YouTuber and Film Maker Riyadh Khalaf came to prominence after his BBC Three docu-series Queer Britain, exploring many facets of LGBT+ life in the UK from Religion to Race. Now, Riyadh brings his new book for closeted young men, ‘Yay You’re Gay! Now What? A Gay Boy’s Guide to Life‘. Tom George sat down with Riyadh to discuss the book, growing up gay and his thoughts on LGBT+ Relationship and Sex Education.
What made you decide to write this book?
Over the years I was getting so many questions from young LGBT people around the world looking for help with coming out or homophobic bullies in school; just the general worries of a young person growing up in a homophobic, transphobic world. I never had just one place to send them for help and I thought this is something that I need to do. I wrote the book with not just these kids in mind but also my younger self.
There are some amazing names involved in the book, Stephen Fry, Courtney Act, Simon-Anthony, why did you pick these people to share their stories?
I wanted more voices than just my own. I’ve lived a life that has been quite varied and I have a lot of lived experience to share but there are so many other battles and triumphs out there, won by other gay men, that it would be silly for me not to invite them to take part.
I had two criteria in choosing who I wanted in the book. First of all, I had to consider them a nice person. I didn’t want any bitches or nasty people in there that I didn’t think actually cared about the next generation of queer youth. Secondly, I wanted a very mixed group of people. A mix of backgrounds with a mix of jobs. I wanted to portray the gay population that is out there as inspirational.
The book deals with some quite difficult issues in quite a personal way, was it hard being so open and honest?
No, not really! My entire life has been based around sharing everything. I don’t even call it over-sharing because to me it’s just so natural. There’s nothing over about it. By telling people what I’ve been through and my experiences, it actually helps me get over my own anxieties and shame. I’ve always been that guy. I love talking about the things that people generally like to keep private and I realised that by doing so you do end up helping people.
Is there any sections of the book that you’d say are your favourites?
I really loved the section about the gift of gayness where I describe why you need to change your perception from seeing gayness as an affliction to seeing it as a gift. I just know that if I had someone to tell me that back in those dark days when I thought I had something wrong with me, it would have changed everything. Perception is a big thing and you can become lost in this world of shame.
I also love the section by my parents. I’m just so proud of them! They’ve come on this journey with me and been able to share such an inspirational section with other parents. I knew in my head what they had been through but I was in no way in a position to write that on their behalf. It had to come from their voice. It makes the book so much more broad. It’s not just for queer kids, it’s for everyone who comes into contact with them.
How did your parents find being so open and honest in that chapter?
To be honest, I’ve turned my parents into a pair of media whores! They enjoy it! They openly share their life as easily as I do. They have absolutely no qualms talking about the difficult stuff. It’s sort of what we do when we’re alone. We talk about our pasts and our hopes for the future. We talk about our sex lives, the things that piss us off and the things we’re passionate about. As a family we are quite weird, but we embrace it and channel it into good!
I’m sure you know, you’re a big role model to young queer kids, who were your LGBTQ+ heroes growing up?
I didn’t really have any to be honest. There was such sparse representation on TV of people like me. The only memory I have from being very, very young and seeing what I thought could be a gay person was Lily Savage and Dame Edna. Although I found them entertaining, I didn’t find them inspiring at all. In fact, I actually found them quite scary. They were caricatures of what I thought a gay person was. I needed to see an LGBT person raw, unfiltered and who wasn’t a sideshow to be laughed at.
As a result, my inspirations weren’t actually gay people, they were powerful women. Broadcasters like Oprah, Davina McCall and Miriam O’Callahan. I would look at these women and would just be in awe of their elegance, powerful nature, the respect they commanded and how good they were at story-telling.
When I grew up and I was older and representation got better I found people like Graham Norton and Stephen Fry and I was like ‘ah, okay. They really resonate with me and make me feel seen. I want to be like them!’ Thankfully, I was able to ask one of them to be in my book and he said yes!
The book does so much to educate, do you think it is important for schools to have LGBTQ+ inclusive learning in schools?
Oh, it’s absolutely vital! I would argue that LGBT Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) in schools is more important than representation in film and TV. The only way we can really nip homophobia in the bud is by educating people from a young age that it is not okay to treat LGBT people any different. We need to tell them that doing so is just as bad as racism, ageism and Islamophobia. For some reason, it’s considered worse to be racist and anti-religion than it is to be homophobic or transphobic which is an absolute joke. Someone doesn’t chose to be an ethnicity just as much as they don’t chose to be trans, gay, bi or queer. So why is homophobia considered more forgivable?
What would you say to the parents campaigning to have these LGBTQ+ inclusive RSE Lessons removed?
These parents that are campaigning – it’s terrifying! It’s sending a message out that we don’t care about our queer kids or our incredible ally teachers and headteachers. We’re putting more of an emphasis on religious freedom then we do on gender identity and sexuality. Freedom of speech ends where discrimination begins.
I feel so sorry for young straight and gay people who happen to find themselves in these schools where parents are protesting. You can see homophobes and transphobes being born as they shout ‘shame shame shame’ outside the school in unison with their parents. They don’t even really realise what they are shouting shame about.
The book itself is aimed to educate the same generation of kids the RSE lessons are aimed at. Has the response to the book been positive?
Oh yeah! We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive, incredible response! We didn’t realise there was such a hunger for something like this until it was released. I can’t tell you how many teachers and parents have bought this book or put it in the school library. I even see parents of kids who aren’t even out handing the book to the kid because they are so determined for their gay, trans, bi or otherwise kid to be a well-rounded, open-minded, accepting, young person. That’s just so amazing to see and it makes me feel happy that I live in today’s world. We have these protests in Birmingham but the overall majority of people are on the right side of history.
Would you ever consider a sequel? Like a gay twenty-somethings guide to life?
It’s funny I was talking about this to one of my friends the other night. I’ve had loads of people saying “so what’s the next book? What’s the next book?” At the moment I am all booked out. I wouldn’t even consider putting pen to paper again for another couple of years. I need to live more life in order to have more to pass down. But i think it will eventually be the next logical step!
‘Yay You’re Gay! Now What? A Gay Boy’s Guide To Life’ is now available to buy