It started with a rumour. I was 11 years old, in my first year of a brand-new school and absolutely no idea who my friends were. Except, of course, for Her. She was my best friend, and she knew everything about me.
What made me smile. What all of my favourite things were. Why, at the age of nine, I’d been forced to escape the primary school in which we’d become friends. That the reason my hair was so short was because I was going bald.
Alopecia areata was only half of my worries. After word spread, there was a rouge lesbian in Year 7, people started tallying up the stereotypes. Short hair: check. No makeup: check. Trousers: check. At that point, I was also as shy as anything, so you might as well add “boy-hating” to the list. All in all, the evidence seemed pretty compelling – at least to those 11-year-old witch hunters. From that point on I was the elephant in the room, and I didn’t even know it!
I remember the day my bullies turned violent as though it were yesterday. The air was bitterly cold, appropriate for a February morning, yet the sun had managed to burn through that grey blanket of clouds like a blowtorch. As per usual, I was with Her; we were chatting casually as we made our way from Geography to Maths, flanked by some other girl who would chime in every now and then. I don’t remember the topic of discussion, though I doubt that mattered much.
As my body slammed into that wall, I was struck with a bitter realisation. Had I expected the lesbian rumours to take a toll on my friendships? Yes, of course. Had I imagined that the mastermind behind them was my best friend? No. That hurt more than every bruise, scratch, and burn I would acquire that year.
The worst attack came during my first month of Year 8, in the middle of a Design-tech class. I remember it in sickly detail: the circuit I was soldering together; the way they held me down; every word they said. This was the breaking point for my mental health, the moment I am forced to watch on repeat like I’m Alex in ‘A Clockwork Orange’. In the words of my PTSD therapist, this day was the trigger for all the negative conditions that continue to harass me to this day. The funny thing is, they probably don’t remember it at all.
One thing was certain. I had to get out of there.
The day I escaped that homophobic hellhole was the day I found my freedom. For the first time in my life, I was free! Free to live my life for who I am, sexuality and all. When I shared this story with Grace Victory and Hannah Witton, I felt something that I don’t think I’d ever felt: pride. I did that. I escaped. I took every horrible experience they put me through, and I forged myself a life. Seeing their eyes light up the way they did, I realised that in all my years as a storyteller, I have been sitting on perhaps the greatest story of all: my own.
With the help of Grace, Hannah, and the great people at the National Citizen Service, I am unstoppable. I am a young, gay woman with a passion to create, and now I have the skills and knowledge to start making the most of doing what I love. I am Emily Rumboldt, I am 17 years old, and I am unstoppable.
Now it’s your turn!