- Sometimes men like men.
- Sometimes women like women.
- Sometimes women like men and women.
- Sometimes men like women and men.
- Sometimes people don’t like anyone.
- Sometimes a man might want to be a woman.
- Sometimes a woman might want to be a man.
- Sometimes people don’t identify as a man or as a woman.
Got that? It really is that simple.
I could end the lesson there, but I don’t think a few pages would make a very good book, so I suppose I should go into a bit more depth…
WELCOME TO THE MEMBERS CLUB
There’s a long-running joke that, on “coming out,” a young lesbian, gay guy, bisexual, or trans person should receive a membership card and instruction manual.
THIS IS THAT INSTRUCTION MANUAL.
You’re welcome. But this is a manual for everyone—no matter your gender or sexual preference.
School probably hasn’t taught you very much about what it’s like to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or questioning. You might have heard about famous gay people or seen same-sex couples on TV. You almost certainly know an LGBT* person, even if you aren’t aware of it. Like an “alien invasion,” we are already among you. We serve you in the post office; we teach you math; we make your hamburgers.
So why don’t we teach you about same-sex couples when we teach sex ed? Or that a lot of people choose their gender? Well, I was a PSHCE (Personal, Social, Health, and Citizenship Education) teacher in the UK for a long time, and I always taught my students about these things, but not all schools do, and not all teachers know how—there’s NO training for this, I’m afraid.
I surveyed a group of more than three hundred young people in 2012, and ninety-five percent of them said their school taught them NOTHING about gay sex as a part of sex education. Sex between men and women was routinely presented as “the norm.”
This lack of education means that loads of young people—gay, straight, or bi; trans or cis—have oodles of questions about what it’s like to be LGBT*. This book has some of the answers. Whether you think you might be LGBT* or you think you’re straight but have questions or you’re anywhere in between, this book is for you.
Your sexuality and gender are very much individual things, but what if there were a whole bunch of people who’d been through it all before to mentor you through this funny old patch?
The awareness that your sexual or gender identity isn’t quite the NORM can be a confusing, exciting, exhilarating, concerning, and, frankly, baffling time. Long before you “come out” and tell people about your identity, it’s just you and your brain trying to figure it out, so it can also be a lonely time, often accompanied by whiny music and too much eyeliner.
My experience as a gay, white man is not representative of every gay man, let alone the thousands of gay women, bisexual men and women, and trans people who may be reading this book. Therefore, before writing this book, I searched far and wide for dozens of other LGBT* people to share their experiences with you. Individually, we can never know it all, but together we’re quite wise, like that baboon in The Lion King.
I haven’t edited or changed the testimonies of the LGBT* people in this book, so you might not identify or agree with everything they have to say, AND THAT’S FINE. We have to be able to talk about sexuality and identity in a nonhysterical way. Sexuality and gender are individual experiences; people are entitled to opinions and, vitally, we need to be able to make mistakes. I understand identity is an issue that some people feel very strongly about. This is also a good thing—activism is what got us this far—but if people aren’t allowed to say what’s really on their minds for fear of upsetting people, we’ll end up never saying anything at all.
In short, we have to be able to laugh at ourselves, whatever our identity, or we’re in for a long-haul life. So, yeah, This Book Is Gay isn’t entirely serious all the way through (although we do deal with some MEGA SAD FACE topics).
This is something different to the loads of dreary textbooks about gender and sexuality politics that are already out there. This book is serious, but it’s also fun and funny.
The whole point of coming out is that we have the FREEDOM to be who we are. When did that stop being FUN?
If you’re new to the club, you’re lucky because being L or G or B or T or * is SUPER FUN. You’re FREE now and don’t have to HIDE.
Whatever you identify as by the end of this book, you’ll see that, far from being alone, you’re joining a vast collective of cool, happy, inspirational people, each with a story to tell.
It’s the hippest members club in town, and you get straight past the velvet rope and into the VIP lounge.
You’re not isolated; you’re part of something bigger now. Something great.
OH, HI, SEXTHOUGHTS
Let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). I guess you’re reading this book for one of several reasons. It may be because you already identify as LGBT* (and, let’s face it, we love nothing more than talking about it). Maybe you’re nosy to see what we get up to between the sheets. It could be you are making fun of it because it has the word “gay” in the title (shame on you). But maybe, just maybe, you picked up this book because you’re WONDERING.
It all starts with wondering.
Wondering what it might be like to kiss that boy or what that girl’s breasts look like. What life would be like if you were a girl, not a guy. It’s all about wondering.
Wondering is perfectly natural but never encouraged.
One day I was in the park sunbathing. On the next picnic blanket over, a mother was talking to her son about the things he could do when he was older. The conversation went something like this:
Boy: Drive a car!
Boy: Go to work like Daddy!
Mom: Yes! Girls…you’ll kiss girls.
After I had snatched the child away and left him with social services (OK, I didn’t do that, but I probably should have done something other than tut really loudly), I was sad at how we still DEFAULT to heterosexual in the twenty-first century.
The assumption goes that all babies are born both straight and locked into their birth gender unless something goes awry.
This is NOT the case.
- In America 3.5 percent of adults identify as LGBT, which equates to about 9 million people—roughly the number of people who live in New Jersey!
- A 2011 study estimates there are nearly 700,000 transgender people living in the U.S.
And yet we’re all automatically born “straight” and “cis” (the gender we’re assigned at birth).
Let’s do sexuality first. You are told you’re straight and assume you’re straight for almost all of your childhood, despite quite compelling feelings to the contrary. You believe yourself to be straight (because isn’t everyone?) until sexual desire kicks in (assuming it does). I like to call this desire SEXTHOUGHTS.
Because most of us spend our childhood identifying as straight, even though we may or may not actually feel straight, we don’t always identify these sexthoughts. But it seems highly likely that from a very young age we, as LGBT* people, were attracted to members of the same sex, be it people we know or shiny TV people. (Well, they are pretty hot, right?)
I wanted to know at what stage LGBT* people first had questioning thoughts regarding their sexuality OR gender. So I surveyed hundreds of them.
As you can see, almost a quarter of the sample were having same-sex sexthoughts and/or thoughts regarding their gender before puberty, with over half at puberty.
This makes sense, because puberty is the time at which great changes occur. One big change is the hormonal shift that drives us toward sexual relationships. It is at this point that many of us realize the cheeky little thoughts we’re having late at night might be about people with the same bits as us. ESCÁNDALO.
For me it was Dean Cain. Dean Cain, as if you don’t know, is the very handsome actor who played Clark Kent in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Up until Cain came into my life, I had been convinced I was going to marry Kelly, a girl in my class (whose name I have changed for her protection), because she was kind, friendly, and blond.
However, what I felt for Dean Cain (whose name I did not change for this book—I mean, I think IT’S TIME HE KNEW OF MY LOVE) was VERY different to what I felt for Kelly.
My interest in spandex-clad arms was far more pressing than being fond of Kelly, and when Clark got together with Lois, I felt the most intense jealousy of my life. (I TOTALLY get how One Directioners feel on Twitter.)
Later, after a massive crush on a male teacher, I had to acknowledge that these feelings went beyond mere appreciation of the male form and were, in fact, sexthoughts.
When first faced with same-sex sexthoughts, or sexthoughts bout your gender, your first reaction may well be the above. After all, society, films, television, newspapers, and books have told you your whole life that
STRAIGHT = NORMAL
NOT STRAIGHT = NOT NORMAL.
You have suddenly identified a sexthought that is different. And most people don’t like different so, therefore, you’re slapped with the NOT NORMAL label.
Just because LGBT* people are in a minority, it doesn’t mean they are not NORMAL. People with blue eyes are in the minority too, but we don’t think of them as abnormal, do we? We don’t look at Jake Gyllenhaal and say, LOOK AT THAT MASSIVE, BLUE-EYED FREAK! No, we only look at him and weep that we cannot have him. Anyway, who gets to decide what’s “normal” and what isn’t? What a horrid, excluding word that is.
You may have grown up not only in the absence of gay or trans role models, but also encountering actual homophobia or transphobia. These things can be hugely worrying—especially at a time when you rely on familial support. You may also be one of the thousands of people born with same-sex sexthoughts in a
country where it is illegal to have sexual activity with same-sex partners. (Some people believe same-sex activity is against their religion. More on that in chapter 6.)
You probably have questions. I had LOADS of questions. I’d heard RUMORS about what two men did together. You may have misunderstood things—my early concept of lesbian sex was way off. (I basically thought it was like sanding the boobs off two Barbie dolls by rubbing them together.) You may have seen odd bits on TV and now don’t know what to think. It seems highly likely that any sex ed you had at school taught you only how men and women make babies together and didn’t mention transgender people at all.