From the age of six and right up until my late teens, other kids bullied me because of who I am.
Like many members of the LGBTI community, my non-conformity with heteronormativity meant that I was regularly the subject of scorn and ridicule at school.
Despite many years passing since I left school, I have still hidden this part of my life from my parents – particularly my mother.
Clearly concerned for my mental health, my parents took me to see psychologists for more than a decade throughout my childhood and adolescence.
I knew – at least to some extent – why I felt the way I did, but never uttered a word about it.
Despite weekly visits for years on end, not once did I mention the bullying, the homophobia or my sexuality with my clinician or family. When you think you’re not ‘normal’, you don’t want anyone to know you’re different.
I was extremely conscious of this as a young boy and I also felt an overwhelming obligation to not upset my parents. So I maintained my silence.
The birth of Hugo: The Boy with the Curious Mark
Out of these experiences came my book Hugo: The Boy with the Curious Mark.
It tells the story of a young child who is ashamed of his rainbow coloured birthmark. Feeling alone and marginalized, he goes on an adventure to find someone just like him. But just as he’s about to give up, something wonderful happens.
Hugo, the protagonist in my story, is named after my eight-year-old nephew.
A couple of years ago, my sister mentioned kids in his class were teasing him. I think it brought back all of the memories of kids bullying me in school.
Living on the other side of the world, I felt helpless. I didn’t want to see him go through the same kinds of experiences I had.
So, I decided to write a children’s story that would encourage children, their families and teachers to discuss and embrace difference at home and within the classroom. I set out to write the kind of story I wanted to read when I was younger.
While the story of Hugo deals with difference in a subtle way, my publisher Red Paper Kite Publishing, has worked with me to create comprehensive teaching notes that enable educators to support LGBTI inclusion in their classrooms.
For me, this was critical in making a difference.
While many education systems throughout the world remain reluctant to include LGBTI representation and visibility, I wanted to support those who were courageous enough to teach love, empathy and acceptance.
I was also very grateful to work with Manuela Adreani who came up with the beautiful imagery that helps to tell the story. In and of themselves, the illustrations are mini pieces of art.
Reception to the book
Since the release of the book, I have received many beautiful notes from readers about how the story touched them.
A man my age came across Hugo and was in tears by the end of it. Another mother thanked me for writing the story, having had kids in her son’s primary school bullying him.
The book was launched at Rabble Books and Games, a local store in Perth, Western Australia during one of their regular Drag Queen Story Hour. I was so excited to see members of the local community embrace the story and its message.
Ever since this small idea became a reality, I have said that if this book helps just one person to be proud of who they are, I’ll call it a success.
I really hope that we continue to see the emergence of new diverse stories that accurately reflect the world we live in. I want to spread the message that all people can be fearlessly proud of who they are.
Even though I am happily married, as well as an out and proud member of the LGBTI community, I kept my sexuality from my parents throughout my whole childhood. It shows just how deep bullying and homophobia can impact someone.
In this regard, if my book makes even the slightest difference, I will be one happy author.
Hugo is available in Australia and New Zealand and hopefully will be published in many others countries soon.
Yohann Devezy is a Perth-based author. You can find more information on his author Facebook page.