Interview: Stephanie Styles on being gay at school

When I was growing up, girls and boys would often have casual and light-hearted conversations about guys or games, whereas my younger sister and I would give an explanation for why we weren’t interested….

Interview: Stephanie Styles on being gay at school

When I was growing up, girls and boys would often have casual and light-hearted conversations about guys or games, whereas my younger sister and I would give an explanation for why we weren’t interested. When I was on university courses, I often felt alienated in the school timetable, preferring to go off and have a serious conversation in my dorm, and spend more time studying.

I think that this results from my inner monologue, which may be a product of my over-anxious personality, and that involves a mix of insecurity and self-image. I felt increasingly like an outsider: I wasn’t just the straight girl who enjoyed boys (I was a lesbian) or sport (I played soccer), but the gay girl, the lesbian athlete, the lesbian scholar. I was constantly comparing myself against girls, and I felt that I should be the only person at school who felt this way. I feel that my internal monologue is held up to perfectionism to this day, because as I am, I’m desperate to be accepted. I compare myself to peers, to my mum and my dad, to my brothers, and other girls who I know are probably more comfortable than I am at my age. I worry about being judged harshly because I find it important to conform to gender stereotypes.

I have a trick to treat my perfectionism: I notice when it’s happening, and analyse what’s bothering me. I also identify how I make myself feel better by spending time thinking about certain things – it can be a solace to feel like I’m not being totally crap and not feeling lonely. Many years ago, I found a pattern in my behaviour: I would do something I was genuinely keen to do, and then start thinking about why I wasn’t good at it. This ticked a lot of boxes: I would find myself not doing something that I was excited about, thinking it was somehow inferior because it had a negative impact on my state of mind.

Photograph: The Guardian

I was always a really positive person, but this bubble created by anxiety contained more of my personality than I’d thought possible. I used to think of myself as an open-minded person, but it seems that my feelings about myself were much more negative than I knew.

There’s a lot of pressure on teenage girls to be perfect at everything. But none of us is and I have learnt to come to terms with that. The hardest part is to be open with my friends. I’ve spoken about the struggles I’ve had before, and how much I struggle. For the most part, they have been really supportive, but I know it will take time to understand some things better.

As for social media, I find it hard to deal with, and I worry that my social presence may not be taken as seriously as it should be. Some of my friends have had problems with negative reactions because of their social media presence, and I am worried that some of these feelings will occur when I start sharing things online, like my journalism work. So far, I’ve been extremely careful in what I post, and what I’ve gained from it, which is a source of irritation and frustration to me. There are not many things I’m brave enough to share online, but I know that I need to find my strength and courage when I feel discouraged by reactions that I see.

After a traumatic breakup I’ve spent a lot of time at home thinking about how to make myself feel better. I’m finding the space to talk about these things, and I feel much better about how I feel now. I’m still scared of how I can express myself on social media, but I know that if I don’t do it, I’ll probably be ashamed of myself. Sometimes I think things aren’t right, but I’m doing what I can to find the courage to share my thoughts.

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