“We’re just a whole group of people swirling around together, trying to get on with our lives, not knowing that we’ve been traumatised.”
– Matthew Todd

Our final episode of season four, #queer, takes us to London, where we speak to the author of perhaps the most extraordinary book of 2016: Matthew Todd.

Matthew Todd is a sometimes stand-up comedian, and a playwright, whose play Blowing Whistles, described as one of the most popular gay plays of recent times, has had sellout seasons in the UK and Australia. A long-time editor of the UK gay magazine Attitude, and a person who has actively participated in, and even helped shape, contemporary LGBT culture, Matthew has recently published a stunning book under the title Straight Jacket: How to be Gay and Happy, in which he takes a critical look behind the shiny façade of this culture. Part memoir, part investigative journalism, and part polemic, the book asks if gay people are as happy as it seems, and as happy as they could be, and as happy as the LGBT culture depicts. If not – why not?

In an unflinching, honest conversation about crystal meth, bullying, and fascination with divas, we cover everything that straight people rarely know, and the LGBT people rarely talk about.

“Being gay is more complicated than we have thought. … We’ve presented it as if it’s just like: ‘some people have blue eyes, some people have brown eyes’. … I think to be LGBT is really different, actually, and that goes against the grain of what we’ve been thinking over the last 10-15 years, that it’s exactly the same… Even if you go into a gay bar, it’s very different from going into a straight bar: the way people behave, the way people look, sometimes, the way people dress. There’s nothing wrong with that. If we can’t think about that, investigate that, and ultimately accept that, how can we feel OK in ourselves?”
– Matthew Todd

Jana picked this book up randomly in a bookshop in Brussels last year, intrigued by the title. Hours later, bent over the tome, told to leave because the bookshop was closing, she bought the book and thus began a year of recommending it to all her friends. Straight Jacket is a polemic about the health and well-being of gay people. It draws connections that are unexpected, intellectually courageous, and controversial: between bullying and attachment theory, childhood trauma and addictive tendencies, casual sex and self-soothing, the rhetoric of ‘pride’ and internalised shame. Owen Jones called it brilliant – and disturbing. It is a brave book, an uncomfortable book, and a book with a huge motherfucking heart, that deserves to be read by every queer person, young, old, or other.

It is always a pleasure, however, to be able to converse about LGBT issues in a calmer climate. We recorded the conversation in London, in Attitude offices, surrounded with the rule of law, with smiling LGBT faces, with an infrastructure of dignity and protection of human rights, just as Australia was embarking on a ferocious, uncivilised debate about whether to have a plebiscite on gay marriage, as if there was anything alright with the notion that the majority should decide about the rights of minorities. The groundedness of our surroundings, we hope, are felt in our conversation.

And thank you, Matthew, for important and timely insights.

Discussed in this episode:
The Wizard of Oz, ‘the gay play’, the role of fantasy in coping with trauma, Chem Sex the infamous documentary, Byron Bache, George Michael’s spending sprees, challenging sex positivity, rape and consent, Brokeback Mountain, bullying and Prince William, the role of gay media in a changing world, the gay equivalent of Bridget Jones’ Baby?, the role of community in overcoming depression, and how perhaps we need to talk more about the LGBT realities.

“To me, it’s not enough to dress up as a woman, pretend to be a woman, and be mouthy, and gobby, and rude, and put people down a lot…. That’s not interesting to me. We need to be more than that.”
– Matthew Todd

With this epic conversation, we close our #queer season. We hope you have felt stimulated, provoked, challenged, celebrated, and supported in the work that you make.

We will be on a well-deserved break in February and March, but then we will return with more stimulating conversations about the world we live in, and theatre’s role in it.

Podcast bibliography:
Matthew Todd: Straight Jacket: How to be Gay and Happy
The Sunday Times: The Orlando massacre has made this gay polemic even more timely, July 2016
The Croydon Advertiser: Theatre: Blowing Whistles, November 2008
Lyn Gardner: Blowing Whistles, The Guardian, June 2006
Attitude Magazine

To read more by Matthew Todd, follow him in The Guardian and on Twitter.