What is it like to be gay in Malaysia today?

As part of our series, LGBT+ World Voices, Ditch the Label have been speaking to people in the LGBT+ community who are living, or have lived in countries with repressive legislation/strong conservative attitudes. This month sees Pride celebrations happening around the world and with this in mind, we want to give a platform and visibility to those who are still prohibited from living freely as their true selves.

We spoke to Amin, who told us what it is like to be gay in Malaysia today.

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I’ve always known I was attracted to other boys. When I was eight, I had a classmate whom I would think about constantly – I would fantasise about us holding hands or kissing.

I got teased a lot in my all-boys school – people used to call me ‘pondan’ (an often derogatory Malay word for feminine/gay man or transgender woman). Although Malaysia in the 1980s was not an impossible place to grow up gay, it was still hard work. In Malay-language sitcoms, for example, there would usually be a pondan-type character stealing the show, a bit like Julian and Sandy on BBC Radio’s Round the Horn in the 1960s.

Although Islam is Malaysia’s official religion, the population is actually very religiously diverse – it’s around 60 per cent Muslim, 20 per cent Buddhist, ten per cent Christian, six per cent Hindu and the remainder Taoist, Sikh and other traditional religions. Because of the special legal status of Islam, in Malaysian schools, it’s compulsory for Muslims to take up Islamic Studies – non-Muslims are segregated during these lessons and have to take up Moral Studies.

In my Islamic Studies classes, the dos and don’ts in Islam (as we were taught) would constantly be drummed into our heads. Homosexuality was, of course, a big don’t. I spent my secondary school life praying for Allah to make me masculine and attracted to girls. Amid all of this, I had a gay best friend in school, Badrul, who is also Muslim. Once, when our Islamic Studies teacher was telling us that homosexuality was a major sin, Badrul interrupted and asked if masturbation was a major sin as well. Our teacher replied that masturbation was a minor sin. So Badrul asked if it was a major or minor sin for two men to masturbate together. Our teacher was amused but unsettled and said it was pointless to discuss such things. The other boys howled with laughter – I kept an embarrassed silence but admired Badrul’s boldness.

“I spent my secondary school life praying for Allah to make me masculine and attracted to girls”

 

When I was in my early 20s I went overseas to university on a government scholarship. Badrul stayed back in Malaysia.
In 1998, our Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, was sacked on charges of corruption and sodomy. In Malaysia, sodomy is a crime under the secular Penal Code and also under Islamic laws – both sets of legislation were introduced by British colonial rulers. Overnight, a homophobic vigilante group emerged – PASRAH, or the People’s Voluntary Anti-Homosexual Movement. I was livid and even though I did not particularly like Anwar, I deeply opposed how he was treated. Badrul shocked me, however – he detested Anwar so much that he was happy for him to be jailed. Unlike me, Badrul simply didn’t consider the campaign against Anwar homophobic. This was not the only strange thing – for all the noise that PASRAH was making, they had to dissolve because they had such little public support.

This is the Malaysian paradox – in everyday life, Malaysians are not really that homophobic. You actually can live a very gay lifestyle especially if you’re based in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, where gay clubs and saunas abound. People generally tolerate you if you don’t explicitly demand full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people. This is the kind of life Badrul has accepted for himself, but it’s a life that makes me extremely uncomfortable.

I also found it stressful trying to navigate my gay identity around the never-ending dictates of the Islamic religious police – apart from homosexuality, Muslims can get punished for drinking alcohol, not fasting in Ramadan, not going to the mosque on Fridays (for Muslim men) and so on. And even though my family know I’m gay, and accept me for who I am, they too are afraid for me. They’re always cautioning me to be careful and to not get caught by the authorities.

“Even though my family know I’m gay, and accept me for who I am, they too are afraid for me”

 

By skill or by luck, I’ve never been caught. But I feel like I can’t fully be myself in Malaysia. I have numerous Muslim friends who are exactly like me – straight and gay. We know what amazing potential we have, but we’re frustrated by the constraints that are placed around us. We’re all proud to be Muslim, too. Through online research, I’ve been exposed to lots of Islamic scholarship saying that it is actually homophobia/transphobia and not homosexuality/transgenderism that is a major sin in Islam. These interpretations of Islam are banned by the Malaysian government, however. Instead, Malaysian experiences of Islam are transforming drastically because the government is getting more repressive.

In this climate, more vulnerable than gay/bisexual men and lesbian/bisexual women are transgender men and women. Transgender women are especially prone to being violently harassed by Islamic enforcers – and this seems to be escalating the more we hear about political and economic scandals confronting the government. So from my perspective, homophobia and transphobia in Malaysia have been made much worse by politics. It’s not because of religion or Islam, as some Islamophobic people might argue in the West. There are many Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and non-religious people in Malaysia who are very supportive of LGBT rights. But they are powerless to do anything politically, because the system only rewards people who are homophobic.

For example, after the Orlando LGBT nightclub massacre, among the numerous supportive messages on Facebook from my Malaysian friends, I saw some less helpful comments along the lines of: “Well, we oppose the killing but we still think homosexuality is immoral and disgusting.” I know this attitude is not confined to Malaysians or Muslims, but the thing is that this is precisely the Malaysian government’s position, too.

To me, the bigger problem in a country like Malaysia, is a lack of democracy and respect for civil liberties. The government does not only target LGBT’s – it has also demonised Christians, Hindus, ethnic Chinese, feminist activists and Shia Muslims (because Malaysian Muslims are mostly Sunni). I don’t mind people having homophobic views or other views that I find distasteful, but I want the right to challenge or to disagree with them. If there were genuine freedoms of speech, belief and association in Malaysia, I think rational arguments would eventually win. As it stands, the Malaysian government is happy to use homophobia as a weapon to control its citizens. It is the biggest bully that is stopping the full flourishing of Malaysians – LGBT or straight.

“He said he and his boyfriend just had to be aware of when “hunting season” was for LGBT’s so they could stay low”

 

I actually love and miss Malaysia dearly, but at some point I had to clear my mind and so I came to the UK to further my studies. Then I met a wonderful English man and fell in love. I’m not saying things are perfect in Britain, but it is fantastic that we can share our love and have it protected under the law now. We give credit to the amazing LGBT activists here who’ve made it possible for us to be together like this. Ideally, I’d like to contribute to positive change in Malaysia, too, not just for LGBT’s but for human rights and democracy in general. But even my friends and family are now telling me to stay in Britain. They see that I’m in an amazing relationship and they want me to be happy.

Actually, Badrul is in a happy relationship, too. I see his posts on Facebook with his man, and their immediate families seem supportive. The last time I met him, he said he and his boyfriend just had to be aware of when “hunting season” was for LGBT’s so they could stay low. It sounded awful but he said it with a laugh.

To be LGBT in Malaysia is tough, but many people do find a way. My hope is that Malaysia becomes a true democracy one day and has a government that is not corrupt and truly upholds the human rights of LGBT’s and all other minorities.

If you would like to share your story with Ditch the Label, please get in touch.

Names have been changed to protect identity.

Bullying Statistics in the UK – The Annual Bullying Survey 2016

For our updated 2019 Annual Bullying Survey, click here: https://www.ditchthelabel.org/research-papers/

Welcome to The Annual Bullying Survey 2016, the fourth and largest edition of our yearly benchmark of bullying in the United Kingdom. We surveyed 8,850 young people aged 12-20 in partnership with schools and colleges from across the country. Our free report has thousands of the latest bullying statistics and fully explores the reasons why young people bully others. Included in the report is the following:

• Key bullying statistics in the UK
• The motivations of bullying
• Frequency and nature of bullying experienced
• The impact of bullying
• Rates of young people bullying others
• Reasons why young people bully others
• The impact of family dynamics, stress and trauma and relationships on bullying behaviour
• Feedback for schools and colleges
• Recommendations
• Real stories and experiences

The report also comes with tips and advice for schools, colleges, practitioners, parents/guardians and young people.

UK Bullying Statistics 2016: Download The Annual Bullying Survey 2018 Now

Key Findings

• 1.5 million young people (50%) have been bullied within the past year.
• 145,800 (19%) of these were bullied EVERY DAY.
• People who have been bullied are almost twice as likely to bully others
• Twice as many boys as girls bully (66% of males vs. 31% females).
• 57% of female respondents have been bullied, 44% of male respondents and 59% of respondents who identified as trans have been bullied.
• 24% of those who have been bullied go on to bully.
• Based on their own definition 14% of young people admit to bullying somebody, 12% say they bully people daily.
• Twice as many boys as girls bully (66% of males vs. 31% females).
• 20% of all young people have physically attacked somebody.
• 44% of young people who have been bullied experience depression.
• 41% of young people who have been bullied experience social anxiety.
• 33% of those being bullied have suicidal thoughts.

The Report – Bullying Statistics 2016

Annual Bullying Survey 2016

building confidence after bullying

Spoiler Alert: Bullies Don’t Exist

“Ignore it”, some people say – or just “tell a teacher”. Whilst good advice, sometimes it just isn’t enough to help you overcome bullying. We’ve been working hard behind the scenes to build up a greater understanding of bullying dynamics. As part of the process, we continue to grow our understanding of people who bully – exploring their lives, motivations and how they feel about themselves and others. Our results so far have been reassuring because we’ve been able to prove that bullying is a learnt behaviour and it can be changed.

Nobody is born a bully, in fact – bullies don’t even exist. Nor do victims for that matter because bullying is a behaviour and not an identity. Just because you’re being bullied, it doesn’t make you a victim – it just means that you’re being bullied. We know that people often exhibit bullying behaviours when they are going through stress or trauma, are being bullied themselves or when they have particularly low self-esteem and confidence.

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First, Let’s Understand Why People Bully

We all respond to stress in very different ways, some of us isolate ourselves, others respond with positivity and others respond with aggression and bullying. The way in which we deal with stress is taught from a very early age and as such, it can be difficult for people to realise that what they’re doing is out of the ordinary. Once somebody realises that they are bullying another person, the process of resolving the response to stress is usually quite straight forward. For guidance on doing this, click here.

For the benefit of this article, we want to bring your attention to some common scenarios:

  • Caught in the Middle of Parents:
    Tom lives in a high tension household. His parents are going through a divorce as his dad left his mum for another woman. Now his dad is moving overseas and Tom’s mum is taking her anger out on him. Tom doesn’t feel like he can talk to anyone and is really angry at his dad.
  • Being Bullied and Ignored Offline:
    At school, Jess doesn’t really have many friends. People bully her and she feels pretty much alone. She doesn’t really get any attention at home from her family so she just sits online playing games a lot of the time.
  • Death of a Loved One:
    Jake was 12 when his big brother died in a road accident. His family were grieving and suddenly Jake needed to grow up much quicker than everyone else at school. He didn’t get the right support and feels really angry at losing his brother and at the fact that his needs seem to have been pushed aside.

The above case studies are frequent profiles of things that can happen within someones life to encourage them to bully others. Most of the time, you won’t have any idea of what’s going on because people tend to hide things well. The things we’ve listed above are really traumatic and stressful examples of common experiences that people in your class are likely to experience at some point. Often it may not even be as dramatic but things that threaten our safety, esteem and social lives can seriously influence our behaviour.

Have you ever been so stressed you’ve ended up snapping at your parents or your best mate? We all have, pretty much. When you’re in that headspace, it’s difficult to control it – but if you acknowledge you’re stressed, you can start to change your reactions so that you become less snappy – or you can just warn people to give you some space for a while.

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Why Punishment Doesn’t Work

Punishment has been used as a tool to try and combat bullying for such a long time and often it doesn’t work. Why? Usually for 1 of 2 reasons:

  • Punishment Becomes Positively Reinforcing 
    Sometimes people bully others and act out in class because they want attention and control. They will be able to predict that the teacher will shout at them, which gives them a feeling of control and also the fact that the entire class will stop to look at them will be very pleasing as it gives them the attention they want. Punishment then becomes progressively reinforcing.
  • Punishment Just Adds to the Negativity
    It’s likely that the person doing the bullying already has a lot of negativity in their lives, so what difference is a little bit more going to make? The punishment can often fuel the amounts of stress and anger the person feels and can sometimes make things even worse.

So you’re telling me to be nice to someone who is awful to me?

In short: yes. But before you read on, it’s important to draw the line between being nice and being a pushover. By being nice, we don’t mean you have to give them your lunch money or suck up to them because that establishes a very bad power dynamic. We are telling you to take a deep breath and try to understand that the reason you’re being bullied is nothing to do with you – it’s because they have issues that they aren’t dealing with. It’s also likely that they already have a lot of negativity in their lives, so a little more isn’t going to help.

If you’re ready to talk to the person bullying you, read on.

This is an open letter to everyone that I’ve hurt in the past to say that I’m sorry and to help you better understand why I bullied you

I have chosen to stay anonymous because I’m scared of the potential repercussions of posting this under my real name.

I guess we always had a lot in common, perhaps more than we could have guessed at the time. I’ve never really felt like I fitted in with anybody, yet I was always popular at school. I was popular because I made people laugh. Other people found me funny and liked me and it felt good. I first started to bully people because others thought it was funny and would then want to spend time with me. I didn’t really care about how other people felt back then because I didn’t know what it felt like to be on the receiving end of such abuse. I said so many bad words to you and I hurt you, along with so many other people.

No matter what I’m going to say, I don’t feel like it will ever justify what I did to you back in school. When I was 4, my parents got divorced and I moved to a different country with my dad. From the age of 4, I was only allowed to see my brother and mum a few times a year, which I found really hard. I don’t feel like I ever grew up properly without my mum. My dad was a bit of a soft touch and would just tell me not do do things again. He would never shout or get angry. I grew up wanting and needning my mum but knowing I couldn’t have her around me. It was hard because I felt rejected and didn’t know how to channel my feelings.

I hurt you in so many different ways and today I finally see how rude and hurtful my words were. See, now that I’m older – I feel how you must have felt. I don’t have any friends in this city. I often sit home alone playing video games because I don’t know how to socialise properly. My friends from school don’t want to know me anymore and you still probably hate me because I was so nasty.

I guess the purpose of this letter is to apologise, but also to tell you that you didn’t deserve the abuse I gave to you. I was so terrified of being alone and not having friends, so I would do whatever I could to try and prevent that. I wish I’d have gotten the help and support I so obviously needed – maybe none of this would have happened.

I’m sorry.

 

I was 14. You were both a year older. Every time you saw me for a year you told me I was ugly. Those were the only words you ever said to me – “You’re so ugly”. You could not have known my dad told me I was fat almost as frequently. I doubt you’d have cared.

The first few times I shrugged it off, wondered what I might have done to upset you, even though I didn’t know you and we had never spoken. But the more you said it, the more it started to affect me, yet I never made the connection that what you were saying was what was changing how I felt. I had never given much thought to my face up until then. But suddenly I found myself getting ready to go out with my friends then looking in the mirror and crying because I believed I was really ugly. I didn’t want anyone to look at me. I felt ashamed of my face. I started comparing my features to those of my friends; it was almost an obsession. It was very painful.

Because of you I lost what little confidence I had to begin with. I would hear “you’re so ugly” running through my head all day. When I told someone about it, which was humiliating by the way, they just said that I was pretty and you must be jealous. But I could not find a reason you would be jealous. All I could think was I must be the ugliest girl in the school if you felt the need to point it out so often. I stopped going out with my friends because I didn’t want anyone to look at my face, I just hid away in my bedroom. Soon my friends didn’t want to be my friend anymore because I wasn’t fun now; I just stayed in and cried.

I refused to open my bedroom curtains because I preferred to be in darker rooms. This caused many fights with my mum as I would scream and burst into tears every time she came in to open them. In the end she gave up. I still prefer dark rooms.

I grew to hate myself. In my 20’s I found myself calling in sick to work and missing parties because what I saw in the mirror went beyond ugly. I thought I was offensive. I didn’t understand why I felt so ugly until I was 16 and read ‘You Can Heal Your Life’ but by then it didn’t matter where the belief came from, the seed you had planted had become so deeply rooted inside me.

I felt ugly on my wedding day just so you know. There have been days at a time when I don’t let my husband look at me because I’m so convinced of my ugliness I am sure he will leave me if he just looks at me one more time. It goes beyond vanity, you made me feel like I can never be good enough. People tell me I’m pretty and it makes me uncomfortable. It would take a thousand you’re pretty’s to undo just one you’re ugly. I was so angry at myself for being ugly that I cut my face with a knife. Thank god for make up.

It’s now been 18 years since you told me that I’m ‘so ugly’ and it still affects my life. I struggle enormously with my self-esteem. I find it very hard to look in the mirror. Some days I just don’t. It’s been extremely difficult for me to talk about until recently.  I’ve told very few people up until now what you did to me, because I don’t want to point out to them that I am ugly. People have said things like “Oh it was just kids; everyone gets bullied, you need to get over it” but I’m not sure if I ever will because at a time when I was young and appearance was everything, you made me believe that I am very ugly. And not just ugly but bad. Your words never go away even though it has been many years since you said them.

I have come to learn that words are the most powerful thing we possess. They can be inspiring or they can be destructive. Perhaps it was funny to you and I doubt you even remember now, but those words have destroyed many years of my life. Maybe I seem vain for that, but that is the power of words. It is never ok to say unkind words to anybody.

I’ve been so angry with you both when I think of all the things I’ve missed because of you. But I want to thank you. Thank you for being my greatest teachers about the power of words. Because of your words I choose mine carefully. Thank you for teaching me, though it has taken me years to learn, that just because someone says something about me does not make it true. And thank you for teaching me that real beauty, I mean REAL beauty, is on the inside. I may never believe I’m beautiful outside, but I know I am beautiful inside and I would choose that every time.

– Clare

Bullying can of course affect anyone, often leaving young people feeling vulnerable and isolated. This is particularly true for young people with SEN&D (Special Educational Needs and Disability) who may already be experiencing this, thereby creating a double disadvantage.

What the Stats Tell Us

While we shouldn’t assume that all SEN&D young people will be bullied, the facts make for worrying reading. Each year Ditch the Label produces an in-depth bullying survey and from this we know that:

  • 63% of those with a physical disability are far more likely to experience extreme bullying and social exclusion.
  • 67% have self-harmed and 40% have tried to take their own lives.
  • 74% of those with Asperger Syndrome or Autism experience bullying, with verbal bullying being particularly severe.

That this is happening at all should be enough for us to sit up and take notice but considering these figures are significantly above the national average means intervention, action and education is vital and that current approaches are not working.

Bullying can happen in any environment, including special schools, but with many SEN&D young people spending much of their school life in mainstream education, the risks are increased. There are many valuable benefits for inclusion in terms of personal and educational development for all pupils, but it can leave SEN&D pupils vulnerable to the prejudices surrounding disability.

Schools must ensure that they encourage a ‘whole school’ culture of education and respect, which includes the wider community, parents and carers. Negative attitudes towards disability and other conditions need to be addressed from very early on in education and then reinforced as standard throughout school life. SEN&D children may already be treated differently by the adults around them and be doing different schoolwork, so it is vital that this is incorporated into the classroom as smoothly as possible.

Many young people with Asperger Syndrome or Autism can experience huge problems with communication, which makes forming and maintaining friendships difficult. They may not recognise when they are being bullied and additionally, their ability to communicate concerns or to report bullying will be considerably more difficult.

Top Recommendations

Parents, guardian, teachers and other staff members need to be tuned in to the communication style of SEN&D children and young people and the things that they, and their peers are saying. They must be ready to take action where appropriate without stereotyping anyone as a victim.

It is vital to keep an open dialogue with all children around subjects like bullying so that it is never a taboo or awkward conversation. It may be necessary to take a different approach if you suspect someone with SEN&D is being bullied due to their age and level of understanding. For example a direct question may not be the best approach; rather a general chat around the subject giving them the opportunity to voice concerns. If vocal communication is extremely difficult or impossible, then a useful approach can be drawing or using visual prompts like facial expressions.

Every school and college has a legal obligation to safeguard children and young people and this covers the entire day, including breaks and lunch, which can be particularly problematic. But we each have a responsibility to assist in the prevention of bullying.

Parents and guardians can maintain good communication with schools, especially with class teachers and SENCO staff so any issues can be responded to swiftly and dealt with appropriately. This may need to be more than just using a home/school diary.

Ensure that your child knows you are listening and taking it seriously and take the time to reassure them that you will do all you can to sort out any problems. If you feel you need extra support approaching a parents support group that is specific to your child’s condition can be extremely useful.

Ditch the Label are committed to working for a future that is free from bullying and discrimination for ALL young people.

If you would like to find out more or need advice or support please contact us.

Excitement doesn’t even describe how we felt when we were given the opportunity to interview one of the most inspirational and loveable public figures on British television: Gok Wan. We spoke with Gok about Ditch the Label, his experiences with bullying and the advice that has for young people being targeted by bullies. Here goes…

Ditch the Label: Hi Gok! Thank you so much for speaking with us today. It’s great to finally get you on board with our anti-bullying organisation.
Gok Wan: Not at all, I think it’s great what you are doing. I like that you are concentrating on topical issues such as online bullying. When I was younger there were no real services available and so I think that Ditch the Label is highly appropriate and a much-needed outreach for teens across the UK. There is an incredible sense of community and I like it a lot.

Ditch the Label: So we know that you were bullied at school for attitudes towards your weight, race and sexuality. Were there any particular instances that really left an impression with you?
Gok Wan: When you get bullied, I think it all leaves an impression. You should never underestimate any experience of bullying and all of it needs to be remembered because it gives you power when you are older. For me, it was just a constant barrage of stuff. It was never ‘Hollywood’ style, my bullies were very clever and so there was a lot of psychological abuse going on. The bullies would beat me down, I was never physically attacked – it was all verbal and psychological. I was a big guy and so kids were physically afraid of me.

Ditch the Label: How did you deal with the bullying at the time?
Gok Wan: Well I gave myself a makeover at 13, I reinvented myself and turned into someone else. I gave everyone a visual warning not to come near me. I became much “cooler” and fitted in. I slotted in by looking like the bullies which stopped the bullying for a while.

Ditch the Label: Why do you think the bullies targeted you? What do you think their motivation was?
Gok Wan: In a word: difference. You can’t beat bullies for bullying because they are all being bullied themselves. I do a lot of work with kids and have learnt that bullies go through extreme circumstances. Often there is neglect at home and they often want to vent an experience and believe that bullying is the right thing to do.

Ditch the Label: In our Annual Bullying Survey 2013, we found that 24% of young people who are bullied self-harm, 25% have suicidal thoughts and 17% truant from school or college. What kind of advice would you give to anyone in either situation?
Gok Wan: It is more about not getting to that stage. I would say that it is important to find a voice and to talk to someone you trust. Remember that you are not alone and you must never believe what bullies say to you. People will walk away from bullying you but the effect it has on you will be lasting. Do not harbour the experiences, they are a brief moment in time. You have the power to talk to someone, it’s illegal to bully people – they are in the wrong and you have no reason not to report it.
Ditch the Label: Our research also found that 21% of young people are bullied online. Obviously, cyberbullying was never around when you were at school but do you ever experience it as an adult? What kind of advice would you give to someone currently being targeted online?
Gok Wan: I occasionally get comments on Twitter, I simply don’t respond and just block the users. Often bullies just want a rise so they just provoke – this means that their attack is only valid if you retaliate. All social networking sites have a turn off switch, if you are being targeted online then stop people from following and friending you and block them from your networks. If it is within a community you need to evacuate yourself from it and report the bullying. The Internet is self-policing, nobody is going to pick up on it unless you police it yourself. People can, as we have recently seen, be prosecuted for cyberbullying. Report it.

Ditch the Label: We also found that eating disorders were frequently reported by young people who are bullied for their appearance. Working in the fashion industry, what is your take on it?
Gok Wan: Well I don’t think it’s fashion based, I think it’s humanely based. Regardless, people have no mind to bully anyone. It’s important to address eating disorders and mental health diseases and to seek advice and support as soon as you can.

Ditch the Label: You work with a lot of women who are unhappy with their appearance, do you think that anybody or anything, in particular, is to blame for that?
Gok Wan: I think that there are lots of contributing forces. The media and press have a responsibility, clothing stores have a responsibility – I think it is a collection of lots of different things. A lot of people have low self-esteem because of weight issues and so I think that it is important to be educated about healthy living and wellbeing because it can have a huge knock-on effect. People need more education and information about food, health and wellbeing.

Ditch the Label: So guys are increasingly being targeted with these “ideal” and unrealistic visions of beauty but there seems to be little recognition of the harmful effects or any support for guys with image issues. Do you think that this needs to be something that is addressed?
Gok Wan: Well it isn’t a new thing, guys have always been bombarded – look at the likes of James Dean and Clark Gabel and think of the characters they portrayed, it isn’t a modern thing. I think that the male community hasn’t really had a voice until recently and attitudes towards things such as grooming and clothing are changing but currently, men don’t really have a forum to talk about them because they don’t allow it. Women have a stronger sense of community with gossip magazines, websites, coffee mornings and websites like Mumsnet but guys don’t seem to give themselves the license to discuss it. There needs to be changed but how do we do it? It needs to be commercially and reader viable but it’s the whole chicken vs. egg debate; if there’s no demand, there’s no supply.

Ditch the Label: We recently found that 30% of bullied youths are targeted for their interests, do you have any interests that differ from the norm and were you ever bullied for them?
Gok Wan: I was always coined with the gay guy stereotype but I was, in fact, interested in music, fashion and the stereotypical interests and so I was never really bullied for any of it.

Ditch the Label: If you could turn back time and reverse your experiences of bullying, would you?
Gok Wan: No, never, ever. I wouldn’t be the person I am today. It was an incredible experience, it was awful and dreadful but it turned me into the person I am. If I lived life with regrets I’d be wasting time.

Ditch the Label: Do you ever feel marginalised by society and put into different boxes because of your sexuality and ethnicity?
Gok Wan: Absolutely. We are all pigeonholed and I work in a business where we do exactly just that. We create a character in a certain way and the branding of that character is incredibly important as it sends out thousands of messages that we read without even noticing. 1 thing we need is a community but then we fight against it to be unique. It’s a strange relationship.

Ditch the Label: Do you have any advice for anybody reading this who is currently going through bullying?
Gok Wan: Try to understand why people bully as best you can. Understanding the bullies will become your greatest power. Find your voice and the confidence to talk about it, you are not on your own with services like Ditch the Label around. Don’t feel like you can’t use Ditch the Label as a resource or to build your own community. Isolation is the biggest power for bullies but remember: it won’t last forever. Don’t worry about it, when you get to my age and look back you will regret worrying. Worry about stuff that is important and don’t waste time.

Ditch the Label: Thank you, Gok! Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
Gok Wan: After I wrote my autobiography, I vowed that I would never really talk about my experiences again and so the purpose of this interview isn’t to normalise bullying or to suggest that it is part of growing up because it absolutely isn’t. This interview is about empowering people and giving people the power and confidence to do something about it.