Category Archives: Winter 2014

February 24, 2014

Facing stigma head-on

Rodney Rousseau is a student working towards an Honours BSc in biochemistry and sexual diversity studies at U of T. He is 25 years old, and grew up in a small town in Northwestern Ontario. He is also HIV-positive.

JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY
SHAFAK KHANANI/THE VARSITY

In the 1980s, headlines proclaimed that the spread of HIV/AIDS had reached epidemic levels. The wave of fear spread faster than the then-untreatable condition, and left an emphasis on prevention and hyper-vigilance in its wake.

Since then, medical professionals have developed treatments for the illness, and scientific knowledge on the subject has expanded significantly. However, misconceptions about HIV/AIDS remain prevalent in society. A 2012 survey by Ipsos Reid revealed that only 57 per cent of Canadians feel “reasonably well” informed about HIV/AIDS. This deficit in knowledge perpetuates fear and stigmatization, creating a cycle whereby society’s misunderstanding of HIV/AIDS only hinders its prevention.

 

Common misconceptions

In Rousseau’s experience, the majority of people know, at least generally, how HIV is transmitted, but certain social situations seem to override that knowledge. He describes, “[A]s soon as it comes to sharing a straw or a fork with someone there’s often a clear moment of hesitation. Or I’ll be asked, ‘You’re sure it’s all right?’”

In spite of his awareness of the potential for negative attention, Rousseau describes his status as HIV–positive as “a matter of public record.”

“I disclosed both my status and my sexuality to one professor last semester in an attempt to help her understand my academic needs… I regretted that decision almost instantly. The term was almost completely a back-and-forth of terse and non-supportive communication that lacked any appropriate amount of humility,” he says.

Rousseau adds that discussing being HIV-positive is generally not easy: “I’ve had the experience of planning to go on a date with a guy, disclosing my status, and then him saying something like, ‘okay, well, as long as we don’t have sex’ …or just flat out stop talking to me. Those experiences are really common.”

Negative reactions to disclosure reinforce the notion that being HIV-positive is something to keep quiet about, as Rousseau explains: “I’ve had people in my life tell me that I shouldn’t be open about my status — that it will cost me any future career options.”

There is also a belief that HIV/AIDS is no longer a matter for widespread public concern. “I think a lot of people in North America think [the AIDS epidemic] is over,” explains Scott Rayter, associate director of the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies. However, the reality is that the prevalence rate increases annually, as treatments enable individuals to live longer. Incidence rates — the rates of new cases — are also rising, especially in high-risk populations, such as men who have sex with men, Aboriginal communities, and, increasingly, women, who make up one quarter of new diagnoses in Ontario.

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Advancements in the medical field impact representations of HIV/AIDS as well. Dan Allman, assistant professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, explains: “We increasingly hear about how medical advances are transforming HIV into a chronic and manageable disease ‘like diabetes,’ as if a chronic and manageable disease [is] not something to prevent ­— as if somehow recasting HIV as a chronic disease will act to transform it, and the stigma associated with it, into something benign.”

Rayter adds that medical progress can eliminate the focus on preventative measures. “People aren’t thinking that it affects them, and if it does, then [they think] ‘oh well, there’s drugs now’ — there’s much less frank discussion,” he says.

 

Something we don’t talk about

Many HIV-positive individuals are scared silent by the potential repercussions of these misconceptions — which include rejection, stigma, and even criminal charges in certain circumstances.

When asked whether his experiences with stigmatization make him hesitant to share his status, Rousseau replies, “Yes and no. I do fear being stigmatized, but for me, I’d rather face that stigma head on than perpetuate it by being shameful.”

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HIV/AIDS remains a taboo subject in North America, not because we lack the information or freedom to discuss it, but because we seem to be afraid to do so. Most people feel comfortable advocating for a future without HIV/AIDS, more support for patients, and increased funding for prevention and research. When confronted with HIV, however — whether it be meeting a diagnosed individual or encountering the potential for transmission in sex or drug use — we falter.

“We may be able to discuss HIV on social media, or walk in support of HIV, or wear a ribbon. Yet when it comes to talking about HIV in the moment… the nature of what HIV is and represents becomes transformed within intimate interpersonal contexts into taboo matter,” says Allman.

Allman attributes some of this reluctance to society’s tendency to label a subject taboo as a protective measure — as if not talking about it will somehow make it disappear. He explains that there is an association between HIV and behaviours that are categorized as deviant, “because of its association with blood, semen, and other body fluids, because of the behaviours and identities associated with it — sex, drugs, rock n’ roll — because taboos act, in society, often to protect some form of public good.”

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Rayter draws a link between the stifled discussion of HIV and the increasingly individualized nature of public health, whereby individuals are ‘at fault’ for or ‘deserve’ the consequences of their actions. He adds, “Even the term Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome [sounds] like you went out and got it — there is this sense that you went out and did it to yourself.”

 

Rethinking awareness campaigns

Some challenges to raising awareness lie in the way information is being disseminated. Rayter says awareness campaigns need to be reevaluated. “Definitely. Both in schools and media campaigns — and looking at what messages are being put out there and what information people are taking [in],” he says.

“[S]tigma can prevent the uptake of prevention messaging,” Allman says. “In some ways to prevent HIV, we need to continue to find ways to prevent HIV stigma also,” he adds.

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Unfortunately, the importance of being politically correct in prevention messaging often focuses on being universally inoffensive, rather than effective. One example is the Kisses 4 CANFAR campaign, featured in ads on the TTC, which aims to “kiss HIV & AIDS goodbye.” The vague subway ad images can be misunderstood as suggesting a causal relationship between kissing and HIV/AIDS transmission.

Allman explains, “Prevention messaging that is attuned to true cultural diversity, to the political sensitivities of funders and donors, to populations and individuals, some of whom will be living with HIV, such sensitization can water down messaging to the point of, if not irrelevance, perhaps ineffectiveness.”

This focus on sensitivity to public reception impacts the way in which individuals respond to disclosures of HIV-positive status. Rousseau describes, “I feel like people perpetuate the stigma of HIV by feeling sorry for those that are infected. Often the first thing people say to me is ‘I’m sorry,’ or, ‘That’s terrible.’ As far as my experience goes, sure it sucks, but it’s nothing to pity me over.” He explains that, alternatively, there is more value in asking productive or inquisitive questions.

Awareness campaigns are important, but they only fulfill their purpose if HIV becomes something that can be freely and safely discussed in public forums. The experience of HIV is unique to each individual impacted by it — and as such cannot be summarized into a single, all-encompassing campaign.

The strongest voices in the fight against HIV/AIDS often come from those with the most intimate experience — people who are diagnosed as  positive and those who are close to them. Allman, who teaches a course on HIV prevention research at U of T, says, “I can tell you that in such a class, little has as much impact as when a student turns in her or his seat to face the rest of their class and says, ‘I am HIV–positive.’”

Allman describes that those four words can transform a subject that, for some, embodies fear and make it instead a symbol of courage.

Amid the misconceptions about the disease, there is an imperative truth: there is no cure for  HIV. It can be prevented if people are aware of the risks and take precautions against them — but this can only happen when society ends the self-sabotaging cycle of fear and stigmatization.

Allman reflects, “In the absence of a vaccine, in the absence of a cure, prevention remains the road ahead. Let us not allow fear to limit how that road rises up to meet us.”

With files from Ipsos Reid and Casey House; infographic data from Public Health Agency of Canada and Canada AIDS Society.

 

In conversation: Rodney Rousseau

The Varsity: Do you think there is enough public school education about HIV? How can it be improved? What information do you think is lacking the most? 

Rodney Rousseau: I finished high school a few years ago, so things may be a bit different now from when I received sexual health education. I was taught about abstinence when I was in high school. Abstinence-based sexual health education ignores the needs of those at risk for HIV, and quite frankly, just doesn’t work.

I also believe that there isn’t enough information being taught in history classes. First of all, the women’s rights movement is justly part of history education, but how is the LGBT rights movement just ignored as if it didn’t happen? And then HIV/AIDS? We’re now talking about an epidemic that is decades old and has a rich history, how are young people not learning about that history? It’s important.

 

TV: There have been some large steps taken in terms of medical advancements for HIV treatment in the last [thirty] years. Do you think awareness has taken a backseat to medical successes? In your opinion, is there too much information that remains unspoken? Do you feel that society is too quick to define the individual by the condition?

RR: Well, my first response to this question is: what is awareness? Awareness of HIV transmission? Awareness of what it’s like to live with HIV? Prevalence? Incidence? Prevention?

I don’t particularly think that HIV awareness and medical successes are at odds with each other. I think the field of HIV/AIDS work overall tends to realize the necessity of interdisciplinary work to help overcome this health issue. Both medical and social sides of HIV/AIDS work are under-funded, in my opinion. I think that what we need to look at, though, is how we can bridge these two sides together and create more impactful outcomes for those living with, and at risk for, HIV.

 

TV: How, if at all, does HIV impact your life as a student? Does it play a role in your chosen studies, or in any extracurricular/volunteer involvement? Do you have physical symptoms that factor into your days?  

RR: Coming back to school as a newly diagnosed full-time student was tough. I ended up reducing my course load a bit. I was consistently having a tough time sleeping, so that effected my productivity, of course. I would say that most of my health symptoms are mental-health-related. Tiredness and worry play into a bit of a vicious cycle that sometimes makes it hard to focus or recall information efficiently.

I was interested in HIV before I became infected, so it was already a big part of my studies. I did a 400-level HIV stigma project last year before I was diagnosed, and I work part time in an HIV immunology lab on campus.

Heiko Julien 27/M/Chicago

Somewhere near the end of the last decade, an acutely self-aware, Adderall-ridden wind blew through the depths of the Internet. The trees stirred in the tumblr forest as slowly, a new vanguard of writers, led by alt-lit pioneer Tao Lin, started to come into prominence.

This new brand of writing was tied to the Internet in a way that hadn’t previously been possible. Distributed primarily through blogs, eZines, Twitter accounts, and journals, it was characterized by intense self-reflection. Alt-lit expresses contemporary life, examined. The works come off as both juvenile and profound — adult topics addressed with a child-like directness, punctuated by home-cooked image macros, gifs, and collaged jpegs, yet with undertones of validation, existential angst, and self-medication.

We connected with Heiko Julien, one of alt-lit’s most coveted authors, to talk about his art.

The Varsity: Mark Leyner described your book, I Am Ready to Die a Violent Death, as “[p]rose that actually feels like the 21st century.” What do you think that means?

Heiko Julien: I think a lot of people have weird ideas about what “writing” is — that it has to be reflective of a specific kind of intellect or cultural values. Like, you have to sound like someone’s idea of a “smart” person. But when we break down a lot of these supposed signs of wisdom, we’ll probably find that they’re just a lot of fashion and politics, like so much else.

Writing to me is about communication. And communication is strange in that the same set of symbols can be interpreted so many different ways by so many people. Mark appears to be saying that I’m communicating using a common language and that this is somewhat rare. Lots of people can read and would like to, but no one is speaking with them the way they want to be spoken to.

A lot of literary-minded types would prefer to lecture. They come from an environment where they were lectured, and they’re modelling that behavior, which is fine if their audience likes that, but I don’t think that most people want to be lectured. I think most of us would rather have a conversation.

 

TV: Is that what alt-lit’s all about, really? Is that what literature is going to look like — or even what it should look like — for the Internet generation? Do you think this could be the new poetic tradition? Like maybe, just maybe, you’re contributing to the formation of a very important canon?

HJ: Well, it already is a tradition. I’ve been influenced by writers I thought were fun, that spoke to me, and now I’m working from that tradition in my own way. That’s how it works. Important? I don’t know. It’s important to the people who enjoy [it]. But everyone has their own idea of what alt-lit is and what it means. To me, it’s just a thing that’s happening in a specific place at a specific time. There are consistent patterns in the work of writers influenced by each other, but what I think it’s really about is the digital medium. It’s more about positing your writing online and associating it with alt-lit than it is about the content having alt-lit properties. Which to me seems fine. I like the idea that writing could be common and popular. I like common and popular things.

 

heiko-julien-3

 

TV: We’re wondering if you’re on the alt-lit team? Is it something you self-select into? Did you ever wake up one morning from a great melatonin-induced sleep and think, “Hey, I’m just gonna go 100 per cent alt-lit,” or something?

HJ: I probably am. It’s nice to be a part of something, to some extent.

TV: Could there be alt-lit without the Internet? Where do you think all of these people, like you, Noah Cicero, and Ben Brooks, would have ended up without the Internet?

HJ: Ben and Noah don’t seem to be as attached to the Internet as I am. My work is inseparable from it. It’s about using a computer and being online, not entirely, but in part and definitely inextricably. That just kind of happened, and maybe it will be less about that in the future. But apparently my relationship with my computer and the avatars on its screen is an important one to me and one I’ve been consistently fascinated with exploring. I think Ben and Noah are more traditional writers in the sense that I’m guessing they were sitting down with blank Word documents and filling them up first, then came to the Internet to share what they’d done. I’m different in the sense that I became a writer on accident. This was just something I started doing while trying to promote my music and ended up having a lot more success getting people to pay attention to me this way, so I just kept doing it. But it’s grown into a lot more than that. I’ve turned on and developed a different part of my mind, and it’s a lot of fun. It’ll be cool to see where it ends up going. I think it’s going to be around for a while. People aren’t going to stop posting their writing online anytime soon. Yes, it’s a bull market for alt-lit; I say buy, buy, buy. Notes and likes will be up 40 per cent by year’s end. That’s my prediction, and you can take it to the bank.

 

 

TV: Marry, fuck, kill — Mira Gonzalez, Melissa Broder, Marie Calloway?

HJ: I would marry Ms. Broder but she is already married. I wouldn’t feel comfortable fucking or killing anyone except myself.

TV: In n+1, your “Status Update” piece was published under fiction, but a lot of your pieces, including that one, feel autobiographical. How would you classify them? Is it real? Is it not real? Does it even matter?

HJ: It doesn’t matter. The product is the point, not who I am or how the reader may perceive me. It’s about the implication of a person doing/saying/thinking these things on the planet Earth and what meaning you make of it with relation to your own worldview.

I recently posted a status “revealing” that my account was actually run by four interns from an MFA program, and while most people seemed to “get” it, some were confused. Someone else posted a screencap on Twitter and expressed outrage that this was on her timeline. I think it’s funny, and if you put too much stock in a writer rather than their writing, you deserve to be upset when that human being doesn’t live up to your expectations.

TV: Would you tell us your real name if we asked for it? We’re asking for it.

HJ: No.

TV: There have been a lot of scathing words directed towards the alt-lit scene, like in Josh Baine’s “Alt lit is for boring, infantile narcissists” on Vice, for example, where he calls it “nothing more than a literature of absolute nothingness,” and then continues:

“All of this — the narcissism, the solipsism, the glorification of online communication, the brattiness, the backslapping, the fucking image macros — could be overlooked if the writing was any good… if things happened in the stories, […] if it wasn’t so content with thinking about drugs and itself and itself on drugs. If it wasn’t fucking alt lit, basically.”

Do you have anything to say in defence of alt-lit? Why’s it worth its salt? Why are people so mad about it?

HJ: People are mad about it because they were mad already. Alt-lit is just a thing you can do on your computer. It’s a creative outlet with infinite possibility because it allows people to communicate with each other in a way that will allow the message to be received in a certain way. What way? I don’t know. It seems like something. There are problems with everything. It’s easy to rip on stuff. It seems especially easy to rip on young people posting poetry online.

Really, it’s what you make of it. If you’re using this thing as a way to escape, to avoid growth and hide in a comfortable nook of the web, then it’s probably not healthy. If you’re using it as a way to get in touch with parts of yourself you can’t express in other arenas of your life, then, hey, you might be doing it right. Who’s to say? Let your conscience be your guide. I like the way I’m doing it.

TV: What do you listen to when you’re writing? Jon Hopkins and Born Gold have been great backdrops for me as I’ve been reading your work. Are either of those the right vibes?

HJ: I like Jon Hopkins a lot. Sometimes I listen to my own music, which seems appropriately bratty and narcissistic, if you are taking the hater’s view. Or it could be a different way, if you can imagine that. Uh. I’ve been listening to Tim Hecker[’s] Virgins a lot. This Mssingno mix Brad Troemel posted is tight. This band Narrator played at a reading I did, and they were really good.

TV: Will alt-lit always be hiding in the shadows somewhere behind Tao Lin? When someone hears “alt-lit” and immediately thinks “Tao Lin,” does that hurt the genre?

HJ: I can’t see why it would hurt. Tao is an innovator. A bunch of people liked what he did and wanted to go in the direction he was leading. That seems fine with me if everyone else is okay with it. Sometimes people have good ideas; it’s all right to admit that you were inspired by them. As to what’s going to happen with alt-lit, who knows? It’s happening right now.

TV: Does Lin’s legacy hold it back? Can we grow past it? Will some sort of Richard Yates/Shoplifting from American Apparel cross remain burning on our horizon forever?

HJ: I think you’re underestimating my creative potential.

TV: Tell me something I haven’t asked about.

HJ: Burger King was originally founded under the name “Insta-Burger King” in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1953.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can find more of Heiko Julien’s work here.

You read a story

Close your eyes at the end of this paragraph. Try to visualize your daily walks if you had chosen a different school; think of the different friends you would surreptitiously text under classroom desks. How would you look in that light? What would the view be out your windows?

No one I know can say with a straight face that their university life turned out like they had imagined. Our generation has grown up consuming popular media that glorifies the small-town ensemble-cast-friend-group pennant-on-the-wall collegiate life as the only authentic one. We all spent hours in dull high school classrooms looking forward to it — what has become of us now?

In writing this piece I have collected true stories of friends. We have all learned that there is no authentic student experience except that which we experience. The movies are bullshit. You may coast through easy; you may be popular; you may be broken and remade. You will be lonely and confused; you will make friends by sharing your loneliness and confusion.

 

You’re popular.

All one can aspire to be at U of T is infamous or well-liked, it’s too big a place for popularity.  Maybe you were a big-shot athlete in high school. Well, now you have fewer friends than the “nerd” who brings Timbits to your seminar. You lose the desire to be popular and you start wanting warmth. This is growing up, I think. It’s happening to me.

 

You go to parties.

NANCY JI/THE VARSITY
NANCY JI/THE VARSITY

You can’t just “go to parties” without scrolling guest lists on Facebook events. There are those you attend to be seen, those you regret with your first foot in the door, those where you feel drowned in a sea of the “cool kids” you don’t yet understand. Early on you’ll probably get drunk as hell, and end up in bed with a pile of regrets. This pile may take the form of a stranger, a friend’s girlfriend, a friend, or a puddle of vomit (all four if you’re lucky).

Some of the best parties you’ll go to won’t be real parties. After a while, drum beats and anonymous fishnet legs all blend together, but you’ll remember warm nights on worn futons with friends, laughing with movies, smoking weed, and cuddling.  You’ll remember concerts, video games, and costumes.

 

You know just what you want to study. You get out in four years.

graduation
NANCY JI/THE VARSITY

Nobody knows what they want to study. If you’re in first year and think you do, you’re wrong. As for getting out in four years, a recent New York Times study found that the average American student now takes at least five; shaming yourself for being a fifth-year senior should be a thing of the past.

 

You date someone older, cooler, smarter.

STUDENT
NANCY JI/THE VARSITY

One girl told me, “All my friends are single. Their standards are too high.”

 

You hook up.

You lost your virginity to some boy in his friend’s room during frosh week. All the lights are on. Every blemish on his skin becomes a regret when you think it over in the morning. When you see him next semester, he won’t recognize you. “Oh,” you’ll think.

“I have a boyfriend.” “I have a girlfriend.” Everybody seems to. You dance at clubs and take the night bus home alone. How long until you realize that nobody has girlfriends, boyfriends, and those were all clean polite rejections?

 

You go to class.

CLASS
NANCY JI/THE VARSITY

Sometimes you go to class. Sometimes life gets in the way; sometimes work; sometimes work for other classes. Maybe it piles so high that you can’t get out your door. Maybe you’re just tired. When you need an excuse, you will find one.

 

You make friends.

Some of the best friends you’ll make will only be made when you let your guard down and talk to people you wouldn’t ever talk to. If all your friends look, speak, and think like you, ask yourself if you’re bored, if you’re stimulated by your social life. Likely not. One of the few things Hollywood gets right is the importance of “broadening horizons” (whatever that means).

You end up with no friends. You come home from class and sit online. On a campus where most students are non-residential, this might be more common than you think. Reach out to the lonely; it could save a heart or a life.

 

Fall into some role in a group.

Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky few to keep a friend group through the length of your degree; but really, as you age, you learn that different people grow at different rates. You will feel outpaced by some friends, self-conscious in the face of their success, or you will feel like you’re leaving friends behind as your life moves on.

 

You’re happy.

In 2005, it was found that one in seven or more than 800,000 youth experience mental disorders, with anxiety disorders the most prevalent. We have seen too many friends let studies and lives fall into disrepair because of untreated or unacknowledged mental illness. If you’re afflicted, don’t feel like it’s a weakness, like something is wrong with you. Nobody is alone.

Your twenties are a time for internal crises. You will stress over questions like: What next? What now? What am I even doing? Who will I become? Maybe that’s another thing Hollywood had right, this is what this time is for. Figure yourself out. You’re young. All will be well when you’re done.

“It’s not who I am”

“If Clara Hughes can come out and say it, so can I,” says U of T graduate student Amanda Coletta with a smile as we finish our interview.

Later that same day, I meet with Aaron*, a third-year political science student at U of T.

“For the most part, it’s been sort of an open secret. My family is aware of it, and my very close friends are aware of it. I don’t talk about it too much, though,” he says.

Coletta was diagnosed with major depressive disorder at 21 years old. She refused her doctor’s recommendation of psychopharmacological treatment, opting instead for cognitive-behavioural therapy the following year. Aaron was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder when he was 18 years old. He took antidepressants — prescribed by his psychiatrist — for several years, after a single attempt at psychotherapy left him unmotivated to return for further sessions.

 

 

Distinguishing mood disorders

graph3-01Although their diagnostic criteria are officially distinct, depressive disorders and bipolar disorders are the two main categories of mood disorders recognized in common clinical psychology. While both disorders include major depressive episodes as part of their primary symptoms, bipolar disorder is also characterized by manic episodes.

According to Dr. Roger McIntyre, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto and head of the Mood Disorders and Psychopharmacology Unit of the University Health Network, bipolar patients in a manic state “have lots of energy, they don’t sleep as much, they’re often very angry and irritable; in some cases, [they are] jubilant, jocular, and euphoric.”

“I started to notice I was having trouble getting up in the mornings; I was having trouble thinking positively about myself and about the world — there was sort of a dark spectre over everything,” says Aaron about the depressive state of his disorder. “[But] I [also] went through periods of delusions of grandeur — feelings of invincibility and total control…That’s how the mania side presented itself. But for the most part, it consisted of prolonged periods of chronic depression,” he adds.

In contrast, depressive disorders are characterized by chronic low mood. The two main depressive disorders are major depressive disorder (which is usually referred to using the umbrella term “depression”) and dysthymia. Major depressive disorder consists of persistent major depressive episodes, while the depressed mood characteristic of dysthymia tends to be less disabling, although dysthymic patients are likely to experience major depressive episodes.

The nature of major depressive episodes varies between patients; they can involve feelings of irritability, or, conversely, indifference to one’s surroundings. Those who suffer from depression often report feelings of “numbness” and a loss of enjoyment of normally pleasurable experiences. Many feel as though they are a burden on those around them, often without an explicit reason for feeling so. Other symptoms of depression may include excessive lethargy, too much or too little sleep, disordered eating, and/or suicidal ideation.

“I started to have a lot of irrational thoughts; I was very paranoid about things, and I started worrying about things that I never used to worry about, like people’s opinions of me. My own self-worth started to really go down,” says Sarah*, a third-year student who received help for her depression last year. “At first, when it started happening, I told myself, ‘This isn’t depression,’ because I didn’t want to think that I had it,” she continued.

“Depression is a very painful experience,” says Dr. Phyllis Spier, a general practitioner child psychiatrist in the Canadian Medical Laboratories Clinic in Thornhill, Ontario. “It’s not just a cold – it’s a state of mind, it’s an abnormality of brain metabolism, and it’s not to be ignored,” she adds.

The most recent statistics on the Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety’s webpage suggest that “over one million Canadians suffer from some form of depressive illness.” They also suggest that the illness’ recurrence rates are quite high, at “50 per cent after one depressive episode, 70 per cent after two, and 90 per cent after three episodes.”

 

 

Approaches to treatment

PillsThere are two main branches of treatment for mood disorders: psychopharmacotherapy, which involves taking medication (i.e., antidepressants or antipsychotics), and psychotherapy.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is the most commonly referenced and employed psychotherapy for depression. It involves restructuring the ways in which patients approach and interpret various interpersonal and intrapersonal situations.

“My [cognitive-behavioural] therapist and I have this book, and it basically has a whole bunch of exercises inside, like thought records, so when you feel an episode coming on, you identify where you are, who you’re with, what day it is, and what your thoughts are so you can see if there’s a pattern — [for example], if being in certain situations or being with certain people or people saying certain things to you triggers an episode,” says Coletta of her cognitive-behavioural therapist’s approach.

Sarah also praised the usefulness of the cognitive-restructuring methods she learned through CBT. “It [involved] a lot of mental imaging, taking bad thoughts and coming up with either a mantra or an image that distances you from them. So if I thought of something that upset me, I would just picture a stop sign, or I would imagine throwing the bad thought into a box…it was all simple, manageable things, but just knowing that I had an arsenal of things in my own personal toolbox really helped; it made me feel less like there was nothing I could do when [the depressive episodes] started happening.”

Medications prescribed to patients with either disorder tend to overlap. The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which sustain the effects of the neurotransmitter serotonin — a chemical that contributes to feelings of well-being — in the brain for longer than usual. In addition to an antidepressant, bipolar patients must also take a mood stabilizer drug to account for the manic effects of the disorder. The necessity of psychopharmacological treatments varies between disorders.

According to McIntyre, psychopharmacological treatments are the “standard of care” for bipolar patients; the individual must be prescribed and successfully taking medication before initiating psychotherapy, if at all, in order for the latter to be effective.

Depressed patients can opt for either treatment —or both, if necessary. However, McIntyre says, “My strong recommendation to almost every patient is that they need both. I’m a strong proponent that the treatment for depression today is with medication, with, in some cases, psychotherapy, and I think lifestyle modification, which includes aspects of exercise, diet, and healthier living; we haven’t emphasized [the latter] as much… I think that people do require these multiple tools to give them the best chance of success.”

 

 

Adverse side effects

People with depression or bipolar disorder are often concerned about the side effects that accompany many medications — both Coletta and Sarah refused medication upon their doctors’ requests.

“My family doctor said, ‘You may have some side effects.’ She also said, in young people, antidepressants sometimes create suicidal feelings. But what I found was that the withdrawal effects of the particular drug she prescribed me were fairly serious,” said Coletta, adding that she did not feel comfortable accepting the drug under those circumstances.

For Sarah, the decision came as a result of concern for her additional — or “comorbid” — anxiety disorder. “One of the issues I was having with my anxiety was that I couldn’t eat, and Prozac often affects appetite a lot.”

According to McIntyre, the increasing amount of generic medications — medication that is molecularly similar but not identical to the brand-name drugs — on the market is a key problem in experienced adverse side effects.

“[Generic drugs are] cheaper in acquisition cost…The good news is that [they] can be covered for people who can’t afford it and who are eligible for ODB [the Ontario Drug Benefit Program], but the bad news is that generic medications are not the identical drug as the brand name medication. They’re similar, but not identical… When a generic medication is available, the company who makes that medication does not need to demonstrate that it works. All that Health Canada requires is that the company who’s selling the generic is able to show that the way that that drug is disposed of, or handled in your body, is between 80 and 125 per cent similar to the brand name drug,” he says. Health Canada also mandates that the generic drug must also be manufactured in the same way, and must have the same amount of active ingredient.

Sarah, however, says that her experience at CAPS was “wildly unhelpful.” She did not feel that she could wait the estimated three months for her appointment. She says that the fact that the interviewing clinician suggested that she take group therapy in the interim period for her appointment suggested that her comorbid social anxiety was not being adequately considered.

McIntyre prefers prescribing brand-name medication for this reason.

The fear of adverse side effects is especially troublesome for those with bipolar disorder, since their treatment necessarily depends on medication. Aaron said that the quality of his experiences while on medication was compromised: “[The pills] take the edge off of things. I’d rather be really, really happy or really, really sad than feel nothing at all.”

Second-year student Camille Angelo, who was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder in 2012, has also experienced adverse side effects from previous medications, but her current ones are working well for her.

“For me, [the most successful treatment choice] was a combination of the right cocktail of meds, my cognitive-behavioural therapist, and having friends and family around me who were able to help me work through some of it,” she says.

 

“The feeling of being something else”

One of the most feared side effects among patients with mood disorders is that the medication will alter their feelings of being authentically themselves.

“Definitely one of the reasons why I was scared of going on meds was because I felt it would change who I was as a person…and [the wrong meds] can change people a lot. That being said, I think medication is really, really useful to a lot of people, and helps them with their lives… Unfortunately, even when it is necessary, it can still change people, but I guess that’s a necessary evil to a certain extent,” says Sarah on her refusal to accept psychopharmacological treatment when it was previously suggested to her.

Aaron has experienced this sentiment firsthand, as he explains: “I did have the feeling of being something else, something other. Even if me was going to be dark and brooding all the time, then that was who I was gonna be, and I would prefer that than not feeling like anything.”

While Angelo also experienced a feeling of disconnectedness, she says that this feeling only occurred when the medications given to her were not right for her. “When I was being treated, and I felt like [disconnected], it made me really question if I made the right decision to get treated. But now that I’m on meds for bipolar — and definitely the right meds – I feel 100 per cent myself. As you have more and more experience on meds and more experience with your disorder, you become more sensitive to it, and you can say, ‘Oh, maybe I’m being overmedicated right now.’”

 

Practical considerations

Dr. Marcia Zemans, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), suggests that the decision of when to prescribe medication, and how much to prescribe, is a complex relationship between the doctor’s administration and the patient’s own preference and specific situation. Some key factors include the nature of the illness; the patient’s financial means; the success of other treatments; and, ultimately, the decision of the patient or his/her power of attorney.

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Zemans outlines several situations in which medication may be preferable to psychotherapy for those with depression. For example, the expensiveness of CBT makes it a non-feasible option for many patients. On average, a patient can expect to spend approximately $200 per CBT session with a registered cognitive-behavioural therapist, as the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) does not extend to psychotherapy. Even at one session per week, yearly expenditure could total around $10,400.

In contrast, OHIP covers many psychotherapeutic treatments; yet, as McIntyre explains, even these treatments are not always cost-free. “Some of the medications in this province to treat depression are not covered by the ODB, which is part of the Ontario Government. Many patients have private healthcare plans. There are many antidepressants that are not covered by the government, and there are many that are not covered by private plans, so you pay out of your pocket,” he says.

The effectiveness of psychotherapy also necessarily depends on an individual’s regular attendance at therapy and cooperation in doing “homework” assignments outside of therapy. This work may be especially trying for individuals with a mood disorder, as a lack of motivation is a key symptom of major depressive episodes.

According to Zemans, the speed and efficiency with which psychotherapeutic treatments affect individuals are some of the most attractive features of these treatments.

“I think that there are certainly doctors who are overmedicating; but I’ve also seen family doctors who, I think, don’t prescribe quickly enough. I think each situation is different …Therapy won’t work if someone won’t do it…One of the biggest things is motivation. If [an individual] is not motivated to do therapy, and doesn’t want to come to therapy at all, that is probably one of the biggest barriers [to their treatment],” she says, adding: “[Medication] can be the quickest option. And sometimes individuals or families say that that’s what they want, in which case, there’s really nothing you can do.”

Page 2

Who are we here?

She sounds the way a photograph looks. It’s so strange, this habit we’ve developed in the past 70 years or so of forcing out a smile whenever cameras appear. The default human face doesn’t smile. Imagine how terrifying it would look if someone always appeared as she does in her profile pictures, perpetually wearing a Cheshire Cat where her face should be.

Elizabeth had recently been prescribed new medications. She took a dose of Lobutrin a little bit before talking to me, and she sounds cheerful, on the verge of giggling, throughout our conversation. She’s a talented artist, graduating high school this year, and going to NYU in August. She currently has a 3.8 GPA. She wants to study design, business, and possibly race and gender studies.

After her parents’ divorce while she was in the eighth grade, Elizabeth lived with them alternately for a few years, first with her father in Michigan, then in Acton, Massachusetts, before moving to live with her mother in Lexington.

“I decided I didn’t like Lexington my junior year, so I was just like, I’ll switch to Concord because my dad moved to Concord, so I did that for two weeks, and then I was like, ‘Fuck that,’ and I moved back to Lexington. And then this year I did Lexington for, like, one day and then was, like, ‘Hell no,'” she says.

She informed me later that she moved from Lexington the first time because a boy there tried to bribe her into having sex with him in exchange for Adderall. She didn’t know who to talk to about the situation and was so uncomfortable that she left the school.

Elizabeth seems to describe her parents as, at best, walls between which she bounces. “I honestly don’t have much to say about them. They don’t provide me much of a support system; I just do what I want to do,” she says. She talks about how she feels this has made her clingy, has made her desperate for companionship, has made her value her friends more than they ever value her. Her voice chimes happily throughout. Maybe this situation will matter less to her as she moves forward in life.

She refers to her anxiety and depression frequently. If NYU takes note of her rapidly falling grades in the second semester of her senior year, she says, she has a ready explanation.

“Before they rescind my admission, they’re going to tell me. They’re going to tell me, like, ‘Why are your grades shitty?’ If my grades are really that shitty, I’ll just be like, ‘Oh, depression.’

Elizabeth has difficulty deciding how being Asian has affected her life. “I can’t think of a general statement, but I can come up with lots of small things,” she says. “Like, I’m always referred as that blonde Asian.” She drags out the last word for effect. “I’m a cool Asian; I’m everyone’s little, midget, Asian friend. I don’t really care because it’s my friends calling me that, but, like, at the same time, it just doesn’t feel right.”

“It doesn’t make me feel bad. Like, I’m happy to be Asian now; I used to hate it a lot,” she goes on. “I think that’s just because, like… It was just me being dumb and thinking white people are awesome; I don’t really know.”

“I’ve talked to other Asians too,” says Elizabeth. “I feel like a lot of them just try to be white and try to be American because, well, obviously white people have it better. Also, when I was younger, I felt like I had to fight against the stereotype of just being a nerdy little Asian, but now I’m just more comfortable with who I am. I don’t care if I’m Asian; I got fucking bangs. I look more Asian than ever. People are just like ‘Oh, Elizabeth, you look like an anime character.’ Like whatever, like awesome, I look like an anime character.”

She bubbles along in this impossibly quotable vein for a while.

“I wanna get by. I don’t wanna work that hard,” she says, describing her greatest hopes and dreams. “I want a wedding because I want to throw a fucking party, and I don’t want to get married because I don’t want to deal with the legal fucking shit of getting divorced, because I saw my parents go through it and I don’t want to deal with that.” She pauses for a moment. “Honestly, I feel like my biggest dream is just to meet someone I actually like and just have a stable relationship and support system.”

“Or I just want to open up a cute little café, which is really dumb, but I just like the idea of having a cute little café.”

 

Albert

DSC_0883

My most cherished memories of Albert are of him sitting in his room with the door closed while he studied.

Not that I ever faulted him for that. Albert, a third-year, studies actuarial science. He has a 4.0 in a program I’ve seen a number of friends fail out of. Perhaps the only way you can survive it is by constantly telling yourself you’re not good enough, convincing yourself before every exam that you’re going to fail (conveniently forgetting that you’ve gotten As on every exam in your university career), and taping a sign above your desk that says, “Study harder, you idiot.”

“Outside of studies, I guess you could say I’m not doing much. I’m focusing on studies right now,” he begins.

Albert’s parents never gave him a clear reason for why their family immigrated from Beijing. What he does know is that they moved to the US, and then left it for Vancouver while he was a small child.

“At the time I was pretty lonely, because I didn’t really have anyone to play with, because we did move… We just made a transition, and at the time I didn’t really have any friends,” he says.

His parents also didn’t have much time for him. “My dad was working two or three part-time jobs, because we didn’t really have money. My mom wanted to get a better job, so she was studying at a college,” he recalls. He often cried, wondering why they couldn’t play with him, or take him to ball games.

Things are going better for his family now. “I actually can’t get over the fact that we just keep spending money,” he says. “We just bought a boat, so we blew a lot of money on that, and then I saw the backyard being renovated. Oh, also we got a new fridge; it’s pretty dope. I’m like, ‘Wow, how do we have money for this?’ and my dad’s like, ‘You want to see my gun collection?'”

Albert mentions to me that it’s nearly mandatory for actuarial scientists to secure an internship the summer after their third year. He’s not trying hard enough to find one, he says.

“I’m wondering to myself, is this really what I want to do? Do I really want to work so hard right now to work even harder down the road?”

Seeing Albert doubt his convictions is something of a religious experience for me. “If I work hard, put 100 per cent effort into an actuarial job, I think maybe it’ll just be too much stress on my life; maybe I might miss out on things like family.”

“One thing’s for certain is that I don’t want to work too hard; I don’t want to bring too much stress upon myself when I work, and then I’ll just die with regrets,” he says. “Because in the end when you die, what’s the point of work, right? You work to get money for your family, but you want to die happy, you want to die with the knowledge that you made an impact on your family and that you were there for your family, so I think that’s pretty important too.”

 

Ivy

At 9:30 am, Ivy, speaking over Skype, makes it clear to me that she only has 20 minutes to talk before she attends a meeting.

Ivy lived in Beijing until she was four and visits the city annually. The description she gives of it sounds like a venture capital report.

“It’s changed a lot in the past 10 years, very urbanized now,” she begins. “Highways are loops around the city, so anywhere within the second loop, with the centre being Tiananmen Square, is very bustling and busy, and subway cars are very full.”

She tells me that those who live within the second “loop” are extremely wealthy and that crossing the loop takes about 30 minutes by subway. She describes nothing but urban infrastructure. By the time she is done telling me about the city in which she was born, I am ready to invest my untold millions in projects there.

“The Chinese have a 3,000-year history of lessons… Why would we want to give up that tradition?”

Currently a third-year student at Queen’s University’s commerce program, Ivy describes her current projects: producing and promoting a healthcare app, as well as doing marketing work for a small business her father is opening in Toronto. She is also active in varsity figure-skating, the Queen’s commerce students’ society, and a number of other organizations, continuing a trend that began with a childhood filled with skating, swimming lessons, classical piano, and multiple academic clubs.

Ivy’s parents divorced when she was six. Both remarried, and she has a functional relationship with both sides of her family. She echoes something Elizabeth told me, saying that she’s glad her parents divorced.

“They’re both a lot happier,” says Ivy, “and I think that it’s really their problem and nothing to do with me.” Elizabeth simply prefers it to watching them constantly fight.

“The thing is, my dad was always very open about his feelings and his pain and sadness over the divorce, and that’s something I didn’t need to hear about,” says Ivy. “There’s something about the feeling of being around my mom rather than my dad. Being around my mom, I always feel like if the sky fell down, she could still hold it up, and I always felt very safe with her; but with my dad, because I saw him weak, and that’s not something that a child wants to see his parents like, I never felt very secure with him.”

She is unequivocal about the benefits of her background. “I think that China is a booming economy, and I think I’m lucky that I have maintained a very high standard of Chinese. I can read and speak it fluently; I can type it because that’s just recognizing characters,” she says. “It’s always valuable to know a different language, but especially Chinese now, because there’s a lot of opportunities in China.” Asked to explain what is valuable about being Asian, she explains what is financially valuable about being Chinese.

“People label Asians as ‘Asians.’ I think that’s really the only difference,” says Ivy, dismissing the idea that there is meaningful contrast between her own race and others.

“Currently, I don’t feel like, doing entrepreneurship, people see me as the young Asian girl. They just see me as a very young entrepreneur.”

Our conversation is cut short by her front door opening. “One sec,” she says. I hear footsteps.

“Gan ma?” (“What’s happening?”) she calls downstairs. She realizes her business acquaintances have arrived. “Oh, jin lai ba, jin lai ba. Wo zhai kai hui” (“Come in, come in. I’m having a meeting”), she bids. She hurriedly answers my last question and then bids me farewell.

Page 2

The way we eat now

Earlier this year, blogTO published a list called “The top 10 most outrageous fusion meals in Toronto.” This list included “novel mash-ups” such as the bulgogi cheesesteak (from Oddseoul) and the cheeseburger spring roll (from Lee). By describing these meals as the “trend du jour,” the article suggests that the entire concept of fusion — or food that combines techniques and styles from two or more cuisines — is a gimmick. But fusion is not merely a passing food fad to be forgotten when the next big trend hits the city.

IMG_5213Fusion is hardly a new idea and certainly not something Toronto can proudly call its own. According to Nick Liu, the former executive chef of Niagara Street Café and the upcoming GwaiLo,  fusion entered the culinary mainstream in the ‘90s. These fusion dishes looked a lot like “miso in smoked salmon and wrapping it in Vietnamese rice paper,” says Liu.

He adds, “These dishes were usually created by French-trained chefs, chefs not of these cultures. This type of cuisine lacked culture and history and was a trend that died back in the ‘90s.”

The type of “fusion” found in restaurants today tends to have different roots, both historically and culturally. Ask any Toronto foodie about what comes to mind when they think of “fusion,” and they would be quick to drop a few well-known names: the Lee Family, Susur Lee and his sons, Kai and Levi Bent-Lee; and the Han brothers. Leeto and Leemo, owners of Swish by Han and Oddseoul are just a few of the many.

This particular group consists of young chefs who are primarily of Asian heritage. Trying to stay true to what is commonly defined as “Chinese” or “Japanese” food is complicated in a city as diverse as Toronto. For many of these chefs, rather than resisting the influences of these other cultures and trying to stay within the boundaries of “Chinese” food, they welcome external influences. The result is a new style of cuisine that is both innovative and delicious.

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Liu describes his style of cooking as a “natural integration” of the Asian dishes he grew up with and his own personal belief in using locally sourced food. But don’t you dare call his food “fusion” — in fact, the term is dreaded among the new crop of chefs who are creating dishes that food critics and media would label as such.

Liu instead prefers “new Asian cuisine,” or simply “Canadian.” Many would be quick to point out that Toronto is the furthest thing from a homogenous city. Our neighbourhoods are a reflection of the ethnicities that were once the largest in the city: Chinatown, Little India, and Greektown, for starters. While it is easy to identify certain dishes associated with certain ethnicities, trying to define “Canadian” food is problematic.

Although Shinji Yamaguchi — owner of Gushi, a street stall that specializes in a style of Japanese street food called kushikatsu — grew up in Japan, it is pretty clear that the Gushi menu was strongly influenced by his experience in “Canadian” dining. One notable item is Gushi poutine — a hybrid of the Canadian staple and Gushi’s signature chicken.

IMG_5254The history behind the poutine meal at Gushi is simple: Yamaguchi wanted to combine both of his favourite foods into one meal. Many of us consider the act of starting off the day with a double-double and doughnut from Tim Hortons as a way of asserting our Canadian identity, but we seldom think about why we consider this combination to be “Canadian.” Perhaps the reason why there has been so much obsession with “fusion” food is its tendency to take dishes we consider “traditional” and reimagine them as a dish that is culturally indistinct.

These new hybrid cuisines aren’t killing off cultures; they are celebrating them in new ways. Innovators are bringing the mingling of cultures on the streets of Toronto and other cities into the kitchen and forging new courses within traditional cuisines.

Fusion food — debates about the authenticity of bulgogi cheesesteaks and kimchi fries aside — asks diners to consider the diversity of personal histories and influences behind a single dish. Much more than a trend for foodies to cash in on, fusion is a natural and exciting product of what happens when a chef of another ethnicity grows up in Canada.

Lumberjacks & Kerouacs

Walking down Queen Street West, you will inevitably find yourself among them: bearded hipster men clad in skinny jeans, eating organic quinoa. They occupy neighbourhoods, colonizing them with independent cafés and vintage boutiques. Maps have been made to demarcate their territory, and websites obsess over their idiosyncrasies.

By virtue of the conversation they inspire, derogatory or otherwise, hipster men can be considered a unique subculture. Today’s social critics sometimes go so far as to call hipsterism the final descent of culture, a regression into ironic nothingness. The description is flattering — when was the last time that cyberpunks or skateboarders were subject to that level of hyperbole?

 

Defining hipster men

MarkyMark_03It’s easy enough to sketch a rough image of a hipster male. Discarded cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, conspicuously stylish glasses, and a wardrobe raided from Goodwill all come to mind. However, beyond basic preliminaries, giving a proper account of this phenomenon is difficult. That is because there is more than just one type of hipster, and so to talk about them in a general way means describing something that is necessarily vague. A subculture dedicated to irony leaves room for vast disparities of interpretation, from the faux-redneck to the Mad Men-inspired hipster. Does your hipster model himself after a lumberjack or Kerouac?

Describing the significance of hipsterism therefore means abandoning any pretense of precision. Speaking broadly, we can at least identify a few basic themes: a whimsical nostalgia for the pre-computer age, a desire for a bohemian lifestyle balanced by a fear of actual poverty, a compulsion for the ironic, and a re-examination of masculinity.

While each of these is integral to an understanding of male hipsters today, it is the last theme that may be the most important. It is the exploration of their masculinity that has thrust male hipsters into society’s sneering spotlight.

Hipster masculinity is a special and obscure sort, one that manifests itself in two main ways: as a self-conscious caricature of traditional men, and also as metrosexuality.

The second of these manifestations is not particularly interesting, specifically because it is neither ironic nor original. Metrosexuality has many historical precedents; having existed across various cultures and eras. Groups of men have traditionally rushed in earnest to fill developing gaps in society’s changing understanding of gender. In some cases, a hipster’s effeminacy can be traced back to an earlier “emo” phase. The addition of soy lattes or organic produce doesn’t suddenly make metrosexuality novel or exceptional.

 

Irony and identity

MarkyMark_06When a hipster wears skinny jeans, it is banal; however, when he crafts an image for himself along the lines of traditionally masculine figures, such as lumberjacks, it gets interesting.

Consider how this type of masculinity is expressed externally. We see it all the time: flannel, beards, tattoos, and beer. Hipster masculinity is expressed through a mosaic employment of classical “male tropes.”  It is a particular kind of masculinity that wants to be rustic and earnest, yet is often painfully self-conscious. It is inorganic because, frankly, hipster men cannot stop gesturing at themselves. The way in which hipster men choose to express their gender identity is fundamentally ironic. For that reason, there is something distinctly premeditated about the way that hipster men express their identities — the details are not considered haphazardly.

PBR, for instance — one of the most recognizable symbols of modern hipsterdom — took hold within the community specifically because it has traditionally been considered a blue-collar beverage, enjoyed by the gristled men of America’s working class. It is therefore naturally incongruous with the bohemian sensibilities of hipsters. The beer’s presence within hipster culture is therefore, in itself, an ironic wink and nod. The same principles apply to flannel clothing, beards, and tattoos. Each of these character affectations is curated to best demonstrate the hipster’s dedication to and awareness of social irony.

Gestures that might have otherwise been direct expressions of how a man sees himself instead become vain and pretentious cultural commentary. Gender may be a social construct, but that does not mean that all expressions of gender identity are similarly manufactured. Compared to other interpretations of masculinity, the hipster form is rather counterfeit, constantly keeping a critical eye on itself. A hipster will buy a log of wood, not out of necessity, but as a character accessory, alluding to a lifestyle to which he has no real access. The inherent problem with hipster expressions of manhood is that they are too refined, too polished, and too overacted.

 

Sources of insecurity

MarkyMark_02A hipster man’s decadent expression of manliness is arguably motivated by an underlying insecurity in his role as a man. Otherwise, there would be no incongruity between themselves and their calculated affectations. That insecurity necessitates a romantic conceptualization of “manhood,” in order to better understand and assimilate.

Classical representations of masculinity and manhood are rooted in the language and images of violence. Manliness, as it has been portrayed and celebrated throughout history, is closely related to stories of combat, domination, and aggression. Perhaps that is why, historically speaking, stories of war and bloodshed are rife with references and allusions to an idealistic concept of “man.”

Cultural heroes, from Gilgamesh to Batman — while complicated characters — are artists of aggression. However, for modern men, there are fewer channels available through which to express their inner warriors. There are few opportunities for a modern hipster male to indulge violence or express aggression. However, he cannot escape a society descended from barbarism, including its antiquated gender norms. For that reason, the hipster is uncomfortable.

There is also the problem of what the hipster does for a living. War is not always literal combat. We subjugate the Earth; we reap its natural resources for our own purposes. The brutal effort involved in phyiscally altering our environment is satisfying. Perhaps that is why the manufacturing and agricultural industries have usually been considered to be intrinsically more masculine.

Hipsters, however, generally make a living by working in cafés and offices; their familiarity with factories often ends with industrial loft apartments. They deal with aesthetics, and the management of invisible data. They sit on chairs all day, and their generation is chronically under-employed. As a result, hipster men are forced to go without the satisfaction that comes from self-sufficient living, which is also often considered a hallmark of masculinity.

 

A necessary niche

MarkyMark_04All of these factors compound to make for a man who is deeply anxious about himself. According to the criteria of his forefathers, he cannot be a man. He feels threatened, and with little recourse, the hipster pantomimes the manliness of old, filtering it through his own essential irony.

Hipster masculinity, by way of exaggeration, becomes theatre playing theatre, a mask cast from a mask. This performativity exists perhaps because some feel the need to reconcile themselves as men with a history that holds their lifestyle and gender as illegitimate. At some subconscious level, some hipsters feel the phantom smirks of their war-hardened grandfathers — of steelworkers, or of cowboys, for instance.

Hipsters exist at the flawed but crucial vanguard of a more gender-fluid world. By challenging the expectations of what it means to be men, they move society forward, enabling people to be more than just emblems of their genitals. The so-called manly-men are just going through the necessary growing pains.

The more things change…

The more things change…

The Varsity’s archives go back to our first issue in 1880. Our dusty bound volumes contain endless tall yellowing pages that tear at the corners when touched, filled with cigarette ads and columns on campus events; engineers’ pranks; and, of course, campus politics.

Somehow, it all looks cooler in black and white. Age creates legitimacy in a lot of ways. For better or for worse, things that are around for a long time achieve that most pointlessly inviolable status: tradition. We are shaped by the things we arbitrarily allow to survive for the longest time.

Campus looks different now, and so do its students. To embrace our past and our present, we recreated old photos from issues in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s with the diversity and changing architecture of U of T today.

 

College St

Front gates of U of T at College Street in the 1850s, originally published in Vol. LXXV No. 44, November 29, 1955

 

Kiss

Two students in the moonlight, originally published circa 1955-1956

 

Massey

Massey College quad, originally published in Vol. XC No. 10, October 15, 1969

 

Kick

Michael Ignatieff getting kicked while fooling around with friends, originally published in Vol. LXXV No. 17, October 31, 1969

 

Dancers

“Some of the goils,” University College production rehearsal, recreated by the 2014 UC Follies, originally published in vol. LXIX no. 24, October 26, 1949

 

Tug of War

Pantsing a student, originally published circa 1955-1956

 

What

“Comfortable, Son?” engineering student dressed in women’s clothes sneaks into Annesley Hall all-female residence at Victoria College, originally published in Vol. LXIX No. 22, October 24,1949