Dancer, playwright, actor and Lambda Literary Award-winning writer David Leddick is still going strong in his early 80s. His latest book, the colorful and humorous self-help tome “How to Be Gay in the 21st Century” (White Lake Press) is chock full of advice and illustrated with campy photographs featuring the author. Already at work on his next theatrical productions, as well as numerous books, Leddick took time out of his busy schedule for an interview over lunch at Balan’s in Miami Beach, Fla.
Gregg Shapiro: Did you ever think you would write a “how-to” or advice book?
David Leddick: No. The need preceded the concept. I was a child in the 1930s, and I realized that these younger people in their 20s – the gay world they’re in – is completely different. They think differently about it. The world I came out of for the most part was very closeted. I never was myself.
What was the inspiration for the book?
The inspiration was the younger generation, but I really am speaking to an older generation. Here in Miami I see a lot of people living in terms of a world that doesn’t really exist. They’re not constrained. I have a blog, “David’s Gay Dish,” and on Fridays i have a mini show called “Come on out with David Leddick.” I have a lot of friends here, and I invite them to come be on camera. They won’t be on the show, because they don’t want to be filmed saying they’re gay.
How old are these people?
In their 40s, 50s, 70s. I don’t push it, but I say to them, “You think there’s anyone in this world who doesn’t think you’re gay? Hello!” (Laughs.) They have an innate reluctance, whereas the younger ones don’t have it at all.
Who do you see as the target audience for the book?
A lot of this is pertinent for everybody, not just gay people. It’s how to live your life in the 21st century. A lot of older people are living in a 20th-century manner, where you’re very concerned about what other people think of you, which is not 21st century. You have to be yourself. It isn’t a matter of being caught. I love this century. You can’t get away with anything. You’re anti-gay, and then you’re at the airport with your boyfriend, someone takes your picture, thousands know within minutes (laughs), which is fantastic. I think also because people are living longer. If you’re 65, you might live to be 100. For 30 years of your life, are you going to sit on your butt? No! You can do all the stuff that you haven’t done yet. That’s my big thing. More than gay rights, it’s getting older people to realize they have a lot of living to do and they can do it.
Did you always plan to be the model in the photos in the book?
Yeah, sure, of course. I’m such a ham. I thought, “I don’t want to write some boring, pompous, dictatorial thing. I wanted it to be fun.” I told my nephew, “I don’t think I’ve ever experienced homophobia,” and he said, “You just never noticed.” It would have to be pretty direct before it would ring any bells with me. I don’t mind doing crazy pictures. People are much more willing to accept and learn when it’s couched in an amusing way.
In the book, you address coming out later in life.
It’s a must! I always say you can’t lay down to die thinking you didn’t do something you wanted to do. I exhort people: “Nobody cares, you’re free to live your life, don’t think everybody cares, they don’t.” It doesn’t take that much bravery.
You also wrote a full-length book titled “The Secret Lives of Married Men,” about gay men married to women.
Yes. It kind of pisses me off that a gay man will marry a woman, waste her time, have children who never really know them. You should be involved with someone that you really want to sleep with. Everybody’s entitled to it. I have this friend, a fraternity brother, who has two daughters. He came out in his 60s, got a divorce, moved to Paris. His daughters have visited him, I’ve met them, and I realized they don’t even know who he is. Because he’s really funny and nutty and kind of a wild guy, and it’s a side of him they don’t know at all. I thought, “That’s not right.”
Did you come out to your parents?
My father died when I was young, and I think I would’ve had a big problem if he hadn’t. But I was brought up by a working mother, and I had a sister near my age and two older brothers. I don’t think it ever came up. I had a boyfriend when I was four. He was going to marry me when we grew up. It was pre-gayness. I was in rural Michigan. I think they had a kind of Victorian mentality. I think they knew boys slept together when women weren’t available. There was a kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” freedom.