In this deeply personal and often harrowing story, journalist Shannon Molloy tells of a year of intense homophobic bullying he experienced during high school.
The time is the year 2000. The AIDS crisis is just in the rear view mirror and marriage equality is a long way off. At school, rampant homophobia is the norm. No one questions the prerogative of boys to beat and bully anyone they think is gay. Being an effeminate boy – marked out by walk, hand gestures and voice – is a red light to bullies. Daily abuse, humiliations and intermittent beatings are to be expected by the victim. To make matters worse, teachers, principals, counselors and religious instructors never call out this homophobia, letting it go unremarked.
Shannon Molloy grew up in the seaside town of Yeppoon, located in Central Queensland and attended an all-boys Catholic school. Fourteen chronicles one year in Molloy's life, the age of fourteen. It's a year of unremitting hell, saved only by the support of a small group of close friends. It's staggering to read of the total lack of school support for someone who is clearly being abused on a daily basis. When an older boys tries to sexually abuse Shannon, figuring he's gay and therefore can be raped, Shannon manages to escape, only to be captured again by a teacher patrolling in her car, who promptly returns him to school. No protocols are in place to allow him to safely explain what had happened. In another harrowing scene Shannon is told to go and see the school counselor. Ostensibly the reason for the meeting is to come up with a strategy to stop the bullying. The counselor goes on to tell Shannon that he has a gay walk and therefore the bullying is his own fault.
Things get so bad that Shannon starts plotting an escape. It's extraordinary that a young man, in the care of a school, should have to think seriously about options for getting out, as a matter of desperate urgency. To remain becomes increasingly untenable, even if most of the adults around him can't see it.
Now a News Limited journalist, Shannon Molloy has written an essential document of the times. This is a book of searing honesty and palpable pain, making clear why school bullying programs are so vital. Read this book to understand the sense of shame and humiliation that goes with being a victim of homophobia.
Fourteen: My Year of Darkness, and the Light That Followed, by Shannon Molloy. Simon & Schuster. $29.99
Review by Chris Saliba
North Melbourne Books