Vulnerability Or Die

In September I began studying the MA in TV Fiction Writing at Glasgow Caledonian University thanks to a scholarship awarded to me by BBC Scotland. By October, I had told all twenty-one of my classmates about my son, Ryan's, death from a diabetic coma. I hadn't intended to do that, it may have happened by complete accident. It may not.

Part of the course is for the entire class to create and develop an original drama together as a group. One morning we were sent off in pairs and given around fifteen minutes to come up with a premise for a drama programme. Sat on a stool in the hallway outside the classroom, I turned to my assigned partner and said, 'Well, I have an idea. It's not really complete in my head as I feel a bit thrown into coming up with something, but here it is.' By the time I'd finished speaking, she was telling me we absolutely had to take it back to class. We did.

Without revealing what it was, my idea - something inspired by my late son who I had told no one about in class - was whittled down by student votes from eleven ideas that were brought to the table, to the final four. It was then pitched as practise to TV producer Kenneth Glenaan and the course tutors, who chose it as one of the final two waiting to be picked as the show we'll all be working on together. In a fortnight, we will be pitching it to Mal Young. I have to say that what was a short, original concept has been turned into something incredible with the help of the group of passionate, fabulously talented writers that have chosen to join me in making it sing and dance. I'm so excited and loving working with them all. Together we've turned a page of an idea into something that is now looking like an entirely real TV show.

Where does vulnerability fit into all of this?

The day we were due to do our first pitch to Kenneth Glenaan, I scribbled my part of it on a piece of paper while on the train going into Glasgow that morning. It turned out to be very much about Ryan. I would go on to stand up in class and tell a group of people that either hardly knew me or didn't know me at all - my tutors, my classmates and Kenneth - that last year my son died and this comedy drama show idea was inspired by him and his bravery as an out-and-proud gay man and a drag queen. I was shaking in my shoes as I did it, reading from my piece of paper that I could barely look up from, with a voice that almost cracked once or twice. I told them a deeply personal and emotional story about the way Ryan and I used to send each other links to songs, and that one day he sent me Undiscovered, by James Morrison. It had made me cry as I was sat on the busy bus going to work that morning.

He knew I was often terrified at the thought of him walking through Glasgow city centre in a dress through fear that he may be attacked by people that hated things they didn't understand. He didn't want me to worry. In his text, along with the link, Ryan wrote, 'I'm not lost, mum, I'm undiscovered.' I told the class that I thought many of us were, at some point in our lives and in some way, undiscovered, and that the answer to that was to be brave, as Ryan was in his sadly short life.

Yesterday we got to work on bringing all our ideas for the show together for a morning with the brilliant British TV producer, Kathleen Hutchison. Kathleen's credits include Playing The Field, Eastenders and Holby City. It was a fantastic experience that had us all fired up and ready to write the thing. I know that we will, whether it is the final one voted for the entire class to develop or not. What I saw in that morning was a group who all believe in the power and the importance of the project and want to see it grow.

Sharing my personal story was an exercise in vulnerability that I'm not at all unfamiliar with facing of late, as 📷regular readers of my blog will know that in Ryan's memory, and taking along his ashes, I danced on ten beaches with my friend Mandy in July of this year on a road trip round the North Coast 500. The video evidence is here. So to stand in front of a group of virtual and actual strangers and talk emotionally and openly about my deceased son was only slightly less scary than all of that. But something amazing has begun to materialise from this whole exercise in honest, open expression, and I am so happy that it has. As Brene Brown says, 'Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is entirely dangerous.'


The first time I learned that my beautiful son had thought of taking his own life during his school years was when I watched his video for the It Get's Better Project, several years later. When I asked him why he had never told me, he said that he hadn't wanted to worry me, the same way he never told me about half of the beatings and bullying he suffered for that reason. He kept so much of it inside so that I wouldn't have to spend my days in pain too. That was my son.

As we know, tragically, many people take their own lives through not feeling able to share their innermost fears, anxieties and experiences out loud. Knowing it would make him open to more abuse, Ryan shared this video along with his contact details back in 2012, hoping to help others suffering as he had.

I stood before my classmates with the same aim - to create something powerful out of all of this. And now half of them are standing beside me.

There's real power in allowing yourself to be open and vulnerable. To be yourself, entirely; to unashamedly love what you love, with absolute openness. In order to give something really great back to the world, you have to show your love for the things that mean the most to you out loud, no matter how hard that can be to do. You can and you WILL create change this way.

Because in all things, love wins. Watch this space, and I PROMISE, I will show you.


© 2020 created by Heather Smith.