I am a big Will Young fan. A quick scan down my 100 Essential CD lists would illustrate this with his “From Now On” at #52, “Friday’s Child at #54 and “The Hits” compilation at #58. He is somebody who I have written about a lot and who over the last 18 years has established himself as a significant national figure and especially within the cultural history of British LGBTQ+ issues. This book is an inevitable choice for me to want to read soon after publication.
Some may be surprised by Will’s unflinchingly honest, forthright tone in this book but those of us who have listened to the “Homosapiens” podcast which he started with friend Chris Sweeney (I’ve gone through every edition with Will and Chris, the current series sees Will on sabbatical with Alan Cummings now alongside Chris) will be aware that the issues raised in this book are of great importance to the author.
Will has been upfront in the past about mental health issues and here deals with the notion of “gay shame” which for most of his life has overwhelmed him, threatening his ability to function. Will very impressively explains the ways this becomes internalised, often at a very young age, in LGBTQ+ individuals and offers his strategies he has over time employed to help.
I did start off being slightly puzzled as to the extent of Will’s agonies over gay shame. I am older than him and closer to the time when being gay was still considered a crime in the UK and grew up in a time when the only visible people who may have felt like I did (although this was never acknowledged by them at the time) were the camp comedians such as Kenneth Williams, John Inman, Larry Grayson and Frankie Howerd, none of whom were especially good candidates for the title of role model. This history of LGBTQ+ culture is very well accounted for in Paul Flynn’s 2017 “Good As You”, my review of which can be read here.
In fact, it was really only when Russell Davies’ “Queer As Folk” was aired and Brian Dowling winning “Big Brother” and Will himself conquering the first season of “Pop Idol” that gay men could recognise something of themselves being portrayed. Although Will seemed at the time an ideal, positive role model he was still grappling with the issues and shame of being gay which had been projected upon him by society and as a visible representation of a gay man he suffered considerable shocking homophobia from members of the public and in the media. Will is right to air these here including the DJ Chris Moyles, the Mail Newspaper and correct once again to revisit the Mail’s hateful inclusion of an article on the death of the Boyzone singer Stephen Gately which is the reason why I will never pick up a copy of that newspaper again. Incidentally, those most likely to suffer homophobia are young straight men who often in the form of “banter” have to face more putdowns and questioning of their sexuality than their gay male counterparts.
As well as being an honest and sensitive work this is extremely thought-provoking. It made me wish I was part of an LGBTQ+ book group (or in fact any book group could valuably discuss this) to further explore the issues raised as it would be fascinating to hear others’ perspectives in the safe environment that should a group should provide. I may not have agreed with everything Will raises here but there is no doubt how his personal issues regarding being a gay man have caused a considerable struggle and his willingness to air these issues to help others is to be highly commended.
To Be A Gay Man was published in September 2020 by Virgin Books.