This week, we were able to sit down with Tue Elkjær, author of the dark and raw "A Queer Object", a book that follows Mishka, a gay social media influencer and sex worker whose obsession with beauty governs all aspects of his life. Tue deeply examines objectification in this thoughtful debut, warning us all that to objectify oneself means to fight against one's own humanity. We spoke about the central themes of his work, his time in the fashion industry, how we use social media, and LGBTQ+ literature.

You can find Tue's book here.

Tue, you’re someone who comes from a fashion background, having studied textile design and worked directly in the fashion industry, as a fashion journalist. Did your time as a journalist inform your desire to write a book?

TE: Well, I started as a design assistant, and then did some designing of my own, and then later moved on to a position as a fashion journalist. I've always enjoyed writing, and have always enjoyed playing with words. I wanted to write a book when I was in middle school or primary school, but of course back then it didn't really work out because I was a kid who had experienced nothing, so I didn't have anything to write about. Then, I started working more with journalism and later with copywriting, and I just really missed being more creative when it came to writing. I found it necessary to revisit past traumas that I had experienced- something that was advised by my mother- and write these events down to figure them out. I found in doing this that it needed more context, and I set about examining the psychology behind it, and the mechanisms that created those traumatising situations that I had experienced. After doing so, I had the idea that it could turn into a book, which led me to contact several publishers in Denmark, one of which was very direct and told me that I needed to actually finish the book first. The final manuscript was completed in English, which led me to contact UK-based publishers. 

In the same vein, one of the most prominent themes in the novel is that of toxic beauty standards. It’s no secret that the fashion industry and its adjacent businesses are prime suspects in the perpetuation of such standards; did your experiences working in the fashion industry inspire your passionate approach to this theme? If not, what inspired you to tackle that theme?

TE: One thing people are surprised by when they start working in the fashion industry is the fact that when you see people at fashion shows, they look nothing like what you're presented with on the catwalk. Historically, no one was ever meant to aspire to look like fashion models- they were even referred to as mannequins- but that became warped and people found themselves wanting to look like runway models. There is toxicity in the industry, although I think it's getting better. When I worked in the industry, you were judged for eating lunch and things like that; I even worked in a design house where we were told that we weren't allowed to eat during work hours, but we were encouraged to just smoke and drink coffee. I had experiences with anorexia when I was younger, and working in the fashion industry did not help at all.

The most prominent theme in the book is objectification at large; all of the subjects tie into that. It's about the difference between being someone and something. We've created a culture where it's very easy to give up your personhood, whether it's on social media where you become a brand, or sex work, where you have to become an object. In reading this book, I want people to understand what kind of sacrifice you're making in becoming an object, what you're actually giving up. You're fighting against your own humanity, and that isn't sustainable. 

A primary theme that lingers just behind the central theme of toxic beauty standards in “A Queer Object” is that of social media. As someone who now works in digital marketing, do you believe that social media has an overwhelmingly negative influence on society today, or are there any positives to speak of?

TE: I don't think that social media itself is toxic, it's the way we use it. People don't tell the truth on social media, they put up an image or brand despite not being celebrities, often feeling pressured to just show perfection. For example, even though people are aware that people edit photos of themselves, this still affects us as imperfections are erased. Social media is so new, that people don't realise that the things they send out are received and viewed by a real human being. Some people use it to live out the more toxic sides of themselves. 

What do you think of the current state of queer/LGBTQ+ literature? Is there anything you would like to see more of, and conversely, anything you’d like to see less of?

There's nothing I want to see less of, but I'd like to see more varied literature, which I think we are getting. I'd also like LGBTQ+ literature to be less policed by both readers and publishers. I was in contact with a publisher who only published LGBTQ+ literature, who decided that they did not want my book because of the dark material, and only wanted positive stories. I thought that was a bit problematic because it's not all cake and sunshine; we still live in a time where people in the community experience discrimination. Of course, there shouldn't only be negative stories, but we need to help people feel represented. So really, more of everything!

For our last question, could you recommend a couple of LGBTQ+ books that you feel are deeply relevant or important right now, or will help queer folks feel represented?

TE: I mostly read old literature, but my favourite LGBT book is Brideshead Revisited (Evelyn Waugh), I've just read it so many times. I think as far as a relevant literature goes, I think Heartsopper (Alice Oseman) is particularly relevant. It really displays this generational shift that you see today, which for me is mind-blowing. Even though there is still so much negativity; young children are being harassed and hate-crimed by their peers, for example, it's refreshing to see that being a part of the LGBTQ+ literature is becoming so iconic in this new generation, there's even a kind of status to it.