One of the funniest books of the year, Here For It is a hilarious and considered look at the expectations placed on our lives by family, society, religion, and even ourselves. For all of the stereotypes that come with being gay -- the parades! the spectacle! -- Author, R. Eric Thomas says we're finally at a place where we can be wholly unexceptional. "It's a version of true liberation...I think it's a privilege to be able to be boring." Thomas joined the LGBTQ&A podcast this week to talk about this liberation he feels, being married to a pastor, and why there's no such thing as "failing at queerness."
Read a preview below and click here to listen to the full podcast interview.
Jeffrey Masters: Can you talk about the decision to skip over a traditional coming out story?
R. Eric Thomas: The lens of the book is really about otherness. I was trying to be very deliberate about showing people who I am without demonstrating my otherness. I didn't want to write a book that took the position that I was different and that I had to invite people into this weird and exotic world of being a human being.
I wanted to be vulnerable without parading around my difference, which is no shade to anybody who's written about their coming out. I think those are very, very important stories, but from a dramatic point of view, it didn't track in the story of the book.
JM: A lot of the book is dispelling queer myths and stereotypes. Regarding finding queer community, you wrote:
"It's strange when the thing behind the door isn't terrifying or wonderful, but rather just plain. When you find your people and realize they're just people."
RET: I love queer community. I love being in queer spaces. I love discovering new ways of finding and maintaining queer community. I love the magic and the spectacle of that. But I also love the basic boring humanity of it.
I grew up idolizing this Nancy Meyer's version of life where you've got a huge kitchen island and nothing is ever dirty and you have a little snack drawer in your refrigerator. I don't know what goes in the snack drawer. Snacks, I guess.
It was me idolizing a version of plain, normal Americanness that I just didn't have access to. Also wealth, you know? I love that in our community we can absolutely embrace the spaces where we differ from the larger heterosexual community and the places that we find ourselves really digging deep into spectacle difference and performance.
But I also love that we can be boring. That's freedom. There's freedom in being really, really unexceptional.
I'm 38 and I'm married. We have dinner parties and it's four queer people sitting around a tall kitchen table drinking a bottle of wine and talking about replacing the washing machine because it's leaking. That is true liberation--it's a version of true liberation.
I'm worried I sound problematic. I think it's a privilege to be able to be boring and I appreciate that privilege.
JM: We've trained both straight and queer people that queerness looks like just one thing: glitter and rainbows and drag queens.
RET: Yeah, well I mean I think a lot of that is the straight gaze invading queer life. I feel like the same is true in my understanding of blackness. I grew up with The Cosby Show and as much as that is not something that is a good place to revisit anymore, the idea of the Huxtables was really, really potent to me because they were a happy family who faced the same kind of challenges of the families on Family Ties or Growing Pains, as opposed to every challenge being rooted in their blackness and their difference. I think both stories are important.
I's important to say, "Going through the world because I'm queer or because I'm black, I will have different experiences. But also I get to go through the world as a human being and I get to go through the world as a human being who wants love and wants community and does my laundry and goes to the grocery store just like anybody else."
When I noticed within my understanding of blackness, those little ideas that are like, "Oh, I should be this kind of black person or I should perform in this kind of way." I realized that's not blackness talking. That's white supremacy talking through blackness.
The same thing is true of queerness. I think it is inherent to want to express yourself, whoever you are. I think that there are so many wonderful ways of expressing yourself as a queer person. I think often we get trapped in trying to perform to an audience that is ultimately hostile to our own existence. I want to push back on that
JM: Another assumption you push back on happened in your second year of college. You were loosely dating someone and instead of that helping you come to terms with your sexuality, it caused you to retreat from your social life and your studies.
RET: There was the religious aspect where I was like, "Oh, I'm sinning right now." So there was just constant conflict. I put the cart before the horse. I was not trying to rectify the splits that I found in my life at that point.
It completely blew up in my face. I thought that I was going to hell. I thought that I was ruining my life. It was a hot mess. Getting a boyfriend has rarely been the solution to a problem, which is unfortunate because I feel like it should be.
JM: You write very openly about struggles with mental health.
RET: Absolutely. The second person I thank in the acknowledgments is my therapist, Brian. I am obsessed with Brian and I am really grateful that I have therapy and that I have insurance through my husband's job that allows me to go to therapy.
I don't think that I will ever be on the other side of any of these things because I don't think there is an on/off switch. It's part of being a person and the acceptance of that is key for me to let myself be in the center of my own story as opposed to this weird aberration that was depressed and religiously stunted and then came out and got into an interracial relationship and hung out with my parents and everything's great now.
Everything is great now, but also I spent the two years of this book deeply, deeply depressed and sitting down in front of my computer and being like, "Let's write some jokes."
JM: Do we need to talk less about curing depression and more about recognizing it and not being ashamed of it?
RET: Right. At the beginning of this book, in the introduction I ask the question like, "What if instead of it gets better, what if it just keeps getting?" Which was a question I used to be very afraid of. I was like, "Okay, if it doesn't get better, am I doing it wrong? If I come out and I get in a relationship and I still realize that my life isn't perfect, am I a bad queer person? Did I fail at queerness?"
That's not the case. I am living a much better experience of life having had therapy with three therapists now, on and off for the last five or six years. I'm a different person. That person isn't cured and that's important to me because if I'm cured, 1. That's not possible, and 2. That means I was broken before and I respect the person that I was too much to say like, "Oh I was just a broken piece of crap."
Click here to listen to the full podcast with R. Eric Thomas.
R. Eric Thomas' memoir, Here For It, is out now.
LGBTQ&A is The Advocate's weekly interview podcast hosted by Jeffrey Masters. Past guests include Pete Buttigieg, Laverne Cox, Brandi Carlile, Billie Jean King, and Roxane Gay.
New episodes come out every Tuesday