I’d rather be a Billy Goat than a Troll

“As the Billy Goats Gruff approached the rickety rackety bridge a huge troll with horrible little eyes and sharp teeth stuck his nasty head out of its hiding place and shouted “Whose that trip trapping over my bridge?””

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to participate in a large community event in east London.  As well as storytellers and authors a group called Drag Queen Storytime UK were booked to perform a couple of sets.  Working as a storyteller in libraries I have seen Drag Queen sessions advertised so I was intrigued to attend.  In the event I somehow ended up holding my mobile phone as a mirror whilst Aida H Dee (Tom) prepared to meet the children!  Aida was wonderful to watch.  She threw herself into entertaining the children who loved her version of “Going on a Bear Hunt”– one little girl went as far as to giving her a hug as she left. I can honestly say that the experience was joyful. Then came the critical moment: I took a photo of Aida and posted it on social media.

Spin forward a few weeks and my latest storytelling tour is under way.  Things have been going really well; audience numbers are healthy, the children are enjoying the session and I am feeling really good about the next few months.

Then I got an email..,

A formal complaint has been made against me by a member of the public concerned about my suitability to work with children citing a photo of me on social media.  You’ll never guess which one?  That’s right my ability to work with young people has been questioned because a member of the public has confused me with a drag queen!  My immediate response was to go online to assure the complainant that the photo wasn’t actually of me (I’m far older and grizzlier and certainly don’t have the patience to apply all that make up), that I am in fact DBS checked and have almost 20 years of experience working with young people in schools and libraries.  I then went on to say that Tom/Aida was a fantastic performer who I’d recommend to anybody.

And that was that.  I thought.

A week later and another anonymous complainant has heard I’m a drag queen and is using social media to question my suitability to run sessions in libraries for children.  Again I explain that I am a DBS checked storyteller with oodles of experience working with children.  This isn’t good enough for this complainant and before I know it they are firing off messages to the Police, local papers and the even their MP.  They also start pushing me to condemn drag acts as a form of children’s entertainment.  What began as a conversation about safeguarding and event programming in a local library now seems to have a transphobic agenda.  I refuse to engage with the complainant (who uses website articles from the United States that reference known Alt-Right media groups to back their argument).  They aren’t satisfied with my lack of response and take it upon themselves to start messaging my other social media contacts and some of my other clients.

Social media has always fascinated me.  It is a very powerful thing but I’m pretty sure most users don’t truly understand just how powerful.  When using social media we become both publishers and broadcasters and our audience is often global.  Social media allows a platform for opinions which can be empowering but sometimes things like truth and accuracy suffer.  This is the second time in 12 months that this storyteller has been involved in a controversy relating to his image.  When my picture was used to advertise another storyteller on a website I got an immediate apology and took down the material but in this instance where I have been accused of condoning child abuse (oh yes) and a deliberate prejudiced attempt has been made to discredit me and the work of another professional performer there are no real consequences for the perpetrators.  You’ll appreciate how angry these messages left me feeling.  Remember, all I did was post a picture of an entertainer who I thought was good at their job and bizarrely it blew up into unmerited internet nastiness.  It’s sad to think of the time I spent building a professional reputation which could be so easily damaged by this kind of foolishness.

I could try to understand why my work became a target for abuse but in the truth is we’ll never know. At the moment they have stopped but I share my story with you knowing they could start again and that things could have been far worse. The reason I feel need to make you aware of what has been happening is because I’d rather be the Billy Goat standing on the bridge than the Troll lurking under it and this episode has had a distasteful darker side to it which I feel cannot be ignored. Let me be clear:

  1. Storytelling is one of the most ancient and accessible art forms.
  2. Over a 20 year period I am proud to have worked with the very best arts professionals in this and other countries irrespective of their background.
  3. Bridges don’t belong to Trolls; they belong to everybody.
  4. #hopenothate