“I find it really fun and interesting to be gay now. The culture you get to enjoy is so hilarious and diverse and full of camp. There is such an appreciation of camp and surrealism. It’s a banquet. “
Author and creative director Simon Doonan’s sixth book Gay Men Don’t Get Fat (Blue Rider Press) offers help for the helpless, through the well-manicured hands of gay men. Part self-help, part humorously anecdotal, and part manifesto dedicated to simply loving the gayness that makes you…well, you; Gay Men Don’t Get Fat mainly serves to help those that need a bit of encouragement to walk a bit more fiercely on this planet. Not only does Mr. Doonan dive deep into his natural gay reservoir, he comes from the depths with gifts. Gifts such as realizing who you really are, defining what you are, and then having the courage to buck against said realizations. Tools many of us can use…Right?
With a great sense of candor, Doonan took some time to talk with Lambda about his new book, his favourite pop divas, and the wonders of gay slang.
What is GMDGF about?
My primary goal is to extract useful nuggets and nuances from my quirky gay life and throw them to the general population with as much force and gusto as possible.
Obviously gay men are the audience but my primary audience is straight women. I want to use the gay wisdom to liberate straight women. I want to show straight women how to live life with the fearless, stylish bravado that [we] homos enjoy.
We gay people are charismatic mediums with eccentric world views. Although French women have sort of a bourgeois conventional way of seeing things. Just by being gay we have a slightly more idiosyncratic way of viewing things. We gay people are like bloodhounds of fabulosity.
So it’s almost a call to revolt?
Yes! I am really revolting!
Beyond just the name– referencing the book French Women Don’t Get Fat, were there any other pop references you were drawing with this book?
Yeah I was also thinking of that book from the 1970s titled Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, Men Are From Mars, Women are From Venus and all the other great self-help books that I love. They have sweeping generalizations that I find hilarious.
In GMDGF you had a great quote about the use of slang. You stated you love the term “Mary” as it’s a great “equalizer.” How were your early experiences hearing and using slang?
Well the first time you walk into a gay bar and you hear the way gay men address each other with “Mary” and other slang, it’s at once scary, horrible and funny. When I first started going to gay bars it was in Manchester. The men there all called each other “mother” and “daughter.” Each name would represent an age group. Of course to diss someone you would prematurely call them “mother” no matter how young they were. I felt like Margret Mead discovering a new tribe of pigmies.
Did you find any similarities in your writing process with your career at Barneys?
I started writing at the age of 46–I believe–so I’d already been doing window display and fashion advertising for years. My writing career came along at a later point of my life and serendipitously.
My biggest surprise was how many similarities there were between the two worlds. Like Hemingway said, “writing is re-writing.” So that same process of deconstructing, chucking things out that don’t work and reconstructing are things that I am used to doing from my work in display. That’s probably why I have a relaxed attitude toward my writing although I take it seriously. It can always be re-written and re-jiggered.
I found your candor and “un-pc” language to be refreshing but not forced, how was that process?
Well I grew up in a rather unconventional household and then went to the streets of London during the punk era. Therefore I have approached my career in display and writing the same way. There is a natural need to be irreverent and subversive…not be too formal. I’m an enemy of formality.
As we move further into the mainstreaming of faggotry into pop culture, is there room for any more extremes in defining ourselves as unique creatures?
Yes, there is change in our culture in terms of visibility. So I think the next step is in terms of acceptance. There is still this weird hesitation of not being “too gay.” I still encounter gay people that are reluctant to be candid about their gayness. Despite the fact that we are more visible, there is still that cringing.
I think the next step is more openness about one’s gayness and it not being a source of concern. That’s a frontier we have not crossed yet.
So it changes from grand expressions of gayness to more social acceptance?
Yeah we need to reconsider that to be fully out has some sort of repercussions. I even get people telling me I could receive certain things if I were less gay. People still have to work on feeling like gays are marginalized freaks. So there are some ways to go.
Who are your literary divas?
I like to read weird old books that are out of print. I’ll find an author then read all of her old books. I try to read [work] where the writing is very considered. I’m working my way through Patrick Hamilton’s book, the writer of Rope and Gaslight. I find his novels dense, dismal and engrossing.
I recently read the obituary of Beryl Bainbridge. Accompanying the obit was a picture of her smoking a cigarette and I was intrigued. I asked myself why I have not read her yet. I then began reading all of her books.
Iris Murdoch too. Super freaky existentialist. She wrote so much. I’ve read about 15-20 of her books.
I like to enrich my brain beyond Star Magazine and the New York Post (which I read too).
Who are your pop divas?
Nicky Minaj, Beyonce, Gaga, Ke$ha. I admire the fearlessness of these girls. They go on stage with no skirt and have a willingness to be vulnerable. Beyonce in particular because she goes from singing for the president to singing at the Academy Awards. They really make themselves a target. They are fearlessly on stage in just their underwear and they have to perform.
Do you still find gay culture interesting? Are you still surprised?
I find it really fun and interesting to be gay now. The culture you get to enjoy is so hilarious and diverse and full of camp. There is such an appreciation of camp and surrealism. It’s a banquet. You have to dig in and enjoy it. From Mob Wives to the Kardashians, it’s pretty great.
Is there still room for love with the new gay culture? Do you see people finding love or “Grndr” love?
The period of the 70s where there was an emphasis on sexual liberation; it was right to have unbridled sex, is over. We don’t have to prove that we can have sex. We know we can. Now we can focus on love.
Since [we no longer have] the fetish culture of the 70s, we can look at other things. Of course we can always get a quick shag but there are other ways to be gay. The gay sensibilities have many other aspects.
Are there any things you didn’t get out or phrase correctly in the book?
No. It’s a humor book. It’s a humor book with a serious underpinning message. I generally do think that women need to be less masochistic and self critical. The gay journey is also about feeling less self critical and they can learn from us.
My main goal is to be creatively stimulating. I like to make people laugh and present ideas from our culture and intrigue people. I encourage people to see things in an unconventional way and encourage people to engage in an unconventional life. Gays are, by the nature of the position which society puts us in, unconventional. We then learn that is actually great. Unconventionality is something that others have to strive to do, but that’s what we [do] organically.