Author: Claire A Bell, 39, Bi, Traveller
I am a British traveller born in the New Forest in the early 80’s. I struggled badly with my identity when I was younger. At 17 and 18 my parents had me when they were just children themselves. They are loving parents who always did their best for us and dad especially drummed into me the importance of education and was determined for my brothers and I to do well for ourselves educationally in order to be finantually sound as adults. I must thank my father for this, I am a funeral director, one brother is a scientist working on disease treatment, one is a gavver and the other is going into the marines.
Despite being bright and no trouble I was horrendously bullied at school. Every day I would be spat at and called a ‘dirty gyppo’ and ‘flea bag’ and the teachers turned a blind eye. It was so bad that I carried this with me all my life and have been diagnosed with PTSD because of it. It was a very complex situation, Dad expected us to excel in school and we were always very well behaved, but he also felt a shame with that we didn’t fight or ‘rooker like romanies’ and were not ‘Gypsy enough’ outside our family home. We were seen as ‘soft’. As a child i found the whole situation very confusing and always struggled to fit in. The only time I did feel happy and comfortable was with my many cousins, we spent hours playing in fields and going on adventures in the woods. I feel very blessed for that part of my childhood. We were the generation that were JUST on the cusp of the internet revolution as teenagers and we still had the privilege of knowing what it felt like for our parents not knowing we were and knowing to get home before it was dark. Woe betide you if you got home and it was dark!
I knew discrimination from a very early age. I had no friends at school whatsoever but was once invited to a children’s birthday, the child’s mother insisted on inviting every child from the girl’s class. I remember my mum spending her last £5 on a gift for the child, which in the late 80’s seemed really grand to me. Five bar was a massive amount to me at that age. At the party I added the gift to the mountain of presents already on the table. I remember feeling tiny and surrounded by a sea of women’s legs in tights and leg warmers. I asked the child’s mother, a chubby lady with a bee’s nest of excessively lacquered blonde hair, that wobbled on top of her head, if I could use the loo. “don’t go snooping around up there, straight to the toilet and back again! I’ll know if you go snooping!” Talking to me like I was inger on the bottom of her tacky stiletto shoe. I went straight to the toilet and back down again as instructed. But as soon as I got to the bottom of the stairs, she pounced on me in front of the other women. “You went snooping! I Could hear my floorboards creaking! Let me check your Pocket!”. As she rifled through my dungarees, I felt my cheeks burning red with utter shame. Of course, she found nothing. We were raised not chore.
The older I got the more I hid my identity. This was to save myself from the usual inevitable misguided bombardment of derogatory comments from the self intitled. Common remarks from total strangers were often “gyppos once stole my/ my neighbors (Insert item here). Or “What gives you the right to not pay council tax?” or “they left a right mess on the common”. Applying for jobs in the New Forest/Southampton area was difficult. My family were huge and a notorious name in this area of the world, so while I would see other girls my age with jobs I struggled because of my last name. Even when I was married to my husband, a gorger, he would often make spiteful remarks against my family for being different. Needless to say, we didn’t last very long and was a turning point for me. I might have been more in the closet with my heritage than my sexuality at the time, but family is family and they have always come first. I felt that sting of social injustice and I wanted to do something about it.
We are not the hideous monster that media portray us to be. We are just normal people who have a different culture. I feel that racism towards gypsies and travellers is the last excepted form of racism in the UK. Just look at Jimmy Carr recently: “a positive of the Holocaust was that thousands of Gypsies were murdered”. THIS. IS. NOT. COMMEDY. This is not ‘edgy’. This is downright blatant racism and starkly highlights the amount of prejudice and misconception that people in the UK still feel. Even at work recently a (now ex colleague) had the audacity to ask me if we “could read and wright”. My jaw literally hit the floor. Luckily my employer is absolutely amazing and a champion in diversity, which was incredible to experience that kind of positive support in my day to day life.
Growing up in a traditional family, being LGBTQ+ was frowned upon when I was younger. I have known from a very young age that I am attracted to both woman and men but never felt that I could openly come out to my family. But times are changing for the better in this sence. I have found that the generation after me, my cousins’ children, are far more open to diversity and I think connection to social media has played a very positive and important part in this. It seems a social media is both a blessing and a curse to our culture. A cousin came out a few years ago and as far as I know they are the first openly gay person in our family. After this another family member came out and our family are now very accepting. In an age where gypsies and travelers are so often wrongly portrayed negatively, it is so refreshing to see. Our family is truly amazing and I am so lucky and I feel connected to them and my culture more than ever. I started to catalogue the thousands of gypsy words and phrases that I knew to try and keep them alive and wright down the many stories told to me by my father that was passed down by my granfer. Words like ‘dinlow’s dicker glimmer’, literally translates to ‘stupid persons looking glass’ which is the term for TV. Or ‘Flitter shitter’ for when your tobacco fly’s away in the wind. I wear my big gold hoops and jewelry with pride and keep my hair braided. It has taken me a long time but the injustice we face on a daily basis just makes me cling more to my identity. I am a proud, bisexual traveller gal from the Nevi Wesh.