Challenging LGBTQ+ Shame: Matthew Todd's Straight Jacket and SX

It’s been years since I made a New Year's resolution. Like many other people I suspect, I’ve never really been able to keep to them as early enthusiasm gives way to old routines. This year, however, I’m ready to give self-improvement another go, and it’s going to start with putting down the phone and picking up some books.    

When it came to picking my first read of 2023, I knew that I needed a focus, which is why I choose something that felt relevant to my work with Waverley Care's SX project.  

Matthew Todd’s Straight Jacket: How to be Gay and Happy was published in June 2016, coincidentally just a week before Waverley Care launched SX. It’s a fascinating and, at times, heart-breaking read that explores the shame that many (but by no means all) LGBTQ+ people feel about their identity, how this is shaped by their experiences of being ‘othered’, and the impact that this has on their mental, physical and sexual health and wellbeing. 

Stories throughout the book ring true with the themes we see in our work at SX, particularly the anxiety that many men experience – whether that’s shame about their sexuality, or a perceived failure to live up to their idealised notion of what a ‘real gay man’ is. Lots of guys come to us struggling with things like low self-esteem, negative body image, or trouble forming healthy, happy and sexually fulfilling relationships. And, we see the wider implications of these feelings, whether it’s problematic alcohol and substance use, self-harm and suicide ideation, or taking risks with their sexual health – all of which disproportionately affect gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men.  

What comes across in our work – and in the book – is the fact that there’s nothing that inherently predisposes LGBTQ+ people to these health inequalities, but rather this is a consequence of growing up in a culture that discriminates against them. Straight Jacket makes clear, however, that we can overcome these inequalities at a societal, community and individual level by implementing positive changes to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people that will ultimately save lives. 

Much of what Todd suggests are things that we’re trying to put into practice at SX, in particular through our one-to-one support service. In these sessions, we work with men on an individual basis, giving them the space and freedom to explore the challenges they’re facing, often for the first time. We’re there to help them identify the changes they’d like to make, and the steps that can get them there. 

Underpinning all of SX’s work is the belief that the sexual health and wellbeing of gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men is about so much more than just STIs and ‘taking risks.’ It’s about helping them to feel confident and comfortable in their identities, to live their lives on their own terms and ultimately, as Todd puts it, to be gay and happy. 

If you’re interested in accessing support from SX, you can fill out this form and one of the team will get back to you. In the meantime, if you have any good book recommendations, feel free to get in touch.