I was harassed at school every day, called ‘faggot’. I had things taped to my back.”
Yesterday my daughter met Chris Colfer. She’s 10 years old and has just finished the fourth book in his Land of Stories series. She’s been reading them obsessively over the course of the last three months, and when she found out he was doing a book signing in LA, we had to go.
I’m not normally into celebrity chasing, but when your child is obsessed with a book enough to start reading it the minute it arrives in the post, that kind of obsession has to be encouraged. I thought, “Why not? Just this once.” And I’m really glad we made the effort – for more than one reason.
We dragged ourselves out of bed early, postponed breakfast and drove 30 miles across town to the store, to arrive at 9am. The line was already round the block, and it was starting to drizzle (in LA in July? Me in a sundress and flip-flops, with frizz-prone hair and no umbrella? Someone was having a laugh).
We stood in line for two hours to get a wristband that gave us entry to the actual signing at 2pm. But we made new friends – two moms from Riverside and their daughter, a mom from Santa Clarita (in unfeasibly high heels) and her son, a mom from Ventura and her daughter – all of whom had driven a very long way and were determined to meet the author.
We killed time over sneckfast (my daughter’s newly-coined word for ‘snack-breakfast’), and returned at 1pm to stand in line again. By 4pm, we could see him. We were minutes away. Even I was nervous.
Then he took a break. Our feet were sore, and we were punchy. We were picking up books about extraordinary chickens off the bookshelves and taking deranged selfies.
Luckily he wasn’t long, and within minutes my daughter was right in front of him, overcome with shyness but out of her mind with happiness. He signed all four of her books, and thanked her for buying them.
I have to admit I knew very little about Chris Colfer before seeing him, except that he was 25, had published five books and starred in a hit TV show, Glee. That was impressive enough. While I was standing in line, I started googling him.
The thing that stood out was how much he had been bullied as a kid growing up in Clovis, California. Bullied to such an extent his family took him out of school for two years when he was a teen and home-schooled him.
“I was very tiny,” he says now, “I spent most of my time stuffed into lockers.” But there was more to it than that. He was bullied for being short, for having a high-pitched voice, and for being gay.
These days he admits he wasn’t honest within himself back then – because the bullying convinced him that being gay was something to be ashamed of. He took refuge in writing and theater, and it took a high school coach to persuade him to own his identity. In later years, with his success in Glee as an openly gay character, he had to get used to being the face of something he had believed was “the lowest thing to be”.
Four years ago, when he won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor, he had this to say:
To all the amazing kids that watch our show and the kids that our show celebrates, who are constantly told ‘no’ by the people in their environments, by bullies at school that they can’t be who they are or have what they want because of who they are. Well, screw that, kids.”
I couldn’t agree more.
“Being famous,” he says, “is giving the world permission to tell you all your flaws.” And yet, fame brought Chris Colfer to Barnes & Noble in Hollywood where fans were prepared to give up whole days of their lives for a ‘CC’ and a smiley face squiggled in silver Sharpie.
I’m glad we made the effort. Chris, we’re going to watch all six seasons of Glee, and I’ll be starting Land of Stories too. Thank you for pushing through.