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BOOKS: Alison Wearing shines new light on coming out in Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter 

Alison Wearing always knew her father, Joe, was different. A free spirit, a happy eccentric, a talented baker of croissants. What the young Alison didn’t know was that her dad was secretly struggling with his own homosexuality, desperately seeking a way forward that wouldn’t hurt the family he loved. Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter (Knopf Canada) is the story of what happened before, during and after Joe came out of the closet.

The book is structured around three different perspectives: Alison’s, her dad’s and her mum’s. Alison’s part came “flowing out” of her while she was working on another project. “What began as a diversion quickly took on a power and shape of its own, and at times it was difficult to keep my hand moving fast enough to keep up with the scenes that were pouring out of me,” she says. Years later, she shaped the story into a one-woman show she’s still performing today.  “It was the audience response that inspired me to expand the material into a full-length book, largely because the story, while relatively unique, seemed to resonate with so many people of such a variety of backgrounds and histories. We may not all have a gay parent, but virtually all of us have families that challenge us in some way, and that is when the real lessons in love and acceptance arrive.”

After writing her own memories, Alison approached her father for his version. He hesitated for a second, and then produced a box full of journals, letters and newspaper articles. It was just what she needed to complete the picture. “My dad is 77 and has been living ‘a happy little gay life’ (to quote his partner of 32 years) since the early 1980s,” says Alison. “The man in the book is a different person: someone still struggling to find and accept himself, someone still closeted, married, conflicted, divided.” Joe’s story is perhaps the most powerful section, giving voice to a particular moment in our shared history—before Toronto Pride, before “gay” was an acceptable identity—and a very raw personal transformation.

This isn’t just a book about coming out, though. It’s a moving account of how that experience affected the whole family, in good ways as well as bad. And, at its heart, it’s a story about love: how it can sustain us, change us, set us free. “My dad modelled for his children what it is to come into full flower as a human being,” says Alison.

“That is a great gift to give to your children, no matter who you are, what you do or what your sexual orientation happens to be.”

Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter Alison Wearing. Knopf Canada. $24.