Over the years I’ve been sent thousands of messages from young queer people around the world desperate for advice. They’re usually struggling with coming out, bullies, homophobic parents, self-harm or suicidal thoughts. I always tried to guide them to the best place for help but there was never a one-stop shop “bible” on how to navigate these difficult years.
I decided that writing a frank, funny and inspiring book would be the best thing I could do for these young people, and, in a way for the 15-year-old me who needed something like this.
I would like to say the process was fluid and easy but it just wasn’t! It took me a long time to find my writer’s “voice” and to dig through old memories for what I hoped would be golden takeaways of advice for a young reader.
A couple of times (literally three times in a year-long process) I fell into a surprising writer’s flow state where I felt like my hands were typing faster than my mind could keep up. It’s a great feeling but a rare one!
How would you sum up the book in one sentence?
A guidebook for beating shame and learning to love your queerness.
Do you have a chapter that you’re particularly proud of?
I really love the “Gift of Gayness” chapter. For so long I used to believe my sexuality was an affliction, a disability and a wall blocking me from living a free and happy life. It took a lot of guts and a lot of pain but eventually I had the epiphany that what I have is a rare gift that must be cherished.
Your gayness brings you a global community who love you, it allows you to feel empathy for others on a super-human level and it will give you the tools to uplift young people who are just like you.
Did you find writing the book took you on an emotional journey?
There were a couple of seriously emotional moments while writing the book. I remember having to close my laptop and go for a long walk alone while writing chapters about my experiences of bullying and coming out.
Although I thought these were wounds now fully-healed; it was only while writing the book I became aware of all the details I had subconsciously glossed over and “forgotten”. I wasn’t necessarily sad for me, I was sad for the young, lost and helpless boy I once was. He’s still a part of me but at the same time he feels like a completely different person.
No kid should ever have to go through the endless mental torture of believing they are living with a disgusting sickness that will render them homeless, hopeless and without a family.
There’s a great chapter that your parents helped you to write. Can you tell us a bit more about why you thought it was important to include this one? Did your parents take a lot of persuading or were they happy to be involved?
While writing the book was an incredibly satisfying experience, I quickly became aware that the narrative had an obvious hole in it. I had all of this information and learning specifically for the young LGBTQ+ person preparing to come out but nothing for the parents.
It was important for me to have an advice section for those who had a young person’s life in their hands. The people who had the power to make or break their future by deciding to love their kid or disown them.
When I asked my parents to share their very unique viewpoint and teachings, there wasn’t a second of hesitation. They were 100% happy to jump in and get writing. Their journey towards acceptance is something I couldn’t write about since I hadn’t lived it. My parents did an amazing job.
What’s next for you in the world of writing or is it all top secret?
I have no immediate plans to write another book just yet. It’s been a long, laborious but INCREDIBLY rewarding experience. I’m ready to enjoy the impact this first book of mine has now that it’s out in the world.
If another idea comes to me and I’m in the right space then I’ll definitely consider it down the line. For now, I have a few really exciting TV and radio opportunities coming up and a summer with my boyfriend that I’m dying to soak in!
And finally, what plans do you have for Pride in June?
I’m super excited for June to come. I’m going to be a passenger on Virgin Atlantic’s first-ever Pride Flight which will be taking myself and a bunch of well-known LGBTQ+ activists and allies across the Atlantic to celebrate World Pride in New York City! It’s especially poignant as it’s the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. The flight is going to have drag performances, speed dating, a DJ and pride cocktails at 35,000ft. I cannot wait!
I’m also dying for pride celebrations in London as always. No concrete plans as of yet but no doubt it’ll be a day to remember as always.
Yay! You’re Gay! Now What?, by Riyadh Khalaf, published by Quarto is out now.