When I came out as gay aged 22, I had no LGBT+ role models. I’d grown up surrounded by exclusively heterosexual books, films and TV shows. That’s not to say these weren’t great stories, but they never included people quite like me. I went through a very isolating depression during and following my coming out, but there are several LGBT+ books, films, podcasts and youtubers who helped get me through this period. They helped me feel less alone in my struggles, and instilled hope in my mind that there was a future for gay Tom worth fighting for. The more I saw and read these, the more normal and the less shameful I felt.
Here are a few of the books, films and podcasts that have helped me..."
First and foremost, the Tales of the City books by Armistead Maupin: I love being able to immerse myself into the world of this nine-part series – an eclectic household in San Francisco from the 1970s up to the 2010s (especially while I was still living in a small town). The cast made for fantastic, relatable company – my favourites are Michael Tolliver, a young gay man from conservative Florida finding his way in SF, and Anna Madrigal, his worldly, transgender landlady. Highlights in the series are Michael’s poignant coming out letter to his mum in More Tales of the City, finding long term love and fulfilment as an older gay man (rare in gay fiction) in Michael Tolliver Lives, and a celebration of Anna Madrigal’s life in The Days of Anna Madrigal.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson and Maggie & Me by Damian Barr are two very different but both very powerful gay coming-of-age memoirs. Both authors faced immense challenges growing up – Winterson’s fanatically religious mother (the book’s title is her mother’s reaction to Jeanette explaining that being with her girlfriend made her happy); and Barr’s impoverished childhood in 1980s Glasgow against a backdrop of homophobia, the AIDS epidemic and the Thatcher government’s section 28. Though my own situation was different to both of theirs, I have felt affinity with their struggles, and drawn inspiration from the optimism with which they overcame them.
Like many LGBT+ people struggling with their identity, I have experienced mental health difficulties - an isolating experience in itself. Mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin, who also happens to be gay, posts personal vlogs on his youtube channel about his schizoaffective disorder and homosexuality, and has done so throughout the ups and downs of his own journey. Some of them can be quite frank.