In the past few years, we have definitely made some progress on LGBT issues, with many countries legalizing same-sex marriage and guaranteeing them equal rights. But it’s one thing to have laws and mandates in paper and quite another to have them followed. In conservative societies, people’s attitude to gays and lesbians isn’t going to change just because homosexuality isn’t a punishable offense anymore.
This is where stories can help. Fiction, I believe, makes us empathetic. It exposes us to a horde of characters and experiences that we otherwise wouldn’t have come across. A good story can put things in perspective and instigate change. ‘A Very, Very Bad Thing’ by Jeffery Self is, in that regard, an important book. The YA novel is short, has a simple premise and forces us to confront our hidden biases.
Marley, the 17-year-old protagonist, introduces himself as a “snarky gay kid from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, watching life through the disconnected Instagram filter of my generation and judging every minute of it.” With supportive parents and an equally snarky and cynical best friend, Audrey, he seems to be getting on just fine. Then Marley meets Christopher and it’s love at first sight—for both of them.
But Christopher’s father is the famed televangelist Reverend Jim Anderson who is actually tied to a movement called “pray-the-gay-away”. He and his wife have tried everything to “fix” Christopher and they aren’t ever going to give up. There is no question of accepting Christopher for who he is.
The story is basically about these two gay boys trying to be themselves and enjoy life a little in a hostile environment. It's also an apt depiction of how societal constraints can sometimes lead to mistakes and mishaps that can never be set right.
Ever since I read A Very, Very Bad Thing, I’ve been wanting to recommend it to everyone I meet—avid readers, occasional readers, and even those who have to be coaxed or challenged into reading. Stories like these are imperative to make us understand that every person has a preference that isn’t necessarily governed by how they were born, and that every person should be allowed to live the life they want.
When I was at the bookstore, I randomly picked up A Very, Very Bad Thing and read the blurb out loud. A staff who had come to chat with me made a disgusted face and told me I’d be better off not reading “things like that”. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that her reaction is still how majority of public feel about LGBT in Nepal. Many will behave like they understand and accept homosexuality but it’s just a façade. It’s important to change people’s mindset for real so that the world becomes a safer, more loving space for our children. A Very, Very Bad Thing and stories like that are crucial in bringing about the radical transformation we desperately need.
A Very, Very Bad Thing
Publisher: Push, an imprint of Scholastic Inc. Publishers