As a member of the UniSex editorial team, I was invited to join Dr. Tony Ortega, the author of the newly published self-help book #IsHeHereYet, at the London Book Fair 2018 for a seminar on “Writing Inclusively” for an LGBTQ+ audience. His book circles around one central message: instead of wringing your hands to the sky asking any and every available entity why you haven’t found fulfilling love yet, instead, you should simply becomethe person you are looking for. This way, according to Ortega, we attract the type of people with which we wish to surround ourselves by simply being more like them. In the context of the seminar and Ortega’s publication, I would like to discuss two rather important topics: self-love as a prerequisite for a successful relationship and writing inclusively for an LGBTQ+ readership.
The collective understanding that one has to love oneself to be able to truly be a loving partner to somebody else has been booming for as long as the self-love trend has been on the rise. This idea classifies self-love as a crucial ingredient for a healthy, long-lasting relationship – but it also excludes anyone with mental health problems who may not be able to be their own loudest cheerleader and best friend at all times. Hence, I have very mixed feelings on the statement that “one can only truly love another person when one loves oneself.” It appears self-evident that, when self-sabotage is a symptom of mental illness, a happy relationship may run the risk of being jeopardized. Surely, mental illnesses can complicate the sufferer’s romantic and platonic relationships just as every other part of their life.
Nevertheless, to argue that a depressed or anxious person (please fill in the mental illness of your choice) is not able to be a loving partner is merely unfair and, quite frankly, mean. Why does it seem that all these self-declared self-love gurus see the need to justify treating themselves nicely by shouting into the void that: “you can forget about satisfying romantic connections if you don’t?”, I agree to disagree. Nevertheless, I ama champion of any kind of self-love as long as it doesn’t hurt others or turns into an excuse for excessive behaviours or laziness. In our fast-paced, reckless, confusing world today, it is a means for the survival of one’s happiness and well-being. Ortega’s book provides the reader with practical meditation tips, tools to tackle traumas from the past, and a comprehensive self-love glossary in the appendix. As the author is a practising licensed clinical psychologist, I would have wished for a more nuanced discussion of what mental health issues mean for self-care and relationships, but I definitely recommend his tips and tricks for self-love to anyone regardless of their mental state, gender identity, or sexuality.
This brings me to my second topic: Ortega is not only a psychologist, but he is also a gay man with a less than lucky dating history that he doesn’t hesitate to share with his readers to bring his points across. “This is not a gay book,” the author nevertheless explained almost defensively to his audience at the London Book Fair. Although he acknowledges the importance of representation in literature and media for LGBTQ+ individuals, he claims to have written for and to “people’s emotions instead to their genitals.” This approach appears very genuine and commendable at first. But aren’t there enough dating advice and self-help books for heterosexual, cisgender folk out there already? Doesn’t “blending in” blur out what is so important about books written by and for LGBTQ+ individuals – visibility?
Broadening the scope from non-fiction to fiction, this seems to be a rather common, challenging dilemma for authors who want to include non-hetero, non-cis folk into their audience; apparently there is either the choice of writing for the larger market and losing authenticity by failing to actually state that a character is queer (I’m looking at you, J.K. Rowling), or to include a token queer person whose queerness is their main character trait and sole purpose in the story. This is why the world needs compelling literature that, while acknowledging its queerness shamelessly, also convinces with a great storyline, complex characters, surprising plot-twists, or useful advice. There is no need to push a book into the closet that could help so many people by being placed front-row in the display window.
Towards the end of his seminar, Ortega made a statement that I think needs to be printed on t-shirts: “Connection is genderless.” While visibility remains more valuable than many people may understand – just think of that fourteen-year-old boy who would love to see a movie with a dynamic all-male power couple for once – love is love, no matter by whom it is felt for whom, no matter what kind of mental health issues may be involved.
Dr. Tony Ortega’s #IsHeHereYet: Being the person you want to be withis available on amazon and at your local bookstore.