Monday, 16 December 2013

A confession of my own - John Dougherty

It's my view that Liz Kessler's post of the 27th November is one of the most important we've ever published.

It's certainly been among the most popular; within hours of posting our stats page was showing it as one of the ten most-viewed pages on the site in its five-year history, and within a couple of days it had made its way up to the number four slot. Meanwhile, 92 comments were left, which is probably a record, and all of them were positive. As Liz says, as a society we've come a long way.

Which is why it feels appropriate this morning to make a confession of my own. You see, I used to be a bigot.

Is 'bigot' quite the right word? I'm not sure. My dictionary defines a bigot as someone who has 'an obstinate belief in the superiority of one's own opinions', and actually it was other people's opinions I held to be superior: God's, mostly, or at least the people who claimed to know what he thought. And apparently in God's book gay people were Very, Very Bad, and so were you if you disagreed with him. This chimed with what I'd been taught in the playground - gays were weird; gays were different; gays were to be cast out and mocked and despised; gays were you if you didn't conform or if the kid at the top of the pecking order didn't like your face.

Essentially, as so many things are, it was about stories. The stories told us that being gay was a choice; that it was a sin; that it only happened to people who were Not Like Us and who we'd probably never meet as long as we continued to be Good and Normal and stayed out of trouble.

What changed my mind? Stories. First and foremost, the stories of a friend who'd been told the same stories that I had, and found they weren't true; who found that he had no choice about being gay; who found that that no matter how hard he tried to be straight, he just wasn't; who did all the things prescribed by the People Who Know What God Thinks and found that the more he did them, the more messed-up his life became.

I wish I'd heard stories like that sooner. I wish that, when I was younger, there had been stories about people who happened to be gay without 'gay' being the whole point of who they are, who were gay without being ridiculous caricatures like Mr Humphries, who could have been my uncle or my friend's mum. Of course in those days even the hint of a gay character in a children's book would have been enough to have the Daily Mail and the Sun thundering BAN THIS EVIL BOOK! But I can't help wondering if perhaps the publishing industry should have been brave enough to try.

I'm glad it's different now. I'm glad there are books, however few, like Morris Gleitzman's wonderful Two Weeks With The Queen. I'm glad that Liz's publishers now feel the market is ready for her forthcoming Read Me Like A Book. And I'm glad that my friend no longer has to hide who he is. But I wish I'd made friends like him earlier, in the safety of the pages of a book, so that when I first met him I'd have understood him already.


John's next book:  
 Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers, illustrated by David Tazzyman & published by OUP in January 2014


Catherine Butler said...

Well said!

Joan Lennon said...


Nick Green said...

There can be more true education in a good work of so-called 'fiction' than in a library shelf of textbooks.

(And "Two Weeks With The Queen" is an absolute stunner of a book. Should be on every syllabus.)

Stroppy Author said...

Well said, John! My children were very lucky - we had a gay lodger when they were very young, and she talked about how she missed her partner (she was studying in the UK while her partner was living in Austria - they were both Austrian), so my girls saw the normality of a loving gay relationship very early. But that's an unusual circumstance, and books should supply that perspective for children in entirely straight households.

Liz Kessler said...

John! I've only just seen this blog. Wonderful, honest and lovely. Thank you for what you said about my post too xx