Jimmy's Story: Growing up gay, attempting suicide and finding hope with Newcastle United Foundation
Warning: This article contains references to suicide which some readers may find upsetting
Jimmy Young always knew he was gay. Growing up in Newcastle, he endured a childhood of relentless name-calling and playground fights. Life got harder as he got older – he was spat on in the street and attacked by strangers at a Pride vigil. Years of bullying at school, in public and at work finally took their toll on Jimmy and he felt he no longer deserved to live. Now, with support from the NHS and Newcastle United Foundation, Jimmy feels hope for his future.
“One day, on my lunch hour, I decided to take my own life,” Jimmy said.
“It was a reaction and I hadn’t planned it. I was on a bridge in Newcastle and there were all the cars below me. I thought that if the fall didn’t kill me, a car going 50 mph would.”
For years, Jimmy had tried to deal with his depression and intrusive thoughts on his own. Doctors had rolled their eyes in the past when the Elswick-born carer tried to explain articulate his emotions. Teachers had looked on with pity when his classmates called him a “Jessie” or asked why he “walked and talked like a girl”. People in the street would turn away when strangers shouted homophobic slurs.
With a past filled with so much hate, hurt and anger, Jimmy, now in his early forties, felt nothing for his future. He made no plans and trusted no one.
“I don’t know why, but out of all the cars below me, one car caught my eye – it was a white Audi A1. It was coming down the slip-road and I thought, ‘if they hit me, what happens to those poor people inside the car?’ I worried about my own family and who would look after them.
“Even when I was trying to kill myself, I wasn’t thinking of myself,” Jimmy said with a self-deprecating laugh, remarking how he uses humour to hide his true feelings. “But this was the wake-up call I needed and since then, I’ve been working on myself and I know now how important it is to talk. It’s about knowing when to ask for help and not being afraid to do that.”
Jimmy began finding new tools to alleviate his feelings of social anxiety and isolation when he attended his first Newcastle United Foundation 12thMan session, part of the charity’s Be A Game Changer mental health awareness campaign. Open to men aged 30 to 65, the 12-week health and wellbeing project explores ways to feel better physically through exercise, diet and sleep, but also addresses mental wellness with coping strategies and support for feelings of stress, anger and sadness.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect at the first 12thMan meeting at St. James’ Park,” Jimmy said. “At the time, I knew about the Foundation, but to be honest, I thought a lot of the charity’s work might be to do with football. Since being involved with it, I know now it’s so much more than that – it’s to do with community and helping everyone, no matter their age, ability, sexuality or race.
“At the first meeting, I wondered if it was for me, but you’ve got to persevere. I know it’s a cliché, but it really has been a game changer for me because it’s really helped me socialise and it’s helped me understand people, given me confidence and helped me speak out or ask for help – they’re things I’ve always been fearful of.
“Because I am gay, I am quite effeminate. I don’t mean to be effeminate, it’s just how I am and how I’m made. So especially being around blokes in a group like the 12thMan programme, I just thought I’m putting myself out there for more ridicule because it’s happened since I was a kid.
“But, when I was with these blokes, I was the one second-guessing their reaction, assuming they would think I’m gay and they be frightened by that. We did a lot of close, physical work together like boxing and I worried they’d think, ‘he’s gay so he’s after me’, but it was only me who felt uncomfortable. The guys there, the Newcastle United Foundation team and the programme has really given me confidence and a purpose.”
Jimmy is sharing his story on the day of Northern Pride – the North East’s flagship LGBTQ+ festival which celebrates community’s identity, reflects on its history and promotes a healthy and more equal future.
This year, pride events across the globe have been cancelled or postponed in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, Northern Pride is urging the North East to unite at a time when we are all separated from the loved ones we would ordinally celebrate with.
Northern Pride for 2020 includes a virtual march, performances on a main stage, information and advice from festival zones and a virtual candlelit vigil to close the event on Facebook and YouTube.
“Being part of the LGBTQ+ community is a different experience for everyone,” added Jimmy.
“For me, I always knew I was gay and it didn’t bother me, but it bothered everyone else. It got to the point where I questioned myself. They said you talk like a girl, you walk like a girl, do you want to be a girl? I was thinking, ‘have I been born in the wrong body?’ I questioned whether I am male, to the point where I went to the doctors and things like that.
“I didn’t get the support I hoped for from the doctors then. I would ask them do I have enough testosterone or the right hormones and things like that and you’d see the eye rolls, the gasps.
“I’ve never been confused in my sexuality, but I’ve been forced to question it by other people. Even though I’m part of the LGBTQ+ group, I don’t always feel like I fit in anywhere.”
In recent years, Jimmy has endured hate crimes in public. Just two years ago, as he walked to work in Newcastle city centre, Jimmy was spat on by a stranger. In his twenties, at a Pride event in Manchester, he was attacked by strangers as he walked with friends to a candlelit vigil.
“It shouldn’t happen, but it does,” Jimmy sighed.
“I’m moving forward now and I know there will be bumps in the road. But it’s about asking for help when you need it. I feel more comfortable doing that now and I put a lot of it down the 12thMan though and the team behind it – Ollie, Sam, Thomas, Dougie and Meghan. If you’re struggling, ask for help.”
Jimmy is now able to tap into support from his GP and the Foundation through the Be A Game Changer campaign, which was launched in February 2019 to encourage Newcastle residents to talk more openly about their mental well-being.
Within one year, more than 1.8 million people have been reached by Be A Game Changer on social media and more than 800 men are currently engaged with health and wellbeing activities, including walking football, over-40s NHS health checks, specific mental health sessions with MAN v FAT and the 12th Man programme.
Jimmy added: “I know that I can do this and I’ve got hope and I’m not alone. It’s been life changing.
“It’s just realising that no matter your sexuality, gender, how you identify, the colour of your skin, we’re all human beings and we all go through it and it’s just how we deal with it.”
To find out more about Northern Pride and LGBTQ+ support, visit northern-pride.com
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