Now former Liverpool drag queen Paul Culshaw has written a book to help others beat the labels – Sticky White Label
Paul Culshaw who has written a book about gay bullying
Paul Culshaw’s life has been filled with extremes. As a young child, lonely and tormented for being different; as a teenager struggling to come to terms with being gay, subjected to a primitive exorcism to drive out the ‘demons’ of homosexuality.
He went on to become Liverpool’s most reluctant drag queen DJ, never quite fitting the extravagant persona he created.
“I went from this isolated little boy to born again Christian, then child soap actor to being Whitney Wide-On,” he smiles. “So when I thought about it, there was quite a lot of scope and stories to tell.”
Now 31, Paul sat down to write down a collection of his experiences, anticipating a mix of anecdotes and fun recollections.
“It was only when I wrote them all down, these emotions started to come out and I began to recognise quite a sad troubled character,” he explains. “That was when I tapped into the bullying and low self-esteem, and how that still affects me on a daily basis as an adult and what I was writing became part autobiography and part self-help book.”
The result, Sticky White Label, is, he says: “raw, painfully honest and finishes on a very positive, uplifting note that we can defeat the bullies and we can live with and overcome our mental health issues. And it challenges gay slurs and labels which can be hard to shake off, hence the title.”
A quote from Paul Culshaw’s book Sticky White Label
Sticky White Label traces Paul’s life from infant and primary school years spent struggling to be accepted.
Brought up by a single mum in Crosby, she would often take him to the park to play. “I always wanted to connect with other children because I was an only child, and I was very polite, but when I asked to join in the games they’d always say ‘no, you talk like a girl.’
“So I was aware, even at five or six, that there was something different about me, even though I didn’t understand what it was. I’d spend every lunchtime at school walking round doing laps of the playground, just looking at the clock because it felt like the break went on forever.”
When he won an assisted place at Merchant Taylor’s Boys School he begged his mum not to send him.
“I knew what it would be like because boys didn’t like me, but with hindsight I’m grateful that I went there because I got a wonderful education and I think I probably would have had a tough time whatever school I’d gone to.”
The bullying and rejection was constant, he says. “And the name calling. I remember being on the bus and the word faggot used to terrify me because that was the word that meant I was going to get beaten up.”
Landing a role in C4 soap Springhill only served to draw more unwanted attention, but it wasn’t until he was 14 that he finally found the courage to come out as gay.
“I was a born again Christian and I remember going to one of the girls and asking her to pray with me because I’d been having thoughts about boys and I was attracted to them,” he recalls. “It must have taken me about half an hour to get the sentence out, I was so terrified.”
The girl he chose to confide in was supportive, but his experience within the church wasn’t always so positive.
Paul Culshaw’s take on self-esteem from Sticky White Label
“I was ostracised by some of the group for confessing my gay feelings, and they had a private exorcism. I didn’t realise what it was at the time, I thought it was just a prayer meeting, but looking back it was like a bad Hollywood horror movie. There were people praying and commanding the demon of homosexuality to leave my body in Jesus’ name.
“I think they were trying to help a troubled soul in the best way they could, and some of those people are still very good friends of mine, but the experience was traumatic and it stayed with me.”
Paul’s life took a positive turn when he found friendship with his mum’s hairdresser who was also gay. “He was a confident, successful person and a great example of someone who was happy in themselves so it gave me hope,” he explains.
Since leaving school to pursue a career as an actor/DJ and writer, Paul has continued struggle with panic attacks and low self-esteem.
“They are daily challenges I’ve learned to live with and manage,” he says. “And so much stems from the bullying and being made to feel ashamed when I was younger.
Paul as drag queen DJ Whitney Wide-On
“Even when I was Whitney Wide-On, working at G-Bar for six years, I realised that a lot of those one-liners and the sharp witty comebacks came from learning to defend myself. They were from a negative place, that’s why I was never truly happy doing it. The other drag queens were very comfortable in their job, in the sequins and the glamour, and I was envious of that but it was just a character to me and I couldn’t wait to be Paul again.”
Whitney features in Sticky White Label, but for now at least her lipstick and Lily Savage wig are consigned to Paul’s past.
As for the future, he hopes that the book can help anyone going through bullying or suffering chronic anxiety and go some way to dispelling the lingering harm of labels.
“We all get labelled don’t we?” he says. “Not just for being gay, for being different in any way, but the book isn’t all doom and gloom, it does have a happy empowering ending. I’d just love to think people relate to my experiences and they could help someone else. I might not be famous or in the public eye, I’m not Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, but that doesn’t mean my life is any less valid!”
* Sticky White Label is available on amazon.co.uk. £3 from each book sale goes to PACE (LGBT mental health), Ditch The Label, (anti-bullying) and The British Heart Foundation.