Stratford’s Alison Wearing pens memoir

Laura Cudworth By Laura Cudworth, The Beacon Herald

alison

She had wanted to be Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie.

Now, the idea makes Alison Wearing laugh. But in many ways, her new book, Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter, does make her a pioneer.

Hers is a fascinating and comical telling of what it meant to grow up with a gay father in Peterborough in the 1980s when there was no such thing as a gay community there — and, at 12 years old, Wearing had no sense of what gay meant anyway.

“It was as though my father was secretly from Uzbekistan – he was secretly an Uzbek. I had no context for that. We didn’t have the word ‘gay’ yet. We had homosexual and schoolyard taunts. I knew it was bad news for the family,” Wearing recalled.

Before her father came out, her childhood was relatively ordinary. Her father, Joe, was a political science professor and amateur choral conductor. Her mother was a pianist, marathon runner and stay-at-home mom. While her father made croissants, she spent many happy hours with her Easy Bake Oven.

When her father came out, she “went in.” She describes her life as “theatre” from then on – she found herself inventing stories on the spot to cover up anything that might out her as the daughter of a gay man.

Wearing ended up living a double life: the one full of heterosexual goodness she pretended to live in Peterborough and the sometimes-too-honest life in Toronto where her father spent weekends.

As her father grappled with who he really was, he kept a diary and other documents. When he came to terms with being gay, he stopped writing in the diary, which was stuffed into a box and shipped down to the basement.

When Wearing was working on the book, he gave her the box.

“It was like a deep sea dive down into these memories,” Wearing said.

It was an act of courage to give them to her, but an even bigger act of courage to give them to her knowing segments would appear in the book. It’s something that catches up with them as they wait for the book’s release May 7.

“He’s 77 now. He’s at a place in his life where it’s not about him anymore but about how he can help those who follow. He’s removed, he’s not that person anymore. But when he thinks of his neighbours reading his diary or little old ladies at the genealogical society where he hangs out reading it, it’s uncomfortable,” she said.

It’s left her feeling protective of her dad as they wait for the reaction to her book.

Her father is a pioneer too, of course, though he doesn’t see himself that way.

In being a pioneer, there’s always risk.

Wearing deftly puts her family’s evolution in the middle of the politics of being gay in the late 1970s and the 1980s. It was a time when there were police raids on bathhouses in Toronto, which ended in arrests and phone calls to employers.

There have been drastic changes since then. There are gay dads on TV and books on parenting for gay parents. There are Gay-Straight Alliances in high schools.

Even so, there are not many books like Wearing’s. It shines a light on how she, her family and the gay movement were left groping in the dark until they finally found their way personally and politically.

“I hope the book goes out and does a whole lot of good. I hope it continues what my dad and hundreds of others started,” she said.

Even before the book has hit the shelves, Wearing has started to get notes from people who thought they were the only one with a gay dad and parents who have not come out to their kids yet.

Her dad was at the first meeting of the Gay Fathers of Toronto group. There were only about six of them then and their main concern was how to come out to their kids. Today the group is thriving and still dealing with that same concern.

“Now, 35 years later, they’ve invited me and my father to come to a meeting. I’m really looking forward to that. In a way it’s like stepping back. To walk into that meeting really will be like throwing myself back 30 some years.”

Her book is hilarious, sad, thoughtful, sensitive and honest.

At first Wearing wondered if it would appeal only to people who have gay parents, but discovered through performances of the theatre version it appeals to anyone who has a family.

“It’s about family. It’s about anyone who has ever been challenged by family and it’s about coming into the fullness of ourselves regardless of what the world says.”

Instead of a formal book launch, Wearing will be performing Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter with five new scenes from the book during the Stratford SpringWorks Festival on May 16 at 8 p.m. and May 19 at 2 p.m. at Factory 163.

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