I’ve always felt like an outsider.
When I was a kid, I was one of the only white kids in my neighborhood. When I was in middle school, we’d moved to the suburbs, where I was one of the poorest kids. After that, I gained weight and had horrible acne, which earned me all kinds of unpleasant nicknames.
For some reason, (maybe because I had long hair?) I popped up on a few assholes’ radars and they made my life a living hell. They picked on me for being socially awkward, for being a geek who would rather read in a corner during lunch than hang out, and for the crime of being a fat kid with zits.
And there’s one word they called me more than any other.
Back then, the worst thing one of these jock assholes could call you was faggot, queer, gaywad, or some other homophobic insult.
And of course there were the attacks. Being cornered, hit, beaten up, having my clothes stolen from my locker, having gum shoved in my hair, being punched in the back of the head, having my comics stolen and ripped up because I wouldn’t fight back.
Or rather, couldn’t. There were groups of them, and one of me. And I wasn’t a fighter. I was a kid who just wanted people to like me.
In other words, a faggot.
Forget the fact that I liked girls and had never even thought of guys sexually.
But over time, being called a faggot long enough, I started to allow the bullies’ words to shape my own thoughts.
While I wasn’t a jerk to people I thought were gay, I did think bigoted thoughts. Some of that was intolerance learned from the church. I used words like faggot, queer, and homo. While I never used those words against actual gay people, I did say them to make fun of friends.
Because back then equating something with “gay” was an insult.
And though its painful to admit, I thought less of gay people. They were deviants. They were disgusting. And I was a judgmental asshole — a closeted bigot.
AND THEN CAME CLIVE BARKER
In the early 90s I was working graveyard shifts at a gas station where I had endless hours of nothing to do. During this time I read and wrote a lot. It was here that my dreams of being a writer truly took shape.
Working a low paying job, riding a bicycle ten miles a day, I dreamed of escape. I dreamed of the day that I could write stories that people would want to read, that they’d fall in love with, and get lost in the worlds.
My first exposure to Clive Barker was The Great and Secret Show. I had bought Weaveworld for my grandmother prior to that, but had never read it myself, so Clive had fallen off my radar until one day I was in a bookstore and this attractive employee came up to me and complimented my long hair. She was a lot nicer to me than most pretty girls, so I was totally willing to buy whatever she was selling!
She asked what kind of stuff I liked to read. At first, I wanted to lie, and say something I thought she would think was cool. She looked artsy, cute, like someone who probably read literary stuff way over my head.
But to be honest, I couldn’t even think of an author that might impress her, so I told her the truth — that I’d read pretty much everything by King and Koontz, and was looking for something new to get into.
She handed me The Great and Secret Show and said it would change my life.
I bought it, if only to have an excuse to go back to the bookstore and chat with her. (The book store was out of town and I had no car at the time, so I never had a chance to go back.) But also because she’d seemed so impressed by the book, and the author. I could tell by the look in her eyes, and some of the things she said about the book, that she truly loved it.
I started reading TGASS and was immediately impressed by the premise and Clive’s rich language. He used words in such a way that I felt like there was no way I could ever write something this good. Ever.
In fact, I was so intimidated that I stopped writing for a while.
Thanks a lot, Clive!
If I was intimidated before, Imajica made me feel like a fraud. I wasn’t a writer in training, I was a delusional gas station cashier!
But then two things happened while I was reading Imajica.
I found myself questioning my homophobia for the first time (because of the relationship between Gentle and Pie).
I also found myself inspired to write again.
Not that I thought I could ever write something as good as either The Great and Secret Show or Imajica, but I had to at least try.
I wanted to create worlds that people would get lost in, just as I was lost in Barker’s.
While I felt like I was a bit more enlightened, I still didn’t understand homosexuality. I was still grossed out by the idea of two men kissing, let alone having sex.
And then Clive Barker released the book, Sacrament. And I read an article which talked about Clive being gay.
I wasn’t sure if he had just come out of the closet, or if this was just news to me. In either event, I found myself disappointed in him.
I felt like I could no longer like his books the way I had. I felt like I had been betrayed or something. That I allowed this gay man and his gay stories into my head. And I certainly had no desire to read Sacrament, his first novel to feature a main character who was gay.
I don’t know why I felt like this. I was surprised by how deep my homophobia ran. And I was disgusted with myself for feeling like this.
Somehow, my curiosity for the book (it was a Clive Barker book, after all!) won over my bigotry. And then, on a long road trip with my friend, Tracy, I started reading Sacrament.
AND SOMETHING CLICKED INSIDE ME.
Suddenly, for the first time ever, I could understand how a man could love another man. How a woman could love another woman.
And how love is love, regardless of your gender.
I decided I would no longer use (or think) the hateful words of my tormenters. The words of oppression, the words used to make you feel lesser than.
I understood that despite our differences, we are all the same in the ways that truly matter, and nobody should ever be made to feel shame for who they love. And even if we’re wildly different, who am I (or anyone) to judge another for who they love?
In the years that followed, I’d come to have a few gay friends, and I learned about the struggles that many gay people go through. And, as a misfit, I could relate in many ways.
I also found myself speaking out for gay rights, debating people, trying to light that bulb in their heads — to illuminate the darkness and get rid of the learned hate. To understand that love is love, and we all deserve the same human rights.
THANK YOU, CLIVE BARKER
I doubt Clive Barker will ever read this, but I’d just like to say thank you — not only for inspiring me to continue writing, but also for inspiring me to open my mind. Through your fiction, worlds, and characters, you erased the bigotry I held onto and showed me what love is.
So, what books or authors have moved you, or changed you for the better? Comment below and share your story.