The evolution of PTSD

18 Sep

Some psychiatric casualties have always been associated with war, but it was only in the twentieth century that our physical and capability to sustain combat outstripped our psychological capacity to endure it. – Lt. Col. David GrossmanPTSD

The media frenzy around post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may make us think that it is a new disorder, but PTSD reaches back to the early part of the last century where it began to manifest during the first major European war of the 20th century.

PTSD reared its ugly head during World War 1 when it was known as “shell shock”, a disorder of psychological origin. Soldiers on both sides of this conflict suffered immeasurably from new types of weapons in trench warfare: tanks, heavy machine guns, mortars, and poison gas including mustard, nerve, and chlorine gasses which caused horrific damage to the human body. Casualties were immense but for those who survived, a curious condition began to emerge. Shell shock was the first mental health disorder associated with war and the military wasn’t sure what to make of it.

BBC’s excellent documentary on shell shock explains the confusion around the sometimes bizarre behaviour found in military troops at the time: “Soldier’s unconscious minds, so distressed by war, crippled their bodies and took them out of fighting. The military found it hard to accept such a radical theory; it undermined the theory that men could and should control their fears and emotions.”

Soldiers stricken by war trauma displayed strange behaviours never seen before. Men in the ranks suffered from body tremors, paralysis, temporary blindness or loss of speech, and the inability to walk. As a misunderstood condition, shell shock was considered contagious and the men who suffered from it were thought to threaten to their platoons. Six months into the war, 15 percent of the British army suffered from the condition. Dr. Charles Myers, a consulting neurologist to the army with an interest in the growing condition, coined the term “shell shock” in 1915, and decided that the roots of the problem were psychological. By 1916, the British War Office officially recognized shell shock as a genuine war wound.

When officers began to display their own shell shock symptoms — stammering, irritability, and loss of memory — the military realized that this psychological response to warfare was taking an enormous toll. Something had to be done.

Military hospitals were set up and experiments with various treatments began; from Freudian dream analysis to hypnotism to electric shock, some shell shock therapies were successful, others not. The biggest obstacle to dealing with shell shock was the stigma attached to it; men affected by the condition were thought of as “incurable lunatics” or cowards, and a shame was carried with the condition, a shame divided up like a class system.

The condition did not discriminate, but the military did. Men in the ranks were shell-shocked but for an affected officer, to have shell shock in his medical records was an embarrassment so instead, officers suffered from “neurasthemia”, prolonged and exhaustive exposure to war. Officers, you see, were not meant to break down; they were strong, masculine leaders who could, or were expected to control their emotions and behaviour.

Shell shock was an uncontrollable external event that affected the military men internally, but it wasn’t interpreted that way. Sadly, many men who suffered from shell shock or neurasthemia were court martialed, shot, or committed suicide.

Battle exhaustion of World War IIWW2 military man

When World War II began, the military did not learn any lessons from the First World War, and shell shock took on a new identity: “battle exhaustion” or “battle fatigue”. Soldiers in this war suffered paralysis, amnesia, trembling, sleep disorders, memory loss, fear, isolation, and hopelessness. For a sense of the vastness of psychiatric casualties during this war, 20 percent of U.S. war casualties were neuropsychiatric-based, and 25 percent of all British D-Day casualties were psychiatric.

With numbers this high, the military was forced to look for more effective treatments, and young doctors wanted more dynamic cures for their battle fatigued patients. A number of new therapies emerged: talking therapy, individual and group psychoanalysis, electric shock therapy, hypnosis, sports therapy, and art therapy.

Battle exhaustion was considered a temporary condition and military psychiatrists believed that if the soldiers simply rested, they could recover and carry on fighting. An unconventional “sleeping therapy” or “narco-analysis” consisted of psychologically affected soldiers given sodium amytal (also known as “truth serum”), a sedative that induced sleep for weeks at a time to settle anxiety and exhaustion. Drugs administered during the sleep brought soldiers around so they could briefly recall and describe their battle experiences; this was considered a “cleansing” experience without any anxiety upon waking and completing the therapy.

Psychiatrists acknowledged by 1945 that every man had his breaking point and that shock and breakdowns were inevitable, yet the stigma of psychological damage from war remained. Battle fatigue was still considered contagious and men touched by the condition were treated like criminals at army hospitals. Being afraid and showing it was something of a military suicide because the consequence was the humiliation of being labelled “LMF” — lacking in moral fibre, or otherwise cowardly, and having your rank stripped from you. The only saving grace to battle fatigue this time around was that a frightened and battle exhausted man would not be shot.

It should come as no surprise that military men were psychologically impaired because of their wartime experiences. As one World War II solider put it, “I can’t stand seeing people killed.”

 Modern warmodern soldier

Technologies and the methods of modern war have changed enormously since wars after World War II, but the psychological effects of war have not. What was once known as shell shock, battle exhaustion, and post-Vietnam syndrome has become post-traumatic stress disorder, and it is just as devastating as it has always been.

PTSD seems to be an accepted part of military life in the modern era; the tragedy of the loss of human life and the psychological effects of death and destruction is part and parcel of serving one’s country. Indeed, one in three American service people suffer or will suffer from PTSD according to an Al Jazeera report, The War Within. The news agency describes PTSD as “a ticking time bomb with a decades-long fuse — a problem whose true magnitude is difficult to determine.”

Press TV documentary, Invisible Wounds-Break Down, investigates the effects of PTSD on Afghan war vets and reports that more than 30 percent of U.S. Afghanistan veterans are psychologically damaged.  Suicide is one of PTSD’s effects and according the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, about 18 veterans take their own lives every day.

The true tragedy of modern war is that the response for service people who reach out for help is ridicule, bullying, humiliation, and hazing; affected personnel are expected to “suck up” their psychological trauma. It’s some kind of unwritten code of valour and it reaps a heavy toll. Cynthia Thomas, a U.S. army wife interviewed by Al Jazeera said that her husband was punished for asking for help and in the end, did not receive any. His suffering continues.

“Unless these officers are held accountable,” she says, “nothing is going to change.”

Conclusion

War as an industry, an industry we’ve been conditioned to accept as a part of our modern life. But war isn’t natural. In fact, according to U.S. military psychologist, Lt. Col. David Grossman, humans very much go against the grain of nature when they kill their own, affirming the idea that war is an act of political will.

In a TVO interview about his book, On Killing, Grossman explains that the first time someone kills another person, it at first feels exhilarating because the target has been hit and the job done, but most people will feel empathy and profound remorse and nausea when they realize what they’ve done; killing is repulsive to us.

There is a lifelong process of rationalization and acceptance [to killing], and if an individual fails at this process, the result is post-traumatic stress disorder, or some type of trauma that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Grossman says that through conditioning and desensitization, we now associate violence with pleasure and by doing this we are overcoming a powerful resistance to killing in our minds and in society. He says that combat is more about posturing more than it is about killing, and maintains that combat troops during WWII actually fired their weapons at their enemy only 15 percent of the time (he says that the vast majority of death during that war came from the fighter planes that dropped bombs), to 55 percent in Korea, to a stunning 95 percent in Vietnam. Aiming a weapon at another human being and pulling the trigger became a conditioned reaction.

By now, war, violence, and killing as seen through TV, film, and video games, takes away the horror of human suffering and turns it into entertainment. This completely counter-intuitive perception has enormous implications, and people don’t really know what is at stake.

History has seen leaders use political means to carry out their aggressive and violent motives, leaving the agents of their intentions dead, maimed, or psychologically injured. Assuming a false presumption that men, at least according to the patriarchal construct of men, could ignore their natural emotional state and freely kill other human beings without psychological consequence has proven throughout modern history to be profoundly flawed and deeply tragic. Men are emotional human beings no matter what our patriarchal-based society imposes and expects. One cannot just walk away from taking the life of another human being and remain unaffected. It isn’t natural.

PTSD is an enormous and multi-faceted topic that I will continue to discuss in posts to follow. Thank you for reading.

‘Oo are ya?

4 Sep

There are identity-related decisions that we’re not even aware of because we have not been socially “allowed” to make them. Think about all of the traditional rules around being a man: protect, provide, be strong, silent, and emotionless. For people of the past, it was unthinkable to consider men as anything else. With the modern reshaping of the masculine mould, men are experiencing the freedom to express themselves through their clothing and style and forge their own identities, including their own names.
mask identity

Most modern men turn away from the intense control that the old boy’s school had over everyone and everything. That tradition is crumbling and humanity is thriving in diversity, equality, and respect. We’re in an awesome period of gender advancement and people are making their own rules, choosing their own roles, and creating their own identities.

As we continue to question and deconstruct, our choices become wider and we have the opportunity to make significant changes to our lives and our selves, including what we’re called. For example, I always wondered why I didn’t get my mum’s last name instead of my dad’s. Women had much more to do with the children than men did, so why were we labelled with the dad’s identity? It didn’t make sense to me, even as a child.

I got into a conversation with myself about names, thinking that there are no true female last names unless the woman chooses one herself. Traditionally, she’s born and given a man’s name (her father’s), and if she marries, she takes the name of her husband, and symbolically leaves her own heritage and blood line, and takes on a foreign one. There was no choice —  the equivalent of a cattle brand; ownership seared in. It’s a modern concept that a woman can create her own identity by choosing to change her name to what she pleases. Our name is linked to our identity and we should be free to choose our own. Men included.

Jill Filipovic, in The Guardian, wonders why, in the modern age, “does getting married mean giving up the most basic marker of your identity? And if family unity is so important, why don’t men ever change their names?”

A good question that I’ve asked myself. Then I read this:

William MacAskill, in Why men should change their name when they get married, says that he and his fiance together chose MacAskill, her grandmother’s maiden name, to take as their married name. Why? He wanted to go with a name that sounded better and was cooler than his birth surname, “Crouch”. It wasn’t about tradition, it wasn’t about gender assumption or emasculation, MacAskill changed his name out of aesthetic.

It’s no surprise that MacAskill shocks people when he tells them his intention. The news meets with reactions of “raised eyebrows, confusion, or aggressive questioning”. The concept of a man changing his name is probably an alien concept and outside most people’s consciousness (indeed, sacrilegious to some). MacAskill mentions that no one reacted when his fiance said she was changing her name, which reminded me of my parent’s reaction to my name change: Well, she’d change it when she got married anyway.

The irony is that I haven’t been married. I changed my last name 13 years ago because I wanted to and I had a choice to. I never liked my father’s harsh-sounding Austrian last name; it felt like an ill-fitting cloak that I couldn’t take off. Instead, I chose to associate with my mother’s Irish side and went with a softer sounding name. It was largely aesthetic for me but also very liberating because I had the choice. It also feels so much better.

It’s a wonderful time in social history where people can keep pushing for change, for balance, for betterment. No matter what gender we self-identify with, we have the choice to decide on who we want to be and how we want to be known according to our own rules. It’s a blessing. In this modern world that unravels the colossal knots of exclusive patriarchal rule, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and even better if choose it yourself.

How to shop in between seasons

24 Jul

Before I take a holiday from writing  in August, I thought I’d share some information with you, dear readers, to make your life easier.clearance sale

I shopped with a client yesterday who had a limited budget and wanted specific pieces now, at the end of the summer season but before the fall stock has arrived. A challenging shop? Oh yes! Even as an image consultant who shops with clients all the time, I still find it difficult to create a wardrobe out of  sparse bits of end-of-season stock. If it’s tough for me, it’s probably rough on you, so here’s some help.

If you’re not doing this already, start shopping smart and think practically and consider your whole wardrobe  and how your new pieces will integrate into it. Summer sales are awesome and everyone loves a bargain, but even a deep discount isn’t worth it if you’re not that crazy about the colour or if the garment doesn’t fit well, because you won’t wear it.

The guidelines below apply to the fall/winiter end-of-season sales for January – March too:

Yay! Summer sales!

  •  As the summer continues, the discounts increase and the more pieces you can buy!
  • Stock up on summer staple items like  t-shirts, shorts, flip-flops, etc.
  • Even if you don’t get to wear them much this year, end-of-season garments can be stashed until next year; opening a box of last year’s “new” seasonal clothes  will excite you like a child at Christmas.

#$%*@! Summer sales!

  • Finding your size in that excellent shirt at 60% off is a myth in July unless you’re an odd size. Everything is picked over by then.
  • If you happen to find a shirt that fits you at 60% off , just hope you’ve got something in your closet that you can wear it with. Sometimes it’s best to walk away if you’re in doubt.
  • “Well,” you think, “it’s two sizes too big but it’s 75% off, and you can’t really go wrong at that price.” Actually, you can. Just because a garment is inexpensive doesn’t mean that you should buy it actually wear it. If you’re a man reading this post, you just might be concerned with your image, and an ill-fitting, ill-matched clearance garment won’t do anything to improve yours. Discounted season ends that just aren’t right should be left at the store or worn strictly at the cottage.

Hope that helps! Best wishes until September!

Paisley: full of possibilities

10 Jul

red paisley

Take a moment to look at this picture. Do you notice the incredible detail? The harmonized colours? The pleasant but erratic pattern? You’re looking at paisley, one of the most gorgeous decorative patterns humans have ever devised.

Paisley is an incredible pattern to work with because it is so full of possibilities: paisley can be done in any scale, it may be multi-coloured or monochrome, simple or intricate, and the pattern may be regular and repeating or varied, irregular, and seemingly random. This wonderful, natural design has deep, rich roots that date back to ancient Mesopotamia, the land between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers (modern-day Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Syria), where it found its way into building decoration, carpets, fabrics, and the decorative arts of the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Sumerians.

This nature-inspired pattern, originally known as botteh or boteh in its native Persian, means “bush, shrub, a thicket, bramble, [or] herb. Some would even take it to mean a palm leaf, cluster of leaves…and flower bud,” according to the Heritage Institute discussing Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion and philosophy.

The boteh pattern is a much-loved, time-tested pattern that eventually made its way into India where it really dug in its heels. For hundreds of years, beautiful cashmere wool shawls decorated with the boteh pattern were popular, and during the 1700s, boteh shawls cast a spell on European women who fell in love with the soft, warm, patterned fabric. During the colonial period, British men returning home from India brought the shawls as gifts for their women, and the demand for these exotic shawls grew in Europe. Seeing an opportunity, the British East India Company began to export the enormously popular and expensive shawls to Europe during the later 18th century.

As the shawls became more fashionable, the demand for them grew, but the high cost kept many away until European hand weavers began to copy the boteh patterned shawls and produced items at a fraction of the cost of the real thing. In 1805, the weaving mill in Paisley, Scotland became the boteh weaving centre of Europe, and the name Paisley became synonymous with the pattern. As weaving technology evolved in the UK, the original 2-colour paisley shawls turned into 5-colour patterns, though this still paled in comparison to the Indian versions that boasted up to 15 colours.

What is paisley?

The paisley pattern can range from very simple to extremely ornate, sometimes positioned loosely among leaves, or flowers, other times simple in regular and repeating patterns. The common denominator is the tell-tale curved teardrop shapes. It is the shape of the paisleys that I find particularly interesting because no one really knows what it’s supposed to represent, though there are many options and theories.

Paisleys could signify halved fresh figs, mangoes, gourds, licks of flame, or Cypress trees (sacred to the Zoroastrians); kidneys, tadpoles, tear drops, pears, or sperm if you’re Freudian.  (During research, I came across a Jehovah Witness message board that discussed paisley as a representation of sperm and therefore considered “taboo”). In any case, paisley seems to have originated as a fertility symbol and becomes more fantastic as it evolves.

Modernized examples of this racy design seen below by Paul Frederick show the incredible variance in paisley patterns, from bold and multi-coloured paisley to quiet tone-on-tone, and from elaborate designs to simple shapes (photos used with permission):

Blue paisley Paul Frederick tie

Tone-on-tone paisley Paul Frederick tie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Frederick paisley tie

Paul Fredrick blue paisley tie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paisley in menswear

While the paisley motif was woven into fabrics most often worn by women, western men were left out of experiencing this gorgeous pattern until the 1920s-1930s, when paisley was printed on silk and used in men’s ties.

“In response to changing fashion,” says Francois Chaille in  The Book of Ties, “Paisley is constantly being up-dated: hundreds of new paisley motifs make their appearance on ties every year. The motif provides rich opportunities for coloristic nuance and formal invention.”

Of course we in the west remember paisley worn extensively in the 1960s and revived in the 80s, but paisley has never really gone away. In fact, you may find a paisley tie in your collection, or maybe a paisley bandana or neckerchief (Cary Grant liked to wear these under his collars). If you’re lucky, you may have a Ralph Lauren paisley pocket silk for your breast pocket.  Stylish introverts could opt for a pair of low-key paisley socks, and daring darlings may rock paisley Ted Baker shirts or a cool sports jacket with a chic paisley lining.

Paisley isn’t just for clothing. The high-end Italian design house, Etro, likes to incorporate paisley into its collections, and offers paisley luggage, day books, wallets, and manbags in their iconic paisley “comprised of red, turquoise, yellow, olive green and ivory adapted and evolved to become the signature pattern for the brand: an instantly recognisable style which became inevitably synonymous with the luxury world of Etro,” their website says.

If wearing paisley is luxurious, it is also refined. New York image consultant, John Molloy, said paisley ties signify good breeding and education. Alan Flusser, author of Dressing the Man says, “Of all the loud neckties, [Molloy] deemed paisley as the only permissible one because it was the “fun tie” of the upper middle classes.”

I implore you to pull out your whimsical paisley and wear it with confidence; it is so beautiful and varied in pattern, colour, and scale, that everyone will be able to find the right paisley print for them. It is a pattern that speaks of human history, elegance, and refinement; it is a delightful and permanently stylish pattern, and an excellent investment for any gentleman’s image.

 

Through the eyes of Tom Ford: Pride 2014

26 Jun
Tom Ford by Helmut Newton

Photograph by Helmut Newton. Published in Vogue, March 1999.

With Toronto hosting World Pride this year, I feel that much more inspired to celebrate the powerful gay icons that have shaped our world. I spotlighted Freddie Mercury in 2012, Liberace in 2013, and for 2014, the focus is on the clothing, detail, luxury, and the daring of Tom Ford.

Tom Ford is a man who personifies BOLD not only in his clothing designs but in his business dealings. Before launching his own menswear label in 2007, he spent ten years as Creative Director for Gucci and brought them from near bankruptcy to $3 billion a year in sales. He is aligned with Estee Lauder for the Tom Ford Beauty Brand, and he counts 98 retail Tom Ford stores in the world among many other achievements.

American Vogue‘s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, says Ford has an uncanny way of conveying the same three core themes: sex, power, and divine decadence. “I don’t think I have ever worked with anyone with a greater passion for detail or a clearer vision of his aesthetic goals,” she says.

Ford is a powerhouse of talent that goes beyond fashion design. In 2009, he directed and co-wrote the screenplay for  A Single Man, a tale of gay angst in the early 1960s, starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. I recommend it; it’s tasteful and interesting, but tragic.  Ford’s debut film won many awards and Firth received an Oscar nomination for best actor.

He is incredibly talented and successful; a billionaire with enormous power in the fashion industry, and audacious as all hell. Tom Ford does what he wants and he does it well, otherwise he wouldn’t carry clients like Johnny Depp and Daniel Craig. Yet with all that going for him, with all the success and power and wealth, Tom Ford remains human.

Images of beauty 

Ford studied architecture before he turned to fashion and understands how to build things. He uses geometry in his designs and creates sensuous lines and angles in magnificent, often textured, deeply coloured fabrics in his menswear collections.

He seems to have an inborn sense of balance and opulence and learned about fashion through his mother and grandmother. “My mother was very chic, very classic,” he recalls in an interview with Biography. “My paternal grandmother was very stylish in a very Texas way—everything big and flashy, from jewelry to cars.”

Tom Ford jackets

Note the gorgeous geometry of Ford’s jacket lapels and the sumptuous fabrics and colours.

“The images of beauty you get in your childhood stick with you for life,” Ford explains, “So there’s a certain flashiness at Gucci—Texas-inspired—with a certain Western feel.”

When asked if Texas has influenced his designs, Ford tells FDLuxe,  “I have certain notions of glamour that I never lost… I like a heel on a boot. I feel better with a heel. That Texas taste—big hair and a lot of makeup—was my first notion of beauty. And I have to say, to this day, I still have a thing for big hair.”

The big, bold, and flashy was woven into Ford’s designs for Gucci and used in his own menswear line. The casual luxury of his Western-inspired spring/summer 2015 collection is comprised of suede jackets with tasselled sleeves, jeans, denim shirts, and jean jackets–a far cry from his iconic suits and shirts, dapper enough for 007 himself.

“What we wanted to do was to expand sportswear so that our customer has something to wear for every occasion of his life,” he says of the collection.

Ford uses bold and unexpected colour in his menswear collections, and in his current men’s line, pink, lilac, and ocean blue jackets are paired with white shirts and trousers. Coming up for fall/winter 2014, blacks, greys, creams, and earthy colours mixed in with  beautiful violets and royal blues in cotton-silk Jacquard and velvet cocktail jackets.

Tom Ford the human

Despite what we might think a billionaire designer who caters to high-end clients like Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Drake might be like, Tom Ford is a regular person.

I spoke to former model, Patrick Marano, now husband and manager to gay media mogul, Shaun Proulx, who posed for a 2005 Tom Ford sunglasses campaign.

“The shoot was in L.A. Poolside,” Marano recalls, “At the break Tom came and ate with us. He was very down-to-earth and friendly. And of course he looked great, impeccably dressed.”

Ford is a real person; he’s sensitive and romantic, and he loves to be in love and be in a relationship:”I’m someone who likes being part of a couple and always wanted that and always sought that,” he says, “And it would probably be true for me whether I was gay or straight.”

When Ford saw his long-term partner, Richard Buckley, the former Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Hommes International, at a fashion show in 1986, it was love at first sight. More than twenty-five years along, Ford and Buckley married this past spring and welcomed their son, Alexander John Buckley Ford (Jack), into the world in 2012. Ford has proved to be a devoted partner and father.

“I feed Jack, I dress him, I change his diaper, and I have a good two or three hours with him every morning, just me and him.” Ford says, “At night, again, I put him to bed and try to spend as much time with him as possible.”

Though it may be unbelievable, our superstar designer changes diapers, cooks, and unless he’s travelling, gets home each night to feed Jack. Now that he’s raising a child, his perspective of the world has changed. In particular, he no longer receives Botox injections, saying, “A lot of things I cared about before I don’t care as much about anymore.”

It’s refreshing that a superstar like Tom Ford understands his limited relevance and shelf-life. “No matter how hard you try there is a cultural moment, but eventually that window’s gone, your time on Earth is finished, and you might as well leave,” he says, “I could absolutely die tomorrow–I would not care. I feel like I’ve lived, I feel like I’ve had a great life.”

Tom Ford‘s style advice:

  • A man should never wear shorts in the city. Flip-flops and shorts in the city are never appropriate. Shorts should only be worn on the tennis court or on the beach.
  • At home, off-duty, I wear T-shirts from Fruit of the Loom but I have them tailored – if the sleeves are cut over the tricep your arms look much better.
  • Keep your jacket buttoned. Always. It’s just really flattering – it will take pounds off you.

 

Flowers for men? Yes!

12 Jun

bouquet for father's dayWhat do you think about when you choose gifts for people? Do you think about practicality, or are presents meant to be frivolous? When I want to give someone a gift, I think like this: 1) everyone has enough stuff, so there is no need for more, and 2) the environment: what can I give that will biodegrade?

Answer? Flowers! In the past, flowers carried an association with women, but now, flowers are for everyone–yes, even men.

I thanked a reporter for doing a story on me a few years ago with a bouquet of purple irises. “Oh, they’re lovely!” he said. Then I think it dawned on him that I, a woman, was giving him, a man, flowers, and this seemed to shake him as he stammered a bit then turned red.

With women’s independence comes a woman’s choice to send a man flowers, and with it, a man’s opportunity to feel special and happy that he’s worthy to receive them. Flowers are a win-win situation.

Dana William Hamilton at The New Leaf florist in Toronto says that it’s becoming more common for women to send men flowers for any occasion, including Father’s Day.

“People hadn’t been giving flowers for Father’s Day for years,” Dana says, “but then came metrosexual men and there were suddenly more flowers and plants; flowers used in interior decoration, women sending more flowers to men during the year, and plants given as gifts for Father’s Day”.

If mums get flowers on Mother’s Day, why wouldn’t dads get flowers on Father’s Day? I mean, how many golf clubs can a man own? Does he really need a pneumatic nailer? How about something that will make him smile and lift his spirits instead?

Gendered blooms

Before the 90s, men were almost forbidden to go near flowers unless they were getting married or being buried, but gay men have not had the same rules applied to them. In many ways, gays have had more freedom to express themselves than their heterosexual brothers.

roses for men

Shaun Proulx uses flowers in his interior decoration. Used with permission.

In Toronto’s gay village, there are two florists on one street and most groceries and convenience stores sell flowers outside, so the gay ghetto is very colourful and lovely. Shaun Proulx, Canada’s gay Oprah, lives in the neighbourhood and always has fresh flowers in his home.

“I would get rid of almost anything I own except flowers,” he says. “The joy they bring to my life is immeasurable. I’m proud to say I have lost many hours of my life just staring and studying the flowers around me.”

Given the crap we’ve been taught about flowers not being “manly” and associated with beautiful, delicate, weak things like women, gays, and children, heterosexual men have been denied the pleasure of nature’s fragrant gems for a long time, but perhaps thanks to the metrosexuals, the door has opened for all men to appreciate flowers without the fear of gender bullies coming after them to kick their pansy asses for liking something so “feminine”.

I asked some of my heterosexual men friends how they feel about flowers and I’m delighted to tell you that for those who have yards and gardens, the majority like to plant flowers. Many said they either currently have flowers at home or would like to have indoor flowers more often. This is a wonderful indication that flowers are slowly but surely becoming genderless.

Well, that’s what you might think, but gender-dividing media outlets sill exist like Spike. Spike is a US TV network that targets young men between 18-34, and encourages the tough, emotionless male stereotype that from my point of view, is abusive to men.

Gendered bullsh*t

I don’t believe in “feminine” or “masculine” flowers; flowers are flowers, but apparently not to everyone. The following is Spike’s top nine “manly” flowers that smell of imposed gender roles:

9. Snapdragon (“…dragons in any form are badass…”)

8. Hops (used to make beer)

7. Cactus (especially the ones with long stiff flowers growing out of them)

6. Belladonna (poisonous)

5. Tree tobacco (can be smoked like a cigar but can kill you, therefore, “this flower is clearly not fit for girly-men”)

4. Venus flytrap (carnivorous plant)

3. Rafflesia (aka meat plant) “The ultimate man’s flower,” says Spike, “It’s super big and like man, it doesn’t like to be tied down.” This flower emits a rotten meat stench and Spike says, “Any flower that smells like meat (even rotten meat) is pretty ballsy.”

2. Poppy (“No other flower in history has caused as much bloodshed and human destruction as the poppy”–i.e. opium)

1. The Corpse flower, or amorphophallus titanium, means, “giant misshapen penis”. The Corpse flower is the largest flower on earth and like the meat plant, emits a revolting smell of rotting flesh to draw carrion insects that helps it cross-pollinate. Spike calls it the “alpha male of flowers”.

lillies

Lilies are delightfully fragrant flowers, a good alternative to the Corpse flower.

Judging by this list, Spike suggests that the best flowers for men are reeking and dangerous and sometimes resemble a phallus. So if we bought into this way of thinking, fellas, how would feel if you were sent a bouquet of meat-eating plants or huge stinking phallus flowers? Would you feel manly? Nauseous? Or perhaps insulted?

Accepting the stiff, archaic gender stereotype that contributes to the massive emotional abuse that has been thrust upon men and boys for years, strips them of their natural emotions and likens them to a cactus: “tall, prickly on the outside, somewhat unapproachable, sturdy, and tough”.

The alpha male of flowers?

Flowers can self-pollinate and create their own seeds, or cross-pollinate with the help of insects and wind. Flowers, like every other living thing, only exists to reproduce itself and should not fall into human gender classifications, but they have. Spike, for example,  gives the giant misshapen penis flower a male face and considers it the “alpha male of flowers”.

I read an excellent article on The Good Man Project recently called The Myth of the Alpha Male, where author, James Fell, says the alpha male concept is “a bullsh*t title used to sell books and programs.” The author explains that the idea of an alpha male is “toxic and prevents you from focusing on the real path to self-improvement”.

peonies

Shaun Proulx’s gorgeous peonies. Used with permission.

Fell’s definition of alpha maleness is “just a bunch of cock-sure, arrogant and self-entitled assholes. It’s a gentleman. A leader. A strong and worthy man blah, blah, blah. They’re putting lipstick on a pig, trying to convince you that you’re either the leader of the pack, or you’re a beta who won’t get what you deserve in this life”.

As noted by Fell, the notion of the alpha male comes from 1970’s  The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior or an Endangered Species by L. David Mech who explains that the term”Alpha” implies winning a competition or battle with others to become “top dog”, but he says, “most wolves who lead packs achieved their position simply by mating and producing pups, which then became their pack”. To the wolf researcher, there is no alpha male as much as there is no alpha female; wolves are simply breeders.

Applying the alpha concept to humans, then, is ridiculous, but applying it to a flower  is absurd. Does Spike think that the Corpse flower is an “alpha” because it’s large? Because it resembles a penis? Or is it because it reeks of rotting tissue?

Humans appreciate nature and beautiful, sweet-smelling flowers will win over anyone at any time and for any reason, so give flowers and give them often. Giving men flowers brightens their day, puts a smile on their face, and sometimes brings a charming blush to their cheeks–the honest and ungendered price of pleasure.

Boutonnieres

29 May
Oscar Wilde wearing a boutonniere

Playwright, Oscar Wilde, wearing a boutonniere.

The boutonniere, French for buttonhole,  is a flower worn in the lapel of  a man’s jacket, commonly considered a formal accessory worn with formal attire. We don’t have many occasions to dress up anymore (unfortunately), but boutonnieres have made a comeback across the pond and have been a part of the British royal/upper class wardrobe since around the mid 18th century.

Having a boutonniere made at a florist ensures a keep-fresh flower that comes with tipped pins to use on the underside of your lapel, but the flower is actually meant to be stuck through the boutonniere hole on the upper lapel of your suit. High-quality suits will have a set of boutonniere loops sewn on the underside of the lapel to thread a short stem through. Read more about boutonniere buttonholes at the Gentlemen’s Gazette, and have a look at their do-it-yourself instructions for boutonniere loops.

Canadians will fondly remember our former Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, our most stylish politician to date, who wore a red rose in his lapel. Patrick Gossage, former Press Secretary to Pierre Trudeau describes Trudeau’s “rider” for out-of-Ottawa engagements that included orange juice and cookies in all of his hotel rooms and a daily fresh red rose for his lapel. To me, Trudeau’s boutonniere signifies the last vestige of the political gentleman.

Boutonniere history

The boutonniere is very British. In fact, according to The Rake, the Duke of Windsor brought the boutonniere to North America in the 1930s and influenced many of Hollywood’s top actors of the time; HRH’s signature white lapel carnation was mimicked by Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, and Gary Cooper.  (Cary Grant opted for a red carnation.) Modern British boutonniere-wearers still follow the Duke of Windsor’s lead, but younger royals like Princes William and Harry like to wear blue cornflowers in their lapels.

Though flowers have been associated with men throughout history, proof of the boutonniere itself doesn’t appear until 1769 when Gainsborough painted Captain William Wade in his military dress uniform with a spring of posies worn on the lapel of his cutaway coat.

Though it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when grooms started wearing boutonnieres, the floral tradition at weddings is a long one. According to BrideandGroom, “The bouquet formed part of the wreaths and garlands worn by both the bride and groom. It was considered a symbol of happiness. Originally bridal wreaths and bouquets were made of herbs, which had magical and meaningful definitions for the couple’s future life. Traditional Celtic bouquets included ivy, thistle and heather. Ancient uses included herbs, not flowers, in bouquets because they felt herbs — especially garlic — had the power to cast off evil spirits.”

Modern boutonniere options

When choosing flowers for your boutonniere, consider your lapel width and work with proportion. Since the fashion now is to wear suits with thinner lapels, smaller blooms like carnations, small roses, or thin calla lilies are recommended. Dana William Hamilton at The New Leaf florist in Toronto says many men choose white and red boutonnieres for dark streamlined suits. “They add a little whimsy,” he says.

“Young men going to proms wear them,” Dana explains, “Young people are looking online and training themselves to dress well in the old style.”

Grooms and groomsmen are the most obvious people to wear boutonnieres. Dana stresses the importance of the groom’s boutonniere looking slightly different than the other men in his wedding party–often a flower used in the bride’s bouquet is added to the groom’s boutonniere. People often have boutonnieres made for the deceased, Dana tells me, which shows “a lovely respect”.

Dana calls for hearty flowers for boutonnieres because usually, occasions that ask for a boutonniere are long, and there is a lot of hugging and wear and tear on the flower. Hale flowers like rose, carnation, calla lilies, and stephanotis (clusters of small white fragrant flowers related to jasmine) are recommended. If you’re looking for strongly perfumed blooms, freesia is a delicious choice and the beautiful gardenia, but the latter flower is very fragile and has no stem–gardenias must be wired to create a boutonniere, so take this into consideration before choosing your boutonniere flowers.

Are all boutonnieres made of flowers? No! There is nothing wrong with a flowerless boutonniere–in fact, Dana says, he often finds himself making boutonnieres just out of greenery like Italian Ruscus mixed with Greek myrtle for texture. Boutonnieres could actually be made of fabric flowers (silk is popular) or crafted as statements like these cool ones on Etsy. Like the rock buttons of the 80s, a lapel boutonniere is a good way to express yourself and tell the world a little about you.

I would love to see men making use of their boutonniere buttonhole with a fresh flower especially now that we’re in spring, but as The Rake puts it, “Suffice to say, the language of flowers is well and truly obsolete, and a contemporary gentleman’s only consideration is whether a flower in one’s lapel enhances a suit or proves to be the detail that pushes elegance over the border to ostentation.”

Be bold, but be careful.

 

Flirting: A personal deconstruction

15 May

flirtbroken heart, flirting verb \ˈflərt\

: to behave in a way that shows a sexual attraction for someone but is not meant to be taken seriously

: to think about something or become involved in something in a way that is usually not very serious

: to come close to reaching or experiencing something (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Do you flirt? Maybe you are a flirt. Flirting is fun and not meant to be literal. But sometimes it is. Depending on the flirtee’s emotional state, they may take heavy flirting as “s/he wants me”, but does it mean that person is insecure or needy, or is it that they’re reading heavy messages from you?

Last month, I meet a singer at a show who said, “I noticed you when you came in.” Our conversation continued and he invited me to his next gig the following month. The next day, he contacted me online and we had a sometimes flirty off-and-on conversation over the next few weeks. I was titillated!

When the next gig came along, he talked and hung out with me and my friend a bit, and had a wonderful performance. I remember thinking, “Awesome! I’ve got this one in the bag!” He did nothing that would make me think otherwise. I bought him a drink and he invited me to his next gig. I said we should do something before then, and he said, “I would if I was single.”

I told him to take it as a compliment and then I left.

Lots of things going on here.

1. Ethics: Why would an attached man say he noticed me when I came in?

2. Assumptions: When is it friendly conversation and when is it a come on?

a) I suppose this is where the emotional state of the flirtee comes in: people open to romantic interests may take flirting to heart and will feel like they’ve been drop-kicked across a muddy field when the flirter reveals that they’re not actually available. It’s the price we pay for allowing ourselves to become hopeful and emotionally attached to a person or idea.

b) It could be that I made an assumption about the singer’s level of interest, but  I’m really not sure of another way I could have interpreted “I noticed you when you walked in”. That would prick up any single person’s ears.

c) When do we determine when it’s relevant to mention our emotional status?  At what moment do we decide that this person is chatting us up so we can gently slip “girlfriend/wife-partner-boyfriend/husband” into the conversation to indicate our emotionally UN-availablity? A clear statement up front will set boundaries. However, some instigators of innocent conversations will roll their eyes at your assumption that you think we’re looking for more time with you.

Assuming that everybody wants you reflects the size of your ego or your insecurity, and may cause enough paranoia for you to go on the defensive just because someone speaks to you: “Back off or my boyfriend will kick your ass”. These types you’d want to back away from anyway.

3. Mixed messages: My brother, a musician himself, insists the guy was leading me on. There is a fine line between innocent flirting and leading someone to believe something that isn’t true. I have trouble understanding why anyone would consciously mess with someone emotionally like that; it seems cruel. The singer doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would pull that kind of thing; he seems honest, gentle, and down-to-earth. I’m confused.

4. Rock and roll: My buddy, Stephen, says flirting is the vernacular of the music industry; a language bred into musicians. He says there are three kinds of flirting:

  • Social flirting: In public places like bars or clubs, flirting is “safe”, even for married and otherwise spoken-for men who can engage in this light, fun, social interaction. It’s about showing someone you find them interesting, attractive, and otherwise charming and that’s usually uplifting!
  • Get-down flirting: A heavy, blatant prelude of good things to come.
  • Marketing flirting: I know it’s only rock and roll, but PR is important. If flirting is written into the music schtick, it can certainly grab people’s attention, create a desire, keep people coming out to gigs with their friends. Stephen says the singer is more concerned with success than protecting my feelings. “It’s games people play,” he says.

Another entertainer I know says he leverages flirting for laughs in his act. “I intentionally flirt with very old women in the crowd. Women who I’d never flirt with, so it doesn’t seem too creepy.”

“Flirting makes the older lady feel kinda special but they know it’s not for real,” Matt says, “Everyone knows what’s going on for sure.”

There was a handsome personal trainer at my old gym who mostly worked with women and understood the art of marketing flirting: he held his client’s hands as they walked around the gym, he held women’s upper bodies as they lifted dumbbells, and watched his clients intently in the mirror which always caused a face-busting smile on the women who completely fell under his spell.

This kind of marketing flirting is the carrot dangling before the donkey who can never reach it; it is the kind of flirting I’ve fallen victim to. The price of the transaction was my heart and my hopes, dashed by the rock and roll machine.

This flirty experience has made me feel good, excited, and given me something to look forward to. At the same time, the flirting has made me feel like I’ve been duped, sucked in to believing that the singer was actually interested in me, and this has made me feel not only lousy, but dumb for reading the signs wrong.

Sigh.  What can I do? I’m just a vulnerable human like anyone else, but now I’ll know to wear a thicker skin.

Tips for an awesome spring!

1 May

It’s May Day! That means that spring is here and it’s officially time to welcome the new season. Here are some easy and practical tips for a great spring!

Spring pollenspring apple blossoms

If you suffer from spring pollen allergies and find yourself sneezing and wiping your watering stinging eyes, are you taking the gentlemen’s approach?

Sneezing into your sleeve works if you’re in a cramped public space like a subway, but the best way to reign in your sneezes and pollen-induced tears is of course, the hankie.

Using a cotton or linen handkerchief to wipe your dripping orifices is the better and more elegant way (plus it’s easier on the environment). Find them in department stores or check vintage shops for old and interesting hankies!

Shoes

old shoes

If you’re the type of guy who wears the same shoe all year around, or if you have a spring collection that’s made its way out of storage, sit down and take a good look at them–what kind of condition are they in? Scuffed? Worn? Heels ground down? Spring is a great time to take your shoes to a shoemaker and have them cleaned up, or do it yourself.

I’m always telling men not to toss their old shoes because they are easily restored.  Have a look at this 7-minute video by British bootmaker, John Lobb, who shows the professional way to shine shoes–you’ll be astonished!

Besides shining, a shoemaker can re-heel or re-sole your shoes. Worn heels are unsightly and may put a damper on your confidence. Have your shoes redone to give yourself an instant boost!

Brighten and de-stink!vinegar bottle

After a while, anything made of fabric will absorb the smells around it, and this is not necessarily good news. I am a proponent of natural cleaning products, and gents, nothing beats vinegar for cleaning and removing odours. Using vinegar in your laundry brightens colours, renews drabness, and prevents static cling.

For stuff like socks, gym shirts, stained tea towels, and dish rags, get a stock pot or other large cooking vessel and fill with water. Add a cup of white distilled vinegar and bring to a rolling boil. Add your items, turn of the heat, and let soak overnight. Run through the wash and hang to dry. If you’re lucky enough to have a clothes line, hang outside in the sun to naturally deodourize and mildly bleach.

Other great vinegar tips from 1001 Uses for White Distilled Vinegar:

Remove perspiration odour and stains on clothing, as well as those left by deodorants by spraying full-strength white distilled vinegar on underarm and collar areas before tossing them into the washing machine.

Get cleaner laundry! Add about 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar to the last rinse. The acid in white distilled vinegar is too mild to harm fabrics, yet strong enough to dissolve the alkalies in soaps and detergents. Besides removing soap, white distilled vinegar prevents yellowing, acts as a fabric softener and static cling reducer, and attacks mold and mildew.

Eliminate manufacturing chemicals from new clothes by adding 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar to the water.

In the words of Robin Williams, “Spring is nature’s way of saying “let’s party!”. Preparing for the party takes work and energy, but you’ll feel great about your efforts, so get in there and enjoy!

Thinking outside of the masculine box

17 Apr

Media dictates gender roles.Last fall, I attended SkyWorks’ Real Change Boys Filmmaking Project to watch short documentaries about gender and identity by young men between the ages of 14 and 21. The films depicted issues around masculine identity, stereotypes, expectations, and the images of boys and men in media and popular culture.

One film spoke louder than the rest to me. In his film, Boxed In, Brandyn Pereira describes his realization that media portrays men and boys as one of a few narrow stereotypes. Brandyn was only 14 when he questioned gender portrayal and made his film. This outstanding young mind recognized the unnaturalness of gender stereotypes in media and started a conversation about it. I’m writing to continue that conversation.

Boxed In

Brandyn had a moment of recognition while watching television one day and noticed the stereotypical gender roles presented on TV.

“Almost every guy on these TV shows liked beer and sports, or they were the family man or the hero of the situation. Boys always liked video games, sports, and they rarely showed any emotion with their friends,” he says, “I’m wondering why the media depicts young men or boys like that.”

Media is enormously influential to us whether we like it or not; it tells us what to wear, how to smell, what music to listen to, what lifestyle to lead, and it doubles as an inadvertent guidebook to life. People—especially young people—look to television and the media to try to understand who they’re supposed to be. I remember looking to the TV for cues on how to be when I was a kid and sometimes I took on fabricated affectations because I wasn’t sure what else to do, and hey, if they did it on TV there must be some kind of truth to it, right?

Wrong.

Jeff Perera, Community Engagement Manager at the White Ribbon Campaign says in the film, “To be human is to be yourself; society is about trying to put you in a box.” It’s that gender box that Jeff is referring to and what Brandyn’s film is about.

When I met with Brandyn recently, we talked about the limitations of living in a gender-stereotyped box. “TV shows show only a few specific types of men: a) genius/smart guy, b) dim-witted, c) strong, or d) a wimp,” Brandyn says, “I noticed how the stereotypes don’t allow men and boys to be anything else.”

The men and boys in Brandyn’s film discuss the unreal masculine ideal presented in media, where males are always slim, fit, emotionless, macho, in control, and tough; good-looking, sports-obsessed, beer-drinking, video game-playing slices of the masculine ideal, out of touch with reality and their natural emotions.

These media stereotypes have the power to take us hostage and hold the dagger of social expectation to our throats. For some people like Brandyn, the media-generated masculine stereotype is not only confusing, “it is depressing for young people when they recognize they don’t fit the role and image of what is presented in the media.”

Contradiction, shame, insult

As a young person, Brandyn is quick to call out the media’s mixed messages. “I don’t know how I should act,” he says, “the message aimed at young people is to be yourself, but the next second we’re being told to conform. It’s confusing.”

Not only confusing but potentially damaging. We’ve had gender ideals pushed on us since birth, and some people believe so strongly in prescribed gender roles that they will cause trouble for people who fail to embody these expectations.

Calling someone “gay” as the go-to insult of childhood is sadly still holding its ground and it’s been around for a very long time. Brandyn told me about a time when one of his friends (a girl who has her own suite of gender expectations to deal with) accused him of being gay because he didn’t like all of the stereotypical masculine pastimes she learned about via media.

I’m quite sure that a child calling someone “gay” doesn’t understand what “gay” really means, though they do pick up on the term as an insult. Accusing someone of being “gay” really means that there is something “wrong” with that person because he doesn’t conform to the (white, str8, patriarchal) media-generated and socially sustained gender stereotype.

Brandyn says products “make kids cool” and explained that a few grades ago, he and his friends picked up on and adopted the gender stereotypes and products associated with it out of fear of not fitting in and the shame attached to that. Fear plays a strong role in motivation and retailers and marketers work this to their advantage.

Gender-differentiated products means more profit for retailers. Gendered colour is manufactured and nothing more than manipulation by the retail industry to get you to spend more money. Gender-specific products and marketing drive profits, and sexism in media sustains gendered ideals that are best left in the dark ages.

Deep down we know that no matter how much we shop and try to adopt these perfect lifestyles presented by the media, we never will truly become what we see and so we must settle on being ourselves. Jeff Perera believes that we need examples of diversity in media, to see men from different racial backgrounds, different sizes, shapes, tastes, and talents, to offer people more options to relate to.

Instead of ridiculous and unnatural gender codes, let’s celebrate and appreciate men and boys as wonderful unique creatures who can enjoy sports and video games if they want to, but may also like to sing, cook, and write short stories.

Guys like Brandyn.

 

April showers, rubber boots, and the environment

3 Apr

Leah Morrigan:

New season and new footwear required–from the archives!

Originally posted on In the Key of He:

Period Hessian boots.

It’s April again and if you’re lucky enough to be in a snowless spot, it could be time to get out the umbrellas and rubber boots for a change!

Rubber boots as we know them today didn’t start as rubber boots. The style of boot derives from Hessian boots, a high style from the Regency Period. These 18th century boots were made of leather with a heel and slightly pointed toe, and decorated with a coloured tassel. This is the boot from which rubber and cowboy boots derived. (Click here for further period boot reading.)

Though also worn by Beau Brummel, the most famous of dandies, the Hessian boots were adopted by the military and favoured by officers. One of these officers,  Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, modified the style and changed footwear forever. Wellesley wanted a boot tough enough for the battlefield…

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