Reigning from a quaint farming district, Jeffrey Marsh is an artful wordsmith, model, spokesperson, LGBTQIPA and self-love activist, and social media sensation, having amassed three hundred million views and a five hundred thousand and growing support system. Within 2016, a CBS station designated them “Viner of the Year”, and within 2014, Vine bestowed them with a “Top Ten Viners” merit. Furthermore, Jeffrey has prevailed as the Official Viner and Social Media Ambassadors/Correspondent to organizations inclusive of Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and Freedom to Marry. Not to mention, in reference to their officiated website, “As a fashion model, Jeffrey changed the garment industry by becoming the first gender non-binary bride in a bridal gown lookbook.”
Fortunately, without hesitation amidst their bustling viability, they agreed to be interviewed by Affinity Magazine via Skype audio, and thus, Jeffrey and myself, Alexandria Piette, delved into a discussion centralizing on numerous ends to the spectrum of their existential sphere.
Q. Affinity Magazine and myself want to thank you again [for being here today]! My friends love you and what you stand for so much. I actually have a non-binary-identifying friend, and they love everything you do, and say that you give them the courage to be themselves. I think that’s so wonderful, so thank you for that, first and foremost!
A. Oh, that’s wonderful!
Q. Well, I’ve never done a phone interview before—I don’t know if you can tell [laughs]—but I always like to ask people some “fun facts” about themselves. What’s your favorite food, color, or whatever you can think of?
A. Great! Well, I love sweet potatoes.
Q. Sweet potatoes! Always good.
A. In the oven. Roasted. And maybe, like, a kale salad? That’s one of my favorite meals of all time.
And you said color? Yellow, obviously. Look at my social media. That’s all I do.
Q. I agree; I love yellow!
What I had initially is that you’re very transparent throughout social media about your gender identification with they/them pronouns. I was wondering—if it’s alright of me to ask—how you recognized that emotionally? Was it a long-running thing for you, or did you accept it from the get-go?
A. To answer your question about always accepting it: I went through a long period of trying to hide and be perceived in certain ways, so that I would be safe. And actually, that was smart. That’s what I needed to do; that was a good thing. I realized once I was living my own life when I moved to New York City and could make my own decisions, I didn’t need to hide anymore. The skills I learned as a kid about how to hide—I didn’t need those anymore. It was a matter of un-learning the hiding and the techniques [that went into it], if that makes sense.
Q. Yeah, I completely think so. That’s great that you can be yourself now, of course, and love yourself.
A. Yeah! [laughs] I would agree.
Q. You’re also really active within the LGBT+ community and you’ve previously identified within the gay umbrella. To piggyback off of the prior question, was that initially burdensome for you as well?
A. It was this long evolution, and I would imagine that it’s going to continue to evolve. I didn’t really have clarity about being genderfluid when I was a kid because people didn’t even talk in those terms. Which is why it’s so exciting to be in the position I’m in now and work with young people who talk in those terms all of time. A lot of people would think that I’m the one who’s giving young people some tips on self-esteem and helping people feel accepted—and all of that’s true, I hope—but also, the young people online have given so much to me. In the form of a way to talk about who I am; a way to feel included; a way to be understood and seen. It’s like a two-way street.
Q. That’s so great. [In regards to] your “coming out” experience, would you say that, amongst your peers, that that was a straining thing?
A. Coming out as genderfluid was, absolutely, because they couldn’t conceive what the heck I was talking about. [laughs] And convincing people my age and older to use they/them pronouns for me was difficult. Not everyone, of course. But more difficult than, you know, young people, who automatically, if they saw a tweet of mine or whatever, would ask me what my pronouns are. Which is totally different than me having to explain the whole thing from the beginning to people my age.
Q. Yeah! I definitely think that even me—I’m seventeen, so I’ve learned a lot [from young people] as well. Which is good because then I can in turn [educate].
A. So you know! You’re familiar with it.
Q. You are generally characterized by your subscribers/followers and yourself as feminine and sporting makeup, dresses, and jewelry. How have you overcome the obstacles that gender roles have challenged you with?
A. Well, I’ve come to see them not as obstacles. That’s how. Saying, “How did you overcome the obstacles?” really gives them too much importance, frankly. And I don’t want to spend my whole life jumping over hurdles that other people think are important, so I recognize that they’re not important at all. These distinctions [like] you play baseball, so you’re a guy, or you wear a skirt, so you’re a girl—all these weird societal ideas about gender I actually don’t have to care about at all. And don’t.
Yeah, sometimes, of course there’s discrimination, there’s looks, and there’s—you know, I’ve been physically threatened online and offline. It comes with consequences when you decide that what society says isn’t important to you, but one hundred percent of the time so far, it’s been worth it.
Q. That actually plays into my next question. My thought was [whether there has been] a notable moment when you were discriminated against or threatened that stuck with you, but inspired you to move forward and love yourself completely?
A. [laughs] Yeah, actually. When I had my first viral video online and started getting a lot of attention, I had a specific hater or troll who told me in great detail how he was going to kill me. Over several comments and in lots of detail he told me the kind of gun he was going to use, where on my body he was going to shoot me, what it would feel like for him to watch the bullet go into my body, [that he was] physically going to come to my house in New York City and find me, and all of this stuff—it was almost like fanfiction [with how descriptive it was]. I realized that that is going to come with being famous on the internet. Is it worth it to be able to help other people feel good and have that come with it? And I decided, yeah, it’s worth it.
Q. Oh my word! I’m so sorry that that happened; I’m sure that was terrifying.
A. [laughs] Yes, it was!
Q. But I’m glad that it was an experience that propelled you forward. I think that that sort of shows that there’s always beauty that can come out of something dark, so that’s at least the positive side!
Speaking of your social media: this is kind of a general question, but what sparked the lightbulb to build your platform and your viewership?
A. It all happened without me. I was just doin’ my own thing, and people liked it and loved it and shared it amongst themselves. It wasn’t all that planned out. I just wanted to share it with as many people as I could and make people happy, and help specifically queer kids feel better about their lives. That’s all I was doing.
Q. You give a lot of advice in your vines and tweets and that sort of thing about how to love yourself, and I was wondering if there was a significant piece of advice that someone gave you that inspired you to do what you do?
A. There’s someone [whom] I admire very much named Cheri Huber, and she’s a zen Buddhist. She’s the first person that I heard say, “There is nothing wrong with you,” that I could believe. She has a book called There is Nothing Wrong You that I read and it completely changed my life forever. It’s part of the reason I wrote my book[, How to Be You].
Q. I actually wanted to talk about that!
A. Good segue-way!
Q. If you had to summarize [How to Be You] to someone who didn’t know you [or what you do] at all, how would you explain it out for them?
A. I would say, “Everybody is taught to hide something about themselves. Everybody was told that there is something wrong with [them], and that [they] need to change [themselves] in order to be lovable. My book is about how to give up on that idea, be you—be the authentic YOU—and be happy with that.”
Q. That’s wonderful!
A. [laughs] I hope so!
Q. I think that learning how to be yourself is the most important thing you can possibly do because that’s you! I mean, it’s your life.
A. Absolutely. And to add a little bit more to that: I do it in a few ways. Penguin Random House, the publisher, took a risk on this book because it’s a very weird format. First of all, I’m there first genderfluid author, so they took a risk in that way. I’m the first author to use they/them pronouns, and I really appreciate them for giving me a chance. The book itself is kind of three different books because it’s a memoir—it’s me, telling the story of how I found my authenticity—and it’s direct advice, so it’s like a book saying, “This is the truth/straight-up how [to] become your authentic self.” Then, the third part is that it’s a workbook, so you can draw in it and color in it. Hopefully, all three of those sections, or those ways of approaching the topics of the book, help it become more vital for anybody who’s reading it and help it make more sense. But it’s not any one of those things. It’s easy to just sell a memoir because people know what that is, but it’s not really a memoir; there’s other things, too.
Q. You had a featurette on NewsMaxTV’s where you promoted [How to Be You], and it was a segment called “DML Unfiltered.” You talked about your gender journey, your sexuality, and that sort of thing with a conservative man, Dennis Michael Lynch. First of all, you were so impressive talking about yourself in what could’ve been perceived as a “lion’s den”. Was that intimidating to communicate that to someone who was/is so adamantly against you in a lot of ways?
A. In a sense, this actually has a lot to do with the recent election because, in that interview, my goal, my job, what I wanted to do was not any different than if I had been talking to Oprah or somebody sympathetic. What I do is go and talk about my book, talk about my social media, so that not just queer kids, but everybody can feel better in their own skin; can feel safe in this world; can learn to love themselves. That can be in any context in the world. You said it was a lion’s den, and yes, it was. [laughs] It was a very antagonistic environment, but I realized before the interview started that I’m doing the same exact thing. And Mr. Lynch didn’t and doesn’t have anything to do with that. My goal doesn’t all of a sudden become “teach him a lesson!” or “make him feel bad for who he is!” or any of that stuff—I don’t have to get into any of that.
Q. Well, I like that a lot! I like that perspective a lot because I think, like you said, a lot of people would presume it to be a circumstance where you have to be, again—adamantly against that person, and you don’t necessarily have to.
A. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but whoever “that person” is—it could be Mr. Lynch, like we were talking about, but whoever that antagonistic person is…when you’re not antagonistic back, that really is upsetting to them. [laughs] People really don’t like that.
Q. I completely agree! You’ve done a lot of news coverage like that; you’ve contributed to [publications like] The Huffington Post and TIME, and you’ve also been mentioned on Buzzfeed, The New York Times, et cetera. How has that influenced you—the criticism especially? Has it made things [easier or more difficult]?
A. Oh, gosh. Well, I so rarely get criticized. I don’t know what you’re talking about!
A. That’s a joke! Usually, I really welcome it because I want my message and my mission to be fulfilled. I want to help as many people as I can. If something’s not working and if people don’t understand something, or if what I’m saying is being perceived in a way that I’m not intending, then I need to know that. I want to know that. I know that it comes with the territory. Whatever I do next—a television show or if I become more famous—I know I’ll get criticized all of the time, and I won’t have any privacy, and I know that comes with being famous like this. And I’m ready [for that]. My mission is important enough for me to take that stuff on.
Q. You’ve started viral movements on social media [in the past] like “#NoTimeToHateMyself” and “#DontSayThatsSoGay”, and these caught on really quickly across all platforms. Was that popularity staggering to you? Did you have to take a minute and sit back and say, “Wow, I’m making a difference here, and it feels so wonderful”?
A. [laughs] Actually, it wasn’t staggering because I’ve never stopped to consider it. Maybe someday I will. I love myself and I don’t hold back love from myself even for a second, but my thinking is forward thinking. What am I going to do next, what’s the next video, what’s the next hashtag, what’s the next way that I can help—that’s where my focus is. I don’t often take time to say, “Oh my gosh, thirty million people saw this thing! I really saved lives!” I don’t really take time to do that. Do you think I should?
Q. Well, I mean, it’s always good to acknowledge accomplishments!
A. That’s true! That’s true. Okay, for you I’m going to do it. Feels good!
Q. Wonderful, thank you! [laughs] That feels good to know!
Last, but certainly not least, where can people contact you and where can people find you online?
A. Oh, I’m trés accessible! Jeffreymarsh.com, and email@example.com. I’m not the one who checks [the email], but you know, it’ll get to me. Don’t you worry! And you can just tweet me (@thejeffreymarsh) ’cause I check those.
Q. Fantastic! I think that’s [awesome] that you’re so active on social media, especially for [your audience], because sometimes when people receive a following, they start to forget people look up to them, so they don’t acknowledge them.
A. Well, it’s such a part of my mission for people to know that they’re important, so I hope that my social media speaks to that.
Q. Exactly! Well, I think that that’s about all I have; thank you so much again for talking with me! I really, really appreciate it.
A. Excellent! Thank you! It was a really big pleasure. It was lovely talking to you today. Take good care, okay?
An astronomical thank you from the Affinity Magazine staff to Jeffrey Marsh for their insightful discussion, and additionally, their assistant, Julian, for aiding in the technicalities of the interview.
For Jeffrey, we will all do better to be gentler with ourselves.
The interviewee’s novel, How to Be You: Stop Trying to Be Someone Else and Start Living Your Life, may be purchased here. Moreover, Cheri Huber’s novel, There is Nothing Wrong With You, may be purchased here.