A letter to my 11-year-old self…
Josh Smith is a celebrity interviewer who, as the Celebrity and Entertainment Director of GLAMOUR UK has interviewed the likes of Oprah, Jennifer Aniston and Victoria Beckham. His series, GLAMOUR UNFILTERED – which has featured the likes of Angelina Jolie discussing her vulnerability and Perrie Edwards opening up about her crippling anxiety - is well known for addressing mental health issues and aims to reduce the stigma around it by showing that talking and listening is the most powerful thing you can do.
I know you don’t really know who you are or what you are right now. You don’t really fit in and you don’t understand why after just starting secondary school all of a sudden you are getting called, ‘gay’ and words that don’t even deserve to be written in black and white day in, day out.
At this point you have had a pretty sheltered upbringing, you don’t even know what being, ‘gay,’ even means and to be honest the next few years are not going to be easy. You are going to struggle with your identity, have ‘fake’ girlfriends, pretend to kiss girls, and not truly feel like you have anyone you can truly open up to. Or, someone to ask the questions that are swirling around in your head. There are no role models, you can’t see yourself in anyone.
This will make you isolate yourself, spend lots of time outside of school alone, at home and make excuses not to go to things because you don’t feel safe in your own skin or safe in the knowledge of who you actually are.
There’s a telephone box you will go to in your small village and call a helpline for young LGBTQ+ kids (even though you don’t even know what that means, yet) with your childhood best friend Abigail. You get the number from the teenage bible, More magazine and you will hope for answers from a stranger, but they don’t come. Maybe because you are not ready to hear them but understanding yourself takes time, work and won’t happen overnight.
To make matters worse, you will suffer from extreme acne and feel like you are living behind an exterior that is fighting you. OCD will see you scrub your hands red raw until they bleed because you are so scared of germs. Later you will learn this is how you take a small element of control over your confusion. But that’s ok, you will get through it, it will take time.
You may look around you for a few years to come and not feel like you don’t truly, “have your people,” and to some degree you will fake it until you can make it out both in terms of the closet and your surroundings. But trust me when I say you will find your people, your community and your friends will in turn become like your family.
All the answers for this are in fact around you, in your parents, your small selection of friends and I promise you the sooner you talk, the sooner you can reconcile with yourself. The anxiety, self-loathing and confusion you deal with every day will not take over. You are different, but that is ok. In a school and community that is noteworthy for its lack of diversity you will discover being you is the best thing you possibly can be. Being true to yourself will become one of your greatest strengths.
Don’t fight you, you are great just the way you are. But whilst you feel alone right now you really don’t need to be. Your Mum will later tell you that, “it would have been so much easier if you just opened up a bit more.” And she’s right. The first step is always the hardest, the first word the most difficult to say but talking is always the way forward.
In your future job you will meet some of the world’s most inspiring people who right now you look up to and adore. They will teach you that not only is it the greatest cure to talk, the greatest power is in listening. Open up and share your internal struggles now and for years to come. Find that one person you can trust, it’s going to be a long road but ultimately you will arrive at the destination of actually loving yourself. Loving your sexuality and loving the skin you are in. Everything you will achieve will be for the you that is suffering right now. Be brave, and find your brave in all the good and positive things that currently surround you.
Talk, share and listen, you will be more than ok – you will be AMAZING.