Community News & Features How are you? By Hadley | @wordsbyhadley How are you? It’s a question you’ll often hear as you go about your day. The easy answer is “I’m fine.” Maybe you are just ‘fine’, but maybe you’re a little less than fine. But how can you say that to somebody first thing in the morning? The truth is, we’re pretty rubbish when it comes to talking about how we’re feeling. A few years ago, the “I’m (not) fine” reply came to me as naturally as breathing. And it turns out I’m not the only gay guy who’s felt anything but gay. In mid-June Matthew Todd released his long awaited book Straight Jacket. Like many gay men, I bagged myself a copy as soon as I could and started flicking my way through the pages. The book accompanied me on a weekend away from London and on the train journey somebody asked me about the book. “This book is going to change the world!” I exclaimed. And I meant it. The very idea for this book is both brave and genius. It’s never easy talking about your own experiences of mental health, addiction or relationships. Yet, here was a book which discussed these very issues. It’s even arranged into three sections, taking the reader on a journey: from Shame, to Escape and finally on to Recovery. It isn’t just the voice of Matthew Todd that we experience, but we also get to hear the experiences of other LGBT people. As I read these various accounts, I could identify friends of mine, people I’ve worked with and I could recall hearing about some of the stories in the news. This allowed me to relate to these issues, showing me that it was happening to real people. It’s all very well and good showing me a pie chart of statistics which illustrates that LGBT people are more likely to suffer from depression, but how does that relate to me and my friends? Although I’m not the biggest fan of statistics, they do provide us with some context. The RaRE Report, published by PACE, states that 34% of young LGB people had made at least one suicide attempt in their lives, compared with 18% of young heterosexual people. The study also found that many people who took part in the study were deeply impacted by bullying aimed at their sexual orientation and physical appearance. Speaking as somebody who was bullied for being gay, before I even knew what ‘gay’ meant, that it led me to the false conclusion that being gay was something to be ashamed of. It would be wrong to assume that all gay men are either depressed, self-harming or suicidal; the book makes this very clear. But something that the book does highlight are the potential consequences of homophobia on a person’s mental health. Furthermore, the book brings so-called ‘gay issues’ into mainstream discussion. Our straight friends may empathise with our experiences of homophobia, but can they fully understand it? I’d argue this book goes some way to bridging that gap in understanding. I think it’s about time we started talking to one another about these issues. Just because we use a word which means ‘happy’ to describe our sexual orientation, doesn’t mean we need to be happy all the time. It’s OK to feel something other than gay. Perhaps this is why the idea of breaking down this false sense of security and admitting we’re not feeling great is such a challenge? We have all sorts of feelings: happy, sad, elated, scared, confident, and self-conscious. So the next time a friend asks you how you’re feeling, just know that you don’t always need to say ‘fine’. SUPPORT: If you need someone to talk to, you can call Samaritans on 116 123 or LGBT Switchboard on 0300 330 0630.