This interview is so gay
Perhaps it’s time some people went back to school. At least, that’s what author James Dawson believes…
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We sat down with James, author of latest teen-targeted LGBT handbook This Book Is Gay, over a cool G&T on Friday afternoon. It’s his second non-fiction book after Being A Boy, and it’s already his most popular, despite not even being out yet.
So James, tell us a little bit about why you decided to write this book.
“On the success of Being A Boy, I considered it for a while, but initially said no because I didn’t feel like I was an authority. I’ve been a PSHE teacher for eight years, so writing a puberty book was second nature. But with this one, I am a white, gay man, so I have no position to speak for gay women, or people of colour, bi people, trans people…
“But when I came up with the title, I thought it would be a shame if someone else in the market came up with it. Then I realised that there is a prejudice and discrimination in the way that we teach sex education.
“Throughout school we assume that every kid receiving sex education is straight. The lesson where you teach kids to put a condom on a cucumber… that’s not particularly useful for lesbians.
“I realised that there was an imbalance, an injustice there, and realised that young LGBT people weren’t getting the education they deserved. If they weren’t getting it at school, where were they getting it instead? Although there are some fantastic resources online, there’s also a lot of pornography. And pornography is many things, but it’s not sex ed.”
And what a wonderful title it is, with a very pretty cover too. What did you expect to come out of This Book Is Gay?
“Initially I thought it would end up being a pamphlet, you know, a guide to coming out, but is that really 50,000 words? I wasn’t sure. But, for want of a better phrase, there were so many gaps to fill, and so once I’d put together a chapter outline, I agreed to the project.
“I was in bed one night when I realised that it didn’t have to be my opinion, that I could round people up from far and wide to fill it out for me. If anything, I had to reduce it. A lot of the content is testimonies from people around the world, and I was asked which ones I could live without.
“Once you take one thing, like homophobia, that splits into bullying, safety in the work place… Each section had to be looked at through the eyes of real LGBT people.”
What’s the one chapter that you think would best sell the book?
“My favourite chapter is about how to be LGBT and religious. Once you’re in the gay community, you pick up on lots of things. So I knew that it was to do with being gay and Christian, or Muslim, but I’d never really gone through the Qur’an and thought about it in detail.
“One of the worries I have with This Book Is Gay is whether it will find its way into the hands of young LGBT people, and I hope it will, and I hope it will be read by youngsters who are experiencing their sexuality for the first time.
“There’s no more exciting time to be LGBT than when you’re young. It should be fun. And that’s why there’s a disclaimer at the beginning of the book that says, we’re dealing with some pretty serious topics, but this ultimately is meant to be a bit of fun.”
How did you go about doing your research?
“When you go forum hunting, a lot of it’s quite heavy, especially on political correctness. There’s a massive effort on not offending anybody. But, you know, some eggs are going to be broken when you’re making an identity omelette.
“This Book Is Gay is a bit of a bull in a china shop sometimes, but I didn’t want to pretty it up - I had to present bullying, homophobia, HIV and STIs alongside the fantastic community and coming out, because there’s a lot to be said for learning through experience, and I wouldn’t change any of my young sexual experiences, but there are things I wish I’d been told. My top 10 most embarrassing moments could have been remedied if somebody had explained about douching, or lubricant, and there was nobody to do that.”
“In the media now we’re seeing a much better representation of LGBT people, but sometimes I think there is a place for some simple non-fiction, that simply says, right, this is what a blowjob is, this is what you may have heard, is that safe - and these are the topics that I breach.
“I sincerely hope This Book Is Gay isn’t patronising. I think it’s incredibly important to start with the basics, where I can talk to young boys and girls about masturbation, because just maybe they don’t know. It’s the last thing you want to talk to your parents about.
“And that’s the nice thing about having the authority voice, it makes you approachable, while being neutral. And that’s something that sex ed teachers are very good at anyway. You are almost sexless yourself, therefore you are almost an oracle on the subject. With the internet, it’s nearly impossible to get a straight answer - excuse the pun.”
Did you find any of your findings particularly shocking?
“There were surprises. I surveyed over 500 LGBT people in the first instance, including quite a large American base. In the section on promiscuity, I had perhaps wrongly assumed that gay men would come up with having more sexual partners, but they were more conservative than I had imagined.
“There was a large proportion of young men having partners and older men having partners, with almost nothing in between. Huge discrepancy between older gay guys and younger gay guys, apparently there’s a shift in your late 20s. Young gay men on Grindr want nothing to do with it, they just think it’s creepy old men on there, which is interesting.”
If you were approached by someone who believed that anything LGBT-related was ‘wrong’, what would be the first thing you told them?
“If people want to hate, that much, they’re ugly. There are people like my mum who had a raft of misunderstandings about LGBT people. When I came out she warned me about bi people, which was a laugh!
“So tackling a misconception is easy. You can debunk it really quickly. But hate is something that is deeply ingrained. And you can’t argue with crazy. If someone truly believes there is something wrong with being gay, then I don’t think you can change their mind. I almost pity them. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of history.
“It perplexes me that a western country like the UK is so behind on gay marriage. History will not look kindly on that, which is true of a lot of things. Can you forgive prejudice in the older generation? They haven’t had the education that we have now. Nowadays, younger people who have hate for any minority, I think that living in this world is going to get tougher for bigots.”
Now, let’s talk porn. What effect is it having on youngsters these days?
“There’s been talk this week about how even young people can recognise that porn affects their sex lives.
“Porn was drawn on cave walls, and now it’s become almost normal. I don’t like to demonise pornography, because there are millions of people across the world who are able to use it properly, for its intended purpose, as a sexual aid.
“For most people, it’s helpful, but for some, they think ‘Ah, this is what you’re meant to do.’ I’m calling for better sex education, one that encompasses pornography. At the moment there is no legal obligation for schools to do any sex education. And that’s the problem.
“Pornography is pure fantasy. You wouldn’t watch Superman and expect to just jump off of a skyscraper, and equally you’re not expected to have a massive orgy after watching porn. What it all bowls down to is for better sex education, mandatory sex education.”
So what’s the best thing to have come into light in recent months for the LGBT community?
“I think that 2014 will be regarded as the most positive year yet. Half the world has come out, and the media have focussed very well on the LGBT community. The way the world reacted to the Sochi Olympics was really heartening. I mean, it was shit, but the rest of the world was prepared to make a show of how ridiculous Russia was about it.
“The joke was on Russia, they didn’t look good. And when people from all around the world are buying into the fact that we need better sex education for LGBT people… I’m thrilled.”
This Book is Gay is a truly inspirational, funny, yet intuitive book, that will act as a handbook for young LGBT people, parents, or just those who need a new outlook. It will be released 4 September.
Check James out on his website, JamesDawsonBooks.com, or on Twitter, @_JamesDawson.
Words Will Ross, @WillRoss94
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