20 years of challenging hate #10: Why I am who I am by Maxx Lee

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At twenty-three I had never volunteered for anything before, never mind been on a training day! So the whole process was not only new but also ever so slightly terrifying. I hadn’t come through the usual channels that people go through in life to get here. Before a few months ago I had never heard of Stop Hate UK. That’s not to say that I wasn’t in need of it or that the publicity team aren’t doing a good job! It has more to do with the fact that I had no idea what Hate Crime was, I had no idea it was even a thing that happened. I thought it was just… the way of the world…

The rising name of Stop Hate UK has not yet spread to Lancashire, never mind the tiny village of Heysham that I called my home until very recently. Which is something that saddens me greatly but also fuels my desire to be involved more than ever. I can’t speak for anyone else but I know I could have used them back when I was in Secondary School. I went to an all girls’ grammar school for seven years – just that simple fact meant we were subject to numerous lesbian rumours and assumptions being made about us. In their defence they were kind of right, about me anyway (I identify as a Queer non-binary person now). But just because they were right it made it a hundred times harder to come out. That and the awful ingrained heteronormativity of our society and stigma of being gay (I didn’t really learn the term ‘queer’ until recently) made the first eighteen years of my life a never-ending nightmare of self-loathing, fear and lies – to myself and everyone around me.

Please don’t get me wrong, I have the most supportive family and an incredible group of friends that anyone could ever ask for! They made the very hard process of – trying to get to know, understand and accept myself – possible to begin with. I know for sure I wouldn’t have come as far as I have without them; especially the two ‘fellow gays’ I met on my first day of University. Tash and Abi gave me the push I needed and provided me with all the queer films, TV shows and literature that I could ever need. They were the first to ever really show me it was okay to be gay and to love who you love.

But being thirteen and sat in Sex Ed, surrounded by twenty-seven people you have come to think of as friends and hearing some of them talk about not wanting to be in the same P.E. changing room with a lesbian in case they ‘look at you’…. Or being seventeen and getting called into the Head of Sixth Form’s office at break because you were ‘caught’ writing lesbian fanfiction in your free periods and she thought it wasn’t ‘appropriate’ and ‘what if one of the younger girls saw it and thought it was okay to be gay?’

Alright, she didn’t say that last bit but it was very heavily implied. And just so we’re clear, other than the fact that the characters were two girls in love with each other, there wasn’t anything remotely ‘inappropriate’ in the story.

Or being put on report for skipping class because you spent that hour hiding in the basement toilets sobbing, overcome with self-loathing and shame for everything you are because the aforementioned teacher – someone who is meant to support and guide you – managed to destroy in fifteen minutes what you had spent your whole life building up and fighting for.

Our family spends most of our lives telling us we can be anything, do anything if we just work hard, believe and set our minds to it. But it wasn’t until after I confessed to my mum that I might be something other than straight, did I start to hear the words ‘it’s okay to be gay’, ‘it’s okay to be who you are’, ‘we will still love you no matter who you bring home’.

I swear when I started writing this I hadn’t meant it to be so dark and woe is me. I just wanted to try and explain how I came to be here, writing a blog as a volunteer for Stop Hate UK. My story is one of the lighter, less soul destroying origin stories, I’m sure. Even so, the littlest of things has affected and shaped me and how I live my life now. I have never been assaulted, or disowned, or fired because of who I am and who I love, like so many other LGBTQAI* people out there. But still the stigma, the ingrained fear that society has instilled in me since I was very young – the shouts of ‘lesbians!’ out of car windows as if it was a bad word, an insult – even after five years of proudly being with my fiancée, I still hesitate when I go to hold her hand in public, still have to fight back the fear and hate.

And that’s why, when Rose, the Chief Executive at Stop Hate UK, gave me her card a few months ago now, I knew I wanted to be a part of this charity. I wanted to use all those experiences – take all my past pain and hope for the future and love for my fellow Queers – and do something meaningful with my time on this planet. I knew I wanted to do everything I could to help stop hate.