Sexuality and the British Boarding School System: Stoicism and Repression


I have never been in a relationship, and I have never been in love. I first had feelings for someone – another man – at the age of 20. This was when I realised I was not heterosexual.

If I had been asked two years ago what my sexuality was, I would have answered ‘straight’, and I would have believed this to be the truth. It’s not something I ever paid much thought to. Is this normal? I have no idea. But what I do know is there must be a reason for this, since it is not by choice. Is it bad luck? Luck is a concept with no meaning in the real sense, and so reasoning my situation with luck would be pointless and meaningless. Is it lacking in self-confidence? I’ve never really had an issue with confidence. From the title you may have already worked out where this is heading.

I must make it quite clear from the outset that I hold my School in the highest regard, and have the utmost respect for its staff. However, there are numerous effects sending a child to boarding school has, all of which are difficult to qualify and impossible to quantify. Boarding school is quite a complex concept for a child to grasp at such a young age. It is only natural for a child to be homesick during their first few weeks of boarding school. There would be absolutely no shame at all if they were to cry. But to the child, they believe this would be seen as ungratefulness. They are aware of the efforts their parents make to send them to a prestigious school. Therefore it is of the utmost importance not to show your feelings. You learn to hide your emotions straight away. This is a theme which is continuous throughout the most important years of a child’s development. To show emotion is to show weakness. It just isn’t done.

This does not mean however that people did not have relationships at school. They did. As for homosexual relationships, the thought of one happening at a boarding school is beyond my imagination. Quite simply it could never have happened. To my school, homosexuality did not exist. I think it says a lot that in a school with over 700 students and staff, there was not a single openly gay person. The reason for this is perhaps the institutional nature of British boarding schools. It was assumed that everyone was straight. Even if we had our suspicions, we never believed anyone could actually be gay. I never once questioned my sexuality, something which now, when I look back on how I felt at certain times of my life, should have been blindingly obvious. But of course, questioning my sexuality would have involved emotion, a distasteful subject in the world of boarding.

And so I left boarding school at the age of 18 with the ability to not show emotion or feelings. I in fact had a fear of showing my emotions. On the very few occasions I did, I felt greatly embarrassed and flawed. Not great qualities to have as far as relationships are concerned. It would therefore not come as much as a surprise that the first time I had feelings for someone, I could not cope. My lifetime of stoicism and repression resulted in my cup finally overflowing.

The silver lining in this would be if I had finally learnt how to show my emotions. Alas no, I have not yet learnt how to have feelings for someone. A symptom of boarding school? Perhaps. A symptom of being gay at boarding school? Certainly.


More articles in LGBT History Month 2015
  1. A Case of New Found Gender Fluidity
  2. The Harder Truth
  3. Sexuality and the British Boarding School System: Stoicism and Repression
  4. Coming Out
  5. Gays Who Hate Gays
  6. Pride and Science
  7. Homosexuality in Sport: Widely Accepted or Still a Taboo Subject?
  8. Faith and Sexuality: The Story of MySilentHalf
  9. Look to the Vloggers: The Importance of Gay Role Models to Young People
  10. LGBT Around the World

Discussion2 Comments

  1. avatar

    It’s not your place to call someone else’s personal life experiences nonsense. The fact that you went to boarding school does not make this article “a load of drivel”. At no point does the author of this article generalise the entire British boarding school system, but rather gives his own experiences and opinions. Good for you if you have not been adversely affected by boarding school, but do not then assume that everyone has had the same experience as you. To describe someone’s experiences, which have led to numerous suicide attempts, as “drivel” is insulting, ignorant, misinformed and, if nothing else, incorrect.

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