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Read the lived experiences of estranged students this Estranged Students Solidarity Week

5 min read

Trigger Warning: this blog includes discussion around topics such as body dysphoria, domestic violence, suicide references, transphobia and identity-based discrimination and harassment. I acknowledge that this content may be difficult. The Student Wellbeing Service can provide help and support for a range of personal and emotional concerns.

The days that my father drank himself to the point of unconsciousness were the good ones growing up, since that meant that I wouldn’t have to deal with his abuse for the time being. When he left when I was fourteen I thought that was my escape. I didn’t know why at the time, but I only fell further into a suffocating depression that felt as if it had no end. I watched my own flesh prison warp to disgusting proportions until I no longer recognised what I saw in the mirror as myself. At the time, I did not know what gender dysphoria was, only a constant looming feeling that something about myself was wrong in some way I couldn’t put my finger on; something about the broadness of my shoulders, size of my Adam’s apple, height, brow bone, or even the shape of my own hands that just didn’t feel right. I had no mouth, yet I needed to scream.

Eventually the internal pain became too much to handle. Knowing about the waiting lists that the NHS would put me on for just an initial appointment with a gender identity clinic, I bought hormone replacement therapy medication online in secret. My mother eventually found my medication and confronted me about it, refusing to listen to the research I had read before making this decision and demanding that I stop taking the first treatment that made me feel like myself. Over the next few weeks she simultaneously fought tooth and nail to push me back into the closet whilst outing me against my will to not only my entire family, but her friends too. She attempted to bribe me to cut my hair, threw away the clothes that I had bought with my own money, all while dealing with the regular yelling competitions between myself and my stepfather on the topic of whether my own will to live outweighs their inconvenience of changing a set of pronouns.

Before I knew it, I couldn’t stand being in that house anymore. I started sleeping where I could, by either spending the night at a friend’s house or napping in student halls kitchens. On the recommendation of a friend, I started speaking to the University’s wellbeing team, and the frequent mention of my brewing suicidal ideation eventually led to me being prescribed antidepressants. 

One night I heard my mother and stepfather come home late, visibly drunk, and yelling at each other. My stepfather switches his gaze to me and starts yelling something. He uses the wrong pronouns yet again. “She,” I corrected him. He grows even more furious than before, yelling at the top of his lungs.

“You’re a boy! Boy! Boy! Boy!”

I snapped.

I slapped him across the face as a way to finally put my foot down. The next thing I know his hand is wrapped tightly around my neck as I’m being pushed against the wall, him threatening to knock me out. When he finally lets go of me I leave to go to a friend’s, having already planned to go there for a house party anyway, breaking down into tears shortly after leaving the house. As the night came to its end and the drinks I had were still impairing my judgement, it felt as if not just my family, but the world would be better off without me in it. I stared at the pills I had on me at the time and swallowed them all in an attempt to overdose.

Evolution is nature’s constant arms race between species. The strength of our bodies, our fears, and even the sometimes illogical trauma responses we develop are all based on a single primal instinct: to survive. The moment I took the overdose that very instinct kicked in. I woke up my friends, who called an ambulance team to take me to A&E. As we were all in the waiting room one of my friends asked for my phone so she could inform my mother about what had happened that night.

She went back to bed.

A dawning realisation

In the morning, after she had woken up, yet another argument had broken out, escalating from an exchange of texts to a phone call. Midway through, I felt a click as I had realised that these were the people who were actively making my life worse, that I had been a victim of parental abuse in some form or another for most likely all of my life, and that nothing would get better if I didn’t cut myself off from them there and then. I hung up the phone and spent the weekend couch surfing at various friends’ homes. On Monday morning the first thing I did was speak to the University’s housing department, and within the same day I was set up in the emergency housing situated in Reese Hall. Without the money to hire a moving van myself, night by night, I collected as many of my belongings as I could carry,  occasionally with the help of a friend, until my mother slammed the front door on one friend as he was trying to come inside with me, partially crushing his foot in the process. As I was in the process of packing everything away I ignored my siblings laughing at me for coming back home every night, as to them I seemingly couldn’t leave. Shortly after everything had been moved, I needed to go through the process again, as I had been placed into Harry Law.

The worst part of being an estranged student is the summer, where all of the friends that you make at university go home, which just isn’t an option for you. At its worst the sheer isolation is just as much torture as what you managed to get away from.

Support is out there

It has been almost three years since I escaped from the abuse of my home, and the University has supported me throughout my journey. The Wellbeing Team has supported me again and again, especially last year, during my industrial placement, when a mental relapse ended with me making another attempt on my life. The Stand Alone bursary has helped me make ends meet, and made up for the extra safety net that most other students would be able to get from their family.

As hopeless as it may seem, there are always support systems set up that students can access.