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On The of State Work, Parenting and Manhood

Last year, Harry’s teamed up with the experts at University College London to conduct the largest, most academically robust survey into British masculinity ever—and a lot of what I saw in those findings really resonated personally. Understanding how culture has traditionally defined masculinity, and how the pressure to live up to those expectations can impact a person’s well-being, has helped me realize the importance of living according to my own values, and those of my family, rather than what society may view as “normal” or “right.”

One of the most personally revelatory findings from the report shows that unhappiness in the work place is the biggest predicator to general unhappiness. It can affect mood, mental and physical health and (for myself specifically) my ability to be a great dad to my daughters, and spouse to my partner. Admittedly, I have over-prioritized work at times in the past, and I’ve missed out on things as a result.

Suki Dhana

Matt Hiscock

In the context of how that relates to my work-life balance, Harry’s allows me to thrive in two ways. To start, I genuinely feel like I’m part of a great team on a really exciting journey. I get a buzz from charting my own path and working towards a greater sense of purpose (vs crunching out a 9-5, I’ve done that and it’s not me)—it gives me the energy to show up every day and be my best self, both at work and at home. Because while I’m driven to achieve professionally, I also want to be someone my kids grow up feeling close to.

The values that guide Harry’s as a company creates an environment where it’s possible to accomplish both. There is a real belief that while work is an important part of your life, it’s not all of your life. There’s no outdated rule where I’m required to be chained to my desk 7 days a week, or even physically present for every meeting. I’m encouraged to find the balance that works best for me and my family. Which means I don’t have to miss the key moments, and even get to be there for the normal things too.

My partner Emma and I moved down to Brighton about 12 years ago where we live with our daughters Lila (10) and Georgie (8)—it’s close enough to London, but also a vibrant alternative. I can’t think of anywhere better to bring them up. I make sure to get home early at least once a week and try my best to be there for the girls’ bedtime. I stay off emails after hours, and work from home as often as I can (once a fortnight at the present). On those days I get to do the school run, I really enjoy this moment and wish I could do it more often, but it’s the compromise I have to make living where we do and working in London.

Suki Dhana

Matt Hiscock

The week is a bit of a blur, so we have always tried to maximize the weekends. Sundays are my favourite day, a slow start is often followed by either lunch with friends, or a walk to the beach, or heading out to the country. Sunday nights have always been “Daddies Salon” (bath, hair wash, nails)—more often I’m policing who’s turn is first, water temperature, and stopping the room from flooding. Emma gets to hear the entire charade, yet we go again the following week.

Even though we have less time than we’d like, we know it’s about making what we do have count, being present, being connected. Laughing. A lot. I don’t always get it exactly right. At times I still find myself overly consumed with work and the rest of life. But I also try to recognize those moments where I feel I’m losing my balance and do my best to course correct.

I trust in my family at home for their guidance, and I trust in my team at Harry’s for their support, and it’s helped me to realize that happiness in the workplace can be one of the biggest predicators to general happiness—I’ve also learned it’s possible to be successful in my role as an father, a colleague and as a man.

Kele Okereke on Finding Your Place In The World

While the seedlings may have already been in place, it was his older sister’s record collection that sent the notion into full bloom—specifically, her copy of Blur’s Parklife. “In the U.K., that album kind of signaled a massive shift in British music,” he says. The Britpop movement had begun. So whenever his sister was out, Okereke would seize the opportunity to race up to her room and listen to Blur, over and over. With the album as his soundtrack, he started to wrap his head around going from musical spectator to participant. “That made me think about playing the guitar,” he says of the iconic Britpop outfit’s third album. “I guess [it] started my development in music.”

Parklife led him to the guitar, and the guitar led him to the formation of Bloc Party. The story of the post-punk band’s sudden rise to fame has taken on a mythic quality: after handing a copy of their single “She’s Hearing Voices” to BBC 1 DJ Steve Lamacq at a Franz Ferdinand concert, they soon found themselves with a song on the biggest station in the land. “It was odd for us,” Okereke says. “We really didn’t know any different. We just assumed that this what it was like for every band, that you go and travel the world and people would be into what you were doing.”

Kyle Dorosz

Kele Okereke

The band was touring the globe, and Okereke’s sense of his place in it was rapidly evolving in the process. “When we started to travel, I had my eyes opened to the larger, global community,” he says. “I definitely don’t feel British, not in a parochial sense. I feel more like a world traveler.” Though he identifies less with Great Britain and more as a citizen of the world, he does credit his childhood in London with predisposing him to open-mindedness. “In London, you’ll come into contact with lots of different people and lots of different cultures, and you can’t help but be open to that experience,” he says. “So I guess I’ve always been open to looking outwards and to experiencing new things.”

“We really didn’t know any different. We just assumed that this what it was like for every band, that you go and travel the world and people would be into what you were doing.”

Over the course of his travels, he found himself becoming attuned to a new brand of connectivity, and a new conception of home. “I feel that there are places in the world where there are people who are like me, or have a similar mindset to me,” he says, “but I don’t think that’s just a geographical thing. I like the places where it feels like there are lots of different worlds coming together,” he adds. “That’s where I feel most at home.”

Kyle Dorosz

Kele Okereke

One of those places is New York, where he spent a transformative year of his life. He moved there in 2010, and describes the time he spent in the city’s Chelsea neighborhood as the one point when he felt completely immersed in gay culture. Walking down the street and seeing no shortage of gay couples holding hands altered both his sense of community and his sense of self. “Living in New York definitely changed my perspective on being black and being gay,” he says. “Moving back to London, I realized that I was part of a community, and it was something that I should be proud of, and something that I should express. It was a very eye-opening time for me.”

It provided him with a visceral sense of community now seemingly absent from his daily experience, and he can’t help but feel a bit troubled by seeing real-world interactions replaced by digital ones. “I feel like, as a community, we’re not really into going out and socializing and being in the same kind of space,” he says. “I think that’s kind of worrying because once we become atomized and separated, then we aren’t really a community at all.”

“I realized that I was part of a community, and it was something that I should be proud of, and something that I should express. It was a very eye-opening time for me.”

Okereke says that while he does have gay friends in London, he just doesn’t find himself going out much anymore. “I’m as much to blame as anyone else,” he says—but in fairness to Okereke and his allegedly lackluster dance card, he did recently experience a massive life change 16 months ago, when he and his partner welcomed a baby girl into their life. “Having Savannah has very much changed our worlds,” he says. “Fatherhood was something that I always knew that I wanted to experience, and I was lucky that my partner felt the same way.”

Kyle Dorosz

Kele Okereke

They decided to go the surrogacy path, which came with its requisite amount of tests, forms, travel, and waiting. “For us, it was a very long process,” Okereke says. “But, I don’t mind that, you know? I think that having a sense of preparation about the whole process has been a good thing. I’m glad that we couldn’t just rush into it.”

While he acknowledges that it takes a good deal of work to juggle life as a solo artist, a band member, and a dad, he seems to be enjoying navigating it all. “Still now, the fact that music is my job, and I get to travel the world and speak to people, perform to people, share what it is that I created—it’s still something that I pinch myself and have to take a moment and be thankful for.” He pauses a moment as though to take stock of his standing. “At 36, I never thought that I would be in the position that I’m in now in my life with my career and my family. I just feel blessed.”

Charlie Carver Wants You to Know Your Gay History

With his twin brother Max by his side, Charlie Carver rose to stardom in shows including Desperate Housewives, Teen Wolf, and The Leftovers. He’s managed to escape the perils of twin typecasting with solo turns, like an appearance alongside James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael (2015), a film based on the autobiographical story of Michael Glatze, a gay activist turned anti-gay Christian pastor.

“Lately, every job I’ve had has this awesome historical component,” says Carver. Take, for example, his part in ABC’s Gus Van Sant-directed miniseries, When We Rise (2017), which dramatizes the battle for LGBTQ+ rights, starting with a look at the early days of the movement in the late ’60s. “I think it’s important to know your history,” he says, “and the history of your community.”

Carver’s continuing this streak with a spot in the hotly anticipated revival of Boys in the Band—playfully dubbed the gayest play ever made, no less—currently running in a limited Broadway engagement on its 50th anniversary. This is the first time the originally Off-Broadway hit, staged a year before the Stonewall riots of 1969, has been on the Great White Way.

“I think it’s important to know your history…and the history of your community.”

Boys in the Band started down in the village in 1968,” says Carver, “as a play that was not likely to be around for very long because it was the first time that gay men were being represented on stage, and it took off. It went to London and Tokyo and Paris and toured the world for three years.”

Despite being considered a landmark gay play today, Boys in the Band was polarizing for gay and straight audiences alike upon its initial release. Mart Crowley, who wrote the original play, encountered difficulties at every step—from casting actors to finding a producer—before the show finally began its first run in January 1968. “It’s a play about friendships and changing times,” says Carver, “but it’s really a birthday party that just goes horribly awry.”

Sarah Deragon

Charlie Carver

With this seemingly innocuous storyline, Crowley managed to candidly capture the authentic experiences of life as a homosexual man during the time. Crowley’s story brought to the surface the feelings of fear, self-loathing, and anger shared by so many gay men of his generation who were forced to live life stifled inside the closet. Boys in the Band also places cattiness and biting humor at the core of the relationships between gay men; it felt like a look behind the curtain that some gay audiences didn’t feel like they wanted to necessarily share with people outside their world.

The show was a success, but not without its fair share of backlash—especially a year later, post-Stonewall. After the riots, when pride was the message the community wanted broadcasted, Boys in the Band was seen as harmful and reductive.

“It’s a journey coming into yourself, but the sooner you feel free, the more you can contribute.”

Carver, along with everyone else behind this long-awaited production, sees it differently, through a more modern lens. “The cast and the creative team behind this are so many of my heroes who paved the way for me to do what I want to do,” says Carver. He says there’s something “incredibly relevant” about seeing this slice of life from 1968 within the context of today. He sees it as a chance to experience “how gay men felt about themselves then, and what that tells us about where we are today, and how much we’ve changed.”

Jacqueline Dimilia

Charlie Carver

Today’s ensemble includes a host of Hollywood’s out-and-proud heavy-hitters: Andrew Rannells (Girls), Zachary Quinto (Star Trek), Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), and Matt Bomer (American Horror Story). The irony, of course, is that all the marquee actors involved in this project grew up in a world reshaped by the gay liberation movement. Carver, for example, came out publicly via Instagram—which is not to say it was an easy or painless process, but it did allow him an immediate connection to a large part of his audience who was ready to receive him with a warm, positive embrace. In fact, it catapulted him to gay role model status among many of his young fans, something he hasn’t taken lightly.

Carver works closely with organizations including GLSEN, which focuses on LGBTQ+ issues in K-12 education. He raves about the kids he’s met through his championing of these programs. “These are outspoken, brave, audacious, smart, tactical, young people,” he says. “I wish as a younger person that I’d been more involved and had been more settled into my voice. It’s a journey coming into yourself, but the sooner you feel free, the more you can contribute.”

While this coming out experience may seem a far cry from the world of Boys in the Band, the struggles on display aren’t completely foreign to Carver, the son of a man who came out late in life. Learning this at the age of 12 informed his own process. “In some ways I didn’t have to come out,” says Carver. “My dad and I had that understanding. He gave me permission to be whoever I was pretty explicitly at that age.”

Surprisingly, Carver says the support of a gay dad actually delayed his own coming out. He needed the space to define himself first, outside of his father’s identity. “It was one of those classic parent-teen situations where I wanted to be my own person and push my parents away.”

Once Carver had established himself in Hollywood with a few roles under his belt, he says there was no doubt in his mind he’d come out publicly. “I’m so happy these days,” he continues. “I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing and I’m moving in the direction of the career I didn’t know I could have.” Carver says that, five-to-ten years ago, he wouldn’t have been able work in the business in the “same easeful way” he does now. Which, in contrast to the actors from the first cast of Boys in the Band, who struggled to find work after just playing gay on stage in 1968, seems like as good a reason as any to celebrate.

Jake & Hannah Graf Are Finding Their Voices, Together

“I don’t think either of us particularly set out to become role models.” Seated next to Jake Graf, her husband of three weeks, Hannah Graf is musing aloud about the media’s scrutiny of their relationship—something that’s only increased since their wedding three weeks prior, which had made front-page news across the U.K.

The duo has found themselves fixated upon by the media, in part due to Hannah’s standing as the highest-ranking trans soldier in the British Army, in part due to the fact that Jake also happens to be trans. While some would shrink from such a spotlight, Jake and Hannah are eager to double down on their advocacy for the trans community.

“I know some people feel it’s a bit of a burden,” Jake says, “and that’s quite the opposite for us. I think it’s a huge honor and it’s a responsibility.” He looks at his new bride, seated to his right. “Hannah, obviously, has made a huge difference to a whole new generation of trans women. I, hopefully, am someone visible for trans guys in the U.K. who may not otherwise have had anyone to look up to, and I think it’s incredibly important.” None of this is lost on Hannah. “Knowing how important they are for any minority group,” says Hannah, “we’re quite happy to be those role models if people want us to be.”

“Hannah, obviously, has made a huge difference to a whole new generation of trans women.”

The couple was initially connected by a mutual friend, a voice coach Hannah was working with who Jake had met while filming The Danish Girl in 2015. A Facebook friend request led to a phone call, which led to a first date that lasted 11 hours. Beyond its marathon status, there was one other notable thing about their initial rendezvous: it was Hannah’s first date, ever.

Kyle Dorosz

Jake & Hannah Graf

“I thought I’d start with someone transgender because they might understand me a little bit better,” Hannah says. She’d harbored her share of anxieties for some time. “It was all quite scary for me at the time,” she explains. “For many years I thought, as a transgender person, that nobody would ever want to love me or be intimate with me. When I finally felt the courage to explore my ability to date I found Jake, and apparently [hit] jackpot the first time.”

The pair may feel fortunate to have found one another, but they both also seem comparably grateful to have come from such caring, understanding homes. “We know we’re incredibly privileged and lucky that, from pretty much as soon as we came out, our families have been supportive,” Jakes says. “[My mother] helped me with my hormones, helped me with my surgery,” he explains. “I was really, really lucky in that respect, because obviously that’s not the case with a lot of people.”

“I, hopefully, am someone visible for trans guys in the U.K. who may not otherwise have had anyone to look up to.”

Despite their own good fortune, they remain acutely aware that the community as a whole still needs all the help it can get. “It did always feel like the transgender community was behind the rest of the LGBT spectrum by 10, 15, even 20 years,” Jake says. “I think it’s something like eight percent of Americans know someone trans, so it’s hard when you have no point of reference and don’t even really understand what a trans person is—and you’ve never met one—to open your mind and be more inclusive and be more understanding and accepting.”

Even in the face of an uphill battle, Hannah finds much cause for optimism. “I think in the U.K. we’re seeing a lot of positivity around trans stories,” she says. “There is a bit of a backlash but, generally speaking, in the U.K. we’re moving in the right direction.” She finds one recent trend particularly uplifting. “I think just a few years ago you were very pigeonholed into being transgender, being a woman, being black,” she says, “whereas now we’re seeing a lot more intersectionality showing how everyone overlaps. And I think that’s a really nice thing.”

Kyle Dorosz

Jake & Hannah Graf

In addition to her day job as a British Army officer, Hannah also serves as a transgender representative, working both to mentor and support other transgender members of the military, and advise policy-makers on how to make sure the Army is as inclusive as it can be. She joined the Army back in 2009, and in honor of the event, her parents bought her an engraved sword. This ended up becoming an even more meaningful talisman when, several years down the line, Hannah transitioned. “My dad said to me, ‘You know, this engraving on it doesn’t represent you anymore.’ Because it had my old name on it. He said, ‘What we’d like to do is get the other side engraved with your new name with the date of your transition.’ I just thought it was a really lovely symbol from my mum and dad to say how much they supported me, not only as an Army officer, but also as a transgender woman. It really meant a lot to me.”

“For many years I thought, as a transgender person, that nobody would ever want to love me or be intimate with me.”

As a filmmaker, Jake works to merge his advocacy with his art. “My whole thing when I’m writing and casting my films is to give representation to characters that are rarely seen on screen.” Jake says. “When I was growing up I didn’t see a trans guy—in fact, I didn’t meet another trans guy until I was 25, and I didn’t really know that we existed. Obviously, that makes for a really lonely and isolating experience. So for me it was really important because I know that there are members of society that never see themselves on screen, and it’s really important to give visibility and representation across the board.” All of his films are either trans or LGBT-focused because he values the importance of those narratives being told from a place of experience. “The next time someone goes to a film festival,” Jake says, “they can say, ‘Oh my god, that’s me, that’s just like me,’ and maybe not feel so alone.”

When it comes to how allies outside of the community can be of service, Hannah espouses a quite simple, but powerful, notion. “I would say just to listen,” she says. “If you’re an ally, then you’re already trying. The best way you can try better is to listen to us and understand us more.”

Jonathan Van Ness Is Full of Surprises

Perhaps the most surprising, crowd-pleasing, and congenial television show to come out of the reboot craze of the last two years has been Netflix’s Queer Eye. The original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (2003), which aired on Bravo for five seasons, featured the “Fab Five” making over schlubby straight men in New York City, stiff-arming them into adopting a more “metrosexual” lifestyle. One of the major criticisms the show faced was that its cast played into regressive gay male stereotypes, presenting an overly polished bunch who dispensed superficial fixes for all of life’s issues—in a breezy, flair-filled manner, of course.

In marketing the new show, Netflix conveyed the reboot’s updated tone by focusing on a soundbite from Tan France, the show’s resident fashion expert. In the clip, he says “the original show was fighting for tolerance, while the new series is working toward acceptance.” This go-round, the Fab Five is more diverse, more textured, and allowed to go deeper with the people whose lives they’re making over. Their problem-solving approach tends to work from the inside out, as opposed to tackling the exterior and hoping the rest just falls into place. The result is a bombastic and moving program that instantly connected to viewers and saw the series being quickly picked up for a second season—premiering June 15th.

Jonathan Van Ness, the show’s grooming expert, has emerged as the breakout star amidst the cultural phenomenon. A hairstylist by trade, he is unapologetically effeminate, campy, and is a wellspring of boundless energy. On paper, it’s a collection of traits that traditionally might not read as palatable to a mainstream audience, but Van Ness never dials it back—nor should he. He has an utterly infectious spirit, and an innate gift for zeroing in on a person’s best qualities. He simply knows how to make people feel good in the most earnest of ways.

In fact, Van Ness is perfectly cast for what the new Queer Eye is doing: using makeovers as a Trojan Horse to get at issues of toxic masculinity, prejudice, and vulnerabilities on the road to self-actualization. Wielding eye creams, beard trimmers, and face masks as his tools of choice, Van Ness forces us all to examine why societally we place a higher value on masculinity over femininity—a form of adversity he’s had to deal with his whole life.

Jacqueline Dimilia

Jonathan Van Ness

“Growing up with this extremely feminine personality in a very classically conservative area taught me that everything is impermanent,” says Van Ness of his small-town upbringing in Quincy, Illinois. “One day I might not be feeling real cute, but it goes away quickly.” This ability to adapt and overcome remains one of his guiding personal mantras. “Success is all about keeping it moving between failures,” he says, “In this case, failure was being rejected by people.”

Today, Van Ness is able to look back on some of the painful rejection, bullying, and overall hardship he endured as an out teenager with both sincerity and humor. When asked about his high school experience, Van Ness offers this duality: cheerleading and cargo shorts. Becoming the first male cheerleader at his high school is a shining example of Van Ness’s unfailing ability to be true to himself, but he was still playing along with certain expectations (i.e. cargo shorts). “I’ll change the tire on a car, but then I’ll also give you the most beautiful updo,” he quips. “You know what I mean? Why can’t we just do both?”

“Success is all about keeping it moving between failures…In this case, failure was being rejected by people.”

The irony that his flamboyant mannerisms and signature sayings are now celebrated, meme’d, and GIF’d all over the internet isn’t lost on Van Ness. “How does it feel to finally be celebrated for something that was rejected for a large part of my life?” he asks. “Honey, have you seen Kill Bill? Well, that last scene when Uma Thurman—not to be a spoiler—but when she’s on that bathroom floor laugh-crying because she can’t believe she made it? That’s pretty much me all the time on my inside,” says Van Ness, only half-joking.

Sarah Deragon

Jonathan Van Ness

Hardcore Van Ness fans will be quick to point out Queer Eye isn’t his first screen credit, just the biggest so far. In a way, Van Ness was “discovered” by one of his hair clients, Erin Gibson (co-host of the “Throwing Shade” podcast), who was a director for Funny or Die at the time. Gibson was completely bowled over by Van Ness’s spirited and comically coded description of a Game of Thrones episode, that she immediately pitched the idea of a gay hairstylist recapping the show to her team. And so, the viral web series “Gay of Thrones” was born, and Van Ness was an overnight internet sensation—going on to garner an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Shortform Variety Series.

Van Ness also now has his own podcast, “Getting Curious”, which he describes as “suffering from attention deficit disorder in the most major of ways.” Each episode has a different topic that’s piqued his interest, with an expert guest coming on to explain (and simplify) their area of expertise for all the listeners. Topics have included Renaissance art, the opioid crisis, artificial intelligence, and bees.

And while his podcast seems to detract from the twirling, pirouetting Van Ness that won us all over, it actually gives us a better sense of who he really is, and where he comes from. “I grew up in a broadcast family, running around the newsroom of a newspaper and a TV station, so reading and being curious is in my blood.”

Maybe Van Ness still wears cargo shorts on occasion, but it’s doubtful. Instead, he now opts to make headlines by showing up to a Netflix red carpet in a satin caftan and gold lurex Vetements sock heels. All this isn’t to say that Van Ness doesn’t receive his share of hateful comments from the detractors and trolls of the internet, but he stays focused on the silver lining. “The proudest moment is really every time someone hits me up on Instagram who’s like, ‘I see myself in you, and you gave me permission to feel more comfortable about who I am.’”