A national LGBTQI+ storytelling project curated by Maeve Marsden
featuring a book, event series and an award-winning podcast

A national LGBTQI+ storytelling project curated by Maeve Marsden
featuring a book, event series and award-winning podcast

344 Daniel Lavery – Dangers, Toils and Snare Drums

Daniel recalls early evidence of his queerness: his propensity for lying.

Daniel Lavery is the cofounder of The Toast, served as Slate‘s Dear Prudence from 2016–2021, and the author of Something That May Shock and Discredit You. He performed this story at Sydney Writers Festival.


Maeve: Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories. This week, Daniel Lavery is the cofounder of The Toast, served as Slate‘s Dear Prudence from 2016–2021, and the author of Something That May Shock and Discredit You. He performed this story at Sydney Writers Festival.

Daniel: Unless you are especially precocious, very often the first meaningful form of expression available to the gay child is lying. I don’t mean the sad sort of gay lying, where your gruff father barks “You’d tell me if there was something wrong with you, boy?” and you stow away your giant lolly and sailor suit, despairing of ever really getting through to him, but the inexplicable, profitless sort of gay lying, that makes your fifth-grade teacher take you aside and deliver a confusing lecture about creativity and never giving up but also the importance of completing assignments as written.

This is really distinct from the manufactured illnesses that you bring up to avoid a test or criticism, or when you fake losing your voice in the morning but get bored later in the day and slowly reintroduce sound back in. So by the time you leave class at the end of the day your voice is back. But it’s been slow enough that no one says didn’t you lose your voice this morning? Or pretending to own a horse in order to win recess, or an invented career as a baby model, or a fake near-fatal car accident that you bring up to show up a friend you hate.

Authors note: The accident happened just before I moved here. It was in first grade so you wouldn’t have heard anything about it. I didn’t want to say anything at the time because I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me, but I did almost die. And now I really want you to feel sorry for me, while also being impressed with me at the same time, because of how much I dislike it when people feel sorry for me. This is what is known as having it all.

Anyways, I assume all of these are a normal part of healthy child development, especially when the primary reaction to the world around you that you have is ‘don’t you know who I am?’ When what I am is so far a fairly unremarkable 10-year-old with no real power to speak of. Any other form of queerness was so far off in the distance it couldn’t possibly have mattered to me at the time. Sometimes I imagined getting shot at Oberweiss Dairy (a lot of my friends got summer jobs at Oberweiss Dairy)

where one of my friend’s boyfriend’s (a lot of my friends had summer boyfriends) would have to kiss me as I lay dying in a pool of my own blood, because I would say bravely, that I didn’t want to die without having ever kissed anyone. But also they would do it in admiration of my bravery. But that was about as far as things went for me until I was 17, so lying was pretty much it. 

Like many other thwarted 10-year-olds before me, I decided to join the school band where I played a plausibly deniable, gender non-conforming instrument, the snare drum. Technically I was a girl, which was a style at the time, but there was also another girl drummer, of 15 snare drummers total, which kept my plausible deniability intact. Had I chosen the tuba, I would have had to have come out immediately, but with Jenny by my side I could do anything, not anything. For example, I could not successfully play the snare drum part to ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ which my band teacher particularly wished me to do. But I could have a snare drum, I could carry my snare drum around etc. without being openly challenged in the street, which isn’t nothing. At some point, those of us in the fifth grade band were invited to individually instruct a group of kindergarteners in music appreciation class on our various instruments. A flautist would go and play something on the flute in front of the class and speak afterwards about the importance of playing the flute and the many rewards of playing the flute, followed by a trumpeter doing the same on the trumpet and so on. I was asked to speak to the kindergarteners about the importance of snare drumming, followed by a demonstration of just what the snare drum could do. 

Do you know what I’ve always found suspicious about memoirists who dwell on their childhoods in rich detail? They always seemed to remember perfectly what they wore on such and such a day, or who they spoke to or who else was there. Do people really remember the names of all the figures from their childhood? I could name my mother, of course, and I could confidently give you the first and last names of maybe four other children from the 90s, but everything else is really just an amalgamated haze of information. Like I have a general sense of someone named Kevin, or my teacher that year was a woman with a last name, or I certainly lived on a cul-de-sac and babysat occasionally. 

All of this is to say that I think the name of the teacher of the music appreciation class was Ms Jansen, or possibly a Mrs Jansen, but I couldn’t swear to it in a court of law. It could as easily just as been Janky, do you know, I think it was Ms Janky? The upside was that by instructing the kindergarteners, I’d be allowed to get out of my own class and you’d be right in thinking that I would leap at the chance to give up on learning something in order to show off before a group of easily impressed five-year-olds. But as I began to set up my instrument badly, I should add. There’s all sorts of gears and twistings you have to master in order to get a snare drum up on its stand, and I never really mastered that process. I just keep twisting until someone helped me. I became increasingly aware of how much I didn’t know how to play the song I was supposed to play for them.

Authors note: In my memory this was again ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’, but it could as just as easily been something else. 

I wonder if you’ve heard of the Peter Principle. It’s a concept and management theory that people tend to rise to a level of respective incompetence. That is, employees are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent. Ironically, the term for being promoted due to incompetence, in order to minimise the reach and scope of setting competence, is ‘percussive’ sublimation. In that moment, struggling to set up my own instrument before an unyielding sea of five-year-old eyes, knowing that I would not be able to play the song given to me and that even if they wouldn’t know the difference I would, unable to bear the shock of such a humiliation I knew only one path lay open to me, perhaps the most important weapon in the gay child’s arsenal. I was going to fake an injury. More than that, I was going to fake an injury so implausible and so public, so obvious of fashion, that no one would dare to contradict me, even if that meant contradicting the evidence of their own eyes. I stood up. I looked at the sheet music, which was one page. I looked at the children and I said “Ow my ankle.” in exactly the same tones that Marsha Brady once said “Ow my nose.”

I had injured my ankle terribly. How I had just injured my ankle terribly and in front of everyone. What precisely was wrong with it? I would not be able to play today. What had happened to my ankle? I needed to go to the nurse immediately. Which ankle was it and what had happened to it? There was no time! I needed to limp bravely to the nurse’s station at once and lay down for the rest of the day. The nurse’s station is the natural habitat of, and, functionally, heaven to, the gay child, except for the jock kind of gay child who moved in mysterious ways their wonders to perform. I learned a valuable lesson that day, more valuable than anything those kindergarteners might have learned from a successful rendition of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’ Lie incredibly. Lie fearlessly. Lie in the direction of your dreams. Lie like everyone is watching. I quit the school band after sixth grade because they moved practice to before school and I didn’t want to get up at five o’clock, but I’m sure I gave the conductor a better reason. Ironically, I would later to go on to break that same ankle several times as an adult and it still pops audibly every time I rotate my foot, which I do often.

Maeve: Thanks for listening. Please subscribe to the podcast, share your favourite tales on the socials and follow Queerstories on Facebook for updates. If you enjoy Queerstories, consider supporting the project on Patreon. Check out the link in the episode description. Finally for late-night ramblings, gay shit and photos of me trying to garden with a baby on my back, follow Maeve Marsden on Twitter and Instagram. 

Subscribe to Queerstories


Queerstories is produced by Maeve Marsden and recorded by wonderful technicians at events around the country. Editors and support crew have included Beth McMullen, Bryce Halliday, Ali Graham and Nikki Stevens.