This Book is Gay is one of The Guardian’s Best Books of the Year. Author Patrick Ness: “The book every LGBT person would have killed for as a teenager, told in the voice of a wise best friend. Frank, warm, funny, USEFUL”
When I came out in the early 2000s (yes, I was already in my 30s), there was almost no context for me to move forward with my true sexuality. Growing up, the only models I had of gay people were Charles Nelson Reilly (on ‘Match Game’) and Paul Lynde (on ‘Hollywood Squares’).
I had fantasized about men as long as I could remember but dated women. The nights I spent surfing gay porn were “experimentation” and I still considered myself straight. I “fell in love” with one of my best female friends – or so I thought. I asked her to marry me and she politely refused knowing quite well that I was probably gay.
I think one of the reasons I stayed in the closet so long were the stereotypes that I had heard about gay men. The image of Paul Lynde in his animated voice had stayed in my mind. At the time, my father made a little jingle motion with his hand every time the show aired. In high school, while AIDS seemed a million miles away from my Maine hometown, it was perceived as a gay men’s disease. Again, both experiences made it difficult to believe I was really gay. I was depressed and confused.
Finally, I had gay sex for the first time and it hit me: I was really attracted to men. When I went to Burning Man, I would sneak away from my hetero camp to find men who wanted to have sex. It was after one such Burning Man that I decided to come out.
After sighs of relief from almost every friend to whom I came out (why hadn’t they told me before?), someone gave me a book called The Unofficial Gay Manual. It was a campy look at gay men covering all the stereotypes that made me fear being put into one box or another. The cover included a gay man ‘living the lifestyle’ with a man flexing his arms and the book chapters included “16 CDs Every Gay Man Should Own” and “High Hair, Low Morals, and Other Rules of Thumb.” While I am not slamming the book, it was published in 1994 and represented the mindset of the time – flashy and feminine men who loved Judy Garland were presented as the norm. (I, in fact, love Judy Garland but so do many straight people).
When the editors of a new book called This Book Is Gay sent me a copy for review, I feared a repeat of my earlier gay reading experience. I was wrong. Author James Dawson shares the reality of being gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, questioning, and transgender. Dawson dispels the myths about the stereotypes I feared. While celebrating both the joy and turmoil of being gay, the book helps the reader process all the confusing and misleading thoughts I had as a young adult.
This Book Is Gay describes itself as a book where “you’ll find the answers to all the questions you ever wanted to ask: from sex to politics, hooking up to stereotypes, coming out, and more. This candid, funny, and uncensored exploration of sexuality and what it’s like to grow up LGBT also includes real stories from people across the gender and sexual spectrums, not to mention hilarious illustrations.”
One of the most beneficial aspects of the guide is an in-depth look at sexuality versus gender identity – a conversation we wouldn’t have had even five years ago. It is surprsing, even with Bruce Jenner’s recent interview and Chaz Bono’s transitioning, how many LGBTs and certainly how many straight people view gay and transgender as intertwined concepts when they are not. This book will clarify this misunderstanding.
Author James Dawson is a former health teacher, acclaimed YA author, and sexpert. He interviewed hundreds of teens on sexuality, and according to his research, “ninety-five percent of them said their school taught them NOTHING about gay sex as part of sex education.” The book includes countless testimonials from people with real-life experience.
The book is certainly worth a read by any and all of the letters in LGBTQ, whether you are questioning, fact-searching or out and proud.
You can buy the book here.