Watch: With New Video, Olly Alexander Opens Up About His Queer Experience

Saturday June 19, 2021
Originally published on June 11, 2021

Olly Alexander
Olly Alexander  (Source:Instagram)

Musician turned actor Olly Alexander is having a very busy year.

First, he had a breakout role in Russell T Davies' powerful miniseries "It's a Sin," (available to watch in the U.S. on HBO Max). Then he announced that Years and Years, the British synth-pop trio for which he'd served as frontman since 2010, would continue on as a solo act with just him. Next, he released his new single, "Starstruck," from his upcoming album. And now, this week, he said he would like to continue his acting career in a dream project: A gay version of "Twin Peaks."


He also took part in Vice's anthology series, "We Can Do Better Than This: 35 Voices on the Future of LGBTQ+ Rights," which looks at "the most important issues facing queer people today."

In his essay, Alexander writes of how he first heard the term "gay" at school, but in an unusual context. "It was during a history lesson about the Second World War," he explained. "My teacher described the grueling conditions the soldiers faced, how hard and dangerous life was on the battlefield, before revealing that so far from home and without any women 'some of the men had sex with each other.'"

Alexander goes on to relate the derisive response the lesser-known history lesson prompted from his classmate but also how it triggered something within himself. "I remember sitting in stunned silence, imagining these men reaching for each other in the filthy, perilous trenches. It was both sexy and terrifying," he recalled. "Other than this indelible moment, my school taught us that queer people did not exist, but we knew they did. They lived as rumours and stories about this teacher or that pupil, they hid in crumpled notes and names scratched out on the battered desks."

Olly Alexander and cast members of 'It's a Sin.'  (Source: HBO Max)

Learning this, Alexander said he had to educate himself about gay issues: "I embarked on my own reluctant queer education of sorts, taking a one-foot-in-one-foot-out approach. I convinced myself the odd furtive exchange in a Habbo Hotel chat room, or reading 'Giovanni's Room' and watching 'My Own Private Idaho' didn't necessarily mean I was actually gay, it just made me interesting."

Alexander related how, when he first started having gay sex, he had strong anxiety about catching HIV. He started taking anti-depressants at 19, thinking there was something intrinsically wrong with him. "Shame is toxic and it likes to get in the way of almost everything," he expresses in the piece.

But things got better. "By the time things started taking off with Years & Years I had put my most damaging self-destructive behaviours to bed," he continued. "I'm not pretending that my mental health is glorious all the time, though. I have the occasional dark patch, I still take meds and I speak with my therapist once a week."

The performer also discussed his issues with taking PrEP, which became a controversy in Britain when the national health service agreed to fund the treatment that many felt legitimized a "certain lifestyle choice." Despite taking the drug, he was reluctant to talk about it and his sexual experiences with his therapist.

Alexander explained: "Despite all the trips I'd taken to the doctor's office for my mental health, talking about sex and prevention filled me with panic, and at the time I didn't know about helpful websites like prepster.info or iwantprepnow.co.uk, and the incredible organisation the Terrence Higgins Trust, which disseminates information about PrEP where it can sometimes be lacking."

Speaking on what has helped him overcome some of his anxiety was being part of "It's a Sin" and learning from Davies about the AIDS epidemic. "It's a fictional drama but much of it drew on Russell's own life, and hearing him speak about that time and researching the stories and lives was an experience I'm profoundly grateful for," he shared. "It helped me understand a bit better where we've come from, where we are now, and how the LGBTQ+ community was impacted by HIV."

In expressing what he took away from his learning to come to terms with being gay, Alexander said: 'Learning how queer people have been marginalised, medicalised and politicised throughout history has given me a context for my own experiences and to better understand those of others."

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