A Gay Man’s Guide to Life
Houndstooth Press (2020)
BRITT EAST is an author and speaker who uses his experience, strength, and hope to challenge and inspire change-oriented gay men to get down to the business of improving their lives. With over two decades of personal growth and development experience in a variety of modalities, such as the 12 Steps, Nonviolent Communication, yoga, meditation, talk therapy, and the Hoffman Process, Britt is committed to building a personal practice of self-discovery that he can then share with gay men everywhere. He lives in Seattle with his husband and their crazy dog.
Hi Britt, thank you for joining us today at Reader Views. Tell us about your book, “A Gay Man’s Guide to Life.”
This book is my attempt to serve the gay community, by passing down some of the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years. It’s a life manual chocked full of timeless wisdom, designed to help gay people understand the culture they’ve inherited, the bigotry they will face, and the freedom they will crave to set their heart free and unleash their true power. And it also contains oodles of practical advice they can use on a daily basis to improve their lives.
Your book is part memoir, part self-help/inspiration – what inspired you to actually sit down and write a book?
I’ve always wanted to serve our community in this way but had avoided it for years because I feared prostituting my pain. But a couple of years ago, I was working with a life coach who helped me flip the script: by putting the reader at the center of the story, I could make my story secondary, and focus on my recommendations for the reader instead. So instead of centering my history, I use my memoir to establish rapport with the reader, build credibility, and contextualize my recommendations.
Can you share a bit of your experience with us today? What was your life like growing up? Coming out?
I grew up in 1980s Nashville, which was rough. I suspect that my hometown had a vibrant local gay culture, but as a child that culture was inaccessible to me. So, I was left to fend for myself. But that’s not where it ended. Not only did I have to deal with the bigotry and homophobia of the straight community, but also the impact that the AIDS epidemic had my nascent sexuality, and the deaths of any would-be role models. To make matters worse, the abuse I experienced at the hands of my family increased my desolation. It meant there was no safe place for me to land in the world, and that I had to manufacture my own wisdom and experience. The template of my life went unwritten, and I moved through the world like a ghost.
I could never “pass” as straight, and endured much homophobia from teachers, coaches, and classmates. But I officially started coming out in my late teens and have found that the process has never stopped. I come out each day to all sorts of people, on all sorts of topics and facets of my life. I’ve learned to approach each conversation with joy and care, because you can never be sure of the costs or consequences, no matter what you think you know about the other person. But the freedom on the other ends of those conversations is like a tonic to the soul and increases my fortitude each time.
You make a few references to Twelve Step programs – love the inclusion of the experience, strength, and hope maxim in your bio. What role do the Twelve Steps play in your life?
Part of the cost of my then-partner’s sex addiction was the obliteration of everything I thought I knew. I was devasted. But part of the gift of his recovery was my recovery. After watching his life improve through his work in the 12 Steps, I joined a 12 Step program myself (Codependents of Sex Addicts Anonymous).
What I never could have imagined was the amount of love I found in those rooms, or the thrill of togetherness I would experience in setting down my masks for the very first time, sharing from my heart with benevolent witnesses, and being emotionally joined in the process. That experience changed my life forever and forms the foundation of my personal practice of replenishment to this day.
Does “A Gay Man’s Guide to Life” offer a path or “program” to work through in order to overcome the obstacles preventing the gay man from living his best life?
This book is an account of all that I have learned over the years. It covers each facet of life, including everything from mind, body, spirit, to sex, family, personal finances, and even career management. It is my attempt to give others a leg up in life, to be the big brother that maybe they never had.
The overwhelming majority of gay people are born into straight families. And even the most well-intentioned straight families lack the means to educate their kids about gay culture. It takes direct access to gay people to do that. And all too often, without that access, gay people go without the transmitted wisdom, rites of passage, rituals, and initiation ceremonies necessary to support their transition from adolescence to adulthood.
I wrote this book to shore up any potential gaps in wisdom that readers might have as a result of being cast out of society, uneducated by their families, or underinvested in by their role models. It is a manual to life and a means of inspiration, so gay people can learn what they need to know in order to stand tall with pride and take up more space in the world.
You wrote your book for the gay man but it would actually be beneficial to everyone in terms of being supportive and understanding, and overcoming the phobia and misunderstandings surrounding the gay lifestyle. What is the biggest misconception straight people have about gay men?
I did a subtle thing with the naming of this book: it’s called “A Gay Man’s Guide to Life,” not “A Guide to Life for Gay Men.” That means the information in it is available and accessible to anyone, though I wrote it through the lens of my lived experience as a gay man. Too often we gay men are forced into mental gymnastics to make straight content applicable to our lives. As a gay man I speak directly to the gay community, using our language and cultural reference points – no translation necessary.
Many straight people view gay people as their little life-enhancing accessories. They treat us like eunuchs, pets, or wacky next-door neighbors on some sitcom. I want all straight people to understand that at some basic level we are just like them. We are complex, fully realized human beings, with rich internal worlds. We are essential, and full-fledged members of our pluralistic society.
And at another level, gay people are also very different from straight people. Our culture is separate and distinct from straight culture. As James Baldwin might have put it, “We are not your homos.” So, if you want to know us, you must see all of who we are, not just those parts you find amusing or palatable. And you must get to know our culture.
What is gay racism and what is the responsibility of the white gay man in the community?
Too many of white gay people believe that because we’ve personally experienced some homophobic bias and bigotry, we can’t be held responsible for dishing it out. This is patently false. It is imperative that all white people (gay and straight) commit to being anti-racist and anti-colorist.
If I can’t win you over on moral grounds, than let me try pragmatic ones. Gay men are currently experiencing an epidemic of loneliness. When we make racist choices, not only are we harming people of color, but we are harming ourselves as well. We become bound to bigotry, and in so doing cut off from love. Extending our hearts to the places that scare us, in the name of togetherness, is one important way to cultivate interpersonal connections. It turns out that what’s good for people of color is also good for all people.
But it’s not just about us as white individuals personally reaping the rewards of antiracism. Many people stand at the intersection of multiple identities in our society, which is a fancy way of saying that there are gay people of all races and genders. That means some individuals experience both homophobia and racism. There can be no gay liberation without racial equity, and it is immoral and homophobic to leave portions of the queer community behind.
Moreover, nearly all of the civil rights that gay people enjoy in the U.S. are directly attributed to the success of the black civil rights movement, and its associated legislation, in particular the Civil Rights Act of 1964. So, we must give credit where credit is due. We have a debt to pay to the black community, and that debt is long overdue.
But gay racism is not limited to antiblackness. We in the queer community have stigma and display bias among all racial groups. Because we have firsthand experience about the cost associated with bigotry, our moral imperative is that much greater to resist this violence, and build a society based on equitable truth and power-sharing.
I didn’t realize gay misogyny was actually a “thing.” Can you speak to that?
Gay men have long displayed a variety of biases against feminine beings and bodies of all sexual orientations, gender orientations, and gender expressions. It boils down to the fact that homophobia stands on the shoulders of misogyny. It is an extension of our aversion to the culturally constituted feminine, as part of the longstanding male domination and subjugation of women in our society. In other words, in a society steeped in straight supremacy and male domination, we often find it loathsome to be anything other than masculine.
Many gay men first participate in this misogyny as internalized homophobia: we embrace the patriarchal, hate-filled messages of straight people, and use those messages to harm ourselves. We hate the fact that we might be who they say we are, and long to exhibit the masculine traits they spend billions of dollars each year telling us we lack – even if that involves denigrating and degrading the feminine in ourselves.
At some point, when our wounds are too painful to bear, many of us weaponize our wounds, and redirect those messages of misogyny and homophobia outward. Yes, even gay people can make homophobic choices. In a desperate attempt to feel powerful, we use our bias and stigma to display sexist bigotry to other gay men (homophobia) and women of all kinds (misogyny). All because we seek the approval of those we have deemed “masculine.”
What does “Gay but not that gay even mean?
In too many quarters, “gay” is an epithet meaning “lame” or “feminine.” This use of the term is harmful, even when that harm is unintentional. Nobody is more or less gay than anyone else. The term “gay” refers to a specific culture, based in part on sexual orientation. It carries neither moral distinctions, nor implications regarding gender expression. There are no gatekeepers to our culture. You need not be voted in or prove anything. You’re gay if you say you’re gay. And we’re all equal, which is another way of saying that we are all as gay as each other. There are no rankings or scoring systems. Anything to the contrary is a form of homophobia.
There are many self-help books for gay men in publication. How does “A Gay Man’s Guide to Life,” stand out from the crowd?
This is the only book on the market that is geared specifically for gay men and offers a specific and logical path for us to set down our excuses and get down to work. It is a personal growth and development manual that combines memoir with practical and pragmatic advice to challenge and inspire gay men to live our best lives. It contains no new-age mumbo jumbo or wishy-washy self-help jargon. It just has real work focused on real results to unleash our true selves and unlock our best lives.
If you could drill it all the way down, what would be the single-most important thing readers take away from “A Gay Man’s Guide to Life?”
Slinking in the shadows of life is a fool’s errand, because ultimately there is no place to hide. And that’s good news because we all just want to be seen, known, and loved. We queer people make daily pragmatic choices to limit the range of our behaviors and expression, in the name of physical, emotional, and economic safety. But as we learn to stand in our own power, build our internal resilience, and fall in love with our personal authenticity, we will become more of ourselves than we’ve ever been, until one day we won’t care if everyone sees us as we actually are, rather than the masks we used to wear. In fact, we’ll crave it because we will know it’s our greatest gift to the world.
What is the first step a man can take toward realizing their full potential?
It all starts with our stories. The first step is sharing our story with a benevolent witness and being emotionally joined in that process. As we meet ourselves in their eyes, and experience their delight and wonder in our souls, our hearts will be healed. This is regardless of gender orientation. But because we socialize men of all stripes to conceal our emotions and eschew interpersonal contact and vulnerability, the work is that much more challenging and imperative.
We can rely on friends, family, or loved ones to bear witness, if we must, but these folks are usually untrained and lack the skills or capacity to hold the necessary boundaries. In other words, it is typically unfair to ask them. I highly recommend hiring a paid professional (therapist, coach, mentor, etc.) if at all possible.
How can we, as a society, overcome homophobia? Does it need to start within the gay community itself?
In the same way that eradicating racism is white work, dismantling the societal structures that perpetuate homophobia is straight work. It’s immoral to ask someone to both experience bigotry and fix it. Queer people can help educate and attune straight people to the costs and consequences we have faced at the hands of their gentle genocide, but at the end of the day it is straight people who must take ownership over their biases. The only homophobia that we queer people can help eradicate is our own, which is also necessary work. Each homophobic choice a queer person makes not only harms the object of our bigotry, but us as well, and gives license to straight people to excuse and dismiss their own homophobic choices.
How can families support their gay sons – are there resources available similar to say, the Al anon support group for families of alcoholics?
In this day and age there are all sorts of resources available to the parents of gay children, any number of which are just an internet search away. But if you wait for your child to come out before exposing them to loving diversity, you’ve waited too late. Diversity is always the right answer. So, I encourage parents to expose their children (of any age) to a wide array of diversity, and to have explicit conversations with regards to its value, as well as the threats associated with its absence.
If your children watch you cultivate real relationships with people from all walks of life, it will instill in them a sense of self-esteem and acceptance. They will know that whoever they are or might become, and whatever they might come out about, they will have your authentic love and respect. This is the basis for much of our healthy attachments to our parents and gives us a foundation to leap off of and experience life’s adventures as we actually are.
What is your relationship like with your family of origin?
We are completely estranged, with no contact.
What does your husband think about your book and how does he support your work?
We are both book nerds, so he is thrilled that I was able to shepherd this content into the world. He read every chapter during the writing process and gave his opinions and blessings. But mainly he supports me each and every day by loving me well.
Aside from your book, what are your plans to reach out to gay men and help them live their best lives?
The pandemic has thrown a wrench in a lot of our plans. I will return to in-person public speaking engagements when we reach herd immunity. In the meantime, I have been recording many podcast interviews, and leading all sorts of online workshops. I will also continue to publish my writing online (articles, blog, social media posts, etc.), and I have started work on my second book (a sequel).
Fortunately, I’m healthy and gainfully employed (in digital marketing), as is my husband. We have each worked from home for years, so were set up well when the pandemic hit. I would have loved to do a book tour and in-person public speaking engagements, but that can all wait until it’s safer out there.
What kind of feedback have you received from your reading audience?
I receive dozens of letters each day, from people all over the world, expressing their gratitude, cheering me on, letting me know how seen they feel in this book, and wishing they would have had it years ago, as they were facing the tough issues in life that seem to come all our way. The response has been overwhelming and exceeded my wildest dreams.
So, what’s next? Will you write another book?
Yes! I’ve already started the writing process for a sequel to A Gay Man’s Guide to Life. I’m hoping to finish the manuscript this year and publish it in 2022.
Do you have anything else to add/share?
I believe we’re all in this together. That if each of us took a little less, then we would all have so much more. And that there is no greater wisdom than kindness.
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