Author of Dad, I Think I’m a Poof, Samuel Leighton Dore recalls his coming out journey and why he is determined to help young people have the courage and confidence to be true to themselves as early as possible in life.
“Searching for connection and reassurance, young queer people need to be reminded that, more often than not, everything will be okay.”
As a child, I found the representations of sexuality in storytelling, particularly those depicting young men coming out to their fathers, are always steeped in antagonism or tragedy.
That cripplingly anxious admission – Dad, I'm gay – would be met with an abrupt outburst of anger or long, simmering silence. The young gay protagonist might flinch as his father shouts and hurls ceramic plates against the wall; clinch his eyes shut as he's expulsed from his family home, head bowed under a cloud of shame.
Indeed it remains true that, in fiction, the father's response to his son's homosexuality is rarely one of unreserved love and support – which fortunately for me, couldn't have been further from my personal experience.
This concerning and one-noted trend of misrepresentation would perhaps help explain why I was so inexplicably terrified when, at 16-years-old, I finally worked up the courage to tell my father I was gay.
Despite filling the moment with dread and anticipation, the late-night confession passed not with a bang, but a whimper.
Not being one for drama, my father simply wrapped his arms around me, kissed me on the cheek, and said, “I love you.” That was it – it was over.
Strangely, I recall feeling simultaneously relieved and disappointed by the non-event. I only wished that someone had told me years earlier that there wasn't anything to be afraid of, that there would be love and support available to me – that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
Over the following decade I've made it a personal mission to help broaden the often-restrictive boundaries of queer storytelling, particularly for young people – to write the stories of reassurance I longed for as a child. This was one of the driving goals behind the writing of my first children's book, Dad, I Think I'm A Poof.
You see, the importance of diverse childhood storytelling cannot be ignored. Even as adults we're constantly searching to find fragments of ourselves reflected in the fictitious characters that surrounded us. An absence of versatility in these proclaimed heroes is not only deeply disheartening, it can be detrimental to our early sense of belonging. The promise of life getting better is a message delivered swiftly to adults through well-meaning slogans, and to most children through Happily Ever Afters - but what about those who don't quite meet Penguin and Disney’s criteria?
While I'm certainly aware that my personal experience of coming out isn't necessarily reflective of everyone's, Dad, I Think I'm A Poof is about offering a stark alternative to the culture of fear and perpetuated myth of masculinity found in our storytelling and media. It's a tribute to the fathers who are supportive, paving the way for a new and more progressive world.
Searching for connection and reassurance – often while at their most vulnerable – young queer people need to be reminded that, more often than not, everything will be okay; that there is a happy ending for the boy or girl who gets bullied and beaten at school for being a little different. They need to learn that words don't define them.
Perhaps that's why my book was so determinedly unapologetic in its use of language. Having spent much of my youth secretly scouring the local library and internet for resources, I found the typically clinical approach to negotiating one's sexuality in youth was only further isolating. That's why I wanted to write a book that re-examined words young people actually hear in the playground; one that gives permission for self-empowerment in the face of adversity.
After all, if there were an encyclopaedic record of the hurtful names I was called throughout my long and tumultuous schooling experience, it would likely be a sturdy hard-back celebrated for innovation in the twisted art of bullying. Kids can be such brutally inventive little creatures – and there was always a catchy new quip designed to bruise my weak semblance of a self-esteem.
More than just hurt my feelings, these mysterious “bad words” isolated me at a time of crucial development. The words became labels – and in primary school, labels have that awful tendency to stick like glue. My identity on any given day was at the cruel whim of those in power – and words like poofter were used as weapons of mass destruction. But what if they didn't have to be?
While the minor backlash to my book was a humbling one to experience, it only strengthened my resolve to continue writing and sharing stories like it. The fact that the majority of those who took offence were older members of the gay community simply reinforced how raw their past experiences with prejudice remain, and reiterated why there needs to be more done to normalise a more open and empowering dialogue between young LGBTQI people and their parents.
Writing I Think I'm A Poof was my way of starting that conversation.
Samuel Leighton Dore is also the editor of heapsgay.com
This information is current as at 15/08/2016.
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