Reflections on the Archive: Dear Dorothy
GCN's 'Dear Dorothy' revolutionised LGBTQ+ advice columns in 1988, providing sensitive and factual guidance on coming out, relationships, and support, overseen by trained members of Tel-A-Friend.
Advice columns are nothing new in the world of periodical publications. In fact, the first known advice column was featured as early as 1690 in The Athenian Mercury, a periodical published by London’s Athenian Society. While the advice column in the Athenian Mercury was dedicated to answering readers’ questions on topics such as history, science, and politics, a more casual type of advice columnist, known colloquially throughout Britain as agony aunts or agony uncles depending on the gender identity of the columnist, emerged later on.
Following in the vein of popular agony aunt columns in magazines, newspapers, and periodicals of the time, when GCN launched their first issue in February 1988, they included a column known as 'Dear Dorothy'.
'Dear Dorothy' was a space where GCN readers could anonymously write to the equally anonymous Dorothy to ask for advice. Given the nature of GCN’s content, the vast majority of these calls for advice surrounded topics such as sex, sexuality, and coming out.
In the very first issue of GCN, a reader wrote to Dorothy to ask for advice on finding love as a gay man.
“I am a 24 year [old] homosexual and I have had two lovers in my life, one for four months and the other for six. I didn't go very far in school. I'm unemployed, I live alone with no family contact and I am very lonely…I have nothing to offer and I think I will be without love for the rest of my life. Are the days of love for the soul gone? Are they replaced by love for clothes and rounds of drink in the most fashionable pubs? The only people who take interest in me are twice my age. Where can I find love?” the reader wrote.
Dorothy advises the reader to find love by ceasing to actively look for it.
Recognising the importance of an advice column specifically for LGBTQ+ readers and inquiries, Dorothy also wrote in issue two (March/April 1988) of GCN, that her column would be significantly different from the 'agony aunt' columns of other periodicals.
“I have a plan for you to catch him which is confidential to you and I. I’m patenting it next week so it's got to be hush hush. Firstly, make a mental change not to find him. Say to yourself love is not for you,” Dorothy writes.
Dorothy offers similar advice to a number of readers in her column, as well as offering advice on how (and when) to come out, how to cope with being the parent of an LGBTQ+ child, and how to find support groups as a queer person in Dublin.
Recognising the importance of an advice column specifically for LGBTQ+ readers and inquiries, Dorothy also wrote in issue 2 (March/April 1988) of GCN, that her column would be significantly different from the 'agony aunt' columns of other periodicals.
“Occasionally I see the agony columns of Papers and Periodicals trying to cope with letters which have a Gay Content. I have also seen the moralistic cautious replies that are given.
"The 'Dear Linda' column in the Sunday World believes we cannot know we're gay until we're twenty eight. What I want to know is why didn't she pick an age like fifty eight! If one is going to keep us quiet why not make it as long as possible,” Dorothy writes with her trademark sarcasm and humour.
“My column will be sensitive and factual. Hopefully it will be widely used and during the next few months I look forward to your letters.”
Given the sensitive nature of the content included in GCN’s 'Dear Dorothy' column, GCN ensured readers that each and every submission was overseen by a trained member of Tel-A-Friend, the Gay Switchboard.
You can read more early examples of 'Dear Dorothy' columns on the GCN archive below.