likely to be the first time that a student is asked to learn independently, to manage their own time and to think outside of the box, creating their own ideas far beyond a textbook. It is important that whilst at university you make time for self care and to know that your results do not define you or your worth.

2. Financial strain will become a larger strain than you first imagine

Another huge pressure is the financial implications of going to university. Financial stress can drive mental health difficulties; expensive tuition fees alongside uncertain job prospects mean students are becoming ever more stressed about whether the costs incurred will pay off. If you would like some more advice on how to manage your finances you will be able to find some information here.

3. A routine is essential to your mental health at university

At university, the ball is well and truly in your corner. You choose to attend lectures, if you skip them there will unlikely be any follow up unless you are regularly skipping. You choose what time to wake up and go to bed. For many, self-management can be incredibly difficult, there are different social events on different evenings, there are deadlines at different stages, it won’t always be easy, or possible to stick to a regular routine and losing this structure can have a really big impact on productivity and well-being. Start the year in the way you wish to continue, use bullet journals, diaries, calendars – whatever it is you find helpful to your own organisation

4. Social media is a blessing and a curse

I am sure this is nothing new to many students, however, at university social media seems to become ‘more central’ to the experience: friend requests left, right and centre, tagged photos, house party invites. Social media in general is known to have both positive and detrimental impacts to a person’s mental health, with a whole network allowing us to judge ourselves and our lives against others. The constant and sometimes relentless stream of status updates and photos of people appearing to have a good time can turn social media into an area of competition instead of relaxation. It is important to reclaim social media and make it a more honest place – you can share your best night in here.

5. Living in halls is not as scary as it first seems

The thought of living with complete strangers can be scary at first, but there are many thousands of others taking this step as they start university. It is important to try and make your room as homely as possible, put up your favourite photos, get nice bedding and make it your own. Why not buy some tea and biscuits for that first social meeting with your new housemates? It is also ok if you do not get on with your housemates, there are plenty of other ways to meet people at university. It will be useful to prepare yourself before you move in order to make the transition smooth.
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6. Living at home can be beneficial and isolating at the same time

When you picture a university student, you may imagine students living away from home but what about the 27% of students living at home (Guardian, 2017). You will have to try harder to fit in with close groups that live together. This is especially noticeable in first year following ‘freshers’, which is definitely not made for students living at home and you may notice most of your friends are from your course rather than across university courses – be sure not to shoot off straight after lectures, stay around and socialize if you are able to as it can feel very isolating at times.

7. Making friends

Being at university is not purely about studying, it is a whole experience, and socializing is a very important aspect. Students are put in the same position, thrown into a new environment, often not knowing anyone else – you become a very small fish, in a very large pond. It can be very overwhelming and very anxiety provoking, but a great chance to meet like-minded people. The first person you meet might not be your best friend for life and that is okay. If you are lucky, you might develop strong friendships that will last a lifetime. People may find this time in their lives difficult; know what to look out for in Student Minds Look After Your Mate guide.

8. Fresher’s week may damage more than your liver

Fresher’s week, the start of the university year. It is a great way to meet people, make friends, relax and slowly ease into university life. Whilst this period is usually seen as a student essential, the sheer amount of clubbing, events and most notably… alcohol, can become too frequent and prove overwhelming for some. Please, look after yourself and watch your alcohol consumption! Remember that’s it’s totally fine to not drink, there will be other students who are exactly the same! Read more here

9. Societies give you a much needed break from university work

There are lots of ways to embed yourself into your university community and joining societies is one of them. Always wanted to try out something new? Been part of a club at home for years? Attend your societies fair or check out your student union website to find out what societies are available at your university. This can be a great way to meet likeminded people and have fun outside of the academic pressures of university.

10. Services are there for you, make use of them

At university there are a variety of services to support students such as a doctor’s surgery and a wellbeing centre. When at school you will have had a large amount of contact with the staff, however at university you will have minimal contact hours with staff and thus sadly much less likely for them to pick up on symptoms of poor mental wellbeing, unless you bring it to their attention. It is very important that you speak to your tutors and also the wellbeing centre when you need that additional support.

Follow Student Minds on Twitter @StudentMindsOrg

Jamel on his experience as a gay, black man

As a homosexual man of British-Caribbean decent, I have struggled my entire life to satisfy the expectations of the black community, while still staying true to my gay self.

Growing up I often questioned my sexuality; although I recognised and accepted my attraction to men, I knew from a young age, that there would come a time when my parents would discover I was gay, and that this would be a significant and extremely difficult moment in my life.

What I knew of gay culture, growing up, came from homosexual characters featured in British television sitcoms. Most were depicted as overtly feminine, white males and I just couldn’t relate to these personas. I remember my parents once saying that they liked ‘gay, white men’, (having seen and embraced these token comedic characters on tv) but ‘felt sick’ at the idea of a gay, black man.

I had nothing in common with the gay men represented in mainstream media. Not only was I not white, I also didn’t possess the effeminate and ‘camp’ mannerisms that the men on these shows displayed, and were so loved for. Any feminine qualities I once possessed, I had been taught to hide. I think that black men especially, have always felt the need to act manly, dominant and sometimes even, aggressive. Maybe this is down to a long history of mistreatment and repression; maybe we feel there is a need to assert our strength and authority in a world that has constantly tried to pit us as unequal. However, this mentality directly opposes the general stereotype of homosexuals, as people who embrace their femininity. As a black, gay man I suffered an identity crisis.

I searched for a gay role model that looked and acted similar to myself, but had no luck finding one. I struggled to find relatable personas within the Caribbean culture too. Hearing the words ‘chi-chi man’ or ‘batty man’ in Jamaican reggae or hip hop songs, or hearing people use the word ‘gay’ as an insult or put-down, made me shy away from my sexuality even further. In attempt to fit in with my classmates, I would openly sing along with these songs and call things/people gay in a derogatory manner.

This convoluted self-identity started to have its implications. I found it hard to externally live up to the ‘black man’ stereotype, while internally wanting to embrace my homosexuality. This affected my ability to make meaningful friendships and find my niche within the gay community. As I got older I started to feel isolated, and found that I could not build social circles like my counterparts could. I also started to develop interests that could be associated with being gay (I loved Britney Spears for example) and I couldn’t share this side of my personality with my straight friends.

The more I rejected my true self, the more I became an outsider. My straight, black friends started to think I was ‘uncool’ – they dubbed me ‘Mr Nice Guy’ or ‘The Friendly Giant’ (nicknames insinuating weakness), because I could talk the talk (although it wasn’t genuine), but I couldn’t walk the walk. I was living a lie, and people were becoming suspicious.

Every year, the students in our class would change, and it was a new opportunity for me to meet other pupils. I remember thinking of ways in which I could ‘reinvent’ myself, and make myself ‘cool’. This basically involved me pretending to be someone I wasn’t. To start with, this facade drew people in, but long-term I couldn’t keep up the act – I didn’t like girls, football or any of the other things your average, straight teenager would. I wasn’t convincing myself or anyone else. Eventually this would lead to people teasing me, but it never escalated further than that. I would never claim that I was bullied; I had a quite a big frame and I think people were intimated by my size. Still, it was a very lonely time for me.

As I slowly came to terms with my sexuality, I started going to gay bars and clubs. I found most men at these venues were openly gay, proud and, 95% white. I have always admired gay men who are confident in themselves. I definitely find a lot of black men, like myself, to be more reserved about their sexuality, in comparison to gay, white males. I question where this confidence stems from: Does it come from within? From family support? Or from the media? The media openly embraces white homosexuals and their lifestyles unlike homosexuality in the black community. I wonder as a young boy, if I would have seen a black, gay man on screen that I could relate to, if this would have led me down a path of acceptance, rather than rejecting my true self.

I’ve also found that some white men refuse to date black men, but will sleep with them if they satisfy the aforementioned ‘masculine’ stereotypes. Strangely, I also bought into this stereotype of what a black man ‘should be’. Although I am gay, and I was practicing gay sex, I felt because I wasn’t a ‘bottom’ or in a submissive position, I still fulfilled the ‘black man agenda’. It sounds ridiculous, but because I longed to have a network and support system I played up to this. I was tired of being an outsider and I craved validation. In a way, I even felt proud of myself because I was finally seeking approval from other gay men, rather than trying to fool people into believing I was straight.

Black, gay men shouldn’t feel the need to conform to these archaic stereotypes. No one should have to act in a way that is unnatural – regardless of race or sexuality. We need to stop pigeonholing – not all gay men are effeminate, not all black men are masculine. Men shouldn’t feel any less ‘manly’ for being gay, or acting in ways that are not traditionally ‘masculine’, and gay men shouldn’t feel any less part of the LGBT+ community if they do not fit the effeminate gay stereotype. It’s about time we ditched these preconceived ideas of what people should look, or act like. There are no rules.

Written by Jamel

The 11 Secrets of a Sex Worker

My name is Douglas and I have been a gay male sex worker for nearly 18 years and involved in sex worker activism for the IUSW and The Harlots Collective for about ten years, here in the United Kingdom. I have worked in Edinburgh, London and Newcastle as an independent and also through several escort agencies. I genuinely and unashamedly enjoy my work as a sex worker. I am lucky that I have always worked in professions that I enjoy. I could not imagine working in a job I did not like or that did not offer me satisfaction emotionally and creatively. That is not to say that in sex work everyone must, or indeed does, enjoy their work. Human experience is complicated and varied and those who sell sex are no different from any other worker in any other profession.

Over the years I have been asked many questions about sex work, activism and what decriminalisation means for sex workers. I have listed below the most common questions I have been asked and the usual response I give.

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Top 11 Questions That A Sex Worker Is Most Frequently Asked

Surely no child dreams about becoming a prostitute?

 The most common accusation thrown at sex workers is that no child grows up dreaming of being a prostitute. This justifies, for the accuser, the moral perspective that selling sex is wrong and therefore righty condemned by society and punished by the law. The question, however, is a statement of the subjective stigma and prejudice that exists toward certain groups and behaviours within society which moulds attitudes toward those groups, conveniently ignoring the reality of real peoples lives and experiences.

The truth is that no parent can know for certain what choices their children will make when they are older. Sex work decriminalisation is about protecting the lives of sex workers, who are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and mothers. It is about prioritising safety above the subjective moral judgment inherent in the question.

Isn’t selling sex dangerous?

Selling sex is not in itself dangerous. Having sex is after all a natural function of the human body and a reflection of human attraction and sexual desire and fantasy. Provided an individual takes necessary precautions against sexually transmitted diseases, which, because of their work, sex workers are especially particular about, the risk is minimal. Most sex workers, like many freelance hairdressers, masseurs, plumbers and a host of other professions, work one to one with a singular client. A sex worker is, therefore, no more at risk than any of the other profession which works in a similar way, who also visit clients in their homes or hotels or invite them to their own places of work.

Clients seeking sexual pleasure are no different from clients looking for a relaxing massage, they are not looking to harm the person giving them pleasure. Criminals, however, know they can target sex workers with relative impunity because anti-sex-work legislation prevents sex workers from legally taking the necessary safety precautions that every other profession would think as obvious.

In the UK and other less tolerant legal jurisdictions, sex workers are not allowed to work together for safety. The law states that two or more sex workers working together are classified as running a brothel which carries severe legal penalties. Sex workers are not allowed to work through any third party who is at risk of prosecution for controlling for gain, money laundering and/or living off immoral earnings. Street sex workers face prosecution and are often forced, because of anti-kerb crawling legislation, to make quick decisions about which clients to accept. They are forced to work in isolated areas, work alone and in other words, they, like most sex workers, are made easy targets for criminals. It is, therefore, not sex work that is dangerous, nor our clients who are dangerous, but the law that prevents sex workers from taking common sense safety precautions.

All sex workers are drug addicts and lead chaotic and desperate lives:

Undoubtedly, some sex workers do take drugs. I have always argued that sex work reflects the society in which it operates, therefore, drug abuse exists but is no more prevalent within sex work than it is within society in general. When reference is made that sex workers’ lives are specifically desperate or chaotic, what is really being expressed is stigma and prejudice rather than the reality for the overwhelming majority of sex workers, who have made a considered and sober decision to sell sex. The underlying truth is that individuals in all professions and work environments may face problems and require help at certain times in their lives. Substance addiction and social need are not particular to sex work, yet they are used to restrict the sex worker debate within a context that perceives sex work as always being problematic, partially the reason for this is that our knowledge about the wide range of experiences within sex work is limited.

No one knows with any certainty how many people work in the sex industry within the constituent countries of the United Kingdom. The most visible contact and the easiest accessible information available to the media, politicians and the general public about sex work is gathered from outreach projects and home office statistics. Sex work projects work with specifically targeted groups of sex workers while the Home Office statistics record where sex workers have come into contact for various, but usually negative reasons, with the police. Both the Home Office and sex worker projects reflect, predominately, the experiences of outdoor street sex workers.

Statistically, street workers represent between 5 to 15% of UK sex work. Their experiences, whilst important, are not necessarily representative of the experience that the majority of indoor sex workers have. Independent academic research and I especially reference the recent studies undertaken by Jane Pitcher (Loughborough University), suggests that most indoor sex workers see themselves as a small business requiring a wide and diverse variety of skills to accomplish their job. Increasingly, academic research contradicts the idea that sex workers, indoor or street, are any different to other workers in that their experiences are varied and rarely fit a convenient stereotype.

Aren’t sex workers are all coerced by pimps and traffickers?

Many sex workers choose, for very good reason, to work through a third party even though the third party is breaking the law and can face severe penalties. The sex worker usually pays a third party a proportion of their income from sex work in return for anonymity, security and for the third party to deal with marketing. They organise appointments and where appropriate, provide safe places from which to work. The sex worker is contracting out a role that they don’t have the capacity to perform or do not wish to do themselves. In any other profession, these professionals would be classed as managers and, like in any job, there are good managers, there are bad managers and there are indifferent managers.

The popular media too often sensationalises reporting about sex work by referencing violent pimps, usually street pimps, often foreign, low-level criminals, enticing young women into sex work where they control their income through violence and drugs.

References to pimps in much of the media reflect stigma, cultural prejudices and often racism, rather than reflecting the reality of the often close working relationship that exists between the sex worker and the third party. The word “pimp” especially has racist connotations in the USA, where the term pimp has become intrinsically linked with varied aspects of black culture. Violent pimps undoubtedly do exist, but they are the exception rather than the reality.

Trafficking has become the big scare story, in recent years, used by anti-sex work organisations to justify their anti-sex work narrative and for governments to justify anti-sex work legislation. Trafficking, however, is a lot more complicated than the simplistic story that is being told to create a moral panic.

Legal and illegal migration for sex work to the UK, within the UK and within most countries, is classified as trafficking. Any third party facilitating in any manner the travel for any consenting sex worker, even a UK national, to an appointment to sell sex within the UK can, for example, be prosecuted for trafficking offences. The recorded evidence, however, is that the percentage of sex workers trafficked into the UK (or elsewhere) against their will and forced to sell sex is negligible. The numbers forced to work, sold into slavery in other industries, such as construction, farming, domestic service and even catering are far higher.

There is a growing immigration crisis facing all of Europe, both legally and illegally. It is essential that, within the context of sex work, consent is recognised and that the adult sex worker is not infantilised by legislation determined to make them victims to satisfy a moral and political agenda.

Won’t decriminalisation of sex work mean that children will be encouraged to think that selling sex is a proper and legitimate profession?

There is no evidence from New Zealand, where sex work has been decriminalised since 2003, that the numbers of sex workers have increased. The official numbers have remained very stable since decriminalisation and New Zealand is recognised as the best country in the world in which to work as a sex worker.

Decriminalisation of sex work does not mean that children or adults can be coerced into selling sex by individuals or by the state, it simply means that adults who do sell sex have the protection of the law and choices about how they choose to work safely. No one has ever suggested that decriminalisation would mean that sex work becomes an option for careers advisors or that job seekers should be forced into sex work or lose their benefits. These are scare stories. Decriminalisation simply allows adults who have chosen sex work to work within the law, with the support of the law and with the right to access the same state support structures as every other worker.

Aren’t most sex workers survivors of sexual abuse who started selling sex as children?

There is no evidence to support this story, although, it is a popular and much-repeated myth amongst anti-sex-work organisations who mis-quote research. Evidence tells us that most sex workers began working in their 20’s and not their teenage years (or even younger as some suggest). Are some sex workers survivors of sexual abuse? Undoubtedly yes, just as some nurses are or shop assistants are. Accountants, politicians and your next door neighbour could be too. Being a survivor of abuse of any sort does not pre-condition you to sex work or any other type of work.

Sex workers don’t pay tax:

Sex workers are obliged to pay tax the same as anyone else. If you avoid paying tax then you can face the same legal penalties as anyone else. The difference is that sex workers are not offered the same rights or protections or respect legally or within society for paying tax.

Are you a happy hooker and therefore not representative?

The media are obsessed with the idea that a sex worker is either a happy hooker or a victim of sex work, whereas the truth is that if you enjoy your work or not is irrelevant.

I enjoy my sex work but that does not mean that everyone else does. Sex work is work and sex workers, like all workers, have good days and bad days and indifferent days. Decriminalisation is about rights for all sex workers and not just those who love their work.

During my 17 years in the sex industry, I have met many sex workers and thanks to my partner running an escort agency for nearly 11 years, I was privileged to meet and work with sex workers from many different socio-economic, educational and cultural backgrounds. It was listening and talking to those sex workers and sharing their experiences that led me into activism. When talking about sex work I often reference my personal sex work experience and academic evidence, and I try to give a voice to the overwhelming majority of sex workers who work discreetly and anonymously throughout the UK.

Ultimately every sex workers’ experience is unique but we all experience stigma and prejudice and it is that shared feeling of exclusion that drives us to fight for rights, and for decriminalisation.

Sex work is not work:

Sex workers invest in their work. Condoms, lube, sex toys, lingerie, premises, photographs, internet sites and advertising, the list is long and endless. A sex worker prepares both physically and emotionally for a client, performs for the client, relaxes when the client leaves before preparing for the next. That all sounds like a job to me.

Isn’t selling sex immoral?

Morality is always subjective, it reflects the culture and social conditioning that exists at any particular time or place in history (or indeed the present.) As a sex worker, it is not my job to morally judge anyone.

Provided my clients are of legal age then my job is to provide a service that I consent to and one that the client consents to pay for. I, therefore, provide a consensual adult service.

What do you think about The Swedish Model where sex work is decriminalised but the client is criminalised?

The Swedish Model has failed because it has forced sex work out of sight, has increased social stigma and alienation and by doing so has made sex work more dangerous. It has not ended the demand for sex work which was the ideological position that justified the legislation.

The Swedish government claim that they have reduced sex work, yet acknowledge that they have no proof of how many sex workers there are working in Sweden either before or after their legislation and criminalising clients was introduced. Despite claims made by the Swedish Government that they have decreased demand for sex work we have evidence that the number of massage parlours, where sex is on offer, has increased. Sex worker advertisements are readily available on the internet and there appears to be an increase in the number of foreign nationals that are selling sex which questions the claim made by the Swedish Government that Sweden is no longer a destination for sex trafficking.

Despite the claim that the Swedish sex worker is decriminalised, Swedish sex workers are forced to work alone and they are not able to advertise openly or employ a third party. They cannot legally rent apartments for sex work because when discovered they are evicted, as the apartment owner is liable to prosecution should they be found guilty of renting an apartment to a sex worker. Swedish sex workers cannot access social support, even though being a sex worker is completely legal unless they exit sex work. Family members can be found guilty of living off the earnings of prostitution, again forcing sex workers to work secretly and in isolation. To enable the authorities to prosecute clients, sex workers are coerced into giving evidence against their clients. This again forces sex workers to work in secret in order to protect their clients, their families and themselves.

The Swedish model was not implemented to help sex workers but to coerce sex workers to exit sex work. The idea was to apply very simplistic economic attrition, by targeting the clients of sex workers the Swedish authorities had hoped to end demand and force sex workers out of business. The reality, however, is that sex work continues and indeed flourishes.

Many within Sweden are beginning to question government policy, because of the negative effect the Swedish anti-sex work legislation has on sex workers and on attitudes toward women who sell sex, in particular, foreign migrant sex workers. Despite the governments’ ideological position that women in sex work are always victims, regardless of their consent to sell sex, opinion polls suggest that attitudes toward sex workers are becoming increasingly negative, with a majority of Swedes wanting those involved in selling sex criminalised, and not just their clients. Sweden proves that prohibition does not work, other than to push that which is prohibited underground.

The Swedish government ignored the evidence and the voices of Swedish sex workers. It was an ideologically motivated piece of legislation, that is why it has failed. Sex workers want legislation based solidly upon evidence and to include the voices of sex workers, with the emphasis upon protection and rights, not on endorsing stigma and prejudice.

These are the most common questions I am asked and I suspect the same questions are asked of every sex worker. I have given my usual responses. Feel free to comment.

We’ve all had ‘that one friend’ who believes themselves to be higher up the social hierarchy than the rest of the kids at school…

Singer-Songwriter Emma McGann, wrote a guest blog for Ditch the Label on how to challenge the label of ‘Queen Bee’… Here’s what Emma had to say:

I was different from a lot of people when I was younger. I was the only girl in my circle of after-school friends – we played football, re-enacted wrestling matches and collected Star Wars memorabilia from cereal boxes. Most girls didn’t like me for it. My hair was always tangled, I never wore make-up and I dressed how I wanted. Most boys didn’t like me for it.

Socially, people never knew how to categorise me. Like that weird looking fork that’s bent and rusty and doesn’t fit with the rest of your cutlery drawer. But I still managed to fit in somehow – I had girl friends and boy friends and floated between different social groups throughout school. There were plenty of others like me too… we weren’t labelled chavs or nerds or mods or the popular crowd. We were just the uncategorised ‘weird looking forks’ that everyone used to keep around.

It’s so hard to just be yourself when you’re a kid because you constantly think you’re under everyone’s microscope. But really, other people are too busy worrying about their own problems. And if they do focus in on yours, they probably have bigger problems than you think. I think I’ve always been less susceptible to the criticism of others for one big reason – my Mum. She allowed me to hang up whatever I wanted in my room. I decided that something would be a dartboard. She endured my endless Cher/South Park/Karen from Will & Grace impressions. She rarely complained, no matter how much I barrelled around the living room playing Time Crisis with a Namco gun or how hard I trampoline-danced on my bed to the “Spice Girls” She let me be me and she taught me that labels are just… lame. I am grateful to have been brought up by someone that didn’t force gender roles upon me. So, shout out to my Mama Bear.

Not everyone tolerated my differences though. To some, I was an easy target on the bus ride home from school. To others, I was just another dot on their ‘irrelevant’ radar. And to some, I was the perfect recruit for their Army of Skanks Please forgive the Mean Girls reference (you secretly loved it). Yes… I fell into the ‘Queen Bee’ trap. A few times.

It is THE MOST TOXIC social experience and form of bullying I’ve ever encountered personally. But like any kind of trouble, if you can already see it coming you can jump out of the way. So, based on my own experiences here are 5 ways to challenge the label of ‘Queen Bee’… (please do not mistake for Queen Bey. You don’t wanna challenge her. Beyonce is better than everyone at everything).

1. Don’t hold onto anger.

Queen Bee’ is a depressing label. So don’t use it. There’s underlying reasons why that person is treating you the way they are. Don’t stoop to their level – you could make it worse. Whether you’re affected directly by the group you’re in or another group of people who target you, one of the biggest emotions we feel in these vulnerable moments is anger. Retaliation solves nothing and anger we keep with us over time only makes us more bitter. While I was uncategorically floating between social groups in school, some people didn’t like my presence. They’d judge me on my tomboy clothes, the bands I liked, the endless lyrics that I scrawled across my school bag, guitar case and school folders… I was a bit alien to some people; just that ‘weird looking fork’ still lingering in the cutlery drawer.

“Queen Bee’ is a depressing label. So don’t use it.”

4 years ago I bumped into a girl that went to my school. It was at a bar that my band was performing at that night. Back in school she was what I would describe as a grade A bully. After the show, she said hello and surprised me by apologising for her judgements towards me in school. Well… it was a good attempt at an apology by any means. Clearly, it was a real shot in the dark for her, but I appreciated her apology. And I did remember everything. But Que Sera, sera… Life moves on, people change and we don’t have to carry a big ol’ bag of anger around with us for the rest of our lives.

2. She’s not the fairest of them all.

Don’t be a fallback support for someone if their actions are undesirable or intimidating to others. If you don’t stand behind them, they won’t act on their own. Back in secondary school one group of girls I often found myself with followed the agenda of just one person. At lunch break, we would go where she wanted to go and naively followed as her backup for any playground drama that she dragged herself into (just think as cliquey as ‘Clueless’ but with less plaid). In a way, we were out to prove ourselves to her. It feels ridiculous to even type that, but such was the social pressures of the playground hierarch.

3. Don’t laugh if it’s not funny

“Don’t feel like you need to join in laughing at someone else’s misfortune and don’t play yourself up to be someone you’re not in front of your friends. “

If you can’t be yourself around your group, maybe they’re not the good friends you thought they were. I’ll never forget the day my best friend stood up to a group of guys at the back of our bus (Yes, there are ‘King Bee’s’ out there too). Whether they were throwing things or hurling comments, I can’t exactly recall, but one thing I do remember was that one guy in their group wasn’t laughing. He actually called out his friends and asked them to stop. He was clearly embarrassed by their actions. My friend had had enough too, stormed up to them and totally put the main culprit in his place. I admired her more than ever in that moment.

4. ‘Fly my pretties!’

If you enjoy following orders you can always enroll in the army… but don’t do other people’s dirty work. Don’t be a bully’s sidekick. Be a hero… or a sidekick to a hero. Robin’s not all bad, is he? As a kid, I was always terrified of the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz. Super creepy stuff. But what you might not know is that you could actually have more in common with them than you think. No, I’m not saying you’re a hairy winged beast… but maybe you’re a minion (and not the adorable yellow, dungarees-wearing kind).

It’s easy for bullies to offload their dirty work onto other people. One day there was a buzz at my door and my usual group of four girls were calling me to come out. Instead of the friendly visit, I was expecting, I was heckled on my very own doorstep. Two girls in the group had decided for whatever reason that they did not like me and no longer valued my friendship. They felt it was imperative to rock up to my place to tell me so. Having been lured out by what I thought was a friendly call was in fact, just the minions at work.

5. Escape the hive

By walking away from a friendship that is toxic, you may even lay a path for others in the group who feel the same. When I say ‘squad goals’ perhaps you think ‘High School Musical’… I know I do. Maybe you think of the type of friends who made your Summer unforgettable. Either way, friendships need to be nurtured. Not all friendships are as healthy as they may seem.

“It’s healthier for you to distance yourself from toxic people. Don’t feel the need to stick around if you’re not comfortable.”

One lunch break, I was asked by a friend to finish her homework. She said she didn’t want help but that she needed me to do it for her. I straight-up refused. Then, I was TOLD I would do her homework and when I refused a second time, I got a boot to the shin. Classy. Before then I don’t know how I hadn’t realised how controlling she had always been over our group. People rarely disagreed with her and apparently, when they did, she responded with violence. Although we made up afterwards, our friendship dwindled and was never the same again. But, it was definitely for the best.

To summarise, we need to embrace our differences and look out for ourselves and our friends. People who are labelled as the ‘Queen Bee’ need a look-out too because all too often, those who victimise others are often victims themselves.

If you’re experiencing problems within friendships and need more help, go to our Community or check out ‘Are They Really Your Friend? 15 Signs That Suggest Otherwise.’

Follow Emma on Twitter and check out her YouTube channel here.

 *James was bullied throughout school. Here he writes a letter to his younger self

Dear 13 year old me.

I’m writing this to you on the eve of one of the biggest days of your life to come. Hopefully it will help you through what is going to be a very rough few years. By now it’s already started, the taunting, the insults, the put-downs and the beatings. I wish I could tell you it stops soon, that you won’t be bullied for years to come but sadly, I can’t. However, I can tell you that it does get easier.

I guess honesty is the best policy here, so prepare yourself for what’s to come. The name calling won’t stop and it will get you down. The whole ‘sticks and stones’ rhyme is nonsense. Yes, a kick or a punch leaves a mark and the impact is visible for everyone to see but words hurt just as much – it’s just that internal damage can’t be seen. You’re always going to be conscious about your weight and appearance. You’re always going to hold back from things because of the judgments of others. You’re always going to doubt people’s intentions. You’re going to find it really difficult to see who your real friends are. You’re going to make excuses for so many people who hurt you because they’re “just joking”.

“By now it’s already started, the taunting, the insults, the put-downs and the beatings”

 

I wish I could say it stops at that, but no, sadly you’re going to take a few punches, and due to a lack of self-confidence, you’re not going to be able to defend yourself. Everyone will tell you to “stand up for yourself” and “to go down swinging” but you will always be fearful that they will just hit 10 times harder. In your mind you just want it to be over fast, so take the beating and leave it at that. You’re going to have negative rumours spread about you which lead to you not being able to leave your house in the holidays for the best part of a year. You’re going to be beat up on your own doorstep for something which you were never involved in. A teacher is going to have to take you home from school because the usual suspects are waiting for you on the stairs just to beat you up for the sake of it. You’re going to be spat on, backed into a corner and forced to surrender.

After school, it sort of eases up, and sort of doesn’t. You find a really good group of mates at college, you get a job, you feel safe and your confidence creeps back. You also start to discover girls. You make a few mistakes along the way but you’re a pretty decent guy overall, sadly people prey on that. University comes with its challenges. Everything that you’ve kept bottled up for so long comes out and you start drinking, using alcohol to mask how you are truly feeling. 

“Even now, as a 26 year old, it still affects you. It affects your relationship and your friendships”

 

Even now, as a 26 year old, it still affects you. It affects your relationship and your friendships. You’re in a good position at the minute. You’ve got a decent job, you’re in a nice 2 bedroom flat with your soon-to-be fiancé, you’ve got a car, and you’ve got more genuine friends than you realise. You should be happy, but you’re not. You find friendships hard to understand. After going through so much abuse, you don’t know who to trust. You don’t know who is joking and you don’t know how to tell people when they go too far. You just feel like you have to take it and move on. You have become really good at bottling things up. You’re still conscious of how you look and overly obsess about your diet to make sure all the work you’ve put into slimming down isn’t defeated. You’re a pretty vain person sometimes, but it’s just overcompensation for a lack of confidence in your own appearance.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/image-12.jpg”]

 

One word that will really stick out for you is banter. “Oh it’s just banter, you have to take it!” Do I? Do I really? Why can’t I tell people they’ve crossed a line, they have no idea how much things hurt, and how one wrong word can re-open a door you’re desperately trying to close behind you. Bullying is defined by the individual. It’s not a joke if you make fun behind people’s backs. Banter doesn’t mean it’s ok to single people out. You’re only a friend if you know where the line is, and have the decency to apologise if you cross it. People should never assume that everything is OK. Sometimes people put on a brave face but inside they hurt. Even now you psychoanalyse every negative decision or every joke someone makes at your expense. It may not always be to hurt you or leave you out, but you will always question it, and sometimes it drives you mad. You don’t really know who you can trust yet you try hard to be friends with everyone.

“Sometimes people put on a brave face but inside they hurt”

 

It’s not all doom and gloom I promise you. You will get through high school in one piece and will come out with some excellent GCSE results. You’ll feel immensely proud that you never gave into the people that bullied you and moved schools like your mum tries to get you to do on so many occasions. You never wanted them to win and your courage means they never will. You’ll get top marks in your class at college, and after 2 years of working in retail, you’ll go to university and really discover yourself. You’ll have 3 of the best years of your life. There will be plenty of ups and probably the lowest days of your life, but you will come out a new person and ready to face the world. Whilst at Uni, you’ll discover 5 people and these will be the only 5 people you really trust and consider your best friends. You have other people around you who are friends, but you’re never really sure where you stand with them. Those 5 people are the ones who keep you going, who know you inside out and are the ones who you can really depend on. One of them will become the girl you now live with. She’s the only girl you will meet who makes you feel confident in every sense.

“You need to understand that it’s ok to keep being who you are”

 

So what’s the point of this then? Why am I telling you how bad it’s going to get. Well you need to understand that it’s ok to keep being who you are, because you’re not a bad person. There’s a difference between the people who insult and hurt you and the people who joke about with you, and slowly you learn to understand the difference. You’ll never truly be able to separate the two, but you will get to a stage where you can deal with it. Also, you need to know that you don’t need to change for anyone. There are people who you will meet who simply won’t like you, and that’s ok. We’re not designed as people to like everyone. It’s ok to disagree, to have different interest, outlooks and opinions. What makes you stand out is that you don’t judge others for this the way some people judge you.

The one piece of advice I want to pass onto you is this, do not let your mind take over. Sadly your tendency to overthink everything never disappears. It’s a side effect of the bullying you experience. What you need to learn to do is look past this. Not everyone you meet is a bad person, not everyone you meet is out to get you, not everyone you meet wants you to suffer. There are people you will meet who you can call a friend. There are people who understand your past, believe in your future, and accept the way you are today. This is the meaning of friendship. You’re going to go to some pretty dark places in the next few years and your mind will tell you that you need to escape, but you’re going to pull through. You’re going to be ok.

“What makes you stand out is that you don’t judge others for this the way some people judge you”

 

It’s horrible to know you’re going to go through all this, and it’s equally as horrible to experience it. No one should have to be singled out and humiliated. There are some cruel people out there, but you’re not one of them. Just remember people that bully have a need to control other people because something in their own life isn’t in control. You really are one of the good guys.

 

If you are being bullied or are the one doing the bullying and want to stop, please contact us here. Ditch the Label can help you.

LGBT+ related bullying in the eating disorder community

When you go for eating disorder treatment the last thing you ever expect is to be bullied in this environment, but when you are not a straight, white, female it happens more than you might think. I must admit that things are getting better, but people that consider themselves part of the LGBTQ community still face institutional bullying all of the time.

As we all well know, eating disorders are traditionally considered strictly the domain of white teenage girls…right?

Nothing could be further from the truth, but a large number of treatment centers and stand alone therapists still have this preconceived notion. Quite a few of them will not treat trans individuals at all (a group of people that are already grossly underserved in so many ways) mostly because of a lack of training, but some, because of transphobia.

“Eating disorders are traditionally considered strictly the domain of white teenage girls”

 

Imagine going for residential help and being a lesbian in group therapy, listening to the other girls talk about over-controlling boyfriends and such, and you really don’t fit in with the group at all. You want to talk about one of your major triggers, which could be that you are scared to come out to your family. Two things are probably running through your mind:
1) Your peers and group leader are not going to “get it” or even worse…
2) You are risking some sort of homophobic backlash.
Both of these things would make your treatment ineffective.

I do have an example of a girl who was a lesbian in an inpatient treatment facility (both the girl and the facility shall remain nameless) that had communal showers. She was verbally assaulted with homophobic slurs on almost a daily basis after deciding to “come out” in group therapy. She reported this, but the others were never caught “in the act”.

“She was verbally assaulted with homophobic slurs on almost a daily basis after deciding to ‘come out’ in group therapy”

 

It was brought up in group therapy by the lead therapist who condemned the act, but did nothing to actually stop it. Unfortunately the girl had to leave the treatment program. On the brighter side, she did some research and found a treatment program that was a better fit for her.

Before I go on, PLEASE do not let the above part of my blog stop anyone from reaching out for help! The point of this is to expose the people that bully and to remind you that you should never let other people silence you! I wrote this blog in the hope that it will empower you and encourage you to stand up for yourself and say “you do not have the right to treat me this way and I deserve equal treatment as anybody that you serve.”

I want everybody to practice saying that phrase over and over again because unfortunately we do not live in a world (yet) that is as accepting of the LGBTQ community as it should be. We still live in a place and time where everybody is assumed to be heterosexual until otherwise specified.

“Unfortunately we do not live in a world (yet) that is as accepting of the LGBTQ community as it should be”

 

I wrote this blog for two reasons, one was to open up the eyes of the people that bully, who in some cases are the treatment facilities themselves. Hopefully by showing them how the world is evolving, they too will evolve with it. Hopefully they will come to understand that not everybody who walks through their door is heterosexual, gender-conforming or female.

Lastly, I wanted everyone out there in the LGBTQ community to know that it is okay to reach out for help when you need it. Remember that there are people out there who want to genuinely help. By coming to this site you have begun the process…follow it forward and lead your true, amazing life!

Melissa Herrera on her experiences with virtual dating

When I swiped into a “virtual relationship”, it wasn’t by choice. I had every intention of actually meeting the men I’d matched with, as I assumed that was the purpose of online dating. I assumed this was for people looking for an easier outlet to meet other singles. I assumed this was a pool of potential baes who wanted exactly what I wanted – a convenient method of dating multiple singles while ultimately zeroing in on that one final match. Well you know what they say about people who assume…”you make an ass out of you and me”. And in this story, I ended up as the stupid donkey and he ended up the actual a**h*le.

Now I can’t speak for everyone, but my experience with online dating has been exactly that…online dating. Sure, there’ve been a few one-time meet ups here and there, but the mass majority of men I was in contact with had zero interest in breaking past the virtual realm. When I signed up for online dating, it was a last resort choice made after the initial shock of finding myself back in the dating pool after a six year streak of serial monogamy. I thought it would be the most efficient way to re-cast that rusty line back into the sea of men to help combat my cluelessness towards this newfound single life. But what I found was the complete opposite. I found myself a group of men whose interest in me extended no further than daily electronic messages and watching my life virtually through social media, all while dodging every opportunity to meet face-to-face. What the hell is this online dating world and why was I so VASTLY wrong about its purpose?

“I found myself a group of men whose interest in me extended no farther than daily electronic messages and watching my life virtually through social media”

 

Needless to say, I was quickly turned off by this new age style of “dating” and ultimately had no patience for it. Coming off multiple long term relationships with men who actually valued my time, I found the online dating world a complete sham. I wanted to be taken seriously, but no one else within the dating platform was taking the process, or myself, seriously. As I was about to throw in the towel and accept my future as a single cat lady, binge eating Chinese take-out, while engulfed in reality television… someone finally stood out to me. His name was Dan and his claim to fame was his comment “Nice duvet cover” on a photo of me sitting on my bed. Every other guy made flirty comments about my appearance, but he sarcastically avoided commenting on my looks as if to intentionally give me the opposite of what I wanted. He was different, witty and funny? I LOVED IT!

“Dan and I were together for four months. And by ‘together’ I mean we text messaged, talked on the phone, Facetimed, and connected via Snapchat and Instagram”

 

Dan and I were together for four months. And by “together” I mean we text messaged, talked on the phone, Facetimed, and connected via Snapchat and Instagram for four months straight – every day. I’d wake up to “good morning” texts from Dan and I’d go to bed with “sleep tight” texts from Dan. We watched House of Cards together…while Facetiming. We’d send each other Snapchat photos all night while we were out at the bar with our friends as if to make it seem like we were together. We’d stay up late sharing stories of the past and goals for our future; we bonded over how much we actually had in common. It felt like a real relationship, minus the physical face-to-face interaction. It was amazing and it was miserable, all at the same time.

As the months passed, I began to feel more and more bothered by the lack of “reality” in our relationship. I’d make multiple attempts to plan a date or activity, giving him enough time to open his schedule and commit, to ultimately get cancelled on at the last minute – every single time. My patience wore thin, my heart was beginning to break, and Dan was proving to be exactly what I feared – a sham. I told Dan he was getting one last chance to meet me in person, and if he didn’t follow through, I’d be gone. Can you guess what happened next? He ghosted me. He removed me from social media, he blocked my number, and he vanished into thin air as if he never even existed. After four months of daily communication and intimate bonding, Dan was capable of vanishing and made sure to do it before I beat him to the punch. I was going to leave him because he refused meet me; he chose to leave me because I wanted to meet him. Seriously, the irony… #facepalm.

“It felt like a real relationship, minus the physical face-to-face interaction”

 

It took me a long time to get over Dan, partly because I had no closure. I couldn’t make sense as to why he did what he did. I couldn’t make sense as to why he refused to meet me and had no interest in taking our relationship to the next “real” level. And lastly, I couldn’t make sense as to why he felt ghosting me was a justifiable answer to the situation at hand. After four months, I didn’t deserve an explanation? I didn’t deserve a mature response as to what was going or why he couldn’t commit in the real world? I was forever stuck with “what ifs” and lingering questions that haunted my brain.

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Since Dan, I’ve become less of a donkey. Through that heartbreak I was able to learn the ropes of the online dating world and create my own rules and regulations to help avoid falling into another virtual relationship. Rule number one – two week maximum of virtual communication. If no date has been made, I give a last chance warning and then I unmatch. Rule number two – I no longer accept any social media additions prior to an initial meet up. Why? Because they don’t belong there. Someone that’s interested in me should get to know me from an unbiased viewpoint. Which let’s face it, rarely happens if you allow them to scroll through every moment of your life for the past decade. I’ve found that creating these limitations has quickly filtered out the a**h*les. They don’t have the patience for my rules, so they vanish as quickly as they appeared. My time isn’t wasted, my emotions aren’t fooled, and I’m now one less a**h*le away from the potential good guy floating around in a pool full of flakes. You’ve got to play to game in order to play the player, and there are A LOT of players in the virtual world.

“There are A LOT of players in the virtual world”

 

But you have to wonder, why are so many men online matching up with women they never want to meet? Why are people finding themselves in virtual relationships whether they planned it or not? Overall, why has the single community shifted into a virtual platform in order to find their match? What is wrong with real life and why is everyone avoiding it?

I don’t think online dating was created with the intent to produce virtual relationships. I think it was created to assist with the initial “hook” stage of landing a match while producing that match in a more convenient and less pressured environment. You know, the part we once did in person when we came across someone we might be interested in and actually had to make a move not knowing what the response would be? Well now you can skip that step with the technological advancement of swiping through profiles pictures and bios of all your single options and mutually connecting without ever having to risk rejection. My guess is that online dating was meant to help connect people in a more convenient manner with the assumption that they’d move forward in real life on their own. Ughh…again with failed hopes through assumptions!

Unfortunately, my progression into adulthood took place in the midst of the technological/social media boom. While I’ve met a few of my boyfriends in normal social environments, it appears that my generation as a whole is solely sticking to online dating or drunken hookups during hours of lowered inhibitions. The millennial generation is not experiencing the dating scene our parents and grandparents once experienced where singles courted each other in passing and casually dated a variety of people at once without so much pressure.

“Why has the single community shifted into a virtual platform in order to find their match?”

 

In my adult life, I’ve never been approached by an interested man in the grocery store, at work, at the gym, in the neighbourhood, at the mall, or at a park. The best I’ve gotten is a drunk man in a bar slurring over his words asking to buy me a 1.5 ounce of poison he’s praying will result in a one-night stand. Or, I’ve had to pursue every single guy I’ve ever dated whether that be short or long term. In my experience as a millennial women in today’s society, my options are to hunt down a man myself in person or resort to the online world where men can hide behind their electronic devices and “ghost” before ever actually experiencing rejection or becoming involved. How did this happen?

With the influx of available technology, our society as a whole is simply distracted. There are televisions in every social establishment and cellphones and music in the palm of our hands. It’s no surprise that the dating scene transitioned over to the electronic world as well. It’s almost impossible for humans to interact naturally in any social arena because we’re burying ourselves in electronic devices…and our society is supporting it! I don’t want to stare into my phone at still photos of men who send me flirty texts throughout the day. I don’t want some random internet guys following my Instagram and Snapchat feed commenting on how cool I am yet never wanting to meet me or experience life with me in person. I don’t want to fall for another virtual sham, have my heart broken, and be ghosted by someone I actually took time to invest in. I want the real deal. I want a man to look me in the eyes, create memories with me, and vocalise to my face when the relationship must come to an end. I want real life experiences while living in a society that highly promotes living behind a lens. And that my friends, is a very scary thing.

“I want real life experiences while living in a society that highly promotes living behind a lens”

 

And for the record, my story with Dan didn’t quite end where I left off. Oh no, he wasn’t finished with me back when he broke my heart and left me alone, confused and exiled as he vanished without a trace. Like most a**h*les, Dan allowed enough time to pass before he came back for round two in hopes there might be a small fragment of donkey still left in my soul. Two years after his disappearing act, Dan re-added me on social media and sent me a photo through Snapchat. When I opened the photo I discovered a picture of his Netflix television screen with the caption “Netflix and Chill?”

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.

Conveniently I happened to be watching The Bachelor and retaliated in the most creepy and volatile way surely to scare off any a**h*le. I paused the show and snapped a quick photo of the bachelor holding a rose with the caption “Final rose and propose, Dan?” He responded back, “Yikes”, and I’ve never heard from him again.

The only lasting bit of donkey I savoured over the past two years is the two back legs I used to kick his ass to the curb. Boy bye!

*Tina experienced bullying because of attitudes towards her accent, upbringing and background

I went to the Kings School Ely, a private mixed boarding school near Cambridge from the age of eleven to eighteen and for the most part I have very happy memories of boarding school. Whilst some of the stereotypes of a private education are pretty spot on, for the most part it was a very normal school.

I did experience some bullying in my GCSE year from a boy for who for eight months continually made rude and hurtful comments based on my appearance. On reflection this was quite painful and without knowing it, what he was saying was affirming some underlying fears I had about my physical appearance.

When it became too much I reported it to a teacher. They took action and thankfully it was resolved quite quickly. I left school feeling excited for my gap year and my future. I was confident I would never be bullied again as I wouldn’t allow anyone to treat me like that again. With the beauty of hindsight I now know being bullied is never something you can control or avoid as it is never about you.

“I now know being bullied is never something you can control or avoid as it is never about you”

 

At nineteen I went to Brighton University to study Criminology and Sociology. I felt confident and happy to be leaving my family home. As a fresher I was randomly allocated a room in a flat with 9 people, each building had two floors of nine rooms. I remember hugging mum and dad goodbye with equal parts nerves and excitement.

There was quite a diverse mix of people over the two floors. Included within the group of people I would spend the next year living with were five girls. They were all eighteen, all had never lived away from home, all had attended similar state schools and spoke with similar accents and all dressed the same. When I met them it never occurred to me that they would perceive me as different to them or that, that difference would cause a problem. I carried on with my Freshers Week oblivious of what was to come.

“It never occurred to me that they would perceive me as different to them or that, that difference would cause a problem”

 

Understandably they connected instantly with each other and very quickly formed a group. I spent some time with them initially and they seemed friendly enough. However, that changed very quickly. During the second week I was about to walk into the kitchen and just before I did, I overheard them really laying into someone. I listened for a few moments and my heart dropped when they said my name. They were laying into the way I spoke, the way I dressed, the food I ate – everything about me was up for cruel scrutiny! Each nasty comment was received with laughter and approval. In their opinion I was ‘posh’ and therefore they very wrongly assumed I thought I was better than them. My punishment was to be excluded and ridiculed.

“In their opinion I was ‘posh’ and therefore they very wrongly assumed I thought I was better than them. My punishment was to be excluded and ridiculed”

 

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/image-21.jpg”]

 

This was not the first time I had experienced negative attitudes towards my accent or background. I was fairly used to it, even if I did think it was unfair and untrue. However, this was the first time I had lived with people who from the second week of knowing me had made huge, totally unfounded, sweeping judgements about me because of my upbringing.

The term used to describe this type of judgement and bullying is ‘inverted snobbery’ and it is much more common than I think people are aware. It can be defined as someone who looks down their nose on those that might be wealthy, simply because of that fact.

“‘Inverted snobbery’ is much more common than I think people are aware”

 

The bullying that I experienced to begin with was subtle and centred around ways to exclude me. I sought friends I could trust outside of the flat, so it became harder for them to exclude me as I never looked to be included. As they were not getting the reactions they wanted from me, the bullying became more obvious and their behaviour more hostile. It left me feeling very alienated from the whole flat and I socially withdrew from everyone. My drinking increased as a result and when I was on my own in my room I felt unsafe when I could hear them.

One very painful night I tried to stand up for myself verbally in the kitchen. They all had their boyfriends there too, so I was totally outnumbered and I remember feeling very shamed, powerless and deeply hurt by their behaviour and continual judgement of me. I got through that year through blocking them out as best as I could and thankfully after that I never had to see them again.

With hindsight I am shocked it never occurred to me to report it or at least discuss it with a member of staff at University. Moving flats would have really helped and I wish I had taken action around it instead of toughing it out and thinking it was entirely my problem. I can also see that through having me as a common enemy it really bonded them as a group. They were young and nervous to be out of the family home and putting me down made them feel better about themselves.

“I think all bullying behaviour comes from a place of fear”

 

I think all bullying behaviour comes from a place of fear. Maybe they feared I would judge the school they went to, or their accent, or the food they ate or where they came from. Had they taken the time to get to know me they would have seen that I was raised to be open minded and accept people for who they are, not where they come from.

Ditch the Label has really helped me to understand that being bullied is never your fault and the importance of not suffering in silence.

 

If you are being bullied and need help please contact us here

Lexi Gibson blogs about life with HIV

HIV is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that replicates itself off fighter cells, also known as the immune system. This replication is stopped when a patient takes daily medication.

My first 14 years of life I was discriminated against for having HIV. Since then, the only place I rarely receive it, is from people behind a computer screen.

Sometimes I get sick longer than the average Joe, which would keep me out of work longer (but remember, everyone’s body is different). It did cause me to stress about money a bit and the possibility of getting fired. But, I always made it work, and I never got fired. I work for myself now, so that is not an issue anymore. In terms of free time, HIV plays no role in holding me back from dating, activities or anything at all really.

“I am open about my HIV status to everyone, and talk about it like it’s the most normal thing ever – because it is”

 

I have disclosed being HIV-positive to a couple of people I was interested in, and they were honest about not wanting to get involved. I appreciate and respect that. Everyone has different wants and needs in life. I overcame the bullying I faced in grade school growing up by understanding that it came from a lack of education, as well as learning a very important lesson in life: not to take anything personally. What others do is a reflection of them, not me. When it comes to comments on my social media platforms, I ignore their hateful words, and I simply educate them. Leaving it at that. Their words only mean something if I allow them to. I do not send hate back. That will not solve anything. I want to clear the air around HIV, not add fuel to fire. I healed my wounds by believing that I am worthy, and I am lovable. I will not let others ideas of me change my ideas of myself and what I know to be true.

“I have disclosed being HIV positive to a couple of people I was interested in, and they were honest about not wanting to get involved. I appreciate and respect that”

 

lexi

 

Which leads me onto this: my advice for others who are HIV-positive is to be confident in you! Do not take things personally! Do not assume the worst before anything has even happened. Stay in the moment when disclosing. Educate yourself on the virus, so you can educate others when you disclose. They are not fearing you, they are fearing the virus. A virus that most people have only heard horror stories about. So we must allow others time to ingest the new information we are giving them. My energy will be their energy: if I am fearful while disclosing they will be fearful. If I am confident and speak nonchalantly, they too will feel calm and relaxed. In terms of dating, not everyone we meet or go on a date with is the one. And remember, we cannot control anyone, but ourselves.

“Since accepting my HIV status and following my truth, my life has exceeded any expectation I had ever had. Something that once was a burden to my life, is now the key to all of my doors in life”

 

Since accepting my HIV status and following my truth, my life has exceeded any expectation I had ever had. Something that once was a burden to my life, is now the key to all of my doors in life. Having HIV has given me direction and passion. If it wasn’t for this virus, I would not be the woman I am today, and I would not have a platform for helping others. I take one pill a day, and it keeps the doctor away. Aside from my normal 6 month check up. HIV does not hold me back from doing anything in life. I work out regularly, I travel often, I make new friends almost everyday, and I go on dates whenever I feel like it. I am undetectable, meaning the virus cannot be detected in my body. Leaving my body in a natural state. Which means, I can have babies without passing the virus on, and I can have unprotected sex with my partner without passing too. Although I leave that decision up to my partner and whatever makes them feel most comfortable. Either way, my life isn’t any different to anyone else’s.

I am open about my HIV status to everyone, and talk about it like it’s the most normal thing ever – because it is. It’s just a virus that can be 100% managed with medication. People are still learning that 🙂 so I lead the way and 99 percent of the time, they follow.