Nesting Dolls of Hate
Discrimination is complicated. We’re humans, and the way we treat each other is never simple. Sometimes oppressions are contained within oppressions, one nesting within the other like a twisted Russian doll, where the unfair hatred one receives is then passed down to somebody smaller. Someone who can do even less about it.
That sounds abstract. To put it simply, I first came out in the year 2000, when I was 16 years old. No longer a closeted right-wing Evangelical, I was ready to meet this strange new millennium as someone proud and unashamed. Two years later I moved from England to Wales, and got into queer community activism, helping organize petitions and protests and parties. (I was a teenager, and very passionate about all three.) I wanted to help make things better for those who came out next.
Of course, not everyone wants the same thing. Some did, but very quickly I discovered those nesting dolls of hate: gay men and lesbians who seemed outraged at anyone bisexual (who were somehow both a threat and didn’t exist); anyone trans (who were somehow both a threat and didn’t exist); and even Jewish people (who were somehow a threat but were at least considered real). I couldn’t understand it.
Why, when we experience hate, do so many of us feel the need to pass the hate along? That’s what my novel, Proud Pink Sky, set out to explore.
In 2010 I moved from Britain to Berlin, a city with a half-million queer people. I thought that maybe things would be different here, but as anyone who lives in a major metropolis knows, I was being hopelessly naive. The same kind of hate was here too, but it was sneakier: hidden in the corners of run-down squats or huddled in fashionable nightclubs; there in the smirk of an otherwise-righteous activist, or glinting in the eye of an anti-establishment punk.
Proud Pink Sky is set in a very different city to the one I moved to—it takes place in a Berlin that’s the world’s first gay state. The novel’s Berlin has a dual gay and lesbian government, distinct districts for different subcultures, and even an official gay language. It’s a reality where gay people are finally in control, and though the city-state is a welcome escape from a homophobic world, it, too, contains the nesting dolls of hate.
For my part, I was never really accepted by any of the gay societies I joined. I was too…something. Perhaps, rumors went, I was one of the craven bisexuals (I certainly hung around with enough) or secretly trans (I spent a suspicious amount of time with them, too). I was passionate, but I was also silly, feminine, and the sex I liked didn’t fit the gay set menu. This was true in England, it was true in Wales, and it’s true in Berlin.
In Proud Pink Sky, citizenship of the gay state is denied to those who don’t fit, and in turn those who don’t fit huddle into towering slums on the edge of the city. Bisexuals hide their sexuality, polyamorous people are forced to hide their families, and trans folk gather in a walled-off slum of perpetual twilight, hidden beneath a gigantic transit bridge.
Yet in all this division there’s still hope and solidarity. The glittering city contains many citizens with friends and lovers across the divides, and residents brave cynical politicians and ferocious cops, reaching across these separations in the hope of making their metropolis a better place. Hate is passed along, for certain, but just as in real life, so is solidarity. So is hope. So is rebellion.
In 2020 I came out again: this time as nonbinary. The truth was they were right: I didn’t really fit, not even into the neat categories of ‘man’ or ‘woman.’ For me, identity was never something fixed or solid—it always had been something fluid, immaterial, just-beyond-my-reach. An absence where other people felt something; an agnosticism while others had faith. It was that way ever since I was a child, spending time with groups of boys and girls and never fitting in with either. There was only ever myself. My curiosity, and my questions.
Proud Pink Sky is a novel which tries to understand. Without judgment, without condemnation. It’s a novel which seeks to represent all of us, whatever part of the LGBTQ+ spectrum we’re part of. Above all, it warns us to always stay aware of those little nesting dolls of hate—and to never, ever let them rest inside ourselves. ▼
Proud Pink Sky releases March 14 from Amble Press, a new imprint of Bywater Books.
Born in Sheffield in 1984, Redfern grew up in market towns, seaside resorts, and post-industrial cities before moving to Wales and gaining a PhD in Literature from Swansea University (Prifysgol Abertawe) in 2010. Redfern is nonbinary queer and has campaigned for LGBTQ+ and polyamory rights since they were a teenager. They currently live in Berlin. Website: redjon.com