The Vagenda

I Was at a Religious All-Girls’ School Where Homosexuality Was “Sexual Immorality”. Here’s How I Came Out Anyway


I realised I was bi in a dramatic “oh-shit-I-also-like-girls” kind of way when I was about sixteen. I was just starting my A-levels at the kind of religious, all-girls’ school where everyone’s parents voted Tory, it was acceptable to describe a haircut as “dyke-y”, and watching the (fairly explicit) film adaption of Jeanette Winterson’s lesbi-epic, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, prompted several girls in my English class to cover their eyes and squeal.

The sex education had consisted of a couple of awkward lessons from our bluestocking headmistress when we were fourteen – the kind where they wheel out the ancient VCR player and you watch a 1980s tape of a man ejaculating in slow motion – and a lecture in our final year on STDs, complete with gory slides and the constant reminder that “the only way to completely avoid this is abstinence!” There was not a single mention of LGBT issues, safe sex for lesbians or even consent.

Aside from the sex education deficiencies, the school seemed to take a head-in-the-sand approach to being gay. Our local MP, who famously told the BBC that parents don’t want gay kids, was invited to every school event and the choirs had to change the gender pronouns in songs so they only referred to men. The religious aspect of my school was also often difficult; we received regular visits from evangelical Christians who handed out Bibles with anti-homosexuality quotes helpfully listed under “sexual immorality” in the index.

All perceptions of LGBT people were therefore taken from the media: gay men were cool accessories, lesbians were all angry and shorthaired, and bisexual girls were either indecisive, trying to be edgy, or desperate for male attention. The ethos of the school also made it difficult for the girls to have any sphere of reference – the traditional school/university/stable middle-class job route that was sold to us left no room for digression. In an environment where everyone’s hairbands had to be the same colour, being “normal” and “regulation” seemed to be the only option.

I didn’t come out until the very end of my time at school. My final two years were very difficult and I went through periods of depression prompted by having to suppress my sexuality. Sadly, one of the reasons I felt I couldn’t come out was because I got the impression that, aside from a few fantastic teachers, there wouldn’t be any support from the school, should everything go tits-up. Even in my last few months of school, when I cried almost every day, rarely handed in work and was seeing a counsellor, the only concern for the administration seemed to be whether or not I had holes in my tights and whether I would get the necessary grades so they could pack me off to Oxford and not have to deal with me anymore.

When I finally did come out to my closest friends, their reaction was overwhelmingly supportive and everything has carried on as normal. I haven’t had many openly negative reactions from other girls with whom I went to school, although there’s a sort of awkward online silence if I ever post a picture of me with a girlfriend on Facebook. Only once, when I shared a petition encouraging Coca-Cola to boycott Russia due to gay rights abuses did I experience outright homophobia (with one girl comparing being gay to a “mental illness”.)

The single-sex aspect of my education created a particularly challenging environment in which to be LGBT. Many of my classmates had exceptionally unhealthy relationships with boys and skewed perceptions of gender roles as a result of not being used to a co-ed environment. When a good proportion of the year feels that their purpose is to make boys like them, the idea that a girl may completely remove herself from that aim prompts suspicion and paranoia.

Single-sex schools often market themselves on the grounds that their pupils can be more comfortable and confident without the distraction of the opposite gender. Yet so often they are allowed to blatantly disregard important areas of their pupils’ development and ignore anything that they are not comfortable talking about. I now live in Berlin, an LGBT Mecca, and have the support of many close friends and family members both here and back in the UK. But if you look on student forums, it’s easy to find young people in the same situation as I experienced, unable to see any way out, hoping that “it will get better at university”.

Girls in single-sex schools already have high rates of depression and eating disorders, which are often addressed effectively, but no attention seems to be paid to the fact that LGBT teenagers are three times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual teenagers. For me, and for thousands of other teenagers, being gay was something that was simply not acknowledged, leaving us feeling depressed, hopeless and alone. That needs to change.


23 thoughts on “I Was at a Religious All-Girls’ School Where Homosexuality Was “Sexual Immorality”. Here’s How I Came Out Anyway

  1. Obviously I am really sorry to hear about your problems you faced whilst at school and your experience there and in no way am I trying to act you but I went to the same school as you and I disagree with your assessment of it being a super religious school.

    Religion had very little to do with your day to day life in school except for some of the bigger events throughout the year which is understandable considering it’s a Christian company. In sixth form you would have lessons with the boy’s school so it wasn’t as if you’re completely segregated from the opposite sex. Also it is a school, even if in a Comprehensive you would be expected to have a standardised uniform even though I do agree sometimes they did seem a bit draconian.

    Plus you definitely can’t assume that everyone came from a wealthy background as I was there on a military bursary as was so many people that I know or on some form of scholarships and there were examples of people receiving EMA . You can hardly say that people took those little bibles seriously, you weren’t forced to take them and no-one seemed to actually read them and the entire time I was in School (4 years) I think they came twice. So hardly regular. I know girls that came out in my year and the year above me in school and were supported and no-one thought any differently of them. Some of the problems you’ve raised are not solely due to it being a single sex school, poor representation and understanding of LBGT issues and weak sex education happens across all the spectrum of schools, mixed, private or not and the issue of unequal, unhealthy relationships isn’t purely a single sex school problem, I saw the same thing happen at Comprehensive/College so is probably indicative of a larger problem caused by media portrayals.

  2. My friend sent me a link to this article after several people had commented and told me how strange and almost ridiculous it was. Upon reading it I have to agree. I attend the school in question. I am not religious and I am bisexual. I have had none of the problems you have encountered and don’t agree with the vast majority of your findings. I’m pretty sure a large amount of people who read this article and know the school in question will agree with me here.
    I am sorry for the though time you had but I don’t believe you’ve portrayed the school, staff or pupils accurately. If it came down to a debate I’m sure the vote would fall in favour of opposing your view.

  3. Great post. I really enjoyed reading it. I’m sorry that some of your former classmates have decided to nullify your experience.

  4. I have to say that I disagree with the two other commentors who attend the school about which this article is written. It’s true that the choirs must change the gender pronouns of songs, and I’ve certainly heard absolutely nothing about being gay or any LGBT issues in any PSHE lessons, even though they deal with drugs and eating disorders and stuff. I have also heard lots of gossip along the lines of “OMG she’s a lesbian” or whatever, which must create a really horrible environment for someone who is thinking about coming out. I think the writer is trying to show thr atmosphere where an openly anti-gay MP is still invited to the school and the Gideons are allowed to come in and give out bibles which say that homosexuality is a sin. It makes it seem as if being gay is something that is not even thought about by the senior staff. Also, the writer is clearly writing about a very personal experience and i don’t think it’s really legitimate to describe that as ridiculous. It’s good that you have had a more tolerant experience but i don’t see why she would write this if she had had the same

  5. Experience is relative to the individual. Great – you didn’t suffer the kind of difficulty that is expressed here. It’s problematic to suggest that because you are happy and comfortable with your sexual orientation in this environment, then so is everyone else.

    I’d also like to point out that titles in these articles are not a production of the author, but the site. The title (not chosen by HP) aims to tap into a stereotype, rather than an actuality, in this case.

    Having attended the school, I would agree that there is a kind of heteronormativity that goes on

  6. … I think the issue seems to be that LGBT is not normalised in the way that heterosexuality is. I know that if the author went to a member of staff, or fellow pupil then they would be supported. The issue is that because LGBT is not normalised or even assumed as an option in the school, some often feel like they’re ‘stepping out of the norm’. In this instance, this has proved challenging

  7. *girl writes article about emotionally painful coming out experience that caused two years of clinical depression* *everyone rushes to dismiss her experience and tell her she’s making it up*

    Good one internet.

  8. Thanks for sharing! I did not attend a sex-segregated school, but I was close friends with a girl in university who had.

    Almost every story she would tell me would have the same conclusion: sex-segregated schools are a woefully inaccurate, and often harmful microcosm real life.

    No one should negate anyone’s experiences. Meg, I will assume you are straight (or at least identified as straight at the time) since you mentioned friends coming out, but said nothing of yourself. Please try to realize that a straight girl saying what amounts to “it wasn’t that bad” when your experiences are vastly different from HP’s…it’s just meaningless. You aren’t her. You did not experience her life.

    A woman is talking about a really shitty time for her, and your response began with you (at least, this is the impression that I got) defending your school. Though I do appreciate that you ended with:

    “Some of the problems you’ve raised are not solely due to it being a single sex school, poor representation and understanding of LBGT issues and weak sex education happens across all the spectrum of schools, mixed, private or not and the issue of unequal, unhealthy relationships isn’t purely a single sex school problem, I saw the same thing happen at Comprehensive/College so is probably indicative of a larger problem caused by media portrayals.”

    Which is an excellent point, but I do not really see why it was important for you to preface it the way you did.

  9. I attend the school in question and I would just like to say that we are not dismissing the girl’s experience we just don’t think that it’s fair to paint the school in such an unfair light.

  10. I feel that this article is extremely unfair. The school in question was my home for 6 years and the support I recieved from fellow girls and staff when I came out was phenominal. I’m truly sorry that your experience at the school was not a brilliant one, but to slander a school that attempts to raise hardworking, empathetic and compassionate girls is, in my eyes, rather terrible. I think you should rethink the time you spent at the school, because I’m sure that it was not the overly religious and uncaring school that you have portrayed it to be.

  11. I’d just like to add to this post that we have been receiving a high volume of comments by people who went to school with the author, often containing a lot of unwarranted personal criticism. No more of these comments will be approved. The author didn’t name the school in her article or even publish under anything more than her initials, so she is not dragging anyone’s reputation through the mud. This is a personal, subjective piece about the experience of coming out in an often difficult environment, and I believe the author was brave to have written it.

  12. I was at the school a couple of years ahead of the author and my younger sister is currently still there, and is also struggling with coming out as a lesbian… Neither of us ever had any SRE on homosexuality. And the school seemed to willfully ignore other important things as well, for example, a friend of my sister did work experience with a prominent local figure who put his hand on her leg and sent her inappropriate text messages afterwards (she was 15). She told one of her teachers but nothing was done and the local figure was still invited to every major school event where he always made a point of speaking to her which made her often very upset… If something is an inconvenient truth, noone cares

  13. I think something that everyone can take from this piece is that private schools seem to so often be above the law on PSHE… Perhaps there’s a sort of “people like us” attitude that makes them think they’re immune…

  14. I absolutely agree with you Meg. I feel bad that the author had such a bad experience but at the same time, someone’s sexuality is part of their personal life – something which is not relevant to school life.

    I too had a rough time in Yr 11 while my parents were getting divorced and not once did the teachers give me any special treatment which I thought was fair enough, better to treat me the same than to be different and make me more aware of it.

    I have friends at uni who went to specifically Catholic or C of E schools and weren’t given any sex education at all. Whereas at the school we were given so much education about sex, I had it every year I was at the school.

    Not once were we forced to read the Bible, not once were we told that homosexuality was a sin and not once did I think badly of someone who was homosexual or bisexual (there were a couple of girls in my year who came out). I think it’s a shame this is a distorted representation of the school and I also don’t see why people’s political views are relevant, whether they ‘vote Tory’ or not. (I was completely unaware of anyone’s political views while at school).

  15. I so clearly remember your leaving ceremony and you addressing a young lady who was opening out, saying that you as a year group loved her for who she was. Perhaps if you had felt you could be more open you would have felt happier in your skin. But maybe you weren’t entirely sure about your sexuality and therefore felt frustration that has resulted in your article here. The school has fantastic pastoral care, but if you pretend you don’t need help, no-one will guess you need it and offer.
    I’m sure it has been difficult, even miserable for you at times, but teenage life often is because of the many changes you go through and the pressures of school work.
    From the outside though, you appeared very confident, perhaps this was to compensate for how you felt inside.
    The school does not bible bash, any more than any other school in the area. I think as you mature you will realise, being the clearly very intelligent young lady that you are, that you have perhaps been a little harsh on the school and your contemporaries.

  16. Coming Out is difficult no matter what your situation.
    She isn’t dragging anyone’s reputation through the mud, but surely if you write something in the public domain, the public have the right to an opinion.

  17. I believe this might be due to the author posting links to the article on her personal Facebook and Twitter, thus immediately identifying the school in question.

  18. My comment is not meant to cause offence towards HP in any way shape or form, but as she has openly published this on both her twitter and facebook pages I feel I hold the right to comment.

    I have been at the school she went to since I was seven years old, and my sister there before me. In all that time, several of the accusations she has made against the school have never, on any occasion, occurred.

    Never have I heard anyone be described as “dyke-y”, for their hairstyle or otherwise. The “evangelical Christians”, which are actually just your average Christian folk, came once a year, if that, and it was optional to take a Bible or not. After studying Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit myself, girls would shy away at ANY sex scene, lesbian or otherwise, because it’s plain awkward to watch with a teacher in the room. The headmistress has never offered sex talks, and none of those talks have featured the video in question.

    Although I am sorry that you suffered a bad experience, I feel that your article is insulting towards the school and the pupils there.

  19. I appreciate that she may have published links to this on twitter/facebook, thus making the school identifiable, but really, the majority of people who read this website have zero interest in the school. This is an article about one person’s experience of coming out.

    Having attended an all-girls school myself (about ten years ago), I can empathise with her situation. I had a great time at school. But, now I have some distance from the institution, I can recognise that ‘lesbian’ was only ever used as a pejorative word, and LGBT issues were not addressed by the school. One of my close friends came out shortly after we left, and (I hope!) received a lot of support from us all, but I totally understand why she didn’t feel able to come out while still at school.

    Many of the comments from former/current pupils and parents of whatever school the author attended just make the author’s point – they either deny her experience, get very personally defensive (this isn’t about you!), or patronise her (“I think as you mature you will realise…”). You’re all very attached to your school, I get it. But honestly, no-one else cares what school it is. Or would even think to look if you didn’t keep harping on about The School, as the author keeps it anonymous in this article.

    Though I am now tempted to look it up, just so I can make sure I don’t send my daughter there… (*ducks as the entire student/parent body leaps to their feet in righteous defense of their beloved institution*)

  20. At 15 years old a highly religious (now ex) friend of mine turned to our PE teacher and demanded I was separated from the girls when we got changed, as apparently being bisexual turns you into a full blown nymphomaniac who oogles at fellow students in their sports knickers. Thankfully she was told to grow the fuck up. Needless to say, the whole ordeal did not help me with the crisis I was facing with coming out, and to this day I only mention my sexuality briefly in conversation as my way of coming out.

  21. I just stumbled on this article, and I’m sure I don’t have all the facts, but when I read “when I was about sixteen” and “wheel out the ancient VCR player and you watch a 1980s tape” I think this must have been a while ago.

    So, I’m not sure how people having recent experiences there or current experiences there are relevant to an experience that it sounds like was quite a while ago. And I’m not saying “I’m sure everything is fine now.” I’m saying that perhaps the reason some folks had or are having a different experience is that time has passed and the institution has improved to some degree. Let’s hope so.

    A reference to the date of the experience in the article would certainly also help.

    According to wikipedia, the BBC TV adaptation of “Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit” was in 1990, so it wasn’t prior to 1990 in any case.

    In any case, it is possible to describe the merits and any improvements of the institution without attacking the author.

    A guy

  22. I also go to the school, we now have PSHE lessons about being a lesbian and how it’s ok.