This is a little note as you approach your 16th Birthday (almost). I know it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be a “happy” one right now, but trust me. We’ll be OK.
I also know that this “sweet 16th” becomes one of those landmark birthdays that just pass you by – As does your 18th, your 21st, 25th, 30th – But all for different reasons.
You may not recognise me, especially when I say “we” but please let me reassure you that you do know me. In fact, I am you. A mere 16 years older (almost) than you are now. Weird huh?
It’s hard to believe actually as right now you can’t seem to make head nor tail of anything that’s happening in your life. You’re seriously confused and sad. Yes you have your family, and your friends are pretty well established but you have a huge inner struggle right now, and you feel like you have nowhere to go or anyone to talk to.
You’re working in that shop down the road, with the manager Eileen. She’s going to teach you a lot of life lessons. I know you appreciate her and you’ll always remember her but you’ll lose touch, yet think of her occasionally. Don’t be sad though, you’ll find out that this is just part of the life you’re about to embark on, as the love of music you discovered at school will stay with you for the rest of your life, and it’ll be a guiding force in pretty much all of your future decisions. You’ll finally get that career and (some of) the confidence to start working in the Entertainment industry. It’s all “bright lights” right now and seems a long way off, but it’ll happen. You’ll stay grounded, as hard as it is, and you’ll meet some life-long friends in your ‘Sisters’ Keiron and Glen – The first 2 people outside of Liverpool who knew of you and your sexuality and who taught you a lot about being who you are.
I know you’re confused right now, and things do get a little tougher. Don’t worry though. You’ll be fine. I promise. I’m here for you. All those times you sat wondering what your life would end up like, how you would look in your 30′s or what you’d be doing… well here you are. Writing to yourself. Imagine!
You have your music teacher to thank for a lot too. She’s one of the first people to ever make you admit your sexuality out loud. You both sit there and she comforts you as you say it. Those three little words which seem like the hardest thing you’ve ever had to say. Even though she was really religious, she loved you and she’ll keep bugging you for many years after you leave school about filling in your UCAS form! Oh, I should mention, we didn’t go to university. You’ll often wonder “what if…?” but remember, we make choices in our life and at the time we make them, they seem like the right decisions so please don’t hate yourself for any of the decisions you’ll go on to make. Even the ones which lead to heartbreak.
The one thing you’ll learn to do is love. Mostly the love you have is for other people. You’ve always struggled loving yourself. Stop being so hard on yourself kid, there are enough haters in this world and you’ll learn that soon enough. You’ll hear this said a lot through your life “You can’t be loved until you truly love yourself”.
The struggle with your sexuality is tough, along with pretending to be straight and finding girlfriends. It’s consuming you right now and it seems nobody understands. Everyone is dating. All of your friends are flirty with all the girls, people are finding themselves. You feel a lot of pressure right now, mostly from your home. It’s not that your family don’t care, but they don’t know how to deal with such an emotionally extroverted kid and sometimes you feel like you’re going to burst. Your Dad and your Brother are both vehemently homophobic and not very forthcoming with emotion, so you’ve naturally gravitated towards your Mum. She’s your security blanket. Always has been. Always will be.
You’ll learn to understand each other more as your lives move forward. But you’ll fight too. Just remember this, there’ll come a time when your world feels like it’s falling apart and Mum is there. So is Michelle, your baby sister. She’s had to fight to be as strong as she is and you will become in awe of her strength. For such a small girl she can take a lot on and ends up being one of the only people in the world who know you inside out.
Tony will come around eventually too. Much sooner than you ever imagine, so don’t worry about that. Dad is the hardest one to crack. It’s not that he doesn’t love you. Of course he does. It’s just that he doesn’t understand you. Nor you him. It’s going to feel like a constant battle between the two of you with Mum and Shell in the centre of it all trying to placate you. You’re an emotional kid and you will grow up to be an emotional adult too. Don’t let it be a negative though. Use it. Some people will try to tell you that being emotional is a weakness, it’s not. It’s one of your strengths, don’t lose it.
Once you “come out” it seems that almost everyone is telling you that they already knew. It’s like you were the last to know. Being gay is tough where you live, and you’ll leave soon enough to start your career as a performer. Thankfully, we never took any of those years for granted and loved every second of our time on stage, regardless of where it was. You’ll find the love of your life but it wont work out. If I could tell you one thing from this event it would be to stay away from the drugs. What a mistake. For you it was escapism. I totally understand why you did it. Your life was literally falling apart around you. Mum was ill, Drew had died, Nanny was diagnosed as terminal, your uncle had a heart attack, you were evicted from your home in Liverpool while working away, then Paul broke up with you. Up to that point you were holding it together, even though it seemed like every time the phone rang it was another piece of bad news. 2005 was a bad year.
OK, so here’s the shitty bit.
You start getting on with your life almost 2 years after splitting up with Paul. You’ll never forgive him for lying to you for so long. But you move on, your energy is focused on work and where you will be heading next. But just as it feels you’re making progress, one step forward, you get a knock. Two steps back. You get sick. Cancer in fact. I was trying to figure out a way to tell you and ‘sugar coat’ it, but the reality of it is that it’s shit. It sucks. Badly! They confuse it with a plethora of other things before you finally get a diagnosis after 8 months. It’s hard. You lose your career overnight, you life stops dead. You’re told you’re not allowed to do anything as you have problems with some of your internal organs. It really takes the wind out of you. Your job was the only thing keeping you sane. For the most part, people will tell you how “strong” you are or what “an inspiration” you’ve been throughout it all but you know, as do I, that it’s the choice we make. You have the choice of life or death and believe me kid, we’re stubborn and hard faced and certainly don’t give in that easy.
By this point in your life, you’ve already lost a few people close to you. All of your grandparents have gone now. You feel a huge part of you has gone when your ‘Grandy’ dies but trust in me when I tell you that he knew you. Don’t ever forget that. Regardless of what the rest of your family think or say, HE. KNEW. YOU.
Then there was Drew. His death affects you in so many ways, on a whole load of levels that you had no idea about. He’ll stay with you forever, as will the heartbreak you’ll feel whenever you think of him. I’m sorry, I know it’s sad. But you will be able to use it to focus your time and energy on more positive things.
You’ve always had a bit of a gob on you, even though you were a painfully shy teenager who struggled to sing in public. You hated being noticed, yet you craved acceptance. You never wanted the spotlight, but you wanted to feel like you could have it, if you were just as confident as all those other guys, right?
Well, now we’re almost 32 mate! Let me tell you this, we weren’t supposed to make it to this age so understand how much of an actual achievement it is. It’s a constant fight every day, but we got here!
And we’re certainly not quiet about your life now. Some people will hate on you for it. Judge you. People don’t know you, or seem to want to understand you. You will become more vocal about things. You care. You actually give a shit. Use your voice kiddo. Don’t be shy, shout it from the rooftops. Your world becomes a more accepting place than you could have ever imagined. However you know how hard it was with your own personal struggle, and the constant daily battles that we will go on to face. So, stay strong. Laugh just as much as you cry. Allow yourself to be loved as much as you deserve to be. You’ll annoy people with your opinions on everything from Human rights, LGBT equality and HIV awareness. Not to mention the problem you seem to have inherited from your dad with authority, so the Government seem to get it in the neck from you on occasion too. Keep at it.
Whenever you feel you’re too small a thing to make a difference, remember this:
‘If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito’.
Here’s another little snippet you’ll learn from a woman who is fast becoming one of the most positive impacts on our life right now: “People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.”
Don’t dwell on it when friendships or relationships end. Of course, you’ll be sad because you give yourself 100% so there’s a natural sadness, but don’t let that close you off to the joys of the world around you. Have a happy birthday Lee. I love you. I just wish that I could scoop you up and hug you.
So, you’re still loving music. Not a day goes by when you don’t listen to some. You are trying to carve out some sort of place for yourself again now after the last three years of health struggles. Keep at it.
You’ve met some wonderful people. People who you’ve admired for many years. They become confidants, trustworthy people who you never imagined you would get the opportunity to meet.
You’re a good kid, keep going. I love you.