So, one day, an email from James' publicist came across my desk, telling me about Out in the Army, and I thought, sure, I'll be happy to promote that--I've always been a strong advocate for LGBT rights! But the thing was, I didn't want to take time to read the book. I'm a busy person. Very busy. I thought I'd just offer you dear readers a blurb from the jacket cover and let you make your own decision. Then I read the first page of Out in the Army . . . then the second page . . . and the third . . . and before I knew it, I was fully engrossed in Mr. Wharton’s fabulous page-turner and could not put it down until finishing it! Not only does Mr. Wharton have something to say, he says it exceedingly well, my dear Anglophile friends!
So, who is James Wharton and what did he do? If you follow the news, you probably saw him or heard of him when the US military, a couple years ago, repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell"--for by that time, Wharton was a gay-poster-boy for the British Army, after appearing on the cover of Soldier, a British army publication. Wharton, from North Wales, joined the British army in 2003 and become a member of the Household Cavalry, the regiment of horsemen that escorts the royal family on state occasions, and later he served in Iraq. Most captivating about Wharton’s book, is its gut-wrenching, emotional honesty. Wharton doesn’t mince words, use euphemisms, or skirt around details. He’s brutally honest, and his story draws the reader into a world of sexual exploration, coming out, London gay-night-clubbing, and army bullying. A particularly amazing account tells of Wharton, who served under Prince Harry, sharing a tank with him, and the prince’s intervention in a bullying incident that was spinning out of control. The memoir also recounts two very important weddings: James’ own, to his husband Thom, and that of William and Kate's, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, an event James participated in as a member of the Mounted Cavalry. If you care about LGBT rights or simply want a riveting read, I say run, don't walk, to buy this book!
(Author of Out in the Army: My Life as a Gay Soldier)
James: Thanks for the kind words!
Zella: You left the military, hoping to help gay youth. How is that work coming along? Surely it’s a huge task! Are you making headway?
James: I think I’m just fitting in to the greater effort, globally, improving the lives of young GLBT people. Like many others, the frequent news of teen suicides really affected me and I’m pleased I’ve been able to add to the effort in combatting the issue. It’s something we can all do, we just need to find a way we’re each comfortable in contributing to. I like to talk to classes of kids in schools, and write columns for magazines and newspapers. Some like to protest and express their support in other ways, which is fantastic! I think the It Gets Better campaign was a real game-changer in tackling this problem!
Zella: What advice do you offer young people who are considering coming out to their parents but are afraid to?
James: It’s a bit of a cliche, but I really think the line ‘you are not alone’ is very relevant. There are millions of kids around the world all considering coming out and talking to their parents. There are safe places to access support, in the UK, there’s a youth site by Stonewall which offers real support; I would also recommend telling a third party who you trust, just incase further support is needed. Perhaps a close friend of teacher?
Zella: What advice do you give parents who receive news that their child is gay? How can parents best show their support?
James: In an ideal world I’d tell them to grab their kid and give them the biggest hug in the world, as they’d have just done the bravest thing in their young lives. I think sometimes gay people forget just how difficult those two words actually are, but when we really try to remember, coming out is terrifying. There are, simply to young people who are coming out, support groups for moms and dads who need advice, and maybe support.
A huge mistake would be telling them you didn’t love them for being unique and beautiful.
Zella: Many claim that those who “protesteth too much” about homosexuality are, oftentimes, themselves gay. Did you see this phenomenon often in the military? (I would say that in the States, we’ve seen our fair share of politicians and ministers who fall into this camp!)
James: You’re right, people do say this often and I can recount a few times when the sexuality of an assailant has certainly been pulled into question. ( I talk about his in my book when I’m horrifically beaten and hospitalised at the age of 18. I saw the guy in a gay nightclub some months after kissing a guy). We’ve also seen this recently with Cardinal Keith O’Brien in Scotland; he kicked up a massive homophobic fuss over gay marriage here last year, only to be outed as a bit of a dirty old man, accused of harassing young male priests for years. One does raise an eyebrow.
Zella: You concluded your book by saying that the British army has done a lot to help gay and bi-sexual soldiers, but it still has much work to do. What about transsexuals? Did you know any closeted trans-men or trans-women in the military? Is it an issue at all?
James: I know an out Transexual in the army, who I think has had an extremely positive few years since transitioning. My honest opinion is that I feel Trans equality is lacking behind gay equality by about ten years. Some feel the GLB community should separate themselves from trans people and issues, which I think is nonsense. We must do all we can to make trans peoples lives better… the answer is not to say ‘sort your own shit out!’ Imagine if straight allies, presidents and prime ministers included, said that to us gay folk. We’d be pretty upset about it!
Zella: When you hear about things such as the draconian, anti-gay laws enacted in Russia last year or about nations—particularly some African nations—where homosexuality may result in a death sentence, do you ever itch to work on the world stage as an activist? (I think many would agree that you have the personality and leadership skills to perform such a task!)
James: I would love to do more for the rights of GLBT people in Russia and other places, and when I can, I do my bit. But to do things abroad, you need some backing, mostly financial, and I think it makes more sense to donate to the likes of GLLAD and Stonewall who are extremely established and filled to the brink with experts who can drive real change. I genuinely lose sleep thinking about our brothers and sisters in Russia. I was particular upset to read last week about the cancelling of a pride event in the Ukraine due to Russian influence in the area. Such a tragedy.
Zella: You’re a wonderful writer! Growing up, did you know you had that in you?
James: I have to admit, I’ve had a passion for writing since a very young age. I knew I’d write a book one day, just didn’t know what it would be about. My English teacher from school, now a good friend, always praised my writing in my teens. I thanked her in my book! I’m slowly working away at a gay themed novel, based in New York as it happens. But I can’t really say anymore at the moment.
Zella: I understand you’ve been on a cruise! Care to reveal what ports of call you’ve visited? (I trust you’ve had a marvelous time!)
James: I got back to the UK yesterday morning- and I’m sad to be home, as I’m sure you can imagine! We had a blast. We sailed out of Miami and enjoyed a 7 night western Caribbean cruise. We stopped at Cozumel, Mexico; Belize; Hondorous and Grand Cayman.We sailed with Carnival and I was delighted to see they had a gay and lesbian gathering twice daily at the cocktail bar on ship. There were dozens of gay couples also on-board and it was a real treat to make so many new friends from the US and Canada whilst on holiday. I’m keeping in touch with them and I think we might all cruise again together next year. Bravo Carnival Cruise Lines for thinking about us!
Zella: Thank you very much, James, for answering my questions. I wish you continued, great success with Out in the Army!
PURCHASE Out in the Army (Kindle) HERE
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