Lies has had a number of requests to ‘do’ Jeffrey Marsh, requests that we understandably were reluctant to take up. However, when we were informed that he was doing a Q&A with Kidscape and that it was only an hour long, we braced ourself and decided to listen in. Kidscape is a UK charity dedicated to the prevention of bullying through providing support and training. In February 2022 there was a previous attempt to hold a webinar with Marsh, but alas! the June webinar was also cancelled following a deluge of complaints about Jeffrey’s inappropriate behaviour, leaving Kidscape with no choice but to pull the plug.
Hence our interest in Marsh was piqued and we therefore undertook the very brave decision to read his book instead. And we felt no embarrassment, I repeat, NO embarrassment, about reading this book in public. Just completely regular in fact.
About Jeffrey Marsh
Where did Jeffrey Marsh come from? Wikipedia tells us little, except that he wanted to be a musical star.
However, we can establish that Marsh has been annoying since at least 2016 when he published HOW TO BE YOU, with this article describing him as genderqueer, and he has been dressing badly since at least 2008 (see video above).
Marsh’s Twitter bio at the time of writing describes him as a ‘teacher and healer’ and describes this terrible self-help book as a Buddhist best seller. The thing Marsh is most known for, however, is talking directly to children about their and Marsh’s own problems. This is Marsh’s stated attitude to child safeguarding that is repeated ad nauseam across all of his social media presences.
Marsh doesn’t post that many of his videos on Twitter, but on Tiktok content is prolific. Each video grosses at least 30,000 views, but really popular ones easily pass the 200,000 mark. It is impossible to scroll through the hundreds of videos he has posted without seeing messages which would cause alarm to any sane adult, or perhaps even an insane one. In one video ‘How to know if no contact is the answer’ (top left of the image below) we learn that Marsh has no contact with his family (though I think I have seen him contradict this at other times). Why on earth would a children’s charity want anything to do with this toxic troll?
You can watch any of Marsh’s videos and feel disturbed, but if you have somehow managed to avoid his viral outpourings (unlikely), try this one for size – ‘Oh yes I’m a clown, but you’re not operating in good faith, and I can prove it’. In it, as he always does, he directly addresses critics and fans alike, hairy chest exposed. The message is that if you are being bullied you’re special and strong, just like him. It’s fair to say that Marsh is pretty bloody mesmerising, his eyes immediately lock onto yours whenever a video plays, lipstick blood red and white teeth bared. Like a fabled wolf, one might say.
To the book
Jeffrey Marsh dedicates the book to:
the love of my life, Jeff, who has always seen and honored the real me, even when I wasn’t sure who that wasJeffrey dedicating the book to Jeff, his same named partner, but of course we did screech out loud thinking he was talking self-reflexively.
What zaps you right in the heart?page ix
I have to say Marsh has a way with language. He writes exactly like he speaks, directly at you. He explains he will help us ‘be the you that you didn’t get while growing up’, encourages us to reread the book regularly and to grab our crayons.
In every chapter there is also a #DearJeffrey section, in which he answers questions apparently sent to him online, where he gets to play Agony Aunt, a section of personal recollection and exercises to help discover ourselves. Sometimes there are mini bios of famous people who are supposedly his heroes/heroines (note the gendered language).
Firstly we learn that he grew up poor on a farm, the family had a few animals and only two crops, his mother was also a Lutheran pastor. He wore his mother’s shoes to dress up (do farmer’s do glamour?) and aged 11 came out to her as gay. He tells us that his parents are both supportive of him. So what exactly is the problem then …
Chapter 1 – Don’t try to be perfect
‘Perfection doesn’t exist.’ Marsh repeats different incantations of this over the course of the next several paragraphs but cleverly ends on a rhetorical question:
What’s the one thing about yourself that you were taught to hate?page 2
And we have cleverly passed from trying to fit in with norms and expectations to the assertion that you have been taught to hate yourself with the insinuation that parents are to blame.
We learn more about Marsh’s upbringing and how he had ‘felt a lot more complicated than “gay”‘ (page 3) and had been driven by his parents to what is alternatively described as a ‘LGBT support group’ (the acronym did not exist back then) and more simply as a ‘gay-positive teen group’ (page 4). His parents drove him to the social group an hour there and back on a regular basis meaning they must have been pretty open minded people for the late 80s/early 90s, when Marsh was a teen. He asked a boy to be his prom date but the boy pulled out because of ‘threats’.
Marsh develops on his idea that there are ‘fake standards’ that we have to meet without ever explaining what these might be. Having to wear the right clothes perhaps? Have a certain number of friends? Liking a certain pop group or sports team? You would think that Marsh might use one at least one of these obvious examples of peer pressure, but no, he prefers instead to refer to ‘fixed robot people’ (page 7) as the enemy and recommends us to ‘start chipping away at your own internal standards system’ (page 11).
We are also invited to respond creatively to a set of questions. The questions are dry, uninspiring and incorrectly pitched, i.e. no thirteen year old thinks about where they might be ‘twenty years from now’.
Chapter 2 – Trust Yourself
When you were a kid, you received a kind of programming.page 15, beginning of Chapter 2
Marsh develops his robot idea a bit further. That we are hatchlings subject to the whims of our parents, who tell us ‘don’t do this’ and ‘don’t do that’. Never mind that the this or the that might involve eating laburnum pods or stealing flowers off graves (Not guilty, M’Lud). Your cruel parents also didn’t tell you that you were actually a superhero, opines our Jeffrey and that ‘when you were eight years old you forgot how bold you were at two years old’ (page 16). Yeah, two year olds are really bold about throwing their food on the floor. My god.
Marsh tells us our talents are ‘superpowers’ and that ‘probably you were required to hide’ these. Again, we are desperately lacking any examples of actual superpowers one might possess, though Marsh does tell us a trite story about a boy who was bullying him but who he also fancied. Marsh struck the bully on his head with one of his mittened hands. Magically, in that instant, the bullying stopped. Marsh has obviously never come across one of these people in real life since a proper bully would have laughed, grabbed Marsh’s hair and kneed him in the nuts.
Then onto some disingenuous confessions. Marsh isn’t really confident and never feels sure about anything. He encourages us to believe that other peoples’ opinion about you are ‘almost always bunk’ (page 23), though I note there is little pushback from Marsh when fellow TikTokkers burble praise.
Twenty-four pages in, we finally get an example of something you might not be confident about. ‘Reading aloud’. That has to be close to the bottom of the list for any teenager. Top of the list has to be ‘is my body normal’ but Marsh is a kind of bodiless ethereal spirit, so he doesn’t get into the physicality of puberty. Instead we are told we should have heroes/heroines and that his heroine is Wonder Woman (later in the chapter we also learn Lynda Carter is also a heroine, you know the bird what played her, a TV series which first aired when Marsh was a toddler). There is a blank page for us to ‘design your very own superhero cape’ to show the ‘evildoers of this world what gives you strength’.
Of course there are certain opinions that we have decided as a society and as a culture we want to support, certain ideas that we make into laws, for example. But notice that not everybody agrees with those!page 30
You might think that Marsh then went onto say that that murder, rape and theft are of course all wrong and deeply immoral, but he didn’t. He appears to be inferring that we might want to think differently about even fundamental taboos. Bad Jeffrey.
Then we begin to notice how repetitive and hypnotic the text is, with him banging on about how some people are taught to put peanut butter in the fridge but some people keep it in the cabinet. Let’s have a heated debate!
If someone tells you, you have gained some weight, Marsh tells us: ‘Don’t ever talk to that person again’ (page 33). Which is great advice if the person is a kid at school, but what if it’s your mother? And what if it’s true? Marsh doesn’t expand.
We round off the chapter by learning that Marsh didn’t spend that much time with Dad and that parents ‘represent food and shelter’ (page 37). There is also an exercise, to write dialogue between ourself and our hero/heroine. No pointers or examples are given on how that dialogue might go. Great stuff.
Chapter 3 – Learn more about yourself
Marsh explains to us that ‘you, can only be you’. But how do you find about more about you? Well you answer ‘Jeffrey Marsh’s Old-Fashioned, New-Fangled, Get-to-Know Yourseeeeeeeelf Quiz’ (page 45) and then he gives you feedback on how you might have answered. It is a pointless and tedious exercise and he only briefly addresses the topic that a lot of teens worry about: rejection, as in he names it and moves on.
We learn that:
Spending time with you and learning about you are very much related.
You probably got the message that self-examination might do damage or should be scary somehow.
It’s a little known secret that you must put yourself first.
When you get right down to it, there is little difference between you and other people.pages 48, 50, 51, 52
Now aside from the clearly false assertion that self-examination and self-interest in Western society is a taboo, encouraging young people to believe we all think the same is a fallacy and, frankly, is a bit groomy.
After pages and pages of exhorting us to just be ourselves, we have a mini bio of Lili Elbe, the first man to undergo ‘sex change surgery’. The book was published in 2016, so a bit before puberty blockers were being openly advocated, but it is a weird little insert, incongruent with the message of the chapter of ‘be yourself’. We learn that Elbe ‘felt more comfortable dressed as a woman’ (page 55) and Marsh admits Elbe died from surgical complications.
In 1930, Lili became on the first public figures to pursue surgery to change her body to express her gender identity. This then-experimental surgery, along with four follow-up surgeries, eventually contributed to severe health problems and Lili died. Today she is remembered as someone who knew herself very well. She was a cultural pioneer and heroine for the modern transgender movement.page 55, Marsh on Lile Elbe – my emphasis
The reader is then exhorted to think of advice they might give to someone like Elbe, who didn’t like something about themselves. We wouldn’t hate them, would we?
In the memoir segment, Marsh tells us that he attended two summer camps every year, and the initial image cast of him growing up dirt poor with a dirt track leading up to the ole shack of a farm house frankly disintegrates. One camp ran a talent show which allowed him to develop his flamboyant side, the other was a Christian summer camp, which taught him that Jesus hated him. It can’t have been easy growing up being noticeably effeminate in the 80s, I’ll give him that. Marsh tried to be more straight acting (surely futile in his case) until the epiphany finally arrived that he couldn’t change himself. So his personal story is at odds with what he recommends. He learnt that he couldn’t change his true nature when he tried to be someone else, not by being himself. Doh!
The final section is another exercise, in which we write down our favourite things (Julie Andrews is mentioned in the previous pages, so perhaps that’s why). We answer the questions and learn nothing additional about ourself from the fact that our favourite breakfast cereal is Shreddies and that our favourite time to take a bath is in the morning.
Chapter 4 – Have your emotions
An emotion is an energy in your physical body with a word attached to it. That’s it.page 71
Why do we have emotions? and, Why do we feel like our emotions are wrong? These are the questions that Marsh mulls over in a reductive fashion over the course of this twenty page chapter. No serious attempt is made to explain why we might experience certain emotions. He could have said, for example, the most obvious one; snorting cocaine makes you into a paranoid chatterbox with a red nose.
Interestingly the emotion that Marsh chooses to zone in on is anger. Can’t think why. We are told that we ‘must honor and express the anger somehow’ and that this can ‘feel good’ (page 72). The reason why we must do this is so we can ‘see how little power emotions have’ (page 73). Um, okay, I thought we were doing it to feel good, but whatever.
3. Your feelings are your own fault. This is the worst lie!page 76
Except they are your own fault, aren’t they? If you have stuck three KitKats up your nose and spent hours posting drivel on TIkTok? He also forgets to mention one of the most crippling human emotions; boredom. An emotion all too present as we make our way through the book.
In fact, because Marsh is someone who clearly feels too much all of the time, there is no consideration given to non-fiery emotions. Having emotions should be treated as a performance and we are given long instructions on how to ‘practice [sic] expressing emotions’ (page 85). Further on the topic of anger, he tells us that it begs to be physicalised and recommends we hit a pillow, scream or go for a run.
Marsh briefly mentions that he felt constricted because he didn’t display typical ‘boy’ emotions and we realise that Marsh hasn’t mentioned that he is non-binary yet, nor that he has special they/them pronouns.
Chapter 5 – Let go of punishment and control
Marsh tells us although it is ‘crazy’ to imagine a ‘two-year old leaving her parents’ it is just as crazy for a teen to live under a ‘two-year old’s system of right/wrong, good/bad’ (page 95) and thus we are back to parents being bad people, but he can’t say that explicitly, obviously.
He asks us to complete the following sentences ‘A good mother would never …’ and ‘A family should always …,’ before embarking on a poor explanation of dualism. This is really where he should have inserted some classic quotes from famous philosophers, he only had to Google them, and given himself a bit of time off to have a coffee or something. Or sniff another KitKat.
In the memoir bit we learn that Dad continued to drive Marsh regularly, this time to do his theatre performances which were in a neighbouring State (i.e. Dad gave up an entire evening). Dad was distant and cool with him on the journeys and this caused poor Jeffrey to feel very ‘unseen’. I reckon the Dad was just frazzled. Or scared.
Then we learn Jeffrey’s five top myths about control. He goes on a rant with a dizzying amount of contradictory information, including questions, exclamation marks, clauses in parentheses, quote marks and words in italics. None of it makes any sense but boy do we get that he doesn’t have problems with control.
Chapter 6 – Forget Haters
The point of this chapter is to help you understand how hate works and ultimately identify and forget the haters in your life.page 115
Marsh then goes onto tell us that haters hate themselves and that you probably hate yourself. Until finally, the real biggie:
As odd as it seems, you are not fundamentally better than your haters, you are the same as them.page 117
Pray tell Jeffy, why would we caste aside for evermore the people who we are no different from?
We then learn that if we’re being bullied we are doing ‘something right’ (page 121) but in order to get it sorted out we need to tell someone who isn’t a hater and who isn’t going to disagree with us. Failing that we should tell the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
It really is that simple.
Chapter 7 – Get Used to Not Knowing
In this chapter the wheels really come off Marsh’s philosophy and he knows it. He begins with a reflection that he was annoyed as heck by his parents constantly drilling him with what sort of career he might want. But surely a farming family would have just assumed he wanted to take over the family business?
He explains to his young reader that parental aspiration is really abuse and begins to strongly encourage not trusting your own instincts. That you shouldn’t aspire to have career choices and want to know where you might be in the future, despite having previously asked us to picture ourselves in 20 years’ time. He likens the contradiction to liking to wear nail polish and asks ‘Is it that the same as knowing nail polish is right or wrong?’ (page 130).
He also tries the ‘I know my parents would have reacted differently’ (page 131) depending on what he said he wanted to be, but in fact he has already told us exactly how they reacted, and it involved ferrying him around for several hours on interstate highways.
Marsh, with his minuscule appreciation of philosophy, tells us that the future isn’t knowable, his cultural knowledge so impoverished he couldn’t even joke about death and taxes. There are also unbelievably fatuous statements such as ‘Being you will sometimes complicate things.’ (page 132) and more maddeningly still ‘I very much hope you will never find solid answers about your deepest truths’, and ‘I encourage all of us to stay a big mess’ (page 135). Why bother writing a self-help book if outcomes are of absolutely zero consequence?
Stop wanting to know who you really are, he screams at us, page after page. Then a mini bio of another of his heroines, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who, he correctly informs us, fought for sex-based rights for women.
In the long run, I think it is better for you not to be so sure about who you are. I do get asked all the time, “How are you so confident?” In this context, the answer is an ironic one: I have gotten more and more comfortable and confident because I know that I do not know who I am. I have gotten comfortable with the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing.page 139 (Marsh forgets to add the question is being asked by youngsters and that he arrived at this epiphany as a result of arriving in middle age)
Chapter 8 – Feel Good
Feeling bad doesn’t get you anywhere. A popular theory goes that if you do something “wrong”, you will feel bad about it, and you then persuaded not to do that wrong thing again. That’s actually a crazy theory.page 145
Marsh then spends the next several pages convincing us, against all common sense, that there is absolutely nothing to be gained from your own internal sense of shame, but instead assures us that ‘You will never do that [bad] thing again.’ (page 146). There’s even a #DearJeffrey question thrown in from an incredulous follower who succinctly explains why feeling bad is the only way we learn from mistakes. Marsh bats this away, describing the notion that we should have known better as a ‘weird, impossible notion’ and that we ‘can’t know better’ (page 148).
Marsh further flaunts his stunted intellect when the subject turns to Hitler and feeling bad. ‘Shouldn’t have Hitler felt bad?’ people ask him. Marsh’s response is: Why are you so obsessed with Hitler? And, ‘why do people punish themselves internally as if they were Hitler? (page 150). My god, can he ever stop talking?
Genocidal maniacs dealt with, Marsh then gives some ‘ways to feel good’, including suggestions of exercise, meditating, eating good food, cleaning your room, but the one with hobbies is strangely archaic, e.g. we might want to start a stamp collection or ‘build model trains’. We also might want to start a ‘feel good list’ which completely conflicts with his ‘not knowing is best’ from the previous chapter.
In the memoir section we have this revealing statement:
I really recommend that you become a TV star. The thing about being a sparkling, have-it-all-together TV personality is this: it really requires you to make the transition from worshipping heroes to becoming one.page 158
Marsh then explains how brave and stunningTM he has been in vox popping people in the street. Has this man ever had a real job?
Chapter 9 – Stay Connected to You
Final chapter – hurray!
Marsh, reminding us that he was just a ‘poor farm kid’, tells us of his special connection to a spiritual bookshop he used to visit. The place was stuffed full of crystals, dream catchers, burning incense and, of course, whacko self-help texts like the one he has penned. One of the books was called There is Nothing Wrong with You by Cheri Huber, who we later learn is his personal teacher. Deep down he recognised that yes, nothing was wrong with him, and he embarked on a several year study of Zen at a monastery. In California. Having studied Buddhism I can sort of see how he has tried to match his philosophy with that, but he has deliberately dispensed with the moral framework that underpins it all, namely the Five Precepts and the system of karmic deliverance. In Marsh’s version, denying yourself of what you want is a sin, and while he doesn’t recommend wild excesses he also doesn’t consider that some reading his book may have serious problems.
Marsh tells us that parents are not responsible for taking care of your emotional needs, which whilst is true for adults, it is clearly not for children who still rely on their parents for basic needs.
Quietening the voices in our head is the true path to peace he assures us, except that this is an incredibly difficult thing to achieve, and actually contraindicated with some personality-types and/or mental health issues, especially those prone to paranoia (perhaps he should take note?). Then in contradiction to this, we are strongly recommended we soothe ourselves by listening to recordings of our own voices and he recommends Cherie Huber’s website, who started the project. I genuinely can’t imagine anything less paranoia-making than listening to me croaking sweet nothings to myself over and over again, that’s if I didn’t spontaneously combust with laughter.
On the topic of forgiveness, there is nothing more ‘important’ that the ‘admission that everyone is doing their best’ (page 171) . Even Hitler.
Although Marsh has written an entire book about how you just need to be you, he now warns us we might need to ‘go to therapy or move to a monastery’ (page 172). Alternatively we can visit his website at jeffreymarsh.com.
Then an invitation to design the Valentine’s Card we always wanted to receive, clearly aimed at children and the mentally sub-normal. The final hero/heroine bio is dedicated to the reader as ‘only a really good person would read it all the way to the end’ (page 177). Or else a stupid gullible numpty.
This section is directly addressed to teachers and those working with young people with his top ten tips. The version of the book I bought was reprinted in 2022 and includes the only mention of gender identity whatsoever, bar the bio on Lilli Elbe. Marsh tells us it is important to understand the lingo of the younger generation and gives the example of a teen describing themselves as an ‘a-romantic pansexual trans-fem DMAB*’ (page 180) on Twitter. Marsh freely admits that these are all new terms.
*Designated male at birth, in case you were wondering.
Other advice includes the ‘overtly political’ recommendation that teachers set up ‘safe spaces’ for pupils, which carries the inference that school is not safe. He tells them that they should ‘stand against bullying’ when they are already contractually obliged to, and to not worry about their performance as a teacher, when they really should.
Worst of all, he encourages teachers and other youth workers to open up about themselves and let the kids get to know them at a personal level, explaining that it will be good therapy for them and good therapy for their charges.
Marsh thanks the people who have helped him. Notably this includes his manager Rick Sorkin, who apparently only accepts fees in the 50-100k range for speaker engagements for himself (hopeful), via the website Technology Speakers, which gives you an idea of how much Marsh might demand.
Marsh also identifies the GLSEN as an organisation which has supported him in the long term (an LGBT education network active nationally in the US). His parents are described as ‘loving and accepting’ who apparently gave the thumbs up for him to write his dreadful book. His brother and sister are also thanked and there is a hint that the brother provided financial assistance in supporting Marsh as a ‘starving artist’.
‘Jacob Tobia is a great friend’ (page 189), i.e. another bearded apparently gay dude who thinks he isn’t really male because he likes wearing lipstick.
In a Facebook video posted on 5 September 2022 by Dylan Mulvaney, (Marsh’s new enby best bud and fellow TikTokker) Marsh claims he came out as they/them in 2013 around 1.40 minutes into the video. This is palpably untrue since he does not mention his own gender identity or preferred pronouns even once in his book. It means that his whole non-binary schtick is exactly that, invented at a point when he saw which way the industry was moving.
Most damning though is that Marsh’s own source of inspiration is himself and his own experience, which is particularly risible when there is several millennia of wisdom he could have drawn inspiration from, but the best he could do was mention a single Buddhist teacher he has a personal (possibly financial) affiliation with. It suggests his lack of interest in the outside world and his need to be centre of it pre-exists his current fame and is not a product of it. What is clear though is that TikTok transformed Marsh from a fairly apolitical new age nut to a wildly hormonal gender lunatic as he met a medium perfectly suited to his style of communication.
From a self-help point of view, the book is utterly utterly useless. I mean, really. It deprives you of the notion that you have personal responsibility or autonomy. Worse still Marsh argues that any abusive behaviour you display or are on the receiving end of, doesn’t really matter because everyone is just ‘doing their best’. It’s all part of the queer theory notion that you create yourself, that we don’t really exist, so feelings don’t matter, and you are just this ever changing you, which isn’t really you, only it’s that over the course of 200 pages when he could have said it in one paragraph.
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