WHEN David Walliams – best known for his appearances in the TV show Little Britain and most recently as a judge on Britain’s Got Talent – published his first children’s book, The Boy in the Dress, in 2008 Christian reviewers lost no time on excoriating him for promoting transvestism and transgenderism. For example, Richard Lucas, writing for Solas – the Christian Centre for Public Christianity – said: “The blatant preaching of the book is as subtle as a brick, clearly aiming to normalise, destigmatise, glamorise, and justify cross dressing, in accordance with the author’s personal views and experiences.”
The book tells the story of a twelve-year-old boy who enjoys cross-dressing, and the reactions of his family and friends. It is aimed at readers aged eight to twelve, and is intended to teach children that cross-dressing is a healthy and acceptable hobby and not something to be ashamed of.
Lucas added: “The Old Testament law prohibited cross dressing, and I can see the sense in that. Our secular culture, on the other hand, is intent on dissolving or blurring every distinction between male and female, starting with children.”
(A year later, Walliams angered Christians again by becoming one of a handful people to reject the Bible in the BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs. Guests on the programme are always offered a Bible to take to an island but Walliams said: “I don’t want the Bible. I don’t like the Bible.”)
Secular reviewers of his book showed no such hysteria, and Nicolette Jones, writing for The Times, echoed many when she said: “Everyone is on the side of freedom and tolerance by the end, for which the book must be applauded.”
As the years passed, censorious Christians found other books and films to gripe about, but The Boy in the Dress sprang back into the headlines last year when Australians were preparing to vote in a referendum on gay marriage – a vote that led to the legalisation of same-sex unions in December 2017.
What happened is that Aldi Australia was attacked by a clot of Christians for selling the book. They accused it of “pushing social agendas”.
A furious debate ensued. More enlightened folk sprang to Aldi’s defence, describing The Boy in the Dress as a “story about acceptance and solidarity” and saying that they would be purchasing it as a result of the controversy. Walliams himself stepped in, saying he hoped his book would “change the way people think and feel”.
He tweeted a link to the story, saying merely: “It is hard to believe this is 2017.”
He later added: “It is disappointing when people express these attitudes, but that is why I wrote the book in the first place, to hopefully change the way people think and feel about this subject.
“It is 10 years since the book was published and now boys go to school in dresses as Dennis from The Boy in the Dress for World Book Day. So I think we are heading in the right direction, to a world where being different can be celebrated.”
Walliams was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Open Book programme in January 2017, and in an interview with host Mariella Frostrup expanded on his liberal attitude towards homosexuality and transgenderism.
He emphasised that he wanted to open children’s minds to a range of social issues, ranging from crime to Alzheimer’s disease.
At one point he described going to a gay friend’s wedding where his three-year-old son was the ring bearer. He said it was great to see so many children at the same-sex ceremony, and that he doubted that any of the kids at the event would grow up to be prejudiced against LGBT people.
Since writing The Boy in the Dress, Walliams has written nine other children’s books, the latest being Bad Dad.