Heartstopper season two star Bel Priestley has opened up about how she overcame bullying at school to inspire other trans people.
TikTok star Priestley, who plays trans character Naomi in Alice Oseman’s queer teen drama, said she knew she was trans at the age of 13.
In an interview with the BBC, Priestley recalled growing up in Leighton Buzzard where she said being trans wasn’t “really a thing”.
“I have been bullied my whole life. I moved school at age six after punching one of my bullies in the nose, but I was bullied at my new school too.
“I was an only child and my dad is quite a masculine guy. He wanted me to play sport so I tried to please him and I played football, cricket and did karate, but I really wanted to act and perform.”
Priestley said she came out as gay at the age of 12, which caused her to experience anxiety, panic attacks and an eating disorder.
At the age of 13 she found what being trans was on Instagram and said “everything suddenly made sense”.
“I came out as trans the next day. My parents initially thought it could be a phase but I just knew. I decided to change my name and start wearing a skirt to school.
“When I was just a gay boy playing around with make-up, people let me do my own thing. It was when I turned trans that the bullying got more serious.
“After that it was a fight to survive and I felt like my childhood ended. I would walk round the corridors too scared to go to lessons and I had to sit by myself at lunch in an isolation room.”
Priestley said she was the first person to transition at her school and this had a mixed response from some teachers.
She said one teacher banned her from using toilets that aligned with her gender and insisted on deadnaming her.
Thankfully, coming out as trans led to Priestley being wholly accepted by her family, but not seeing anyone like herself online led to her starting make-up tutorials on YouTube.
Priestley previously explained in an interview with the Evening Standard how she “manifested” her role in Heartstopper season two.
The 20-year-old, who said filming Heartstopper has been “one of the best experiences of my life”, began using TikTok as a way to document her transition and has since gained more than 1 million followers.
In the future she hopes to have surgery to complete her transition and has dreams of acting in a role as a Disney Princess, Bond girl or superhero.
“I want to be someone for the younger generation to look up to and hopefully inspire. I hate the thought of anyone feeling so alone like I did when I was growing up,” she shared.
“It is lovely when I get comments saying I have helped people come out to their family. I know role models can make such a big difference to people and I just want to be the best role model I can. I want to be the person that I never had growing up.”