Between the lines


Richard Burnett
Hair is back. No, not that God-awful musical from the sixties. I mean hair - body hair (though not, thank God, hairy backs). That's the new post-September 11 consensus and it's getting a lot of ink. During New York City's Spring 2003 fashion week last month, few male models were clean shaven. In fact, most were downright scruffy, with beards, mustaches and chest hair.

"We really wanted someone who really looked like a guy, who was not completely groomed, with every hair on his chest shaved and plucked," Gucci designer Tom Ford told the New York Times. "It's the kind of male beauty that I don't think we've seen in a long time, really since the 1970s."

Ford is referring to his new ad campaign introducing the new Yves Saint Laurent perfume M7. And, in her Oct 5 National Post column Modern Life - with the unwittingly anti-gay subhed "Real men don't wax" - Anne Kingston writes, "If trend savant designer Tom Ford is a leading indicator - and he always is - the fashionable man this fall will boast a lawn of body hair, pecs and abs that haven't been gym-chiselled, and,oh yes, an unequally unchiselled penis.

"That is the look Ford is presenting [for M7]. The image, which will soon be plastered all over, features brooding Gallic hunk du jour Samuel de Clubber reclining naked, his arms lifted over his head to reveal a manly, uncircumcised penis - which, for the record, is in relaxed mode."
The reason for this, Kingston explains, is because "the image has already been heralded as part of the much-ballyhooed return to the he-man esthetic we've heard so much about since Sept 11. That, rather simplistically, has been credited to a newfound respect for the dangerous, heroic work of firemen and policemen.

"But the embrace of traditional macho masculinity truly can be seen to date back to the disenchantment with the androgynous, prepubescent hairless geeks who briefly ruled the world when dot-com reigned. More recently, with stock markets in retreat, the economic underpinnings of this shift are clear: The guy who uses his body to save lives is more relevant, and thus more attractive, than the pampered, privileged suit who totes up a few thousand dollars a day in billable hours and then pays a trainer to put him through his paces."
For once this is not a trend started by gay men.

But the mainstream backlash against hairless gymbots is ironic - and subtly homophobic - because gay men began adopting that hyper masculinized clone look 25 years ago in a conscious bid to be less sissy and as manly as their straight siblings.

Now that the "Adonis Complex" has been diagnosed as a medical psychological condition (when the need to be buff runs your life), straight men can now disingenuously opt out of the gym without disappointing their girlfriends - women who demanded their beaus to be as toned and buff as their gay male friends.
As Kingston says of Ford's new M7 ad campaign's 'welcome' return to the hairy '70s, "That would be the decade when men began getting in touch with their feminine side which, in retrospect, added up to little more than learning how to wax, to use mousse and to moisturize."
Fortunately, in that same issue of the National Post, star columnist Christie Blachford, in an op-ed titled "The gay man and his many charms", noted the new style, manners and fabulous appearance of a formerly gangly straight youth whose best friend and roommate is gay.

"You," Blachford cheerfully told the blushing youth, "have been subject to the finer influences of the gay man. You have had a makeover!"

Blachford then goes on to praise the fabulousness of gay men everywhere.
"Some of them can cook like a dream and those who can't know who to hire or, at the least, what are the better restaurants," she winningly writes. "Most of them go to the gym, if not to work out, then to look at those who do. You will almost never catch a one wearing a mullet. They tend to smell great. A few of them can actually carry off khaki capris, which no straight man, and few women, should ever even attempt. Their apartments really do tend to the fabulous. They know good wine, but will drink plonk. They may gossip viciously, but there it usually stops. Because of the secret, all-gay radio station to which they all miraculously tune in at an early age, and which no one else can get, they know the words to all the best diva-type anthems."

Then Blachford goes in for the kill: "I generalize, yes. I am indulging in caricature. But one thing is true is that [gay men] comprise probably the least threatening group I know, which is how the young man I saw last week came to live among them so happily."

Another great read was journalist Janet Bagnall's Sept 27 op-ed in the redesigned Montreal Gazette. In her piece titled "We must renew the fight against AIDS", Bagnall remembered her brother who died of AIDS at the young age of 35 and explained why she marched in Montreal's Sept 22 Farha Foundation Ça Marche AIDS Walk.
"Gay men walked hand in hand, lesbians arm in arm, " Bagnall wrote. "It is such an ordinary, small act, to walk arm in arm with the person you love. It should be all right to be who you are, but it isn't. That was also one of the reasons people were walking, to protest the continuing marginalization of the gay and lesbian community. When you take to the streets in the thousands, it's about more than fundraising. It's about standing for something; in this case, for tolerance and freedom.

"In an obvious act of solidarity, the walk went through the Gay Village," Bagnall went on, "sending a message that the people in the village enjoy the support of a large group of Montrealers. It's a message that needs to be heard by the bigots who prey on the village, by the police who aren't always fast enough to protect gay men and by the religious institutions that hesitate to allow same-sex weddings. It also needs to be heard by the federal and provincial governments, which seem at a loss as to how to help a new generation deal with the problem of HIV and AIDS."

And there is the gist of it. As Bagnall rightly points out, "Canada spends $45 million a year in direct costs to battle AIDS and $20 million indirectly in prevention efforts. Is that adequate? Let's put it this way: [The] 20,000 Quebecers with HIV will cost $400 million in medication a year, which is a whole lot more than the $65 million the federal government is spending for the entire country.

"Even some of the Montrealers who usually participate in Ça Marche think the battle is on its way to being won. There are fewer of them and fewer donations. AIDS is a preventable disease, but we're just standing by. You don't want to know what it's like to stand by while a preventable disease ravages someone you love."
A great piece that would have made Bagnall's brother proud.
You go, girl.

Richard Burnett's national queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill can be read locally in Hour magazine as well as on the web at and (click on the "issues" link and scroll down to Three Dollar Bill).