For a book-club promotion I’m doing, I was required to write a set of discussion questions for my book Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever and What Happened Instead. With the help of some really insightful friends, I came up with some questions I really like. Here they are.
Swish Discussion Questions
1. The narrator’s “quest to become the gayest person ever” is obviously undertaken in jest, but he does embody several gay male stereotypes. Do you know people who embody any of these stereotypes? If so, how does this affect your relationships with them? Do you embody any stereotypes commonly held about a group you belong to? If so, how does this affect your relationships with others, both inside and outside that group? Are there truths to be found in stereotypes?
2. Over the course of the book, the narrator reveals himself to be arrogant, shallow, insecure, judgmental, and vain. How do these revelations affect your feelings about him? Why does he choose to show readers these parts of his character? Are there moments in which you identify with him when he displays these qualities? Moments in which he alienates you? Why or why not?
3. The narrator moves back and forth between the funny and the tragic, sometimes very quickly and other times more gradually. How does this affect your experience of the story? How are the funny and the tragic related in the book? In life?
4. The chapters on cheerleading and teaching aerobics deal in part with mental illness. What’s your understanding of mental illness? Do you know or are you related to anybody who is mentally ill? If so, how does this affect your experience of these chapters? What would you do if somebody very close to you became mentally ill? What would you do if you became mentally ill?
5. In the last chapter, the narrator spends time with a group of gay people who are trying to become straight. Do you think this is possible? If it turned out that you were wrong, in what ways would your ideas about homosexuality change? In what ways would they stay the same?
6. When the narrator goes to the ex-gay conference, he is struck by the contrasts and similarities between his Judaism and the delegates’ evangelical Christianity. When religion and homosexuality meet, what happens? What should happen?
7. In his search to make sense of the world, the narrator explores his connections with others—family, friends, teachers, lovers, strangers—for good and ill. In what ways do you rely on your relationships to develop and diminish your own sense of self?
8. What is gay identity? How is it different from other historically disenfranchised identities (black identity, female identity, etc.)? How is it the same? What is straight identity?
9. Much of Swish deals with or is informed by the illness and death of the narrator’s mother. Have you suffered the loss of a close friend or family member? If so, has this affected the way you look at the world? How?
10. At Camp Camp the narrator struggles with feelings that he doesn’t belong. Are there ways in which you’ve felt you don’t belong? Are there ways in which you’ve made others feel they don’t belong? Has your response to this kind of feeling changed between your childhood and now? If so, how?
11. In the chapter on dating, the narrator confronts the fact that his real boyfriend and his fantasy boyfriend are nothing alike. What do you think of the way he resolves this conflict? Have you been in this position? How did you resolve it? How do you figure out whether what you want and what you think you want are the same thing? What do you do if they’re not?
12. The narrator has a lot of casual sex. What do you think of casual sex? Is it good for people? Bad for people? Both? Neither? How? Is casual sex between two men different from casual sex between a man and a woman? How? What about casual sex between two women? Does society have the right attitudes toward casual sex?
13. In the chapter on musical theater, the narrator discusses two different kinds of creation, asah (creating something by shaping preexisting material) and bara (creating something “out of thin air”). What’s your experience of these two types of creation, artistic or otherwise? What value, if any, does creation have in today’s society? What happens when what you’ve created is everything you hoped it would be? What happens when it’s less?
14. In the chapter on go-go dancing, the narrator says all he wants is “to become a piece of meat.” Are there ways in which you’ve been objectified? Ways in which you’ve objectified others? If so, what were your emotional responses to the experience? Did they surprise you in any way? How?
Is it too late to suggest another one? I kind of want one to do with tikun olam as a concept, and how it matches readers’ ideas on religion, and how they feel they do or should approach it.
Questions 12 and 13 are the best ones, definitely… 13 for being very much 1st/2nd/3rd world, philosophically speaking, and 12 for the sheer brash glory of the sex question. I like the idea Sharon had re: tikkun olam, but if something cool shows up in a Twee movie, it’s immediately ruined for everybody who’s not a nascent (post?)hipster (see: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist).
Sharon: Oh, that’s an excellent idea. I’ll add that this evening.
initials: Wait, was there something about tikkun olam in Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist? Am I going to have to get a new schtick? Crap.
These are stellar questions and I agree wholeheartedly with Sharon. Your post on tikun olam was so absolutely amazing that it demands to be revisited in some way.
roxzana: Your wish is my command.
All of your questions are depressingly serious. And here I though the book was supposed to be funny. Plus, you do nothing with my favorite part, the Egyptian material. Revisions, clearly, are called for.
Cataline: I think that anybody who actually needs questions to discuss the book is unlikely to have enjoyed the humor anyway.
I want to read this book now.
Amazing wonderful thoughtful questions, but I’m getting chest pains and palpitations just thinking about answering these questions about my life. Must be a heck of a book club to be that honest with each other. Are you sure this isn’t for a group therapy meeting?
Faustus: It would be neat if you had a “Swish Discussion Questions Contest” a la your former contests, where we had to respond to one of the questions for a prize of brownies or a copy of Swish, etc. . .
michael: You should.
Esther: I dunno–I feel like most book-group discussion questions are moronic, so I wanted to go in the other direction.
Faustus: “Hmmm” is all I get? 🙂