We had the pleasure of speaking with Jodie Harsh, one of the UK’s biggest and most successful DJs, socialites and all round entertainers. We spoke to Jodie about her thoughts on bullying, growing up and she gives her advice on finding and accepting yourself for who you are.
Ditch the Label: Hi Jodie, thank you for taking the time out to talk to us!
Jodie Harsh: Not a problem, I think what you guys are doing is great and it’s an honour to be able to contribute my story towards the campaign.
Ditch the Label: It’s great to have you involved! So could you tell us a little more about yourself and what you do?
Jodie Harsh: Ultimately I’m a DJ and produce music, throw parties and run my own club nights in London and around the world. I fell into my career and originally wanted to be an actor or a dancer after studying Fashion at LCF. I’m kind of making it up as I go along but I love it!
Ditch the Label: What was growing up like for you? Did you ever experience bullying yourself?
Jodie Harsh: I was incredibly fortunate to never experience bullying; I had the occasional teasing when I was young but I have always been quite lucky and managed to escape it. I made myself funny and I always made sure that I got on with all the kind of “laddy type” people, even though half of the time I actually fancied them! I always hung around with the “cool” crowd and I have always been so blatantly gay. It was shining out of me from 6 years of age so I never really had to hide anything.
Ditch the Label: So when you say that you hung around with the “cool” people at school, was that a conscious decision on your part?
Jodie Harsh: Yes I guess it was kind of conscious. I was always quite clever and worked really hard but I think that if I hung around with the “nerdy” crowd, it would have made me even more vulnerable to bullying. I always just made sure that I wasn’t an easy target.
I was at a normal grammar school until I was 14 and then I moved to London to go to a Stage School so I think that when I was at normal secondary school, I played it all down a bit and then when I went to stage school I really came out of my shell and even came out to people on my first day.
I mean even now, I’m sure that there is a lot of negative stuff written about me online but I never even look at it. I have always made sure that I stay away from anything negative.
Ditch the Label: Did you ever experience any internal bullying within your group of friends? Did they ever look down upon those who were seen as being less “cool”?
Jodie Harsh: Not really. The bullying policies and culture at my grammar school were really good and so bullying wasn’t really a frequent thing. I think later on in life in work and politics, I have experienced a degree of bullying but never when I was a child.
Ditch the Label: Do you think that sexuality and difference is embraced more at stage school than at state school?
Jodie Harsh: Oh yeah, definitely. At the time, it was never a problem at stage school. All the teachers knew, I told them all! I’ve always had a real f*ck you attitude as well. I’ve never taken any sh*t! It’s made me the person I am today.
Ditch the Label: So when you were at stage school, did you ever experience bullying outside of the confines of the classroom?
Jodie Harsh: No but I know a lot of others did, quite a few were beaten up but I was always incredibly lucky. It certainly was luck of the draw. Now I’m a boy that dresses like a girl in the middle of the big bad city and I have never had any abuse.
Ditch the Label: Have you ever felt vulnerable to being targeted?
Jodie Harsh: I protect myself from it all. I don’t put myself in a position where I could face it. I live in a very gay friendly part of East London and would never walk through Brixton dressed like this, for example. I never put my name into Google either. I consciously stay away from any negative influences that could be abusive.
Ditch the Label: As an adult do you ever get negative comments for being in drag, for being openly gay or for anything else?
Jodie Harsh: God, yeah but I’m really happy with the person that I am and I love what I do. I have put myself out there as something that is completely different; I am in makeup, high heels and a wig. I’ve put myself out there as something so different to society in general. I’ve always felt different and like a complete alien; I’ve always been open about it and embraced it. The people around me like and appreciate me for being different and for who I am. I’ve never had to hide anything, which is amazing! So many of my friends were bullied and had to hide who they were until they became an adult, through fear of being bullied for it.
Ditch the Label: Do you think that your outspoken and loud personality through Jodie is a protection mechanism?
Jodie Harsh: Yes, it probably is. I’ve always made sure that nobody can be horrible to me, that has been my coping mechanism in life. In my case, being so loud and outspoken has protected me, as opposed to me being shy but that is just me. Perhaps if I had have gone to a different school or lived in a different area, I would have had to hide part of who I am a bit. I think that I am only so confident with who I am now because I never had it beaten out of me when I was a kid.
Ditch the Label: In the gay community, there seems to be an internalization of homophobia and transphobia. Have you ever experienced it?
Jodie Harsh: Yeah it goes on so much, it’s around us everywhere. There’s also a lot of racism within ethnic minorities – there is never much sense of community, which is sad. In London the gay community have it so good and we forget how good we have it. It all boils down to individual insecurities, which is where a lot of the bullying comes from.
I have always been pretty sorted and happy with whom I am so I have never been insecure in anyway.
Ditch the Label: Do you think that there is a difference between you in and out of drag?
Jodie Harsh: Not really, just a ton of hairspray and a f*ck load of make up!
It’s really not a thing for me. Being in drag is like putting on my work suit and Jodie is just a name that I call myself when I’m working. I never put myself out there, out of drag, I like the mystery and illusion around it. I put out this sort of character.
Ditch the Label: Do you have the same friendship circles when in and out of drag?
Jodie Harsh: I have always known that having a really close-knit circle of friends is one of the most important things in life. I have around 7 best friends: we never Instagram or Tweet each other, they never come to my club nights and they are my real friends. If I’m out doing a gig or a party then there are thousands of people that I know but I would never sit down and have lunch with them or tell them about bad things going on.
Ditch the Label: Have you always been so confident or is it something you have built up over time?
Jodie Harsh: Yes. I don’t think I’m overly confident – we all have our insecurities, right?
Ditch the Label: So when you first started out in drag and left the house wearing heels, how did you feel?
Jodie Harsh: A tiny bit vulnerable and actually, that never goes away. You do put yourself out there and drag is like having a suit of armor. One half feels untouchable and the other half is like “oh my god, I’m in a wig!”. With drag in general, there is a sort of vulnerability thing that goes on with drag. I work really, really hard but I get nervous about things still. Like a new work thing or a gig, it can be really nerve-racking but that’s natural.
Ditch the Label: What kind of advice would you give to anybody reading this who is having difficulty with bullying or finding it hard to accept themselves for who they are?
Jodie Harsh: You should be yourself, however sometimes you have to hide elements of it for safety. It really does get better, however cliché as it may sound. You are always good enough.