The three-year process of writing Underdog: Confessions of a Right-Wing Gay Jewish Muckraker was cathartic for Toronto Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy.
Particularly the first three chapters where the Forest Hiller goes into detail about being bullied, coming out of the closet and being sexually assaulted.
It’s a sunny day on Eglinton Avenue West, and the neighbourhood is bustling with folks taking their dogs for walks. Levy is seated in the corner of a patio, surveying the world around her. It’s a day after her birthday, and she is in a subdued, post-celebratory malaise.
However, she recounts what led to her first book’s title.
“I go into a whole anecdote about a Sunday school teacher who thought he was a pop psychologist — this was back in the late 1960s — and instead of teaching our lessons he decided to analyze us and put us in a circle,” she recalls. “When he got to me, he said, ‘I consider you an outsider’.
“I was absolutely devastated because I was all of 12 years old. And I went to my home and I was in tears. My father was so upset.”
That tale leads to the recurring theme throughout the book. The teacher’s pointing her out gave licence to her peers to pick on her. On top of the fact she was “chubby” and wore thick glasses because of severe myopia.
She also shares the very personal trauma of being sexually assaulted twice. The first time, she was nearly bludgeoned to death in an apartment while a journalism student at Carlton University. The second event, though less violent, rehashed the previous assault.
“[The perpetrator] didn’t rape me, I managed to fend him off, but what it did to me was relive the first assault,” she admits. “I had that form of post-traumatic stress disorder and drove me into therapy, which changed my life.”
Throughout her career as a journalist, she’s felt like an outsider because she reports on stories not decided on the by the “pack journalists” of City Hall and Queen’s Park. Even when she came out on the cover of the Sun on 2007, she felt isolated.
“It was almost as if I had invaded their secret society,” Levy says.
Against the latte-sipping elites
But that hasn’t prevented her from digging deep, and being irreverent to politicians, or perhaps, antagonizing advocates who are left of the middle.
“I continue to be (an outsider) because I go against a grain. I am not a member of the A-list of media,” she admits.
Still, she fought through all the obstacles, conquered her fears, and continued to stir the pot in whatever political milieu she inhabits, whether it be municipal or provincial.
Levy reverts back to the first three chapters, the ones she took a leave from work to write in Florida.
“One of my editors and dear friends, Zen Ruryk, came to my birthday party, and Lorrie Goldstein said the same thing, and he said, ‘I’ve read the first 100 pages, now I understand what motivates you. I understand why you are so determined’,” Levy shares.
That experience is what she hopes readers will understand, and perhaps help them shed some light on their own inner struggles. Underdog was written to inspire, educate and give a voice to those pigeon-holed by the “latte-sipping elites” Levy goes toe to toe with on a daily basis.
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