Britt East has written the ultimate self-help book that will help you enrich your life.
“For those of us cast aside because of our sexual orientation, ‘family’ can be a loaded word,” writes author Britt East in his stunning book, A Gay Man’s Guide to Life: Get Real, Stand Tall and Take Your Place. “Once we are excised from the tapestry of our origins, who then are we?”
“Family” is but one of ten chapters delving into the unique aspects of existence as experienced by gay men: Body, mind, spirit, career, finances, friends, sex, community, and service work.
“How do we make our way in the world alone, when the template of our lives is either missing or only half-complete? Where do we then turn when we reach for home? Who are our sources of wisdom and consolation?” writes Britt, a Seattle-based author and speaker who hopes to challenge and inspire gay men to improve their lives. Drawing on two decades of experience in the 12 Steps, yoga, meditation, talk therapy, and more, Britt has written a book for gay men everywhere.
One of the incessant challenges of being LGBTQ+ is that no manual or roadmap exists to guide us on the journey of life. How to deal with our origin families; how to wisely acquire chosen families; how to create biological families of our own. There is but a patchwork of laws and customs to assist us in this regard, and many of us arrive at middle age with battle scars, as though we had indeed lived through a war.
But with Britt East’s wisdom, help is at hand. Britt writes that while coming out is “your gift to give,” it may entail loss and rejection. It may also mean we throw ourselves into dysfunctional relationships in the hope of filling that void as soon as possible. There are no easy solutions to healing and becoming whole. Even if your birth family embraced you, the world at large may not. However, Britt always manages to strike a positive note in this book, and even as a gay woman I found much here to relate to.
Additionally, I found it a complex portrait of gay men when our culture and even our own texts so often portray gay men as shallow, hedonistic, and problematically privileged. When it comes to chosen families, Britt has some sobering words: “It’s no secret that we can be crueler to one another than even our most homophobic bullies. We know all the typical weak spots in other members of our tribe, and sometimes exploit them mercilessly.” This emotional violence, he says, is part of our internalized homophobia, although might I add, while these behaviors have been portrayed in our popular culture in Queer As Folk and Boys in the Band, they’re not unique to gay men. I mean, have you seen The L Word?
But there is an aspect of this that is unique to gay men: The AIDS epidemic stole a generation or more of the men who would have become community role models and elders. Because of this, gay male culture is still quite nascent, and they (and we) are new at love and romance, marriage and child-rearing. Many of us assumed we would never have these things because of our identities. Many of us told ourselves we didn’t want these things, or need to know about them because of who we are.
Britt writes: “My partner and I had never even discussed marriage, outside of some vague concept in the fight for civil rights. We had never thought through the nuts and bolts of it, or how it might change our relationship. Would we have a ceremony? Would we write vows? What did this all mean?” Indeed. The first generation of gay divorcees may wish they could have read Britt’s book prior to running down the newly opened path of equality…before their hearts and minds had caught up to the meaning of that hard-won freedom.
A Gay Man’s Guide to Life is equal parts memoir, guide, manifesto, and philosophy. It is firm and gentle, the author’s voice much like the father or uncle we wished we’d had when we were growing up. Those role models are not there for gay men. There is no-one to tell you about the options you have to enrich your lives through child-rearing. So much focus for gay men has been on sex and survival; and often surviving their sex lives! But what comes after that? In a world of dating apps and almost mandatory hook-ups, how do gay men find lasting love?
And beyond those issues, Britt casts an intersectional lens on some dirty laundry: gay racism (yes, it exists); gay sexism (which is also the root cause of homophobia); and lip service diversity. But if you’re worried about being lectured to, or being asked to digest the reading equivalent of kale, don’t be. This book is about as arduous as a hug.
“I want to transmute the pain of my past into the food of future growth, and to be the family I never had to gay men all over the world, so we might challenge and inspire each other to seize our lives and be our best selves,” says Britt. “My greatest wish is that you ultimately use these words to lift others: your family, your friends, your coworkers, and your community—such that those who love us might know us a little better, those who follow us might have it a little easier, and those that hate us might learn to fear us a little less.”
A Gay Man’s Guide to Life is available wherever books are sold.