Monday, December 25, 2017

11 Ways a Man is Successful

Originally published on The Good Man Project.

It’s not about money, looks, or fame.

In a recent conversation, a male friend was describing a group of his female friends discussing their ideal male partners, detailing how the define a “successful” man. This particular group of women are all financially successful and live in luxurious homes. Their measure of success? A man who made more money than they did.
Each time I hear of such things, I metaphorically vomit a little in my mouth. My own father worked long hours to bring home a six-figure salary. He left at 5 a.m. and returned at 7 p.m., tired and cranky. A female friend of mine is married to someone like that. They have a beautiful home, take beautiful vacations, but at the end of the day, all that’s left for her and her family are the scraps of a vibrant man working himself to the nubs.
This is not the measure of a successful man. Society may pressure a man into being this, wearing himself down day after day, but how is that the measure of success when there is nothing left for your partner, friends, family, or self after a long day at work?
When I look at the word “success,” it becomes incredibly problematic. For some, the notion of a success is a Trumpian world where the gleaming opulent lifestyle should somehow bleed inward, resulting in a magnificent internal world gilded by good looks.
For me, success doesn’t flow from outside to inside; it moves from inside to out. It transcends money, celebrity, height, weight, race, sexual orientation. This success has a man glow with purpose and integrity.
  1. 1. In my eyes, a successful man is one who is willing to quit his job when he realizes he is selling his soul. No amount of money will nourish a withering soul. My husband left a six-figure, eighty-hours-per-week job when he realized the money didn’t represent freedom. It represented being chained to his desk. In short, a successful man is not someone who brings home the bacon when he himself is the sacrificial animal.

  2. 2. A successful man embraces a partnership where both people contribute, where he might not make more money than his partner, or even less than fifty percent. When my husband and I first moved into together, I paid more of the rent. It simply made sense as I made more money. He was not a “kept man.” We were in a partnership of equals not defined by money.

  3. 3. A successful man is one who finds his purpose and creates a life where he can fulfill that purpose. He knows or seeks to find the balance between fueling that purpose and sacrificing himself and others to make it happen.

  4. 4. A successful man knows himself—or searches to find out who is he—so he can take responsibility for his choices and impact on others.

  5. 5. A successful man is one who has close friends, people he is willing to be vulnerable with. I know some men tend to be more introverted, but even introverts have friends. I want to see that when it man is down and out, he has other people support him, not just his intimate partner.

  6. 6. A successful man is internally resourced. He doesn’t look for others to do his emotional labor. He knows his own true north and can find ways to nourish and replenish himself alone or with others, but ultimately, he is responsible for it.

  7. 7. A successful man is one who will work to co-create a relationship, not dominate and try to control it.

  8. 8. A successful man chooses to be or not to be in an intimate relationship because he knows there is a choice and one that stems from being complete and whole as he is.

  9. 9. If a man is a father—and let’s be clear, contributing sperm is not a measure of success, but being a father is something else—he is willing to work on whatever issues come up for him. His children don’t bear the brunt of his dissatisfaction. My husband is not the father he or I thought he would be, yet he returns, again and again, trying to be the best he can.

  10. 10. A successful man is one who recognizes within himself the desire for freedom, is honest about it, and at the same time cultivates a nest where he can have a soft landing. He is not running; he is being himself without negatively impacting others. His freedom does not preclude integrity or commitment.

  11. 11. A successful man embodies commitment without suffocation. He gives his word when he knows he can follow through, and if he is unable to follow through, he examines whether or not this is an anomaly or pattern to change.

This is more of a beginning than a finite list when it comes to the qualities a successful man embodies. No amount of money, good looks, or fame can cultivate this.
When I heard my friend’s words, I imagined a group of women who might attract a man who played the game of life by the numbers. Perhaps his compass would be tuned to a north within himself, one magnetized by his core, guided by integrity. But when the first attribute relates to money, I have to wonder what kind of man that is: someone who measures his success by the digits in his bank accounts, or someone whose own vast worth goes beyond the external, the vast space uninhabited by a dollar symbol.
I chose the latter when I chose my husband. I see him rise daily to be a better man, father, husband, friend. For me, that makes him successful now and forever.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Parents: Invite Your Kids to Communicate by NOT Shutting Down the Difficult Questions

Originally posted on The Good Men Project.

Bodily fluids, ethical quandaries, genitalia, racism, there are no off-limits questions in this household.

“My daughter asked me if she could hit me. I told her she shouldn’t even ask that question,” my friend exclaimed, visibly annoyed.
“Why not? It’s not that you’re going to be a ‘yes,’ but why not allow her to ask?”
My friend stopped and looked at me. For me, no question is off-limits, at least at this point in my 6-year-old’s life. He asks with curiosity and never an intent to harm.
My friend paused to consider. I knew she came from an alcoholic family and this question was triggering for her.

“Maybe that would be okay,” she said. “Maybe my daughter can ask anything.” I knew this was huge for her. Asking a question about violence was not the same as condoning violence. In fact, the question might even open different healing possibilities for her.
The conversation reminded me of when I caught my son in the act of doing something suspicious with a friend. It involved wet sandy mud. Turns out it wasn’t just wet mud. It was special mud. And that “special mud” involved my son and his friend peeing in it.
My son studied my face when he told me about this special ingredient.
I knew he was testing me. I didn’t react negatively, so he continued his story.
At one point, I accidentally touched my friend’s pee. But it was my fault. AND, I washed my hands right after.
I knew my son had sussed out the situation, took a risk to tell me something, and the risk had paid off. This meant he might take future risks, share future scary things. After all, pee wasn’t the worst.
What about when he was older? I remember hearing the word “horny” when I was about nine years old. It felt forbidden, scary to ask other adults, but I knew my mother was open to answering such questions. My best friend knew it, too, but she also knew her mother was not open to such questions. This is one of the things I take from my mother and use with my son:
There is no off-limits question in my household.
I am open to answering any question. Nothing is off-limits. We talk about genitalia, I answer questions about why my son sees police pull over black men, and we talk about dynamics with his friends. I never shut down a conversation before it has started.
Sometimes I’m curious about how the question arose. My son is six and very willing to give source information, but I know this might not always be true. If his question isn’t about harming others or being harmed, I don’t need to know where it came from. Finding out the roots of his curiosity can be very interesting and illuminating.
I get out of the way and figure out what he’s really asking. My son once asked me why girls wear pants that are tight enough to show their vulvas. Instead of launching into an answer about sexism or fashion, I got curious about where he’s coming from first. Was this a conversation about clothing? Curiosity about bodies? Questions about gender differences? It’s easy for me to jump into conversations I’ve had a hundred times. For my son, it might be his first time. I don’t need to burden him with the weight of everything. I just need to answer what he needs.
Sometimes waiting is better than probing. In my son’s case, I sensed something was happening, but I was also under the impression we’d have a better conversation away from his friend. I know that can’t always happen, but in this case, it seemed to work. If the conversation is important, it will stick around. It also means if I have charge around the conversation, I can process my own feelings before I return to the conversation.
If I don’t know the answer, I don’t fake it. I certainly don’t know all of the answers. Thankfully, Google is my friend. If Google isn’t available, then my son will need to wait. In the meantime, he knows that I’ve heard him, and I’m not all-powerful.
My son is only six years old right now. Who knows how he’ll be when he’s a teenager. I don’t. I imagine he’ll want a much clearer private life where he isn’t disclosing all of the details to me. But for now, I’m building a foundation of open communication between us.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Reconsider the Break-up: The Value of Staying in a Relationship

A low-stakes healthy relationship is good practice. Don't leave too soon!

Published on The Good Men Project

“If a person really just isn’t that into you, then why waste your time?”
In Mark Manson’s article addressing this topic, he asks this crucial question about being in a relationship. This critical advice has hopefully saved a lot of heartache for those who have held on to relationship hope past the expiration date.
Recently, however, a different slice of the same pie was delivered to a friend. Beth had been casually dating Greg when he had a complete meltdown – something about her roommate. Riddled with anxiety, he completely broke down, and the two had a brief conversation about what was going on. My husband talked to her the next day, and the two agreed that the relationship between Beth and Greg seemed like more trouble than it was worth. After all, it was the early days, yet. Wasn’t this supposed to be the easy times? Beth decided that it was too much for her and broke it off. She decided she wasn’t so into Greg that she wanted to invest any time in the relationship.
My opinion about the matter differed. I saw total value in staying in the relationship long enough to talk about what had happened, using this as a practice run. Let me explain. Beth and Greg had little invested in the relationship as it was so new. Because of this, I felt it could be helpful for Beth to gain some relationship experience (she was very inexperienced) by having a more difficult conversation with Greg. She could have listened to his fears and revealed some of her own. She could have told him about her turn-off. She could have had a potentially crunchy conversation in a very low-stakes relationship. This would mean practicing her communication and transparency skills, so when she was in a high-stakes relationship, she’d have more skills. It means that if it didn’t go well and the relationship ended, then she wouldn’t be crushed. Hopefully, she’d reflect, learn, and move on. And if it did go well, then she might see if the relationship was truly workable, and perhaps it might evolve into a high-stakes relationship.
First things first: What is the difference between a low-stakes relationship and a high-stakes relationship? A low-stakes relationship—unlike a casual relationship—still has a level of commitment. It might mean seeing the person every two weeks, once a month, or once a year. It means you value the relationship; it’s not disposable or expendable or fast food. You nourish it even if you think it might only last a short time.
A high-stakes relationship has a higher level of commitment. Think life partner, long-term, family relationships. These have weight (sometimes baggage) and are deep in our hearts. These are the ones that often need the most work. This is where low-stakes healthy relationships can help. (Note: It’s always worthwhile checking in about whether or not you’re in a healthy or toxic relationship. Toxic relationships clearly aren’t worth your time or energy!)
In staying in such a low stakes relationship, it’s not about whether the relationship is right or wrong for you, it’s whether both of you can actually learn something from being in the relationship. Now, if there’s not enough connection from the get-go, then by all mean, don’t stay in. If, as Mark Manson says, the person just isn’t that into you, then leave. But if you seem to share values and enjoy one another’s company, then why let one upset upheave the whole thing? What can you learn by staying in? Lots, I’d say, but only if you really want to do the work.
You might ask yourself, Do I have a lot of healthy relationship experience? Have I learned how to communicate in a relationship? Do I know what it’s like to be transparent about my needs? Have I learned how to apologize when my words and actions have had a negative impact (seen or unforeseen)? How can this current low-stakes relationship teach both of us these skills?
If your answers are, “Yes, I can learn more; yes, I want to be able to weather the storms of an intimate relationship—maybe not with this person for long-term, but for right now,” then do it. Step into the storm. See what you can learn about connecting with this person. See how you can stretch and grow. See what it means to be messy, human, and compassionate. It’s not “why stay?” It’s “why not stay? I have everything to gain and so does my partner.”
A version of this post was originally published on and is republished here with permission from the author.

Monday, December 4, 2017

I Don't Want to Fail My Son

Originally published on The Good Man Project.

Only 77% of boys will currently graduate from high school. For Black males, this number is a dismal 47%. How are we failing our boys?

I see the future of my six-year-old son in the eyes of my teenage students. I see his moments of meltdown and separation, faulty logic and cautious steps, and I love him up even more. I step in closer. I don’t leave. I don’t give up. Boys are falling behindwhen it comes to graduating from high school. Only 77% will succeed. For Black males, that number drops to a dismal 47%. This fall, men will comprise 44 percent of students on college campuses, a number that continues to fall. I have to ask myself, how are we failing our boys? I don’t want to fail my son.
I started teaching college freshmen after a ten-year hiatus. I walked into the classroom the other day, greeted everyone with a cheery, “Good afternoon!” and got . . . nothing. Just nothing. Not even crickets. Well, one-half smile from one young lady, but that was it. Oddly, it warmed my heart. Let me explain.
Years ago, when I first began teaching undergrads, it would have unnerved me. I would have been dismayed, disheartened, disillusioned. But today, it doesn’t. In the past, I would have said I don’t care, but the truth is, I care now more than ever. Being a mother has done this. I don’t want to fail them in the same way that I don’t want to fail my son.
* * *
When I teach, I move in closer to my students. Their disinterest and boredom touch me. On the second day of class, I asked them if they are creative. Half said no. These are art students. Art students. I looked around solemnly, observing them. No judgment or pity. I didn’t need to reason or convince. I just needed to listen. And what about when they were children, the age of my son? What about then? Cracks of sunshine lit up the room. Yes, then. For moments they all remembered games and stories and vast imaginations. I had suspected it was there even if buried deep. I looked at the boys who broke with their fathers’ desire for them to be narrowly defined as men. I looked at the girls who were taught to play safe and risk nothing. All of them are here, taking a risk, growing into becoming adults. My son will be like them one day.
I sat with my students in the liminal space between creativity and the place where it had been beaten out of them or locked down or judged or wasn’t what the teacher or parent wanted. I try so hard to be a parent and guide, not to wring the creativity out of my son. Some days I do better than others.
Then, I asked my students a question because I am so full of questions (like my six-year-old and maybe because of him): “Could you learn to be creative again?” The student who had been so tight-lipped and certain of her uncreativity was the loudest. Yes! she proclaimed. Yes! The others nodded, and I listened.
We were all standing together in the delicate space of possibility. I didn’t want to spackle it all over with my 45 years of blah blah blah experience. I wanted them to feel that space as I have felt it and lost it and found it again. I wanted them to feel it as my 6-year-old feels it.
* * *
On the first day of class, after the initial rusty minutes of class creaked on, I felt my heart crack open and melt all over the classroom floor. I wrote my lesson plan on the board. I explained it to them, and then I got down to the dirty work of teaching. I loved every blank look, every withheld smile, every moment when they could have reached for their phones to check out but didn’t. I loved seeing the lights go on, the mouths open into smiles, the laughs (and probably more groans or silence). I loved them all as I want my son to be loved.
The suicide rate for the U.S. population as a whole increased 24 percent over a 15-year period. This was 14.2 percent of 100,000 males in 2015. Thirty percent of transgender youth reported a history of at least one suicide attempt. I sit with all of that as I raise my son. A few months ago he told me he feels like he is half-boy/half-girl inside. I listened and got curious. I asked him what he needed and if he needed anything. He didn’t. I keep an eye on what he says as I know he is most at risk.
One of my students—a young transgender woman—told me she was glad she had come back to class after she had disappeared for two weeks. She said it made her feel better to be there with me. I soaked in this ray of sunshine because I’ve been around the block long enough to know that not every student feels that way, and that’s okay, too. I still love those students fiercely.
In the meantime, life goes on and some students still come late to class. An unprecedented number seem to harbor strange ailments which prevent them from coming at all, but others are there, and others come back after absences.
You see, there may be a time when my son is that sullen teenager who distrusts the adults around him. He might be quiet and brooding. He might not feel creative or hopeful or interested. He might be suicidal or close to failing out. In my heart—the one that is teacher and mother, teenager and six-year-old—I hope the adults around him will still listen to everything he’s got and love him up all the same.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Monday, November 27, 2017

Loving the Man Who Needs Space

Originally published on The Good Man Project.

What happens when partners have different attachment styles? Paget Norton applies the research to her own relationship.

“Space. I need space.” My husband looked like he was suffocating. We were in the midst of a disagreement about dishes (always dishes!), and it wasn’t going well. I wanted to move in closer, connect, figure it out. He wanted to run. Everything about his body said flight. Ten years ago, I would have moved to close the gap in lightning speed. He would have been halfway out of the room. But now we knew better. I knew I could stay at the distance we were at without reaching out. He knew he could have some distance without running. He edges on the avoidant. I edge on the anxious. These are our attachment styles.

Attachment Styles

What are they? According to Sharon Martin, LCSW, in “What’s My Attachment Style and Why Does It Matter?” our relationships with our first caregivers – usually our parents, but not always – are foundational for the relationships we’ll have in the future. Caregivers should make children feel safe and secure. From them, children learn that how to trust and bond. If their caregivers are there for them, children feel they can go out into the world with confidence, knowing their caregivers will provide a sense of safety and security. When caregivers are not responsive, the child grows up to have an insecure attachment style.

The Gottman Institute details different attachment styles in “Your Attachment Style Influences the Success”:

  • Anxious Attachment – develops when a caregiver has been inconsistent in their responsiveness and availability, confusing the child about what to expect. As an adult, this person acts clingy at times and finds it difficult to trust their partner.
  • Avoidant Attachment – develops when a caregiver is neglectful. These are the children that play by themselves and develop the belief that no one is there to meet their needs. As adults, they typically label themselves as very independent.
  • Disorganized Attachment – develops from abuse, trauma, or chaos in the home. A child learns to fear the caregiver and has no real “secure base.” (Only 3% of people are this one.)

If you’d like to find out more about your attachment style, there are quizzes in the books Attached and Wired For Love. There is also a longer online assessmentthrough Dr. Chris Fraley. You can track your results over time and see if there are any changes.
Also important to note that some researchers refer to attachment styles as “traits” or “states.” This means they are not fixed and immutable. They can change depending on the situation or relationship.
In my marriage, realizing that my husband is avoidant bordering on secure, and I am mostly secure with some anxious, has been super helpful in understanding our dynamic. While we both used to be more insecure in our attachment styles, over time this has been slowly changing (very slowly!) to something that has become more secure.

Securely Attached People

In “Portrait of Marriage. (Yes, It’s Mine.)”, Carmen Spagnola describes what a securely attached person would be able to do. This person would be connected to their body, feelings, needs. They would confident about speaking their needs, engage interdependence without fear, integrate love and sexuality, and many more.
For an avoidant person, this can be incredibly scary. On the one hand, an avoidant desires—craves—intimacy and connection. On the other hand, she or he has learned to build a wall between themselves and others, creating protection against further trauma.

Avoidant Men and Toxic Masculinity

Here is the avoidant man: the strong silent type coupled with intense work drive, resolutely independent, steady and unemotional, has strong specifics about what he likes, is mysterious or aloof. Spagnola says, “[I]f the avoidant partner is male, he is venerated as a man of strength, dignity, and a commendable stoicism.” Sound familiar? This paints a partial picture of toxic masculinity where the man has been iconized by these seemingly “good” traits, but in reality, never gets the intimacy he truly desires.

Deactivating Strategies

When I first read the book Attached, I was blown away. While some of the following strategies don’t apply to my husband, some definitely did. Deactivating strategies, as described in Attached, are things avoidants do – usually unconsciously – to take them out of a relationship and put some distance there.
If you are avoidant, you might recognize some of these:
  • Saying (or thinking) “I’m not ready to commit”—but staying together nonetheless, sometimes for years.
  • Focusing on small imperfections in your partner: the way s/he talks, dresses, eats, or (fill in the blank) and allowing it to get in the way of your romantic feelings.
  • Pining after an ex-girlfriend/ boyfriend.
  • Flirting with others—a hurtful way to introduce insecurity into the relationship.
  • Not saying, “I love you”—while implying that you do have feelings towards the other person.
  • Pulling away when things are going well (e.g., not calling for several days after an intimate date).
  • Forming relationships with an impossible future, such as with someone who is married.
  • “Checking out mentally” when your partner talks to you.
  • Keeping secrets and leaving things foggy—to maintain your feelings of independence.
  • Avoiding physical closeness—e.g. not wanting to share the same bed, not wanting to have sex, walking several strides ahead of your partner.
The other side of this is that relationships and intimacy—while truly desired—can be very intense for avoidants. They have disconnected themselves from their feelings and needs, so when they are face to face with feelings and needs, they can get overwhelmed. The intimacy can be really scary.

Emotional Disconnect

One key point in all of this is how my husband’s relationship to emotions has transformed over the years. Because I tend towards being anxious, I also tend to need more reassurance around our relationship (motherhood has transformed much of this for me, but that’s another article). In the beginning, we would have an argument and literally 2-3 months later, intense emotions would surface for him. It drove me nuts. I initially coded it as withholding, dishonesty, etc. Nothing positive. I couldn’t understand why and how I could feel something so immediately and directly whereas it took him weeks to feel the same.
Over time, I began to trust that my husband wasn’t lying. After all, we enjoyed each other’s company, and he made it clear he wasn’t going anywhere even if he did have a need for space. And you know what? The more I created that space of trust, the more quickly he was able to feel his emotions and share them with me. That meant, I was no longer with a stoic man, I was with a real man.

Needs vs. Neediness

After our son was born, my husband was overwhelmed with the incredible volume of needs our son had. On the one hand, intellectually, he understood it was completely natural and normal. On the other hand, it also occurred to him as unrealistic and frankly, we just seemed needy to him. After reading an articleonline, he had a sudden revelation: needs were natural and normal. It might seem obvious, but internally, he was coding not only our needs, but his own needs as being needy. It was huge. Can you imagine how he received the both of us when we needed something? It had shifted.

Now, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t get overwhelmed when the two of us need something. But it does mean he has a new context for it. The second part is that he has revamped his own relationship to his needs. They still sometimes occur as scary and overwhelming, but more and more he is able to notice his needs, recognize that articulating them before he explodes is valuable, and actually ask for what he wants. Huzzah!

Physical Proximity

It would be inauthentic to say that my husband never wants to run to the next room (or next country), but in a recent disagreement, I noticed a profound difference or years past when he would have disappeared. I sensed the tension in his body and the effort it took for him to stay. I didn’t move closer or try to touch him (for him, touch can be very intense when we are disagreeing). My work has been to resource myself without relying on him for all of that while his work has been to step closer and flex the muscle of feeling uncomfortable and not running. Whew! A lot of work, but the connection is beautiful.

Moving Towards Secure Attachment

Everyone wants to be secure, right? It is possible even with insecure attachment styles, whether that’s anxious or avoidant. It takes knowing your patterns and doing the work. For me, it was trusting myself and my husband to be there, acknowledging the stories I built in my mind weren’t actually true, and recognizing that my needs for closeness weren’t neediness. For my husband, it has been to connect with his emotions and needs, which sometimes means taking space to feel them. When he’s overwhelmed (which happens more easily to him than to me), he simply can’t feel himself. With some space (we’re talking hours now, not days or week or a foreign country), he can feel himself. He has a commitment to get back to me and share with me. The result: it’s not perfect, but it has enabled me to love him more, be less fearful, and know that his need for space isn’t about me. In short, we both get more of what we want as we co-create our relationship.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Red Hot: Men in Red Lipstick

Moving beyond the Man Box to authentic gender expression.

The 1940’s was a time when American advertisers and businesses could profit from others by collapsing gender identity, gender expression, and biological sex. Certainly, gender identity has often been defined via clothing, but separating out expression, identity, sex, and attraction can be liberating.I’m the mother who bought a tube of lipstick for her 6-year-old son. He asked. I was feeling generous. He chose his own color: pink. As far as I can tell, my only shortcoming was in not teaching him how to apply it correctly. Total fail on my part. When it comes to clothes, costumes, makeup, I’m wide open. As far as I’m concerned, if David Bowie could rock lipstick, so can my son. 

I want my child to be as self-expressed as possible, not boxed in in the way I see some men: so tightly bound they can barely breathe. So, I let him wear lipstick. Red, pink, it doesn’t matter.
Back in 1918, it did matter. Pink would have been the norm for boys. In fact, an article from Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department proclaimed:
The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.
It wasn’t until the 1940’s that manufacturers and retailers decided pink was a color for girls; blue was a color for boys.

The Genderbread Person

In the Genderbread person, Sam Killermann defines all of these attributes:
Gender identity is how you perceive your own gender in your mind. This could include woman, man, two-spirit, genderqueer, and non-binary, amongst others. I know a person, Joe, who feels he is thirty percent woman and seventy percent man. His gender expression, however, is different.
Gender expression
 is how you express your gender outwardly. This could be clothing, gestures, voice, etc. Killermann gives scales that include masculine, feminine, asexual, and gender neutral. Joe expresses himself in a very masculine way through his voice, clothes, and gestures. This differs from how he feels internally.
Biological sex is the physical sex characteristics you are born with: genitalia, voice, body hair, chromosomes, etc. It could include male, female, intersex, etc. Experts at medical centers say 1 in 1500 to 1 in 2000 births produce a child who is atypical in terms of biological sex. That child doesn’t fit neatly into binary categories easily described by terms such as penis or vulva.
Sexual and romantic attraction are also pieces of the puzzle – from who you’re attracted to, to no one at all: asexual, demisexual (only attracted if there’s a strong emotional connection), pansexual, bisexual, gay, straight.
Now, why break all of this down? Because people have a tendency to simplify and merge all of them together. 
What you look like should somehow correlate with how you feel inside which should correlate with your genitalia as well as who you are attracted to. It doesn’t always work that way. By not collapsing these, a space is opened for men (really for everyone, but this is geared towards men) to know who they truly are. From there, they can create a gender expression that more authentically expresses identity, sex, attraction, and so on.

Why Red Lipstick? A Brief History

Red lipstick is currently connected to the feminine, but it wasn’t always that way. Both men and women in ancient Sumeria 3500 BC wore red lipstick but the history and transformation of lipstick from that time to ours is dramatic. Imagine bugs, lead, crushed gemstones, flowers, and fish scales amongst the ingredients used to paint that pouter red. Often, upper-class people wore lipstick as a way to differentiate themselves from the lower classes, which is why men and women wore lipstick. Throughout the ages, lipstick eventually became associated with prostitutes (to differentiate themselves from real ladies), death (Elizabeth I – lead lipstick poisoning), and the suffragettes. By the 1930’s, Vogue declared lipstick to be the ultimate fashion accessory but inexorably linked to women.

Nowadays, the tide is turning with the availability of red lipstick. It is no 
longerlinked to prostitution or death though it is almost exclusively associated with the feminine. Perhaps there is space in history for red lipstick to be an outlet for authentic gender expression and identity beyond the binary.

Red Lipstick on Men

I’ve always loved the look of red lipstick on myself and on others. When men rock the red, it’s interesting to note how their style correlates to different aspects of the genderbread person. For this piece, I wanted to find men who have a wide range of outward expression: from masculine to feminine to androgynous. I wanted straight men, gay men, men with fluid sexuality. In short, I wanted to look at men who embody the genderbread spectrum and consider what is possible.

David Bowie immediately came to mind. Bowie wasn’t afraid to push the edge of fashion or music throughout his career, though, at the same time, he was also able to demonstrate class and style that ranged from drag, fully costumed to traditionally masculine, and androgynous. He self-described at times as bi-sexual and “try-sexual.” Photographer Diego Uchitel captured Bowie in red lipstick: classically masculine bowtie, piercing eyes, impenetrable.

Other men who have rocked the red lips are: 
Robert Smith of The Cure, sporting wild hair and red lipstick. Eddie Izzard, famous for cross-dressing, comedy, and activism, who recently came out as transgender (explaining that he has both girland boy modes). Fabulously rocking drag are James Franco for Candy Magazine, John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and the infamous Ru PaulBringing up the androgynous end is Marilyn Manson, who has the ability to swing from the slightly more sedate to the wildly less sedate with his own style. Lastly (but certainly not least), Jacob Tobia (pictured above) identifies as non-binary, goes by the pronoun “they,” and chooses a mix of masculine and feminine in their dress.
There are certainly many more mn who rock the red lips. Some bring forth the feminine, others the masculine, others something that seems to defy any sort of gender definition. For some, gender identity is presented on the outside – as in Eddie Izzard. For others, it’s less clear. And still, it all works for them in their own unique ways. The key is having a range of possibility, so men don’t feel so trapped. They show who they want to be as opposed to who society tells them to be.

Beyond Red Lipstick: Redefining Gender Expression to Authentic Expression

I asked my son not only about pink lipstick but about wearing pink. I told him I didn’t care what color he wore. He rolled his eyes.
“Of course you’re supposed to say that. You’re my mom.” He sighed. “I’d wear pink, but there’s none there.”
“None where?”
“None in the boys’ section. They don’t have pink clothes in the boys’ section.” You see, my son doesn’t want to be a girl even though internally he feels half boy and half girl. He wants to express as a boy who wears pink. It wasn’t a matter of whether he’d wear it. It was a matter of where he’d get it.
In 2015, Target addressed some guest complaints by committing to de-genderize departments like Toys and Home. However, this does not extend to clothes, which might have “sizing issues.” It’s a start and certainly, others could follow.
The same goes for lipstick or any other accoutrement or clothing deemed “feminine.” Herein is the problem: how do you express yourself authentically if the tools you wish to use are stereotyped, boxed away, inaccessible, or just expensive? You want a pink shirt? You’ll have to shell out some dough for it. You want unisex clothing? Try a boutique. Not cheap.
For some, gender expression might be totally irrelevant. Showing who you are on the outside, what you think of yourself on the inside, what cards biology has dealt you—all of this might be private or obvious or simply a non-point. For others, the ability to add a subtle or not-too-subtle flourish that expresses who they truly are is a game-changer.
This means men and boys who witnessed artists like David Bowie going beyond the standard man box heaved a collective sigh of relief. Some felt they now had permission to express themselves as fully as possible along the spectrum. They could finally be true to themselves.
In Axe Men’s Grooming Product 2016 commercial called “Find Your Magic,” the opening image shows a man with a six-pack. The voice over explains, “Who needs a six-pack when you got the nose?” The images that follow go beyond the initial chiseled abs showing a wide range of what is possible: a man in a wheelchair, geeks in a record shop, a man sporting black heels and rocking them, etc. The possibility of what a man can be expands,  as I see it expand with a generation of young men in their teens and twenties, my own six-year-old son, and a path forged by men who were willing to take a chance and simply be themselves. They smashed the man box. Sometimes with a hammer, and other times with the bright slash of a red lipstick.

7 Reasons Women Don't Want to be Called Sexy (And 3 Ways to Know if She Does)

Embed from Getty Images -- Originally published on The Good Men Project. In the age of #metoo, how do men handle random interaction...