Bearded Brute model Sam Campbell opens up about growing up gay, being bulled, living with depression, suicidal thoughts and being diagnosed with Aspergers and how now he is happier than ever.
It’s all well and good for people to say that coming out and living an openly gay life is easy in this day and age. For sure, for some it can be, but there are some guys out there who still find the process difficult to deal with. Add to that a difficult upbringing and an undiagnosed mental health issue and growing up as a gay guy can be tough, as Bearded Brute model Sam Campbell, 23, tells us in this painfully honest story…
So Sam, tell us about growing up. Was it a happy time?
Yes and no. Childhood was a rough ass time, living in a crappy apartment building, me and mum made do. My parents split when I was pretty young. Dad wasn’t easy to live with and he made my mum really unhappy. But there were good times. I had used to have some fun locking mum out the house when I was three. And I used to ride on our dog’s back and make ice skates with toy train carriages.
When your parents split, did you maintain a good relationship with you dad?
Not really. I remember being taken to see my dad pretty often and I used to go kicking and screaming. I didn’t realise at the time how good mum was for doing that for me. She was doing the right thing even if I didn’t want to go. She was trying to keep me part of his life but he’d just sit there on his violent video games and go out to smoke joints and not really pay me any attention.
That must have been heartbreaking.
Yes, I don’t recall him ever playing with me or anything. When I crawled over to him, he would scold me. His sheep dog would run over and instantly protect me from him like I was his pup! I loved that dog. Stanley was the only reason I’d go to visit my father as I would play with him for hours and he was my only friend when I was visiting that filthy flat.
When you were living with your mum, your dad tried to take you back by force, didn’t he?
Yes. We were living at grans and one morning dad just turned up. Mum was holding me in her arms when she answered the door. They chatted and then all of a sudden he grabbed me and ran off. Mum and granddad went to look for me and eventually found me at a friend of my dad’s. When mum asked why he had taken me, he said he was trying to get her to listen to him. He said he wanted us back but mum told him he would need to try a lot harder than that.
Your mum is now with another guy?
My stepdad IS my dad. I’ve not been the easiest kid to raise but he’s always been there fighting my corner for special needs support in school. We haven’t really got on until recent years but that’s because he tried to hard and was the “punishment” when I was naughty. Hahaa
Have you seen your birth dad since then?
Yes, he’s just been in contact after 20 years. It feels like everything you’ve known has turned on it’s head. Someone you have always had burning questions about suddenly presenting themself years later after having no contacts with you.
When did you realise you were gay?
I never really identified myself as any sexuality when I was younger. I’d just have no opinion on either sex. From year two to year five, I’d get bullied and called gay all the time, although I did have a ‘straight’ experience in year four with a girl who made me drop a pencil so I could touch her knickers! But I think I just wanted a friend. I didn’t know any different and it didn’t do anything for me. I also remember playing kiss chase in the playground, and one time ended up chasing the boys instead of the girls… Not knowing that chasing the boys wasn’t the game! I think I scared the boys and I got bullied about it for years afterwards. I always felt a deeper connection with lads than girls.
How did you feel at this time?
I felt like an ugly duckling, but I always knew I’d make it some day out of that school. I really felt like I was a big kid with nothing going for me until puberty hit. I was the first in my school to grow a whispy tasche and I refused to shave off my bumfluff… I looked like some sort of young werewolf.
You also discovered you had Aspergers at this point, didn’t you?
Teachers in school always used to call me lazy. In fact they were so unsure of what to do with me, I was faced with the possibility of expulsion from the school because of how bad my social skills where! I did not know what personal space was or how to interact with people. My mum kept fighting hard for me to be diagnosed. Without the work that my mum did for me I’m not sure how well I’d understand myself right now or if I’d even be able to talk about all this! It involved lots of doctors, lots of tests and lots of discussion. I was considered very bright but I never fitted in and struggled academically.
Was it hard living with Aspergers at school?
I was always the bottom of the pecking order in school. Described as a ‘rem’ and a ‘loony’ by most… I was avoided by people. I did have one really good friend but even he wanted to keep our friendship quiet, and would ignore me in the playground. But I’d always try and change people’s views about me but it would always fail because I still wasn’t good at social interaction. The one good thing is with no real friends it made me focus on my work.
How did people treat you?
The bullies where pretty mean some times. They’d say I was a freak and chant ‘Gay boy, gay boy’, ‘Where’s your mum, gay boy.’ Those gay jokes haunted me. When I was in a hockey team it got really abusive – I was called ‘disgusting’, I was dragged by my hair and thrown into a rubbish bin… Because this guy was a key player on the team and I was just a shitty newbie he was allowed to stay.
That must have been heartbreaking.
I’d walk the corridors feeling sad and alone at break times. I felt like I didn’t have a soul to talk to and the world was better off without me. On one particular day I was just so tearful! I had all these voices in my head telling me how rubbish I was. I mean, at the time it wasn’t just students causing me problems, it was teachers too! There was a couple who really had it in for me! Anyway, it got to a point I felt like I had had enough. Things weren’t good at home and school was getting on top of me. And I thought there was just no way out.
You felt that low?
It only takes a moment of madness in the blur of deep depression to tragically end a life. Most of the time, it happens when people are running scared, unable to cope with what challenges life has thrown at them. You may think people who think about killing themselves are selfish, but sometimes when the black hole swallows you, you think you’ll be finally out of pain and everyone will be better off without you.
But that’s so not the case. Life always gets better.
It takes someone, a complete stranger, to intervene and show you that what you are planning is not the only solution. It’s like that amazing story about Jonny Benjamin who tried to throw himself off a bridge in London but was stopped by that passerby! That was so inspiring. That guy saved Jonny from himself. What I would say now, is that if anyone sees someone going through a lot of pain, please don’t walk away. Do something! REACH OUT.
That’s the secret, isn’t it? No one should feel alone.
If you know someone vulnerable or going through a hard time pick up that phone, send that text. It’s the little things that change someone. It shows you are thinking of them. I can not stress enough how important this is and that we clue ourselves up more on mental heath. It is not something to pick on someone with or use against them. It is something that needs to be dealt with warmly.
So what happened when you were feeling so low?
I found myself in a situation in school in which I had learning difficulties, depression and I was being bullied and things at home weren’t good. I told what friends I did have I was going and that they wouldn’t see me again, that I was going to a better place. They just laughed at me and called me an attention seeker. They mocked me and actually made me feel worse. Luckily a guy called Alex put two and two together and alerted my tutor. He wasn’t even a ‘friend’ of mine. The tutor just cuddled me and said everything will be fine. She sat me down and listened to my problems. It was the very first time anyone had ever listened to me and let me speak.
The school didn’t let me leave until my mum came to pick me up. Obviously it was embarrassing but if that hadn’t have happen I’d have ended up overdosing or jumping off the canal bridge. I received the help I needed from the CMHS (Cams) and was diagnosed with more learning difficulties. The experts showed me how to cope and without the help of these people I would not be here today and I realise now what a fucking waste of a life that would have been as now I’m so proud of what I have achieved. You know, it takes a while (sometimes years) but if you let yourself, you will become proud and love yourself too.
You became a referee for an ice hockey team, but you decided to remain in the closet, didn’t you?
Yes, it’s not a very inclusive sport but we are currently trying to change that. Sometimes when working with my referee colleagues, I was abused by homophobics who’d say stuff like ‘are you ever going to get a bird, gay boy’, ‘why are you such a bender’, ‘morning fudge packer’. It was just relentless! I was even fired from a company owned by one of the other referees who said I was ‘not fitting in’ after he found out I was gay. Now, I’ve decided to take a stand and stop this homophobia.
When did you come out to your hockey mates?
Not until I was 21 and it was the hardest thing to do! But I chose the day before same sex marriage was made law in the US and my friends were just so good and were all supportive. It wasn’t as scary or as bad as I thought it would be and I really enjoyed my supportive experience.
What is it you’re up to now?
I model. I’ve gone from feeling ugly to empowered. I’m getting regular work from Impact models and they have really looked after me. I decided to start modelling after many years of my mum telling me too (I guess she’s just a proud mum). But I have been told I have a distinctive look and I liked that. It wasn’t that profitable to start but if you work on your contacts and maybe get a good agency you’ll start making money. But I really enjoyed doing the Bearded Brutes pictures, they look so amazing. I am so proud to have been asked and to have taken part in them as there is nothing out there like them and I can’t wait t see them in the exhibition in March!
Check out Mark Leeming’s Bearded Brutes collection at Kosmonaut in Manchester on March 17. http://beardedbrutes.com