As you can imagine, the holidays can be a pretty hectic time as we try and juggle twenty million things at once. If you want to take a breather out from organising parties or shopping for gifts, then we have a little treat for you.
To coincide with the upcoming release of ‘Proud’, an anthology of short stories from LGBTQ+ writers which is compiled together by Juno Dawson, we’re sharing an extract from Dawson’s Christmas story ‘Homo for Christmas’. The story appears in ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’, a festive anthology in the same sense as ‘Proud’, and sees a Geordie boy returning home from his first term at uni to tell his Mam he’s gay.
Released on 7th March, ‘Proud’ is a bold and moving anthology of stories and poetry by top LGBTQ+ YA authors and new talent, giving their unique responses to the broad theme of pride. Each story is brought to life with an illustration by an artist identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community. You can pre-order ‘Proud’ here.
‘Homo for Holidays’ by Juno Dawson
Mam is waiting for me in the car park at Newcastle station. It’s dark by the time the train rolls in. Sorry to be a cliché, but I really have brought a mountain of laundry in a big wheelie case. Mam sees me coming in the rear-view mirror and pops the boot.
“Hiya, pet,” she says. “How was the trip up?” She’s had her hair cut a little bit shorter and it’s blonder than when I went away. “Yeah, it was fine,” I say. I feel sick. Now is not the time. “Don’t fanny about, I’ve got dinner on a low heat.” I climb into the passenger seat. Local radio is playing. Her stilettos lie in the footwell of the passenger side because she can’t drive in heels.
“What are we having?” I ask. “Cottage pie and beans,” she says. “When was the last time you had a proper meal, eh?” Last night. Ade cooked lamb massaman curry as a goodbye dinner. I could tell her that. I could just say, “My boyfriend cooks for me all the time”. No. Now is not the time. “I dunno,” I say as she pulls out of the car park. “I hope you’re not just eating kebabs and junk.” “I can’t afford kebabs,” I tell her. “It’s pasta and sauce most nights.” That’s another thing – I rely on my allowance from Mam. Sure, I’ve got my loan, but she sends two hundred quid a month and I really need it. What if she cuts me off?
We live in Jesmond, a little drive outside of the city centre. She turns into our cul-de-sac and the familiarity feels warm. I’ve lived on this street my whole life – same semi-detached house. I’ve missed home this term, not full-on homesickness, but home is … home. This is where I’m from.
As ever, the heating is on full-blast as we step inside and the house is thick with rich, meaty cottage pie smell. My mouth waters. The cat, an unimpressed little knobhead at the best of times, gives me the shit-eye – peering down at me through the stair rails.
“I’ll stick a load on after dinner, just leave your case in the hall. Go wash your hands and I’ll get dinner on the plate.” I wonder if she’s missed having someone to fuss over. I wash my hands in the downstairs loo before kicking off my trainers and padding through to the dining room. I’d forgotten what proper carpet feels like on your feet: lovely and squishy.
“Do you like my new wallpaper?” she calls from the kitchen. She’s been excited about showing me the new dining room. “Aye, it’s mint,” I call back. It’s a bit flowery for me, but she seems dead keen. Hands wrapped in cherry-red oven gloves, she carries two steaming plates through. Mam believes serving food on cold plates should be a criminal offence. She plonks a plate in front of me. “Do you want any sauce or anything?” “No, thanks.” “There’s more Bisto in the pan if you want it.” “Cool.” I tuck in.
“So how’s your lectures going, pet?” “Aye, not bad.” “Do you still think you’ll change courses?” “Maybe. This is really nice, Mam.” Now that I’m here, it feels like I’m in a world without Ade, a world where I’m ten years old again. I can’t imagine telling her about my boyfriend because that person – that version of me – doesn’t live here. There’s a little silence. Mam puts more salt on her cottage pie. I can’t do it. The lights on the Christmas tree change colour every five seconds and I can’t ruin Christmas. Maybe I’ll wait until next week.
“Listen, son. I want to talk about this gay thing.” I swear my heart actually stops. For a second I’m legally dead. My throat closes up. “What?” I rasp. Her mouth is a tight line. “I can’t have it hanging over me all Christmas,” she says. “I won’t be able to have any fun at all, so let’s just get it out of the way now.” “I don’t know what you mean,” I lie. “I wasn’t born yesterday, Duncan. There I am typing
‘Gardening Centre’ into Google when ‘Gaytube’ and ‘Gaydar’ pop up, and it wasn’t me that went on those websites and it wasn’t the ruddy cat either, was it?” Fuck. How? I always clear my history. I only went on those sites out of nosiness anyways, like. Shit.
Apparently now is the time. I can’t speak. I just stare at my cottage pie. “I’m not cross, you know,” she says, her voice tiny. “I still love yous.” I can’t look at her. “I was going to tell you,” I mutter. “I didn’t want to believe it, but then I spoke to your auntie Julie and she talked some sense into me. She said, ‘He’s still your Duncan, isn’t he?’ and I was like, ‘Aye, I suppose he is’. I just want yous to be happy, Duncan.” A tear rolls down my cheek and plops into my tea. “I am happy.”
“Have you got a fella, then?”I nod. “What’s he like?” “I love him.” “Does he love you?” “Aye.” “And he treats you right?” “Aye.” “Good. What’s his name?” “Ade. He’s a top lad.”
She sighs deeply. “I won’t lie, Duncan, it’s all a lot to take in. I worry about you, pet.” I finally look up. “You don’t have to worry about me. He’s awesome.” “Well, like I say, if you’re happy, I’m happy. And I mean that.” She goes to the kitchen and fetches the kitchen roll. “Here – there’s no need to cry.”
I wipe my eyes. I feel lighter somehow. “I was so worried about coming home. I didn’t know what you were gonna say. I’ve been proper stressing about it, like.” She shakes her head. “Did you really think I’d kick off? You and me aren’t going anywhere, are we? There’s nothing you could say to me that’d make me love you less – you should know that. Except voting for the bastard Tories,” she says, with a wink.
I laugh and she smiles back at me. She takes my hand and gives it a squeeze. “So tell me all about this Ade character, then.”
And look at that, the world is still turning.