‘I don’t blame the people that bullied me’: Anjana’s story

When I think back to my school days, I always try and remember the positives. Sadly, I can’t recall many.

Bullying (definition): Repeated, persistent and aggressive behaviour intended to cause fear, distress, or harm to another person’s body, emotions, self-esteem or reputation.

It began in primary school. I didn’t even know there was a word for it back then. Of course, I could recognise when someone was not being very nice to me, but I didn’t really understand what ‘bullying’ was.

I was called a lot of things; fat, ugly, not a ‘real girl’. I was often referred to as a ‘he’ even though I made it very clear my chosen pronoun was ‘she’. As well as the names, some people would laugh at me and some would go a step further – I had water poured over my school work repeatedly. When I asked teachers for help, they told me to ‘stop being so sensitive and toughen up’ and my supposed ‘best friend’ told me I should try my hardest to ‘fit in’. He said the reason I attracted so much unwanted attention, was because I was ‘different’.

Different how? Well, I didn’t dress like other girls and I didn’t consider pink to be my favourite colour. At that young age, neither my best friend, the bullies or even myself had realised why they really considered me different. I wouldn’t realise until I had my first girlfriend…

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When people found out I was gay, the taunts evolved into death threats and the water that was once thrown over my school work, was replaced with nails on the seat of my school chair. It escalated so quickly and got so wildly out of control, that I didn’t know how to cope. I dreaded every school day, and would often skip class to save myself from the torment. It was an incredibly painful time. My friends felt outnumbered and scared too. They kept asking me why I made life hard for myself, and why I couldn’t just be normal and fit in like everybody else.

I felt so alone. Even though I was lucky enough to have been blessed with an incredibly supportive mother, who had always been, and would always be there for me, it took me a long time to realise there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

I used to think it was my fault; I would blame myself for not ‘fitting’ the stereotype and for standing out for all the ‘wrong’ reasons. I used to wish I was invisible. Now I realise how wrong I was. I don’t blame the people that bullied me. I don’t blame them for their ignorant behaviour and homophobic views. I blame their parents for not educating them to respect others, regardless of their sexuality, race, gender or religion.

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I think everyone is beautiful just the way they are. Don’t ever be ashamed of who you are, or who you love. Don’t let people try to change you – you are who you are – embrace that. One piece of advice that I wish I could have given my younger self is this:

‘There’s nothing wrong with you. There’s a lot wrong with the world we live in.’

Don’t give up.

Anjana x

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If you would like to share your story with Ditch the Label, please get in touch.

Changing the world, one nail at a time

Charlie Craggs, trans-woman and activist, travels around the UK with her pop-up nail salon and invites strangers to come and get their nails done for free. Why? Well, this gives her ‘a chance to sit down with someone who might not have met a trans-person before, yet probably has a lot of misconceptions about us as a result of poor media representation, and bond with them while I paint their nails.’ Charlie talks openly with her ‘clients’ about issues surrounding trans – ‘they can ask me questions about trans stuff and I can teach them how to be an ally. But the most important part of the interaction for me, is just having a laugh and a chat because what I’m really trying to do with my campaign, is show that trans-people are just normal and actually, pretty nice people. I’m trying to change hearts and minds one nail at a time!’ 

We sat down with Charlie to find out more.

DTL: How did Nail Transphobia come about? What were the motivations for setting it up?

Charlie: I set up Nail Transphobia when I first began transitioning back in 2013. It took me a long time to accept myself as trans, but when I finally did, I realised that just because I was ready, it didn’t mean the rest of the world was. The amount of hate I began receiving, navigating the world as a trans-woman almost broke me, but back then there wasn’t the social conversation around trans issues that there is today. I was pissed off that no one was talking about the issue, so I decided to do something about it.

DTL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?

Charlie: YOU’RE TRANSGENDER!

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Photograph by Joanna Kiely

DTL: What are your most prominent challenges, and how do you overcome them?

Charlie: To be honest, just leaving the house is a challenge for myself along with most other trans and non binary femmes. My life’s got a lot harder since transitioning. Everything from using public transport, to using public bathrooms, accessing healthcare and employment has become so difficult! I receive an incredible amount of hate every day, just navigating the world as a trans-woman – I think most people would crumble under the negativity. But despite all of this I’ve never been happier. For the first time in my life I’m living authentically, I’m living my truth and I’m living for me. For the first time in my life I love myself, and it doesn’t matter if the rest of the world hates you, if you love yourself that’s all that matters.

DTL: What motivates you?

Charlie: The hardship, adversity and injustice I, and all my other LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers face. I won’t stop until it ends.

DTL: Did you ever experience bullying? If so can you tell us what happened and how you overcame the experience.

Charlie: Yeah, I had a really horrible time at school. I faced homophobic abuse all day, every day – and I didn’t have any friends, so at lunchtime I’d leave school, and eat my packed lunch on a park bench; I was too scared to eat in the canteen because of the bullies. I had no one to hang around with in the playground, so I’d sit on that park bench by myself, every day for an hour in silence, come rain or snow. It makes me want to cry when I think about it. I wish I could tell you how I overcame it, but this isn’t a Disney film, I just endured it. Looking back, that was an achievement in itself, and probably my proudest achievement. Anyway, I’ve had my Disney happy ending now! Google me honey!

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DTL: What advice would you give to readers who may be experiencing bullying? Or feel like they don’t fit in because of attitudes towards their gender identity?

Charlie: If you can take yourself out of the situation, do, but if you can’t, just remind yourself that every day, every hour, every minute – you’re a day, hour and minute closer to leaving that place, and the people bullying you. That’s the only thing that got me through my time at school; reminding myself that with every second that passed, I was closer to leaving. Stay strong!

DTL: What has been your proudest moment so far?

Charlie: Making it onto the Independent’s Rainbow List was a very proud moment for me because the week I came out as trans, back in 2013, Paris Lees topped the list, and I remember saying to myself I’ll be on that list one day – I just didn’t think that day would come so soon! I was actually photographed with Paris at the launch party for the list, it was a surreal moment, like something from a film. I felt like J.lo in Maid In Manhattan.

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DTL: What advice would you give to people who want to work on being better allies for our LGBTQ+ friends?

Charlie: I think the best thing to do is to ask your LGBTQ+ friend personally what you can do to help them or be an ally; it’s different for everyone. You asking will mean so much to them, I promise!

DTL: What does the future hold for Charlie Craggs and Nail Transphobia?

Charlie: Though we’ve come a long way in the last couple of years with regards to trans rights, the number of trans-people (specifically trans-women of colour) being murdered every year, is increasing worldwide at an alarming rate. I was on BBC news recently, talking about the fact that transphobic hate crime is on the rise, even here in London. I’m tired of just talking about this issue, so I’ve decided to actually do something – I’m about to start running free self defence classes for trans and non binary femmes. Verbal, physical and sexual abuse is something most of us experience on a daily basis, and we all need to know how to defend ourselves; It can literally be a case of life or death. Full proceeds from the nail decals that I make and sell on my website go towards funding the classes (that’s a hint). Classes will be starting in the next month or so!

DTL: Is there anything you would like to add?

Charlie: FOLLOW ME ON SOCIAL MEDIA HUNNIES @Charlie_Craggs!!!!

What is it like to be gay in Malaysia today?

As part of our series, LGBT+ World Voices, Ditch the Label have been speaking to people in the LGBT+ community who are living, or have lived in countries with repressive legislation/strong conservative attitudes. This month sees Pride celebrations happening around the world and with this in mind, we want to give a platform and visibility to those who are still prohibited from living freely as their true selves.

We spoke to Amin, who told us what it is like to be gay in Malaysia today.

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I’ve always known I was attracted to other boys. When I was eight, I had a classmate whom I would think about constantly – I would fantasise about us holding hands or kissing.

I got teased a lot in my all-boys school – people used to call me ‘pondan’ (an often derogatory Malay word for feminine/gay man or transgender woman). Although Malaysia in the 1980s was not an impossible place to grow up gay, it was still hard work. In Malay-language sitcoms, for example, there would usually be a pondan-type character stealing the show, a bit like Julian and Sandy on BBC Radio’s Round the Horn in the 1960s.

Although Islam is Malaysia’s official religion, the population is actually very religiously diverse – it’s around 60 per cent Muslim, 20 per cent Buddhist, ten per cent Christian, six per cent Hindu and the remainder Taoist, Sikh and other traditional religions. Because of the special legal status of Islam, in Malaysian schools, it’s compulsory for Muslims to take up Islamic Studies – non-Muslims are segregated during these lessons and have to take up Moral Studies.

In my Islamic Studies classes, the dos and don’ts in Islam (as we were taught) would constantly be drummed into our heads. Homosexuality was, of course, a big don’t. I spent my secondary school life praying for Allah to make me masculine and attracted to girls. Amid all of this, I had a gay best friend in school, Badrul, who is also Muslim. Once, when our Islamic Studies teacher was telling us that homosexuality was a major sin, Badrul interrupted and asked if masturbation was a major sin as well. Our teacher replied that masturbation was a minor sin. So Badrul asked if it was a major or minor sin for two men to masturbate together. Our teacher was amused but unsettled and said it was pointless to discuss such things. The other boys howled with laughter – I kept an embarrassed silence but admired Badrul’s boldness.

“I spent my secondary school life praying for Allah to make me masculine and attracted to girls”

 

When I was in my early 20s I went overseas to university on a government scholarship. Badrul stayed back in Malaysia.
In 1998, our Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, was sacked on charges of corruption and sodomy. In Malaysia, sodomy is a crime under the secular Penal Code and also under Islamic laws – both sets of legislation were introduced by British colonial rulers. Overnight, a homophobic vigilante group emerged – PASRAH, or the People’s Voluntary Anti-Homosexual Movement. I was livid and even though I did not particularly like Anwar, I deeply opposed how he was treated. Badrul shocked me, however – he detested Anwar so much that he was happy for him to be jailed. Unlike me, Badrul simply didn’t consider the campaign against Anwar homophobic. This was not the only strange thing – for all the noise that PASRAH was making, they had to dissolve because they had such little public support.

This is the Malaysian paradox – in everyday life, Malaysians are not really that homophobic. You actually can live a very gay lifestyle especially if you’re based in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, where gay clubs and saunas abound. People generally tolerate you if you don’t explicitly demand full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people. This is the kind of life Badrul has accepted for himself, but it’s a life that makes me extremely uncomfortable.

I also found it stressful trying to navigate my gay identity around the never-ending dictates of the Islamic religious police – apart from homosexuality, Muslims can get punished for drinking alcohol, not fasting in Ramadan, not going to the mosque on Fridays (for Muslim men) and so on. And even though my family know I’m gay, and accept me for who I am, they too are afraid for me. They’re always cautioning me to be careful and to not get caught by the authorities.

“Even though my family know I’m gay, and accept me for who I am, they too are afraid for me”

 

By skill or by luck, I’ve never been caught. But I feel like I can’t fully be myself in Malaysia. I have numerous Muslim friends who are exactly like me – straight and gay. We know what amazing potential we have, but we’re frustrated by the constraints that are placed around us. We’re all proud to be Muslim, too. Through online research, I’ve been exposed to lots of Islamic scholarship saying that it is actually homophobia/transphobia and not homosexuality/transgenderism that is a major sin in Islam. These interpretations of Islam are banned by the Malaysian government, however. Instead, Malaysian experiences of Islam are transforming drastically because the government is getting more repressive.

In this climate, more vulnerable than gay/bisexual men and lesbian/bisexual women are transgender men and women. Transgender women are especially prone to being violently harassed by Islamic enforcers – and this seems to be escalating the more we hear about political and economic scandals confronting the government. So from my perspective, homophobia and transphobia in Malaysia have been made much worse by politics. It’s not because of religion or Islam, as some Islamophobic people might argue in the West. There are many Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and non-religious people in Malaysia who are very supportive of LGBT rights. But they are powerless to do anything politically, because the system only rewards people who are homophobic.

For example, after the Orlando LGBT nightclub massacre, among the numerous supportive messages on Facebook from my Malaysian friends, I saw some less helpful comments along the lines of: “Well, we oppose the killing but we still think homosexuality is immoral and disgusting.” I know this attitude is not confined to Malaysians or Muslims, but the thing is that this is precisely the Malaysian government’s position, too.

To me, the bigger problem in a country like Malaysia, is a lack of democracy and respect for civil liberties. The government does not only target LGBT’s – it has also demonised Christians, Hindus, ethnic Chinese, feminist activists and Shia Muslims (because Malaysian Muslims are mostly Sunni). I don’t mind people having homophobic views or other views that I find distasteful, but I want the right to challenge or to disagree with them. If there were genuine freedoms of speech, belief and association in Malaysia, I think rational arguments would eventually win. As it stands, the Malaysian government is happy to use homophobia as a weapon to control its citizens. It is the biggest bully that is stopping the full flourishing of Malaysians – LGBT or straight.

“He said he and his boyfriend just had to be aware of when “hunting season” was for LGBT’s so they could stay low”

 

I actually love and miss Malaysia dearly, but at some point I had to clear my mind and so I came to the UK to further my studies. Then I met a wonderful English man and fell in love. I’m not saying things are perfect in Britain, but it is fantastic that we can share our love and have it protected under the law now. We give credit to the amazing LGBT activists here who’ve made it possible for us to be together like this. Ideally, I’d like to contribute to positive change in Malaysia, too, not just for LGBT’s but for human rights and democracy in general. But even my friends and family are now telling me to stay in Britain. They see that I’m in an amazing relationship and they want me to be happy.

Actually, Badrul is in a happy relationship, too. I see his posts on Facebook with his man, and their immediate families seem supportive. The last time I met him, he said he and his boyfriend just had to be aware of when “hunting season” was for LGBT’s so they could stay low. It sounded awful but he said it with a laugh.

To be LGBT in Malaysia is tough, but many people do find a way. My hope is that Malaysia becomes a true democracy one day and has a government that is not corrupt and truly upholds the human rights of LGBT’s and all other minorities.

If you would like to share your story with Ditch the Label, please get in touch.

Names have been changed to protect identity.

What is it Like to be Gay in Kenya Today?

Living in a progressive culture is something that a lot of people take for granted. Whilst there is still a long way to go in the fight for equality in the West, we are still much further ahead than some of our brothers and sisters worldwide. So we took to social media and gay dating apps to discover what it is like for members of the LGBT+ community living in countries with repressive legislation/strong socio-cultural conservatisms.

We were amazed by the response we got from people wanting to share their stories with us and what they had to say is a potent reminder to all that there is still so much work to be done before every human being around the world can live and love without fear of being persecuted or, prosecuted for their natural choices.

Many members of the LGBT+ community have had to make the decision to keep their sexuality hidden from those around them because ‘non-traditional sexual relationships’ could cost them their friends, family, jobs and could lead to imprisonment or even, death. Others choose to speak up and risk everything in the fight for equality.
This month sees Pride celebrations happening around the world and with this in mind, we want to give a platform to those who are still prohibited from living freely as their true selves.

Here is *Abdu’s story.

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‘My name is Abdu. I am 33 years old, born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. I am an only child. My father died at a very young age and after his death my mother remarried and moved away to live with her new husband – leaving my grandmother to raise me single-handedly.

Growing up, I lived in a nice area and attended school. I had a good relationship with my grandmother and although I had realised I was gay, I decided to keep it a secret.

All my problems started when my grandmother died in 2006. That’s when I came to know how the rest of my family really felt about me. My uncles and aunties revealed that they had always been suspicious of my sexuality since I was ‘effeminate’ and had ‘never had a girlfriend’. When I admitted the truth, they rejected me and told me I ‘didn’t belong to the family’. They kicked me out, and so with no support network I had to find a job and a cheap house on an estate to rent.

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I started adult life the hard way; alone and fearful.

It was not only my family that judged me. People I didn’t even know called me names and abused me on the street, as did my neighbours. I moved around a lot because I was so worried for my safety but ultimately, there was nothing I could do about it. I just had to live with it.

Things got worse last year. The people in the neighbourhood where I lived found out I had a boyfriend. Scared of what they might do, I decided it was time to move again, but before I had a chance to leave I was brutally attacked by a group of homophobic thugs who left me in such a bad way, I had to seek medical attention for my injuries. Although I reported the attack to the police, I received no help due to the corruption here.

 I was advised by my gay friends and different organisations to flee the area and find a safe place to stay. One of my friends working with an NGO working with transgendered people accommodated me in his home for some months. He advised me to leave Kenya and get a job outside of the country so I could start afresh. I eventually managed to find work in Qatar as a security guard – a job I could never have imagined myself doing but at least it got me out of Kenya. Little did I know, I was getting myself into hot soup! I only managed to stay there for three weeks…

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One day I was called into the office and my supervisor told me that he had been advised by my colleagues that I was displaying ‘strange behaviour’ and acting ‘like a gay man.’ He told me that I could not continue working for the company and that I would be deported. To be honest, this killed me. It was the most painful moment in my life. I just couldn’t understand what I did wrong and I had no choice but to abide and get back to Kenya.

Coming back here, my kind friend once again accommodated me. This is when I contacted an organisation helping people flee countries where they were being persecuted for their sexuality. I wanted to apply for asylum just outside of Kenya. I was in good communication with the organisation but unfortunately they could not do anything to help me.

I was using a gay online dating app when I got talking to a man called *Mark based in Germany and after telling him my story he decided to help me leave Kenya. He invited me to Germany and agreed to pay for everything. I applied and luckily I got the visa! So in December last year I travelled to Dusseldorf where he lives. While in Germany I had to try and seek asylum because I was only there with a visiting visa which expired after two months. Again, I tried contacting organisations while I was there but sadly, nobody was able to help me.

Mark and I talked about my desperate situation and we agreed that marriage might be the only solution. However, I was told by the embassy that I would need to exit the country and learn the native language before applying for a marriage visa and returning to Germany.

I came back to Nairobi and I’m still living here with my friend. I am currently studying the German language and my exams are booked for next month. I am very afraid that if I don’t pass I won’t be able to apply for a visa. Secondly, I am supposed to have a certificate of no impediment to marriage, which is not issued to gay people here wishing to marry outside of Kenya. This is required by the German Embassy here in Nairobi.

I guess all I can do is work hard and cross my fingers.

Yes, that’s my life now. I am still fighting and I hope for the best. I have gone through a lot in life but I won’t give up.  Sometimes I cry and ask ‘why me?’ but I still thank God at the end of every day.’

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*Names have been changed to protect identity

If you would like to share your story with Ditch the Label, please get in touch.

As one of the UK’s leading anti-bullying charities, we are constantly researching the current landscape of equality, both online and offline. We took to Google and Bing – both leading search engines, to find out what the most searched for terms were surrounding different demographic profiles. Some of the results were so abusive, they have already been hidden by the search engines.

singlemothers

blondes

feminists

gaypeople

goths

interracial

men

tattoos

women

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity of meeting up with the wonderful Dustin Lance Black for a couple of hours. We talked Ditch the Label, bullying, transatlantic equality… and cake. I also spoke to Dustin about his upbringing and career inspirations and I may or may not have made a few blunders along the way. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video – we’ve split it up into 2, for your viewing pleasure (and because it would have taken ages to upload otherwise). Huge thank you to @DLanceBlack for his time and for all of the positive work he does and to @OllyPike for heading up the production.

Liam x

You can find out more about Dustin Lance Black and his work on his official website. If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in the interview, support is available in the Ditch the Label Hub.


We had the pleasure of interviewing one of our favourite faces of the UK medial industry and one of the stars of the Channel 4 hit series ‘Embarrassing Bodies’. Yep, you guessed it – Doctor Christian Jessen! We spoke to Christian about Ditch the Label, his sexuality, being in the public eye, Twitter and prejudice towards patients in our first of many celebrity interviews.

Ditch the Label: Hi Christian, thanks so much for your time. Are you familiar with Ditch the Label?
Dr Christian Jessen: Hi guys, not a problem. Yes I am and I think that it’s great. It is important for teens to have somewhere to go when they need advice and support.

Ditch the Label: Thank you! Now your sexuality has often been the topic of various articles and comments within the media but how did you find growing up with it? Was your childhood affected in anyway?
Dr Christian Jessen: Well I was very fortunate because my school was very open minded. It didn’t really matter what your interests were and sexuality was always seen as a non-issue. However, I do remember growing up feeling very alone – it was difficult and I remember wishing that my sexuality wasn’t the way it was turning out. I knew that it was okay to be different but I didn’t have anybody to talk to. My friends were out getting girlfriends and I felt left out and alone. I like Ditch the Label because it gives people a place to find likeminded people to talk to. Bullying isn’t always as dramatic and I think that sometimes people just need somebody to talk to and some advice.

Ditch the Label: How did you deal with feeling like you were alone?
Dr Christian Jessen: Well I put a lot of effort into my work; not necessarily my academic work, I was very interested in music and theatre and didn’t really understand relationships. I buried it all in other activities and it sorted itself out in due course.

Ditch the Label: We all know you as one of the main Doctors from Embarrassing Bodies and many of us are following you on Twitter for your health Q&A sessions but have you ever been treated differently because of your sexuality whilst being a doctor?
Dr Christian Jessen: There is a massive prejudice around being a gay doctor. It was different for me as I have never been ‘obviously’ gay and so people are often surprised when they find out. I have been exposed to off-the-cuff homophobic comments from other doctors, especially when being trained in sexual health. Prejudice towards patients and sexual health do exist. I never hid my sexuality but never wove a flag either; I don’t see it as being relevant. I am a doctor and not a ‘gay doctor’. I have also had comments from other doctors calling me an embarrassment to the profession but the Guardian recently noted me as the friendly face of the medical profession so it’s all swings and roundabouts.

Ditch the Label: Aside from others in the profession, have you ever experienced prejudice from the public?
Dr Christian Jessen: Yes. I get quite a few hateful comments through Twitter. For instance, Alan Carr recently interviewed me on Channel 4 and spoke about my sexuality; within minutes I had lost 500 followers on Twitter, which was really sad. It’s sad to discover that some people still see it as being an issue. Twitter can be really grounding for that reason! The media also like to bring up my sexuality a lot, probably because they see it as being a revelation as it isn’t something that everybody knows about me.

Ditch the Label: How do you deal with the negative comments on Twitter?
Dr Christian Jessen: Well the best thing is to just leave and ignore them. If something is especially foul I will ReTweet it with comments and have often received apologies.

Ditch the Label: Does prejudice towards patients ever exist?
Dr Christian Jessen: It isn’t a good thing but we are all guilty of stereotyping but prejudice and health is a dangerous thing. I have always been vocal about religious doctors and am anti-religious because of the prejudice that is sometimes tied to it. There is treatment prejudice in the profession, which seems to be more towards the elderly.

Ditch the Label: Do you have any advice for people going through a situation that is similar to your own experiences?
Dr Christian Jessen: Don’t go it alone. Always tell someone but choose whom you tell carefully. If for example you are being discriminated against at work and don’t say anything until something has happened it isn’t easy to backtrack. You should always make your problems known and speak to somebody at every step of the way; either at Ditch the Label, a teacher, friend or family member; not only does it build support but it also develops evidence.

Ditch the Label: Thank you for your time! Do you have anything you’d like to add?
Dr Christian Jessen: Well I think that Ditch the Label is a really positive project and I’m happy to be part of it. I like the idea of an online support network and I could have definitely benefited growing up.

We would like to thank Christian for his time and continued support for our cause and look forward to reading your comments.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Jodie Harsh, one of the UK’s biggest and most successful DJs, socialites and all round entertainers. We spoke to Jodie about her thoughts on bullying, growing up and she gives her advice on finding and accepting yourself for who you are.

Ditch the Label: Hi Jodie, thank you for taking the time out to talk to us!
Jodie Harsh: Not a problem, I think what you guys are doing is great and it’s an honour to be able to contribute my story towards the campaign.

Ditch the Label: It’s great to have you involved! So could you tell us a little more about yourself and what you do?
Jodie Harsh: Ultimately I’m a DJ and produce music, throw parties and run my own club nights in London and around the world. I fell into my career and originally wanted to be an actor or a dancer after studying Fashion at LCF. I’m kind of making it up as I go along but I love it!

Ditch the Label: What was growing up like for you? Did you ever experience bullying yourself?
Jodie Harsh: I was incredibly fortunate to never experience bullying; I had the occasional teasing when I was young but I have always been quite lucky and managed to escape it. I made myself funny and I always made sure that I got on with all the kind of “laddy type” people, even though half of the time I actually fancied them! I always hung around with the “cool” crowd and I have always been so blatantly gay. It was shining out of me from 6 years of age so I never really had to hide anything.

 

Ditch the Label: So when you say that you hung around with the “cool” people at school, was that a conscious decision on your part?
Jodie Harsh: Yes I guess it was kind of conscious. I was always quite clever and worked really hard but I think that if I hung around with the “nerdy” crowd, it would have made me even more vulnerable to bullying. I always just made sure that I wasn’t an easy target.

I was at a normal grammar school until I was 14 and then I moved to London to go to a Stage School so I think that when I was at normal secondary school, I played it all down a bit and then when I went to stage school I really came out of my shell and even came out to people on my first day.

I mean even now, I’m sure that there is a lot of negative stuff written about me online but I never even look at it. I have always made sure that I stay away from anything negative.

Ditch the Label: Did you ever experience any internal bullying within your group of friends? Did they ever look down upon those who were seen as being less “cool”?
Jodie Harsh: Not really. The bullying policies and culture at my grammar school were really good and so bullying wasn’t really a frequent thing. I think later on in life in work and politics, I have experienced a degree of bullying but never when I was a child.

Ditch the Label: Do you think that sexuality and difference is embraced more at stage school than at state school?
Jodie Harsh: Oh yeah, definitely. At the time, it was never a problem at stage school. All the teachers knew, I told them all! I’ve always had a real f*ck you attitude as well. I’ve never taken any sh*t! It’s made me the person I am today.

 

Ditch the Label: So when you were at stage school, did you ever experience bullying outside of the confines of the classroom?
Jodie Harsh: No but I know a lot of others did, quite a few were beaten up but I was always incredibly lucky. It certainly was luck of the draw. Now I’m a boy that dresses like a girl in the middle of the big bad city and I have never had any abuse.

Ditch the Label: Have you ever felt vulnerable to being targeted?
Jodie Harsh: I protect myself from it all. I don’t put myself in a position where I could face it. I live in a very gay friendly part of East London and would never walk through Brixton dressed like this, for example. I never put my name into Google either. I consciously stay away from any negative influences that could be abusive.

Ditch the Label: As an adult do you ever get negative comments for being in drag, for being openly gay or for anything else?
Jodie Harsh: God, yeah but I’m really happy with the person that I am and I love what I do. I have put myself out there as something that is completely different; I am in makeup, high heels and a wig. I’ve put myself out there as something so different to society in general. I’ve always felt different and like a complete alien; I’ve always been open about it and embraced it. The people around me like and appreciate me for being different and for who I am. I’ve never had to hide anything, which is amazing! So many of my friends were bullied and had to hide who they were until they became an adult, through fear of being bullied for it.

 

Ditch the Label: Do you think that your outspoken and loud personality through Jodie is a protection mechanism?
Jodie Harsh: Yes, it probably is. I’ve always made sure that nobody can be horrible to me, that has been my coping mechanism in life. In my case, being so loud and outspoken has protected me, as opposed to me being shy but that is just me. Perhaps if I had have gone to a different school or lived in a different area, I would have had to hide part of who I am a bit. I think that I am only so confident with who I am now because I never had it beaten out of me when I was a kid.

Ditch the Label: In the gay community, there seems to be an internalization of homophobia and transphobia. Have you ever experienced it?
Jodie Harsh: Yeah it goes on so much, it’s around us everywhere. There’s also a lot of racism within ethnic minorities – there is never much sense of community, which is sad. In London the gay community have it so good and we forget how good we have it. It all boils down to individual insecurities, which is where a lot of the bullying comes from.

I have always been pretty sorted and happy with whom I am so I have never been insecure in anyway.

 

Ditch the Label: Do you think that there is a difference between you in and out of drag?
Jodie Harsh: Not really, just a ton of hairspray and a f*ck load of make up!
It’s really not a thing for me. Being in drag is like putting on my work suit and Jodie is just a name that I call myself when I’m working. I never put myself out there, out of drag, I like the mystery and illusion around it. I put out this sort of character.

Ditch the Label: Do you have the same friendship circles when in and out of drag?
Jodie Harsh: I have always known that having a really close-knit circle of friends is one of the most important things in life. I have around 7 best friends: we never Instagram or Tweet each other, they never come to my club nights and they are my real friends. If I’m out doing a gig or a party then there are thousands of people that I know but I would never sit down and have lunch with them or tell them about bad things going on.

Ditch the Label: Have you always been so confident or is it something you have built up over time?
Jodie Harsh: Yes. I don’t think I’m overly confident – we all have our insecurities, right?

 

Ditch the Label: So when you first started out in drag and left the house wearing heels, how did you feel?
Jodie Harsh: A tiny bit vulnerable and actually, that never goes away. You do put yourself out there and drag is like having a suit of armor. One half feels untouchable and the other half is like “oh my god, I’m in a wig!”. With drag in general, there is a sort of vulnerability thing that goes on with drag. I work really, really hard but I get nervous about things still. Like a new work thing or a gig, it can be really nerve-racking but that’s natural.

Ditch the Label: What kind of advice would you give to anybody reading this who is having difficulty with bullying or finding it hard to accept themselves for who they are?
Jodie Harsh: You should be yourself, however sometimes you have to hide elements of it for safety. It really does get better, however cliché as it may sound. You are always good enough.

Make sure you follow Jodie on Twitter and Facebook. Whilst you’re at it, have you got your anti-bullying wristband yet? Check them out here!