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A letter to anyone who feels different this Pride Month

A letter to anyone who feels different this Pride Month

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Place2Be Ambassador - Josh is a presenter, the podcast host of 'Reign with Josh Smith', author of 'Great Chat' and Contributing Editor for GLAMOUR UK. Through his work, Josh wants to encourage others to share their authentic selves and story to help with their wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. He is committed to reducing the stigma and barriers around seeking support and speaking out about mental health.

In this open letter, Place2Be Ambassador Josh Smith shares his advice and encouragement for anyone who feels different or is struggling to express themselves.

Dear Young Person,

How are you? I mean it, how are you really? Do you feel a bit different? Are you finding things a bit tough at the moment? If you do, I hear you and feel you because I have been in the exact position you are in now.

Feeling different to those around you can be alienating - especially if you are bullied because of it. It can make you start to think all different kinds of negative things about yourself. You can start to believe everything that is thrown at you.

When I was growing up, I was bullied for being very obviously gay. The daily name really affected me and started to eat away at my confidence and character. I started to think, “If they say I am disgusting, maybe I am". Their words and my resulting thoughts made a confusing time even more difficult. I was just trying to understand myself at my own pace and the bullies around me didn’t afford me that grace.

Even if you have friends around you, it can be hard to express how you actually feel. It can feel hard to find someone who can not only actually listen but will actually understand.

Understanding yourself and carving out your identity is hard. It’s an ongoing process everyone goes through throughout their lives - not just if you are a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. It’s especially hard in the fast-paced, social media-driven world we find ourselves in, where every post or even comment you make can feel under the microscope of others.

That’s why representation is so important - so you can feel less alone. When I was growing up, I never felt myself reflected on screen or in any kind of media. And now, when I watch shows like Heartstopper or see amazing LGBTQIA+ communities online, I feel so happy for your generation that YOU can find someone to look up to. So YOU feel a little less alone in your struggles because the truth is YOU are never alone. There will always be someone out there who is going through a similar journey to you or has experienced the same things you have.

When I went into a Place2Be school and saw Heartstopper books proudly displayed in the library along with a pride flag, I had a little cry for the younger me. That was the kind of visible representation and allyship I needed, and which we all need when we are trying to understand ourselves so that however we identify, we feel safe, understood and welcome.

If you are reading this and feel confused or are struggling to come out, I first want to say, take your time. Go easy on yourself. Look after yourself. When you feel ready, start to open up to someone you trust. If you are lucky enough to be at a Place2be school, reach out to a counsellor if you would prefer to share with someone outside of your immediate circle. Chatting through your feelings and identifying and vocalising your thoughts can help you manage, unjumble and make sense of them.

Or, if you are lucky enough to have an LGBTQIA+ group at your school, pluck up the courage to attend a meeting. It might feel overwhelming and scary at first, but that first step into that group meeting will change your life. Being around people who understand you or have been through a similar experience can create the ultimate feeling of safety. Finding your community and, as a result, your people feel - from my experience - is the greatest feeling in the world.

As someone who struggled with my mental health at school, coming to terms with myself allowed me to manage my mental health better. It took a huge weight off my back when I started to accept myself. I started to enjoy my life more, and my wellbeing improved because of it.

In my new book, Great Chat: Seven Lessons for Better Conversations, Deeper Connections and Improved Wellbeing, I talk about the moment I came out to my two friends at the time.

As I write in the book: “Being gay was a deep shame I carried within me from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to sleep. It was exhausting to feel socialised into hiding my pain and problems like so many of us do. Until one day, just after my 14th birthday, I was hanging out with my two childhood best friends, Abigail and Catherine, and they asked me outright if I was gay. I said yes and their immediate reaction was love and warmth. After saying it out loud, all I felt was relief. Even though I knew I had a long way to go and many more people to tell (including my mum years later in that pickup truck), and heck, coming out is an ongoing process throughout your life, but the weight on my shoulders eased, that ache started to subside and that lump was dislodged – and with it the shame inside me had a little less oxygen.”

"That moment with my two friends taught me just how powerful sharing can be. Even if it doesn’t rid you of all your anxieties or fears straight away, it can start the process of healing. Like many of us, I still get nervous about sharing certain things with certain people in certain situations, but whenever I am scared to share, I remember that relief, and it helps me summon my strength to open up.”

I now live my life as an openly gay man, and my life is amazing. Being gay might just be one thing that makes me who I am, but I am SO proud to not only be gay but to be part of this community.

I promise even if this feels impossible right now - trust me I have been there - being authentically you will be your greatest superpower. Being you will enable you to find your people and be a happier person. So once you feel ready, start to share, it will be the first step towards becoming who you are meant to be.

You are amazing just the way you are. Don’t forget that, and don’t let anyone else tell you or convince you otherwise. You are stronger than you know, and I am PROUD of you, both this pride month and every month.

Josh Smith's siganture.

Josh’s book, Great Chat: Seven Lessons for Better Conversations, Deeper Connections and Improved Wellbeing, is out now.

Learn more about Place2Be's Ambassadors and Champions

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