Hardcover: $30, 346 pages/ E-book: $14.99; ISBN: 9780306874611, 030687461X
As a bisexual woman, I’m often met with a handful of stereotypical questions about the validity of my sexuality, as well as marginalization within the LGBTQ+ community itself– in simple terms, it can be frustrating. However, while reading Andrew Gelwicks’ book The Queer Advantage, I found myself discovering the many ways my queer identity has been, well, an advantage. All of the attributes that help me succeed, such as my ambition and compassion, are because of my experiences as a bisexual woman; my sexuality has helped mold me into who I am. Gelwicks’ collection of interviews with queer leaders is an empowering reading experience for anyone, not just queer youth.
Andrew Gelwicks is a prominent celebrity fashion stylist, writer, and speaker who uses his platform to acknowledge LGBTQ+ matters (among other things). His writing has been published in Harper’s Bazaar, The Hollywood Reporter, Out, Teen Vogue, and The Huffington Post. In this particular work, Gelwicks broadens the horizons of queer discussion and leads conversations that engage with his readers on a personal level, raising questions of sexuality, gender identity, and privilege.
The physical presence of The Queer Advantage itself is just as flamboyant and exciting as the conversations within its pages. Coated in a bold, matte red finish with pink and white lettering, this book seizes the attention of anyone who walks by its place on the shelf. While the introduction of the book is primarily a brief autobiography of the author, the majority of the book consists of 50 interviews with 51 of the world’s more prominent LGBTQ+ leaders. The title of the work itself is incredibly befitting, as each interview addresses the concept of queer advantage in some way. Not only is it an intriguing, eye-catching title, but also the perfect encapsulation of the text.
Gelwicks begins his book with a beautifully insightful preface, in which he shares his own journey to self-discovery and self-acceptance. He discusses the struggles of being gay in a conservative environment as well as the duality he seemed to live in attempt to camouflage his sexuality, a concept that many queer people relate to themselves. He also shares his battle with mental health and its complex relationship to how those around him viewed (and criticized) his sexual orientation. As Gelwicks tells his story, he stresses the importance of support and its role in one’s journey to self-acceptance, and he inspires reflection on the greatness of being one’s authentic self and the power that authenticity can provide. His willingness to openly share his own story not only establishes Gelwicks’ credibility, but also provides the reader with a sense of comradeship with him.
When someone asked what drives him to succeed, Gelwicks had one answer: being gay. He began to view his queerness, his otherness, as something that had advantaged him, such as gaining adaptability, empathy, and work ethic. He explains how his “strongest qualities and assets clearly could be linked to those early, often painful times surrounding [his] grappling with [his] queer identity” (xvii). This reflection on his experience led him to wonder if other successful queer individuals feel the same way. In the preface, Gelwicks explains that the purpose of the Queer Advantage project is to further understand how one’s queer identity can have positive influences.
The book is structured wonderfully overall, and most of the interviews are separated into three distinct sections. The opening section provides the name and occupation/title of the interviewee, as well as a brief (yet nicely detailed) biography about them, their work, and how it ties into their queer identity. The second focuses on Gelwicks’ own experience in the time leading up to the interview, (occasionally) more information about the interviewee, and he also outlines how that person has influenced him in his own life. The third section is the interview itself; the entirety of each individual’s section ranges from lengths of 2-5 pages. The format is efficient in that it is incredibly organized, the sections are distinct in their own ways, and the overall look and read of the text is pleasant. It works incredibly well in the interview with film producer Howard Rosenman, as Gelwicks provides a brief biography about Roseman. He then describes the atmosphere of his lunch with Roseman, describing the sometimes casual and sometimes somber conversation as the interview progressed, particularly as he shares his experience with a false positive for HIV; by sharing his personal connection with the interviewee, the author provides a more personal connection for the reader as well.
Exactly half of the interviews include a cartoon-style picture of the interviewee on the first page of their conversation, which is a unique touch that helps create more of a personal connection before discussing more personal experiences. However, the book would have undoubtedly benefited more by including the picture for every interview as opposed to only half.
While each story within The Queer Advantage is gripping, perhaps one of the stronger interviews is with actor, writer, and activist George Takei; he shares his harrowing experience in Japanese American internment camps as a child and his journey through the film industry as a gay man. Equally as compelling is the interview with Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in the United states, as he shares his fight with the law and his husband’s battle ALS. The emotions throughout this book range from gut-wrenching sadness to uncontainable joy, which is one reason this book is for everyone. One of my new favorite quotes come from a more zestful interview with drag superstar (and actor) DJ “Shangela” Pierce, who proudly declares, “Ooh I love being gay. I love being gay. You can write that one down. I love being gay!” (96) When I read this, I couldn’t stop myself from smiling uncontrollably and thinking about how much I, myself, have grown to love my own bisexual identity, and it made my experience with this book truly heartwarming.
Throughout the conversations with the leaders in this book, there are several common themes that are discussed, such as the struggle for authenticity and acceptance, battles with the legal system and mental illness, and the overwhelming anxiety and eventual freedom of coming out. The exploration of these unique experiences provides a safe space for queer people to feel heard and understood. For instance, the initial struggle to accept one’s sexuality is almost universal, with the exception of individuals who grew up in generally supportive households or access to representation. Whether these people fully embraced their sexuality at age five or age sixty, there is a consensus that growing up queer can teach resilience, ambition, and authenticity. Furthermore, the interviewees emphasize the freedom of embracing one’s sexuality and/or gender identity and ultimately conclude that queerness is a magical superpower. The variety of themes and representation provide an invaluable sense of intersectionality, balance, relatability, and intellect. With all of this in mind, Gelwicks reminds his readers that “the queer advantage is not linear. There is no singular, binding path for how this power can be applied to serve all of us within the global queer community.” (338)
As these conversations explore a number of experiences that aren’t commonly discussed, this book provides a platform for marginalized voices, both helping validate the struggles of the audience and educating the public. While the obstacles that come with being queer are mentioned, the way this book provides a new outlook on the “blessing” of one’s sexuality is both refreshing and uplifting. What is particularly special about this book is that it also includes a list of resources in the back for those who would like to get more involved in the LGBTQ+ community and individual rights, which is just another way in which The Queer Advantage works to empower people.
While on the surface, this book may seem as if it’s merely meant for the queer community, particularly a young queer audience, it is actually for readers of all races, genders, ages and sexual orientations. Every person in this book has their own amazing success story, coming from fields such as technology, theater, film, politics, activism, sports, music, and more. The beauty of this book is that it discusses a number of significant topics/industries and the way they relate to queer issues, and the diversity among the people interviewed in this book provides a wide range of enjoyment for the audience. Anyone can read this book and learn enough new things to count on both hands, from the historical significance of Stonewall and cultural awareness to the embrace of men’s skincare and makeup; this book never fails to draw one in and make one feel accepted. Another quote that I especially love (and think captures the essence of the book well) comes from the interview with activist Blair Imani when asked about the root of her ambition: “Anytime you go through a marginalized experience, there’s a drive to attain what the privileged people have. Not necessarily to duplicate it nor to duplicate harmful systems, but to say, I absolutely deserve the things I want and need to be successful in life” (309).
This book serves a range of purposes, from informing the public on the issues the LBGTQ+ community faces to encouraging and helping queer people to embrace their identity. Both entertaining and educational, the conversations within this book validate the experiences of various marginalized voices and explore the intricacy of intersectionality. As Gelwicks tells his reader in his preface, “Complex life navigation becomes vastly easier when we are able to see the playbooks of others, to help get us where we want to go” (xviii). In his afterword, Gelwicks encourages his readers to take time and reflect on their own colorful, unique queer advantage.
My personal experience while reading this book was inspiring, particularly because, even though each interview resonated with me on an intimate level, I was able to read conversations with bisexual individuals who discuss experiences that I greatly relate to, such as the interview with comedian, actress, and writer Margaret Cho. She shares, “Within the queer community, I’m still othered because of being bisexual. There’s this weird value system we have about gayness, and bisexuality is a little bit of the other in a community of others.” As many people in this book mention, representation is crucial for the journey to self-acceptance, and being able to read something that helps me navigate my own life and sexuality is always a welcomed opportunity. Perhaps now, I can work harder to recognize and appreciate my own queer advantage throughout my life.
Amelia Williams is from Picayune, Mississippi and is currently a senior at Loyola University New Orleans. Her artistic hobbies include reading, writing, and painting, but she also enjoys going to the park, having a nice cup of tea each morning, and snuggling with her cat.