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.
Dave, this is the first post I have received in email since subscribing to your blog, and I was thrilled to uncrust my eyeballs to it this morning, reading it as I woke up.
You told a story that now t many people would be willing to tell, and you didn’t sugarcoat it because it would show so much of yourself. I guess your heart is not redacted 😉
My heart is heavy to hear about your bullying. I endured mostly words rather than physical bullying as a young child, but it ended when I turned 10 and grew some pretty big boobs…and then I acted less like I was trying to hide and a little more flamboyant. People suddenly liked me, always said I was funny. Because I was a military brat I wasn’t around the same people who bullied me much longer, but I was long enough to see that a couple of boners made boys nicer, and the girls that noticed this were falsely nice to me as if they needed to investigate me. I say this all because I developed some levels of hate and animosity towards those who seemed to enjoy my company later as we moved again. It made it hard for me to develop friendships. Plus, military brat, moving all the time, I never tried to really make friends past the short stint in each location.
My mom had introduced me to romance novels, and I clung to the deeper relationships in one’s that particularly struck my fancy, and I have been addicted ever since. I write stories that deal with my fears of never being truly seen by people who seem to appreciate you and develop characters that find love in the depths of really knowing each other.
Writing/reading held onto my buried hope about people. I develop stronger relationships now. School sucked for those that got bullied, though I didn’t endure what you did. I did endure a heavy dose of slut shaming all through middle and high school though I didn’t even kiss much less anything else with anyone my age…I wore the oddly placed scarlet A with pride and kept it up, because I still get BS for writing graphic sex and women who enjoy it.
Now it doesn’t burn a hole through me, but doesn’t really phase me all that much. Hope has turned out to be more resilient than hate.
Just a morning rambling from a recently crusty-eyed, asleep person.
And Dave, …
This is why you are obviously the people’s favorite at SPP. We all see it is impossible not to adore you 😉
Oh, and my ovaries asked at Sterling and Stone, when will you be writing a romance novel?
Thank you for sharing. And incidentally, Sean and I HAVE talked about writing something romantic at some point. It will probably involve time travel, too.
As for developing early, there was a girl in middle school that rode the bus with me. She got off at a different stop and never sat near me, so I never really got to know her. She developed early, too, well before all but maybe five other girls who had boobs at the time. And she had big boobs. Interestingly, at the time, all the guys made fun of her, and the girls would call her slut, and I always felt bad for her. She eventually became super popular and hung out with a lot of the same people who tormented her.
I didn’t understand it at the time, but now that I’m older, it made perfect sense. I imagine she was torn between wanting their approval and hating them.
Awesome post Dave. I can relate on many levels as I’m sure many people can. Thanks for sharing your story.
Awesome post Dave. I can relate on many levels as I’m sure many others can. Thanks for sharing your story.
Thank you, Brian. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.
This morning’s plan: Feed dogs, drink water, treadmill 1/2 hour, sauna 1/2 hour, shower, dress, laundry on, run dishwasher, take breakfast into office, write 3000 words.
What really happened: Fed dogs, checked email. Read Dave’s email. Stopped cold.
I’m slumped in my chair, everything forgotten back at the surface, a mixture of anguish and gratitude in my belly. Here, so much is explained: why we relate to you, Dave and why we love to love you. We’re connecting with a fellow survivor, a damaged soul who is healing himself and shining a light. My heart hurt reading about your younger self, and I am so glad you rose above that beginning to become who you are today.
Books were your saving grace, changing how you saw the world, providing an escape from your daily nightmare and ultimately providing life lessons to live by.
I too was saved by books, though my experiences growing up involved a ‘friendly’ stepfather, neighbors who pretended not to hear what was happening in our house and literally years I have no memory of. But I discovered reading, and worlds in which children counted, where adults were loving and supportive, where kindnesses were freely given. A life of adventure and discovery was possible, a life of making a difference just outside my reach. All I had to do was survive until I could escape. Books did that for me.
Thanks for sharing so honestly.
I knew there was a reason watching you guys on SPP is my treat of the week! Why do you think I’m writing 3000 words today? And why have I published 5 books? Because of you. You rock, Dave!
Thank you, Ronnie, for sharing your story. Sorry to hear about the “friendly” stepfather. Glad that you found an escape through books, though.
Thanks for the kind words, also. I appreciate them. As for me being a survivor, I knew people going through a whole lot worse than a few bullies. So I hardly think of myself as a “survivor” so much as just another person who went through some shit. But I do think the things that happen to us in our formative years tends to take on more meaning than when we’re older and more able to cope.
Wow, Dave. That’s an incredible journey.
I’ve always thought that being a part of a minority (like I am–the big L), I’ve always thought it totally fine to use bigoted language in a joking fashion. When I was in HS the word ‘gay’ was used to replace ‘dumb,’ and I’ve still held onto that despite being out and honestly, totally comfortable with myself. Married for years, public hand-holding, generally ‘out’, whatever.
Yet, If I want to insult someone I’ve been known to tell someone they’re ‘acting gay.’ I figured it was okay because I am, so I clearly don’t think anything wrong of it. Obviously I’m just being an ass. (As in, a funny one.)
It never occurred to me that the word could actually hurt and inspire the kind of internal struggle you went through. I kind of feel like I should apologize to you even though I don’t know you at all.
Welp, I’m sorry. I had no idea Clive Barker is gay.
No need for you to be sorry. I suppose in a perfect world being called these things shouldn’t even be an insult. If someone called me gay now, I wouldn’t care. Because I no longer see it as an insult, but rather what someone is or isn’t. I think in school, though, we’re so concerned with fitting in and people accepting us that we take offense to things meant to place us apart, to make us feel different in some way — like we don’t belong.
And my story is nothing compared to those who actually ARE gay and being targeted. I was merely picked on and bullied, but there’s tons of gay people in the world for whom this is a life and death matter.
Thank you for commenting.
The Stainless Steel Rat books by Harry Harrison definitely shaped my outlook when I read them. I was thirteen and in the books the hero talks about how he would never kill anyone, because the hero was an aetheist and that would be taking away everything the other person had. That human would never exist again.
So even though the hero was a thief, he would go to jail before he’d kill another person.
I’d already stopped going to church at that stage, but those books made me realise that being an aetheist was not only an option, but actually a quite noble one. It meant understanding not only my own mortality, but the mortality of everyone around me. That everyone has a right to live their own lives.
Also, reading Castle Roogna by Piers Anthony means I like spiders 🙂
Thanks Dave, I’m new to the SP Podcast and found your site through that. It take A LOT to admit you were a bigot, call yourself on it and show how far you’ve come and why. I have immense respect for people who take personal responsibility for their crap. Sadly, it’s rare. I always considered myself progressive and non bigoted but I’m not, it seeps it at times when I’m not super conscious. I like to call myself on it too. How can we ever progress if we aren’t honest with ourselves? Re: Clive — I started reading Clive Barker back in the early 80’s. The Damnation Game was my first foray and Weaveworld was my fav. I have such immense respect for him and even got to meet him twice and have him autograph my hardcovers… I loved when he came out except that it popped my school girl fantasy of marrying him and having his brood 😉