The idea for this book came about during the debate around Ireland’s gay marriage referendum. I was sitting in the pub with my friend Colin, who was decrying the state of gay fiction at the time, and wondering where all the happy stories were. It seemed as if LGBTQ characters had been relegated back to the sidelines after briefly being cool, or as if the mainstream was only interested in tales of gay misery, with difficult coming out stories, the seedier side of dating apps, and isolated LGBTQ folks battling against an oppressive society. But at the same time, we were surrounded by LGBTQ people – and crucially, our straight allies – fighting for a massive leap forward in equality that would have seemed unimaginable in the recent past. It was clear that whichever way the referendum was destined to go, Ireland was on the cusp of a great social change. So, what was the best way to write about it?
One thing that struck me about the debate was how passionate young people were about the fight for marriage equality. To those who’d come of age in a time when being gay was not only legal but no big deal, gay marriage was barely controversial. And with that in mind, it seemed obvious that to capture the great social change that had happened in Ireland, it would have to be through the eyes of someone young. The more I thought about it, the more the Young Adult novel seemed the perfect form for capturing how far Ireland had come since my own youth, when the church still wielded much power, and gay lives were largely lived in the shadows.
And so the character of Ben came to mind, perfectly formed in his own right, a romantic, idealistic lad on the cusp of adulthood, with supportive parents, a queer friendship group, and the same kind of problems as most of his peers. Which career should he choose, would he ever meet the right guy, and would his friend’s cousin’s fake ID get him past the bouncers? Being gay would not be an issue for him, although learning to navigate the pitfalls of Grindr certainly would. And although the gay marriage referendum finally passed with overwhelming support, it didn’t mean the bullies had gone away. But it did mean that Ben and his friends would have the courage to stand up for themselves, and find love on their own terms.
What Love Looks Like by Jarlath Gregory is published by The O’Brien Press. Jarlath Gregory is from Crossmaglen, Co Armagh, and currently lives in Stoneybatter, Dublin. He is the author of Snapshots (2001), G.A.A.Y One Hundred Ways to Love a Beautiful Loser (2005), and The Organised Criminal (2015). He has also worked as a bookseller in Chapters Bookstore, and written for Attitude, Esquire and GCN magazines. He recently completed the M.Phil in Creative Writing in Trinity College Dublin and currently works as a freelance copywriter.