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John Grant on mental health and toxic masculinity: ‘I don’t want to be a c***’

John Grant on mental health and toxic masculinity: ‘I don’t want to be a c***’

John Grant | Photo: Bella Union

I live in the middle of Reykjavik next to the cathedral; the harbour’s down the street. I’ve driven all around the island, the West Fjords. I haven’t been into the uninhabitable middle yet. I’d like some hot stud with a moustache in his four wheel drive to take me… That’d be hot!’

When singer-songwriter John Grant isn’t touring (he’s speaking from his tour bus in Germany; he kicks off the US leg of his latest show in support of new album Love Is Magic in Brooklyn, NYC on 30 November) he lives a pretty idyllic-sounding life with the famously beautiful people of Iceland.

But is it so idyllic that he bumps into Icelandic pop icon and fellow eccentric Bjork at the corner shop?

John in the artwork for latest album Love Is Magic | Photo: Bella Union

‘Yeah, I’ve seen her many times,’ says John, born in Michigan and raised in Colorado. ‘But not in a while. When I first moved there I’d see her out at clubs. I don’t know her personally, but you definitely bump into her from time to time.’

‘I was in this wonderful relationship for the last four years’

And has the remarkably handsome, intelligent and talented star – open about everything from his homosexuality to his HIV status to his mental health issues – been to Reykjavik’s amazing lone gay club, Kiki Queer Bar?

‘I’ve been there, had some fun nights dancing, but not for a long time,’ he replies. ‘I’m in recovery for the last 14 years for drink and drugs, so I sort of have a different lifestyle. I could spend all my time at clubs drunk and high, fucking my way through a mountain of people – not that you necessarily need to do that to go out and have fun at a gay club!

‘But for me, it’s tended towards the dark in those settings. I was in this wonderful relationship for the last four years, and we didn’t really go out [anyway].’

Here, having recently turned 50, John shares his unique perspective on everything from breaks ups and dating apps to falling in love…

Have you ever looked out on tour and seen someone you were surprised to see?

Yeah. I remember in Gothenburg, Sweden seeing a friend in the crowd I hadn’t seen in years. When I was living in Gothenburg, I was going through a heavy time. It was where I found out I had HIV. It was winter – a dark time, literally and figuratively.

I met a lot of incredible people during that time. People come out of the woodwork. People you don’t even know do amazing things. I saw somebody who’d been very warm and loving to me. It made it very difficult for me to sing. I got choked up.

What are your top self-care tips when it comes to mental health?

Stay away from sugar. Exercise. Fresh air. Walk.

Don’t have too much caffeine, if you’re someone who tends towards anxiety. It’s a huge factor. People don’t pay enough attention to that. I drink coffee, but have to limit it. I’d like to see myself totally stay away from it.

Love is Magic is lovely. How do you know when you’re in love?

I’m someone who tends to fall in love quickly. So for me, it takes me a lot longer to know whether I’m in love for real.

That means getting to know somebody. I can look at a beautiful guy and think ‘Oh my god, I’m in love with you’ and that just isn’t real.

It’s when they show up. You think ‘Wow.’ You feel yourself uplifted by their smile and other tiny things you can’t quite put your finger on.

For example, in this last relationship, we met up for a few dates and then I just noticed that every time I saw him, I was surprised and delighted. That hasn’t stopped either. Now we’re just friends, but he continues to surprise me.

Those are the best people, aren’t they? They’re always a breath of fresh air. You feel rejuvenated and enriched by being around them. That’s what I’m looking for. There’s a lot of hot fuckers out there, but that’s not going to get you through a relationship.

Are you open to the idea of marriage and kids in the future?

Yeah. Certainly.

The album cover of Love Is Magic | Photo: Bella Union

Are you dating at the moment?

No, not at all. I’m just trying to concentrate on this record and sing pretty for the audience! Being in a relationship is not a life goal for me.

Do you ever use apps when you’re on the road?

No. I tend toward addictive-type structures in my brain. I can see myself looking at Grindr all the time and I can’t deal with that. Plus, I’m really not into those apps. It’s to the individual, of course, to do what’s best for them. But for me personally, it can become a really dark place really quick.

I remember when I was living in New York City – it was Craigslist back then. I’d get into patterns, just seeing who’d want you, who’d validate you. I find I do much better when I just concentrate on other things.

You recently turned 50 – what impact do you see toxic masculinity having on younger generations of gay men?

I definitely think you see waves of it. You see gays being really nasty to each other. The way I see it, groups have been persecuted on the whole, they internalise what’s been done to them and wield it against each other.

For example – and obviously I am not an expert on what was done to African Americans in the United States – but you see all these hierarchies in the black community, where people with lighter skin are treated differently than people with darker skin. It’s quite clear that comes from ‘If you have lighter skin, you can could get more, achieve more’ and pass as something more palatable and acceptable in certain areas of society at certain times.

John in the album artwork for Pale Green Ghosts | Photo: Bella Union

In the gay community, let’s face it, the biggest, what was seen as compliment, was actually an insult. ‘You could pass for straight.’ Then that was a very desirable trait. And it’s not. It’s not a compliment, nor is it something to strive towards.

Acting straight isn’t the key to equality, is it?

No, it isn’t. The key to equality is individuals treating other individuals with the fucking respect and dignity you would treat your fucking dog.

We gay people need to be kind-hearted with each other. If you don’t like men that you consider to be feminine… […] For a while, I didn’t really find that particularly palatable for myself, I think I had a thing against men who were too girly and too…


Yeah. It was a turn off for me until I said to myself: ‘You can’t use that to decide if you like somebody or not. You take somebody at face value. See who they are as a human. That’s how you judge somebody, and decide if you’re going to spend time with them or not.’ Because, let’s face it, that probably comes from a time when I couldn’t be out, and I wouldn’t want to hang out with somebody who was too effeminate because it would draw attention to me and call my masculinity into question, which I couldn’t allow to happen. I want to be a kind and compassionate person. I don’t want to be a cunt.

Do you feel there’s a complacency among younger LGBTI guys who didn’t live through the HIV and AIDS crisis? What’s your message to them?

Make sure you get to know yourself and love yourself. I think smart behaviour comes from that. It’s about treating yourself with respect. Not in an indulgent, self-absorbed way, but having compassion for yourself. Learning to enjoy your own company and be alone.

When somebody is completely absorbed by the idea that the only way you can be worthy as a person is if you’re loved by somebody else, then a lot of this destructive behaviour comes from that. Sport fucking, chemsex and marathon sex and a lot of things you see going on.

I’m not trying to be judgemental about that either. But I think a lot of us, most of us, it’s nice to have someone to be intimate with and share your life with. If you’re treating yourself with respect and are being kind and gentle with yourself, the way you’d like to be with other people, then you’re going to make better decisions out there when it comes to awareness. Rather than going on PrEP, so you can fuck anywhere bareback whenever you want in any situation. I don’t think that should be the goal.

Like I said, what do I know? One has to do what one feel is best for themselves. But I think you’ll make better decision if you’re making sure you’re always as honest with yourself as you can be about where you’re at and where you’ve come from.

For more information about the tour, head to