Growing up queer can be an isolating experience. Many of us are shaped by the way that we retreated from the world while we figured things out, or by the way we faked it till we made it to who we really are. UK journalist Daniel Harding has looked back at these gaps in his own life and used them to springboard off into big adult conversations about the relationships that make us.
Harding covers all the hallmarks of “growing up gay”. First, by exploring his own experiences in the rearview mirror, and then broadens things out to give more context, before finally having some of the awkward, or enlightening, conversations that he never had at the time. Frank discussion follows, from his parents, his best friends, his schoolmates, and the people who he looked up to as role models.
What’s uncovered, is a warm and charming look at modern gay life. And while Harding’s story may be that of a specific British cis gay man, there is a universality to many of his experiences, and the emotional impact they have. Getting the chance to see yourself as others see you can be enlightening, and there’s a real sense of healing and closure in these conversations. Everyone involved has had over a decade to resolve their thoughts and emotions and present them eloquently. These aren’t emotional, knee-jerk reactions, but points-of-view tested by time. There are some genuine insights into how gay men view the world, and how the world views them. How we take on ‘gay’ as an identity in a way that ‘straight’ folk do not.
Harding balances his personal experiences with commentary from Judi James, a prolific commentator on UK television, on shows such as Big Brother, and author of a number of books on body language and behavioral psychology. While James is adept at delivering a profound sounding aphorism, it’s perhaps not worth taking hardcore life advice from.
This is a nice, gentle read with a message of self-acceptance and healing. Gay Man Talking unpicks the labels and the clichés we use to define ourselves as gay men, and that’s a worthwhile endeavor. Even if you come to different conclusions to Harding, the thought-experiment is worth playing. If the unexamined life is truly not worth living, then Daniel Harding is striving to live his life to the full.
By Chad Armstrong
Gay Man Talking: All the Conversations We Never Had by Daniel Harding is available now. Please support your nearest queer-owned independent bookstore if you can.