Thursday, 19 May 2016

Interview with Jeffrey Marsh

Host, author, and youth advocate Jeffrey Marsh has more than a quarter BILLION views across social media. As the creator of the global trends #DontSayThatsSoGay and #NoTimeToHateMyself, Jeffrey has earned spots on top Viner lists by both BuzzFeed and Vine with their positive, inclusive messages. 

Before you read this interview, prepare yourself for tears. God knows how many times I cried whilst transcribing this, typing it, and re-reading it, purely because of how beautiful a person Jeffrey is, and that their message to the masses is crucial; there is nothing wrong with you.

Although I have had to edit this down (a LOT - we got to talking and couldn't stop!) their beautiful, empowering message still resonates throughout the interview. Don't underestimate Jeffrey; they are a force to be reckoned with in the cyber world, and their positive messages of self-worth and perfection can work wonders, even if you are in the darkest of places.

As Roald Dahl once said, "“If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely."

How did you get into motivational speaking?
I started by experimenting; I tried singing, dancing, telling jokes, along with motivational quotes. It was when the motivational side of my Vines began to really take off that I realised I was on to something. I think people needed that reminder that there is nothing wrong with you, and until that moment I didn’t realise quite how much people needed to hear that.
How do you think your Vines can help people?
I have not yet spoken to anyone who has not been told at some point that there is something wrong with them. I think people find them powerful because they see the metaphor: I was always told there was something wrong with me because I am queer but people extrapolate my defiance against that message to understand that perhaps there is nothing wrong with them either. It is a difficult message to convey but gradually through my presence on social media and constant reminders, they can understand they are beautiful for who they are.
How have you learned to tackle diversity?
I think it is a mixture of small, gradual steps, coupled with occasional leaps of understanding. I knew I was queer in kindergarten and I was very aware that people had a problem with it. It took me years and years to discover that it wasn’t my fault that I was queer, and a few more years to discover that people were trying their best to come to terms with my identity, even though they still had a problem with it. It makes me feel hopeful that they are trying, but equally sad that they have it instilled in them to begin with. Communication is a crucial tool to tackle diversity; by talking about gender identity and body image issues we can collectively move forward.
How do you think pronouns can affect people and their identity?
I learned a long time ago that the term ‘he’ doesn’t describe me as a human. I am willing to have the discussion about pronouns with people which is important to me, but I will host it in a loving, kind environment (by the way I have chosen ‘they/them’). What I disagree with is making others feel bad and policing them, or feeling bitter and getting upset that other people are unsure of how to refer to me. Regardless of where they may be coming from, I want it to be coming from a kind place. Ultimately everyone is different, and it is a delicate topic but often people are not trying to be deliberately offensive or malicious, they are trying to understand which I think is a huge development.  
When did you first feel you were making a difference to peoples’ lives?
When I started getting messages through Vine about people considering committing suicide. I still do, almost every day, and the messages state that they have decided to live because of my presence on social media. Those messages are the most fulfilling, wonderful, beautiful and touching interactions that I have. When I was younger I felt suicidal at times so I understand the importance of feeling like you belong and that there is a place for you.
What are your views on Caitlyn Jenner?
I think it has helped to give accessibility to this issue, as Caitlyn's is a very public story and has highlighted trans issues and gender issues by the fact that she isn’t perfect. That in itself is very powerful. Having such a complicated and unexpected human presented to us shows that Caitlyn is a tapestry of lots of different expressions, which ultimately, is what we all are.
How would you help someone with low self-esteem?
There is nothing but good news for this question. This is a lifelong process; there is no one tip that will flip the switch and turn off your insecurities, but your relationship with your self-esteem is going to constantly change throughout your life. There is also plenty of information available to you; for myself, it was spiritual practice, whereby I became a Buddhist. Everyone can do it, just start the process with something tiny and start today.
How did you discover Buddhism?
I was in an eastern-philosophy spiritual bookstore in Philadelphia when I came across a book called There Is Nothing Wrong With You by Cheri Huber. I had 2 instant reactions. Firstly, was ‘that’s not true’ and secondly was that in my heart, I felt it resonate with me. Cheri is the guide at a monastery in California and once I read the book, I went on a retreat there and still occasionally visit now. Currently on my bookshelf is another one of her books, When You’re Falling, Dive that enables the reader to participate with blank pages and drawings that reiterates what Buddhism gives to me, which is total, full-on acceptance and love.
Lastly, tell me about your new book?
It’s called How To Be You that focuses on acceptance. The whole book grew out of the messages I received on social media and my editor and I realised that they had certain themes, which we broke down into about 10 categories, including perfection, bullying and connection to self. There are 3 different ways the book talks about how to be you: direct advice on how to love yourself, memoirs from my life and a workbook, where you can answer questions, work on projects, draw and remove pages, so we get to produce the book together. As much as I have started the book, the reader will make it into a creative journey with me.

Jeffrey's book comes out on August 2nd 2016, but you can pre-order it now at

About the author:
In 2015, Jeffrey was named official red carpet correspondent for both MTV/Logo and GLSEN and as a featured writer for The Huffington Post and Medium. Jeffrey is a precepted facilitator in the Soto Zen tradition of Buddhism, as well as a host, actor, singer, songwriter, dancer, and comedian.

To  understand more about gender-neutral pronouns, click here for Washington Post's article.

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