I used to try so hard to fit in – now I’m standing up and speaking out

I was aware that I was different from everyone else at an early age. I think a lot of Care Experienced people will understand that. I didn’t like what other people liked, I didn’t act how people wanted me to act, I didn’t think the way other people thought. That all added up to a feeling that I didn’t fit in.

I spent my entire childhood and early teens hating who I was. I ignored the parts of me that other people made it clear they didn’t want to deal with. It makes me sad to think of that; a child rejecting themselves.

Growing up, it’s made clear that ‘your school years are your best years’.  For me, they were the worst.

It started in primary school, when people first started to figure out that I was not like them. We were all so young but somewhere along the line, the other children had been made to think that my difference was something bad. They would avoid me, refuse to be friends with me, because I wasn’t from a ‘normal’ family.

I remember hearing things like; “They’re not your real mum and dad, so why are you with them?” and “No wonder you were given up, no one would want you anyway”.

I started to pretend that being Care Experienced didn’t matter, and that it didn’t affect me. I just chose one day to start avoiding it.

I learned that lying about details of my life led to me fitting in better. I’d take up sports I didn’t really care about. Listen to a certain type of music to make friends. Stay quiet when it came to conversations about family. I felt a sense of belonging, and I felt happy. For a while. But happiness built on being dishonest with yourself never lasts.

I surrounded myself with people who knew nothing about my life, so that I didn’t feel alone. But as I got older, it started to sink in that no matter how much I changed myself, or how many friends I had, it didn’t change how I really felt.

Being gay was something I always tried to deny, because I didn’t want or need another way to be different. I never ‘came out’ as such because I didn’t believe in it. I resent that we are made to feel different and are then compelled to announce our difference. It’s a double dose of oppression. I want to love who I want, and don’t think people should get an opinion on that. It became apparent to me growing up, however, that most people don’t share this view.

I would overhear people speak about me with whispers and hushed words as I walked past. Girls who were once my friends made it clear they felt uncomfortable around me – all because I didn’t fit into their norms.

For the second time in my life, I became subject to discrimination due to who I was, because of the stigma associated with being gay. All the work I had done all my life to make myself seem ‘normal’ had been completely undone. I was branded as different, again.

I still to this day don’t know which was worse; people changing how they act around me because of who I am; or people bombarding me with sympathy because my life seemed so unfortunate. I felt lost, isolated and alone, and no one could do anything to change it.

Being myself had become too much of a risk. I started to cut everyone out my life and solely focused on moving as far away from my hometown as possible. I wanted a fresh start. I wanted to be somewhere without labels, somewhere I had a chance of being liked for me.

I’ve got a lot of what I wanted. I have a supporting and loving group of people around me who accept me for who I am. I also find it easier to accept myself.

I’m at university studying politics and social policy, in the hope that one day I can be in a place to influence ideals and put an end to the discrimination that hindered me for most of my life. Things are looking good but it still makes me sad that moving to another city was fuelled by something so negative. I think about all the other LGBT people, all the other Care Experienced people across Scotland, who might be feeling isolated and alone. If that’s you, and you’ve somehow ended up reading this, I’m reaching out my hand in the hope that one day, you’ll be able to reach out yours.

I’m a gay woman who is also Care Experienced. People have told me that sharing this, that being myself openly, is wrong.

I’m done hiding. I’m not ashamed anymore. And I’m not a lost soul. I’ve decided that I won’t give someone else the power to define normality, to tell me what my difference means. I am empowered by who I am. My difference means I see the world in a way that others can’t and that’s going to be my biggest strength for the rest of my life.

Loving yourself, without condition, is the most important step towards accepting love from other people. I’m getting there. And I want every Care Experienced person in the world to come with me.

With thanks to Scottish Local Authorities, funding partners and donors who make our work possible.