Non-Fiction Book / Event: Straight Jacket by Matthew Todd

Straight Jacket

Summary:

Written by Matthew Todd, editor of Attitude, the UK’s best-selling gay magazine, Straight Jacket is a revolutionary clarion call for gay men, the wider LGBT community, their friends and family. Part memoir, part ground-breaking polemic, it looks beneath the shiny facade of contemporary gay culture and asks if gay people are as happy as they could be – and if not, why not? 

In an attempt to find the answers to this and many other difficult questions, Matthew Todd explores why statistics show a disproportionate number of gay people suffer from mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, addiction, suicidal thoughts and behaviour, and why significant numbers experience difficulty in sustaining meaningful relationships. Bracingly honest, and drawing on his own experience, he breaks the silence surrounding a number of painful issues, explaining: 

– How growing up in the closet can overwhelm the gay child with a deep sense of shame that can leave young people with perilously low self-worth and a powerfully negative body image
– How many gay men overcompensate for childhood shame by pursuing unobtainable perfection, aspiring to have perfect bodies, boyfriends and lives
– How gay culture, so often centred around alcohol, drugs, quick sex and even quicker wit, exacerbates the problem, and what we can all do to make things better

Meticulously researched, courageous and life-affirming, Straight Jacket offers invaluable practical advice on how to overcome a range of difficult issues. It also recognises that this is a watershed moment, a piercing wake-up-call-to-arms for the gay and wider community to acknowledge the importance of supporting all young people – and helping older people to transform their experience and finally get the lives they really want.

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Straight Jacket is part-memoir, part-snapshot of the lives of gay and bisexual men in the UK today. Matthew Todd is the editorial director of Attitude, the bestselling gay magazine. In Straight Jacket, he brings together his personal experience of growing up gay in the UK in the 70s and 80s as well as meticulous research and interviews with professionals to talk about the current health and well-being crisis for gay and bisexual men.

There have been many discussions online and in newspapers about mental health and about masculinity and this book is a fascinating look at both from the perspective of gay and bisexual men. Beyond the Equality Act, equal marriage and more prominent media representation, when you look at the stats, there are more suicides and death among young men, especially gay and bisexual men, than any other demographic. There is also a spike in unsafe sex, STDs and more worryingly, in HIV diagnoses.

The book isn’t about pointing the finger at some part of the LGBT community, but rather it is trying to question why some of these behaviours have increased in the past few years – looking in particular at suicide, depression, anxiety, use of dangerous drugs, low self-esteem, and extreme and unsafe sexual behaviour.

This is a really fascinating book and one that is getting people talking about toxic masculinity when it comes to gay and bisexual men. What really stands out in the book is how the author talks about his experience and some of the darkest moments in his life. Without realising, he sank into a very dark downward spiral where he reached rock bottom. His examination of why he felt so unhappy and was not living his life to the fullest gives a human perspective on the wider research and stats. Matthew Todd had a lightbulb moment talking to a therapist about his alcohol addiction. His therapist made him realise that some of his behaviour could be explained by him being gay. Not because of his sexuality but rather because of growing up gay in a very intolerant society. He grew up with strong feelings of shame and of not fitting in, which were never addressed  or alleviated when he was young. With such negative feelings about himself, he struggled to have a healthy sense of self, love, relationships and sex.

Matthew Todd argues that most LGBT adults grow up with these unchallenged negative visions of themselves. He also argues that most of these people build a shield to protect themselves, to fight for survival. They approach situations with a ‘fight or flight’ attitude which stems from anxiety and a form of post-traumatic stress. There’s no surprise that mental health is one of the biggest concerns for health professionals and LGBT activists.

Despite a sense of acceptance and that “equality has been achieved”, the figures for homophobic and transphobic bullying keep on growing but it isn’t talked about as much in mainstream media. This is the type of thing that needs to be discussed so that no more generations of LGBT young people grow up with these negative feelings, and the book is a call-to-arms for everyone to act.

Another part of the book examines Matthew Todd’s own role as a journalist for a gay magazine and how the images of happy and handsome men on covers could be damaging for some people. He talks about this moment of realisation and also what he has done to include a greater diversity of people, experiences and body shapes in Attitude.

I found this book incredibly thought-provoking and essential reading for anyone interested in the mental health and wellbeing of LGBT young people. Straight Jacket is written with so much heart and compassion and, though some of it might be painful to read, it’s a necessary step to spark a conversation to hopefully allow LGBT people to be able to live happier and healthier lives.

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Matthew Todd will be in Edinburgh on 26th October 2016 to talk about his book. The event is organised by Sx who aim to improve the sexual, physical and mental health of gay and bisexual men, and all men who have sex with men.

To see more details about the event and buy tickets:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/how-to-be-gay-and-happy-an-evening-with-matthew-todd-tickets-27727235909?aff=es2 

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Thank you to Transworld for the proof copy!