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Author Daniel Harding discusses the power of conversations in new book Gay Man Talking

"It wasn't until I had these conversations, I actually started feeling comfortable with myself again."

2022-09-21

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Provided

The measure of a good book, be it fact or fiction, should be how you feel afterward and what you take away. Hopefully, you learn something or gain a new perspective. 

Daniel Harding is right on the money in that case with his debut book, Gay Man Talking: All the Conversations We Never Had

Hailed as "essential reading" by Lorraine Kelly the book sees Daniel candidly share details about his life as he relays conversations he's had with friends, family, lovers, and bullies all of which have helped him gain a better understanding of who he is. 

Daniel Harding (Photo: Provided)

"I think life is too short to put off conversations," he tells Attitude shortly after the soft launch of the book at Covent Garden's The Delauney Counter.

"I didn't realise until having all these conversations how uncomfortable I actually felt with myself. I'd encourage everyone to have conversations with the people that are close to them. Especially if you don't really know who you are and if you can't really answer that question. It does really help find you.

"And it sounds crazy. But it wasn't until I had these conversations, I actually started feeling comfortable with myself again."

With his relatable stories, delightful insights, and the odd quip, Daniel's book serves as an example of how people can reexamine their most fundamental relationships and gain a better understanding of their own identity. 

He also highlights the power talking has in breaking down stigma, shame, and grief both internally and socially. 

As he bravely opens up about his sometimes fraught relationship with his mum and sits down with a former bully Daniel also recognises that these are not options for everyone and that everyone's path is different. 

Daniel speaks to Attitude about where the idea for the book came from, what he's learned about himself and his relationships, and how he's changed as a result of writing the book.

Could you start off by giving me an elevator pitch for the book, what it's about, and why people should read it?

It’s a collection of conversations that we don't often have, or we sweep under the carpet after we come out and we believe that those conversations are done. Gay Man Talking is all about revisiting those conversations, unpicking relationships, and understanding if we're still okay with those relationships, and if there need to be more conversations.

It's really to encourage other people to talk and make themselves feel comfortable and have those conversations that sometimes need to be had.

Daniel Harding at the launch of Gay Man Talking at The Delauney Counter (Photo: Provided)

Where did the idea come from?

There are so many labels on the LGBTQ community, and one that weighed heavy on me was ‘the gay best friend’. I'd done an article with Cosmopolitan about being ‘the gay best friend’, that had got so much traction because I said that ‘gbf’ is a very negative term. And it’s often one that you're branded.

That started conversations about people assuming that just because you've come out, you're ready to take on a role or stereotype that some people perceive a gay man to be. It really made me think that actually there are other conversations to be had.

And I wondered how my parents felt and I realised that I'd never spoken to them since coming out about being gay. I’d never asked, ‘how were you when I came out?’ Or ‘how are you feeling now?’

The more I thought about it, the more I realised, after coming out, that I'd stopped having conversations with people about it. I think it's partly once you come out you start living your life and you move on. But actually, that is a huge moment in your life, that shouldn't be swept under the carpet and more conversations are needed.

The book has actually caused more conversations because after my mum read her chapter, we had a heart-to-heart which we've never had before where we talked about how we both felt at times. So, it's doing exactly what it’s meant to do.

Daniel Harding at the launch of Gay Man Talking (Photo: Provided)

Have any of your relationships changed as a result of writing the book?

Absolutely. A lot of my friends joked ‘you're the guncle’, or you're ‘the gay best friend’, and all of that. They now ask if I’m ok with being called those. Of course, my close friends and my family, they're never going to offend me. But there are definitely labels that I feel more comfortable with.

And the more I have these conversations, the better I feel. And as I say at the end of the book, the more I can answer the question, ‘Am I proud of myself?’

You start the book with a different question, ‘Do you ever look in the mirror and think, who the f*** are you?’ Do you have a better answer for that having written the book?

At the start of the book, I was confused as to who I was. I'd think I’m one thing to my friend, I'm another to my family, I'm another to work. I realised through having these conversations that I'd split myself and exhausted myself because I was trying to fit into all these different relationships.

So, who I was was this spread-thin character who didn't really understand who they were, and had stopped asking myself how I feel or am I happy? Now I can answer the question a little bit easier and I feel like I can be one person.

At the book launch, my dad said it was the first time he saw me because I couldn't be different to everyone. I had to be one person and I think that's what this book and having these conversations does, it allows you to find yourself.

Guests mingle at the launch of Gay Man Talking (Photo: Provided)

So, who are you?

I’m a bit of a fuckup, a bit tardy, but also a person who just wants to fit in, be a friend, be comfortable in his skin, and support a community that supports him. And I finally feel happy and like I’m approaching comfortable.

I think I've still got a long way to go and there are a lot more conversations that I need to have. But I’m finally discovering myself.

What was the hardest chapter to write?

The hardest chapter was sitting down and asking myself some questions which I probably had avoided my whole life. But in terms of conversations with other people, it was incredibly hard to speak to my family.

I'm incredibly close to them and hearing that your family struggled, and they hid it because they wanted to protect you is incredibly cathartic because everyone can move forward. For my mum and I to be able to speak about a time when we were estranged a bit and understand each other when we thought that was a subject that was off-limits is just amazing.

My dad never knew I was bullied or that I had my head flushed down the toilet. There was a lot of shame that went into this book, and a lot of truth. And it's scary to tell the world. It's a really horrible thing to do. But putting all your skeletons out there, there's nothing else to hide, and you start breathing again.

Frankie Bridge at the launch of Gay Man Talking (Photo: Provided)

Were conversations with friends easier?

I wouldn't say anything was easier. I think I learned something from all. I think I went into each conversation with an idea. For example, in the chapter about sex, I sat down with a sex worker. And that was so positive because I hate talking about sex.

I enjoy it but I used to never, ever think that you could talk about sex or being on Grindr. Of course, I'm not really speaking to my dad about this, and I feel sorry that he has to read that chapter.

But at the end of the day, you should be able to talk about sex and be positive and respect people for their choices. We shouldn't be scared to have these conversations because it's a part of who we are.

These conversations, some awkward and uncomfortable, were all necessary.

What are you taking away for yourself from writing the book?

I learned that I judged the different relationships around me a lot about how they had felt or how things had gone, and the reality is that unless you keep on talking you're never going to have a full picture of how people feel. And you'll never be able to be 100 percent comfortable. We'll always keep on sweeping stuff under the carpet.

Ben Thompson at the launch of Gay Man Talking (Photo: Provided)

You’ve mentioned the idea of sweeping things under the carpet a few times now. Do you think gay men - and not everyone will do this - but I think a lot of people do, do they do it intentionally?

I think you do unintentionally keep on sweeping things under the carpet after coming out because you went through such an awkward and uncomfortable moment. You don't want to readdress that and life's hard enough as someone in the LGBTQ community. You don't want to reopen those wounds.

So, I think we unintentionally sweep things under the carpet, because you think I've come out now I just want to live my life. But someone said you come out every day, in every conversation. And unfortunately, that's our truth, we will have to keep on coming out.

We will have to keep on having these conversations. And so, we bloody well should! We shouldn't sweep things under the carpet. And I think we do it because that's the easy route.

Were you surprised by how people you spoke to generally viewed gay men and queer people?

One thing that I found was that everyone assumed that we'd have confidence, or that we've got our identity sorted because we had decided to come out and we're owning our truth. So, we must have the confidence to do so. But that’s not the reality.

Daniel Harding at the launch of Gay Man Talking (Photo: Provided)

You end the book by asking ‘Are you proud?’ Are you?

I leave it as a question at the end because I think we're constantly going through something in life. I'm getting there. I feel very proud to be part of this community and I think that's something that is a slow process. And something that I'm learning. I think that I'm getting happier.

What kind of feedback have you had?

I've had lovely feedback. Someone said to me the other day that they'd never really confronted their feelings about being bullied at school and reading the book made them think about how they felt and have that conversation again.

This is all I wanted, I wanted to encourage conversations and for people to keep talking. That's the message that just keeps on coming back to me. People want to have more conversations. And that's a fantastic thing to come from this.

Gay Man Talking: All the Conversations We Never Had is out now.

The Attitude September/October issue is out now.