Through His Podcast ‘How To Be Gay’, Josh Thomas Is Learning The Extent Of Privilege
"I'd gotten a bit too comfortable in my actually very privileged queer existence."
Pride month may have come to a close, but Josh Thomas’ new podcast How To Be Gay is reminding LGBTIQ folks that we should be listening to the diverse voices within in our community all year round.
Josh Thomas is arguably one of the most recognised gay creatives from Australia. Creating and starring in critically acclaimed queer dramadies Please Like Me and Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, Thomas has been a loud and out queer voice on Aussie TV for over a decade.
But over the course of the last few years of lockdown, and commuting between Melbourne and West Hollywood, Thomas turned his attention to listening over talking. Seemingly learning from his cancelling over some racist comments back in 2020, Thomas is now using his platform to shine a light on the diversity of queer experiences in an effort to not lose sight of his own.
“Being queer for me is really gorgeous and light and frothy and quite easy. And I really love it. But I kind of felt like maybe I’d gotten a bit too comfortable in my actually very privileged queer existence, and I wanted to take some time to talk to a range of people about what their experience was. People talking about what it was like in the past, people talking about what it’s like in different countries, in rural areas, in city areas — just a whole different view to reconnecting with how weird, crazy and hard it is to be queer. Because I’ve kind of forgotten,” he admits.
Thomas Own Beliefs Were Shifted
While making How To Be Gay, Thomas became acutely aware of his own privileged position within the community. Talking to everyone from the likes of queer refugees, experts on ancient Babylonian anal sex rituals, and queer celebrities like Tig Notaro and Tituss Burgess.
“Over the last 10-15 years, we’ve come so far with queer acceptance, but that hasn’t happened for everybody actually. So, I wanted to have those conversations. I wanted to make a podcast where I didn’t talk that much and did a lot of listening.” When I asked him how he overcame the unnerving challenge of speaking to so many different people, Thomas is sincere in finding the universal elements of queerness in his wide array of guests.
“Even though there’s a really wide-ranging amount of people in the stories, there’s a universal thing that queer people have where you see another queer person and feel quite safe like you get them. During these interviews that happened across the board,” he told me. But Thomas admits he also had his own hard-held beliefs shifted, thanks to some of the people he interviewed.
In How To Be Gay‘s 9th episode, ‘How To Have A Baby’ Thomas speaks to Shelly Marsh, a professional surrogate. He admits that speaking with Marsh changed his judgemental attitude toward surrogacy. “I went in a bit judgy,” he confesses, “I went in a bit judgy about doing surrogacy for cash. I was a bit not sure about that and she absolutely flipped me around. She was so adorable and sweet and kind and I realised what she’s doing is so beautiful and so important. We absolutely need surrogates, actually.”
But sadly, not every queer experience is pain-free. In the podcast’s 6th episode, ‘Where To Live’ Thomas spoke to Angel Joy, a Chechnyan refugee now living in Canada. Being LGBTIQ is a crime in Chechnya for which many find themselves arrested, harassed, put in conversion camps, or killed. It’s a queer experience that couldn’t be further from his own, but according to him, they connected almost instantly.
“They’re a refugee who fled Chechnya because they were tortured, and I’m googling Chechnya before this interview like ‘how the fuck am I going to connect with Angel Joy in this interview?’. Then as soon as I logged on, Angel giggled and said ‘Josh’ in this pretty gay way,” Thomas laughs, recalling. “I was like ‘oh, I know you’. We just get this universal glint in our eyes when we get to see another queer person.”
Thomas also admits, quite chuffed, that he got to interview a handful of his childhood crushes and heroes. On speaking to authors David Sedaris and Dan Savage, Thomas can’t help but gush. “They were two people I’d read before I came out that really shaped my view of what being queer was going to be. To get to talk to them about it actually just felt like such a miracle.”
Uncovering Queer History
Queer history is an underinvestigated nebula that is rich, long and complicated. Thomas tells me, “We only really hear about queer stories after Stonewall because, I guess, queer people don’t really have kids. They don’t really pass these stories down.” While this is categorically untrue, as queer people have been raising families for decades in both the US and Australia, it is true that resourcing queer history can be hard.
Unfortunately, thanks to colonialism, homophobia, and losing so many (but not all) of our community elders in the AIDS crisis, much of queer history is only more recently being rediscovered. In the podcast. Thomas touches on both micro and macro queer history. speaking to queer historians, and older queer folks like renowned Angels In America playwright and actor, Tony Kushner, to gain insight into the queer life of yesteryear.
“Hopefully, you get a sense of different views and lives people are going through.”
“Tony Kushner, I was talking to him about being queer in his generation and he started telling me about his friends from the generation above. They used to go cruising in the standing room at the opera. And they would have these codes that they would share codes like, ‘Do you like Moby Dick?'” he laughs. “That just sounds so gorgeous and nice to me and such a beautiful contrast to Grindr. As much as I love Grindr so much, it has a special place in my heart, I do kinda wish I was forced if I was horny to go to the standing room of the Opera and talk about literature.”
Ultimately, Thomas hopes that LGBTIQ people who stumble across How To Be Gay on Audible will have a bit of a laugh, learn a thing or two and maybe remember that as much as queer people share experiences of marginalisation and awkwardness, our differences only enrich our community. “Across the podcast, hopefully, you get a sense of different views and lives people are going through,” he says.
“Every queer person has this thread like we had to go through a weird time. At the very least, have an awkward conversation with our parents. Everybody had to deal with whatever they got dealt and because they had to deal with those challenges, they built these tools to live this life that is more close to what they wanted as an individual as opposed to what society is telling them to do. Queerness just pushes you into making more bold life choices that suit you in a better way and it teaches you how to do that in a way straight people don’t get.”
Josh Thomas’ Audible Original podcast, How to be Gay is out now and is only available on Audible. The podcast is free for Audible members and can be found here.
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