On Saturday I took part in Belfast Book Festival. I was on a panel along with the lovely Andrew Moore and Sarah Mussi, and the three of us were there to answer questions about Children’s and Young Adult writing. The host was Caroline Healy and she was so friendly and her questions were wonderful, and everyone’s kindness helped me relax and enjoy the discussion at hand. The plan was that I would come home the next day and I would write the experience up for my publisher’s blog. But the next day this happened.
And now, if I am writing about A Good Hiding, I need to write something else.
A Good Hiding is a dual narrative. It is told by two characters- a straight girl and a gay boy. Part of the story explores what I would describe as the logical conclusion of the religious exclusion and demonisation of LGBT people. That conclusion being violence.
I know, and am glad to know, that some religious leaders have spoken out, and regularly speak out, against homophobia and transphobia. But I live in a country where religion and homophobia have terrible and frightening associations. There are people in NI whose religious convictions move them to take a firm stand against those associations. And there are those who are at the forefront of securing and expanding those associations. And there are many in between who are too frightened to say or do anything, and they may well have a reason to be fearful.
In A Good Hiding, Nollaig’s story is bound up with Stephen’s in a way which is to my mind completely inextricable to this novel. They are separate people, but their stories are intertwined. Stephen’s experience of homophobia as a young man touches Nollaig’s story. Nollaig’s experience of marginalisation as a young woman touches Stephen’s story. Because they are friends. It’s one story, told by both of them as separate people.
That is how I feel about my loved ones who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer. We have our own stories but we also share a story. Violence against them is violence to my world because they are in my world. Words used against them which hurt them, hurt my story, because they are part of it. Laws against them which cause them to feel that our government hates them, make me feel angry and sad. I can’t take their place and, even worse, the people causing the pain are the ones who look like me in terms of sexual orientation and gender conformity. Sometimes it makes me wonder where on earth I belong. But as long as they will let me, I will stand beside them.
I wanted to be in Belfast tonight, physically standing beside them, as they think about what has happened and share their grief. But I can’t be there, so this is all I have. It feels dark here sometimes. Dark churches. Dark politics. Dark secrets. The LGBT people in my life know about that. And they know about resistance and solidarity. I have learnt, and continue to learn, so much from them about what it is to be human. I love them, and, different though we may be, it doesn’t make any sense to me to see myself in a separate story.
I will write about the Book Festival panel in time, because the discussion was good, and some of it was not unrelated to what I have said here. Apologies for the delay.
Here’s a song about love and freedom.