When I was growing up I went to school in Dundee. We’d moved there from Newcastle and, when my sister and I started school, the other pupils clearly spotted us as different. English. This wasn’t a great thing to be in a Scottish school as there was (and may remain) a strength of feeling against the English. Many generations of parents telling their kids – or maybe just having conversations around them – that we don’t like the English, influencing their children’s beliefs. This wasn’t bullying but we certainly got enough unwanted attention that we started speaking with a Scottish accent to blend in. Different is strange, and scary and we don’t like it.
And then when we went home, our parents said ‘What are you speaking like that for? You’re not Scottish.’
I’m not sure if this came from a position of pride in their heritage, or a fear of ‘losing’ their young children to the influence of their friends, or it might even have just been an off-hand comment, but it was one my sister and I took to heart.
Our response as children was to please everyone – speak with a Scottish accent with our friends and speak English with our parents. Of course, as you can imagine, this got difficult when we were with our friends and our parents at the same time. In my mind, I developed great skill at speaking in a way that neither would notice. I remember choosing words that I thought I could say without anyone realising my accent was different. Whether that was true or not is another question. The main thing is, this stuff gets exhausting. And complicated.
Having said that, it became a habit and I kept it going all through school and uni. With uni being in Edinburgh it was the obvious thing to do. There was never a question in my mind about changing.
But then it was time to get a job and I realised – at last! – that I couldn’t keep switching accents. I had to choose. I made a conscious choice that my prospects of securing a graduate job (which I was applying for in England by the way) were better if I spoke with an English accent. I believed I would be seen as more intelligent / sophisticated / acceptable / capable.
Sitting here today I’m not entirely sure if I see myself as English or Scottish and, if I’m honest, I don’t really care. I love the lives I’ve lived in both countries and it’s who I am inside that matters.
And that’s where this story is different.
Many people in the world today have to pretend to be something different to who they are on the inside.
Whether Lesbian, Gay, Bi or Transsexual, LGBT people face prejudice in work which stops them being honest with those around them about who they really are, on the inside. Even if they have people in their team who value them for who they are and what they do, what about other teams? What about customers or suppliers they interact with? What if one day they have to find new employment and they don’t know what that employer will be like?
I feel ashamed that, even in Britain, we still have people in this position today.
For definite we are a million miles further on than we were, probably even 20 years ago, and there is still so much that can be done.
The greater connectivity across the world through the internet and Social Media will definitely continue to broaden people’s horizons and help them see the reality beyond the stereotypes.
And we must keep challenging our beliefs, and continue instilling more helpful beliefs in our children.
That way we get to a place where people are just people, no matter what their sexual orientation. And, while we’re on it, no matter what colour their skin, what country of origin, what religion, what physical ability, what sex.
We’re all just people living our lives, wanting to have a job, be recognised and rewarded for it, and to be able to do that being comfortable that who we are inside matters more than anything else.