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Something about Gay Pride just didn’t sit right with Matthew Todd.
This might sound like a surprising statement coming from the former editor of Attitude and the author of a seminal book about the gay experience, Straight Jacket. But then Matthew is not afraid to turn over that shiny rock and reveal the dark, squirming belly of gay life beneath. The side that so many of us love to gloss over, too busy living our #bestlife.
“People say ‘I’m proud!’ while being engaged in self-destructive behaviour,” Matthew explains. “I was very aware when I came out [that I needed] to be proud, but all the while, I, and lots of other people, didn’t seem to be particularly happy or proud.”
Matthew was one of many gay men struggling with self-destructive behaviour. He spent years battling alcoholism and depression and dealing with other mental health issues. Then he got clean, began to look after his mind and threw everything he’d learned into his book.
Straight Jacket resonated with people who, on the surface appeared to be happy and finally getting everything they wanted in an equal society, but under it all were still hurting from a lifetime spent hiding feelings of shame and finding ways to mask the pain.
Having finally won the rights we fought so hard for, are gay people stuck in a loop of not wanting to admit that life isn’t always fabulous? Are we too busy trying to prove to everyone that we have the perfect job, the perfect boyfriend and the perfect body, to admit our mental health is not OK?
“Why would we then want to say that there are some issues that we need to talk about when that plays to this agenda that we are all really screwed up?” Matthew explains.
The book goes to some dark places to get to the root of the underlying issues gay people face, but it also offers hope and advice, although not necessarily answers.
“The answer is not easy because the answer is to change. People don’t need to suffer,” says Matthew. “Sometimes people can become comfortable and almost addicted to feeling bad; I certainly did. I think it’s important to be brave and acknowledge that this isn’t the truth. You can change.”
When, under Matthew's editorship, Attitude released its “Issues” issue in 2010, it was the first time the topic of mental health had been covered in such depth in the gay press.
“That issue was quite a landmark. Some people aren’t aware of it, but we talk about the mental health of LGBT+ people a lot now, and that wouldn’t have happened without Attitude.”
The lead feature, entitled How to be Gay and Happy, was written by Matthew and started a huge discussion around the mental health of gay men, with the magazine receiving more letters about it than for anything before — or since.
And having helped set up the first Pride Awards in 2015, it’s thanks to Matthew that Attitude is honouring the other award-winners at this year's Pride Awards.
“It’s wonderful to receive this award. There’s no other gay magazine in the world that does this,” he says.
You can read more about Matthew's story in Attitude's August issue, available to download and in shops on 20 August.