Pronouns by Suzanne Craig-Whytock + Pod 22: Henna Artist’s Alka Joshi 

Photo of author/blogger Suzanne Craig-Whytock.
Photo of author/blogger Suzanne Craig-Whytock.

My Wedding Henna + The Henna Artist's Bighearted Alka Joshi on Saris Happiness Between Tails

#Authors #Writing #India #Pro-Choice #WomensRights #DressCodes “The Henna Artist,” by Alka Joshi is as big-hearted as the novelist! Here Alka discusses how today’s professional women of India handle dress codes. Are dress codes unbiased where you work? Got questions, thoughts, and/or experiences to share about writing and publishing? Record them on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee. Time Stamps (where segments begin): HBT introduction Today’s topic and about today’s guest 1:05 Alka Joshi discusses the wearing of saris in India My question for you and episode outro HBT outro Links used for the HBT blog post of this episode: Original blog post for this episode. Alka Joshi's website and Youtube channel. About the books I'm writing. Chris Miller, the super-talented photographer and her Instagram. Photos available at the HBT post for this show: Book cover of “The Henna Artist,” by Alka Joshi. Screenshot of Alka lauding “Big Magic,” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Photos of me, da-AL, with henna tattoos for my wedding. Screenshot of Alka from her youtube channel. Alka’s photos from Ansal University, just outside of New Delhi: Gurgaon's news bulletin board, students, architecture staff. Alka’s photo of an architect wearing a sari. — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E for my podcast page at AnchorFM. This week’s episode is the audio version of this blog post of “My Wedding Henna + The Henna Artist’s Bighearted Alka Joshi on Saris.”

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotify and Apple Podcasts, to Google Podcasts and Pocket Casts, along with RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher and more, plus an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is H-E-R-E.

Note: Once you finish reading and listening here, be sure to check out Suzanne’s site for her fun post about this post.

Language… and labeling… and gender… and pronouns… Authors can be extra picky about language, as I am with the novels I’m working on.

Any serious writer knows there’s more to communication than vocabulary and grammar. Language is about how people think.

Civil rights movements in the United States really took flight in the 60s and 70s — and labels played a major role in creating positive change. When Gloria Steinem named her feminist magazine “Ms.,” many family dinners became hot debates over whether women should use Ms. instead of Miss and Mrs.

Then came arguments over switching “mailman” to “postal carrier,” and “stewardess” to “flight attendant.” The next slog was weeding out racial slurs. To this day, there are people who enunciate the phrase “political correctness“ as if they’re cussing.

For most good ideas, the masses regard those first to propose them as nuts and worse. Eventually, a grudging acceptance sets in. Finally, it’s like the entire world acquires amnesia, and believes they were born thinking that way.

Make no mistake, I am no angel. In my case, I have to slap my forehead at how difficult (long ago, for whatever it’s worth) it was for me to transition from something as basic as calling a friend Jim instead of Jimmy when he turned eighteen!

People spend entire careers studying the way people from all parts of the world communicate. Some countries designate genders to everything from rocks to the sky.

When my husband speaks English, he occasionally confuses genders because in Iran, where he was born, Farsi doesn’t employ words for it. Which gets me meandering into recommending Rick Steves’ book, “Travel as a Political Act,” where he explains how we all need to travel more so we can get our ostrich heads out of the sand. Part of why it can be harder to learn a language when we’re older is if we insist that there is only one “best” way for things like language to operate.

From as far back as when I was a kid, I questioned not pronouns, but gender roles. Back then, people sought to inspire me with their ideas about how wonderful it was that only women could bear children and be truly nurturing, but not anything else. From what “little me” saw and heard, “womanhood” amounted to life as a vessel and a slave. No, thank you.

Later, when I co-produced documentaries like this and this one, everyone assumed my male business partner was the boss. Except, that is, when we videotaped at a school for developmentally disabled adults. Wait, tell me again, who are we labeling “disabled”?

Thank you, everyone who works toward changing oppression. That includes anyone who wants to challenge how we think of pronouns. I wrote a bit about that H-E-R-E

Now Canadian author/blogger (mydangblog) Suzanne Craig-Whytock (she/her) is here to discuss pronouns from the standpoint of someone who is smart and funny, as well as who earned an Honours B.A. in English Language and Literature, and who worked as an English teacher for almost 25 years. See the books and stories she’s published.

She’s been a guest at Happiness Between Tails H-E-R-E too…

Photo of author/blogger Suzanne Craig-Whytock.
Photo of author/blogger Suzanne Craig-Whytock.

Let’s Talk About Pronouns by Suzanne Craig-Whytock

Words are letters strung together to make sounds and are used to identify something. Seems very straightforward, doesn’t it? Yet, it’s always astonishing to me how upset people get about certain words, especially the ones in the English language that are literally the shortest words we have. Yes, I’m talking about pronouns. So what exactly is a pronoun? Grammatically speaking, a pronoun is a word that replaces a noun—for example: I, he, she, we, they, and it. There are plenty of others depending on the case, like possessive pronouns such as mine, yours, his, hers, and theirs…you get the idea. But why all the consternation about pronouns? I mean, there are some people who get outraged if you tell them your pronouns, or lose their minds if a person chooses to go by “they” instead of the binary “he” or “she”. And if someone decides to change their pronouns, all hell might break loose. (Notice that I used the plural determiner “their” for the singular “someone” in the previous sentence and that’s just fine; in fact, the use of the singular “they” can be found in the English Language as early as the year 1375.)

But why do some folks get so up-in-arms about how other people choose their own pronouns? It’s personally baffling to me. I have a degree in English Language and Literature and I taught high school English for almost twenty-five years, but I never got my knickers in a knot about pronouns—if you tell me you’re “he”, that’s what I call you. If it’s “she”, fine by me. “They”? Absolutely not an issue. Unfortunately, not everyone is as accepting, and maybe that’s just borne out of a lack of understanding.  So as someone with a certain expertise in English grammar, I’m happy to answer your questions about pronouns.

1) “Why are pronouns so important to some people? I never even think about mine.”

Exactly. You don’t have to think about yours, because you’ve never questioned or struggled with your own identity. But other people’s lives aren’t as simple, and the pronouns they ultimately choose, whether it’s he, she, or they, help them validate themselves to the world. 

2) “But boys are he and girls are she, and that’s all there is to it. If a person doesn’t use “he” or “she”, how will we all know what sex the person is?” 

First, what difference does it make to you? Why are you so worried about other people’s genitals? Because that’s how sex is assigned at birth, by someone doing a visual check and making an announcement about it. Second, birth-assigned sex is not binary. Sure, there’s male and female, but there’s also intersex. And if you’re that fixated on knowing someone’s sexual identity based on binary pronouns, it’s a good job you don’t speak Finnish or Chinese, because neither of those languages (and quite a few others) have gendered pronouns. 

3) “But people shouldn’t be able to just change their pronouns, should they?”

Of course, they should. And if you’re having trouble with the concept, consider this example: You find a caterpillar in your backyard. “Hey, little caterpillar,” you say, and that’s what you call it all summer. But when the caterpillar emerges from its cocoon and it’s transformed into a butterfly, do you still call it a caterpillar? Of course not. It’s the same with people. If a person has made a transition from one gender to another, why wouldn’t they change their pronouns to match their new identity and why wouldn’t you respect that? And if they decide that they’re somewhere in between the two genders, they can use the non-binary “they”. It’s fine—even the Oxford English Dictionary says so. 

4) “Non-binary?! But there are only two genders and you can’t switch the one you were born with!”

Sorry, wrong. Gender is a very fluid spectrum and there are many places along it. Also, gender is a social construct. Most of our ideas about gender and gender expression are based on current social behaviours and attitudes, and those are also fluid. For example, in the 1700s, men wore wigs, ruffles, face powder, and high heels. It was considered appropriate for their gender. In the Victorian period, if a woman wore pants, it was scandalous, but I’m currently sitting here typing this while wearing jeans and no one even bats an eye. And the whole idea that only girls can wear pink? That’s an eccentric, late 20th century fad. Colours are part of another spectrum, one of light that our eyes perceive, and they have no gender; in fact, it was perfectly normal for men to wear pink right up until the 1940s. Everything changes over time, and the way we use language in terms of gender is no different.

5) “But language never changes! The English we speak now is the English people have always spoken, right?”

If you really believe that, then I have only one thing to say: 

Nū scylun hergan     hefaenrīcaes Uard,
metudæs maecti     end his mōdgidanc…

Oh, you don’t understand what I said? But it’s English—in fact, it’s from one of the earliest known English poems, called Caedmon’s Hymn. Wait, let me try again:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote…

Still having trouble? But that’s from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, written in the 14th century. In English. See, the English that you speak now has changed a lot. Did you also know that there used to be more than one word for “you”? If you were speaking to or about one person you knew quite well, you referred to them as “thou” or “thee” depending on the grammatical case. If you were speaking or referring to a group of people or someone you weren’t as familiar with, you used “you”. But around the end of the 1600s, using two different ways to refer to someone started to fall out of favour, and by the 1800s, no one used “thou”, “thee” and all its other derivatives anymore. And I’m sure there was a small faction of people back then who were just as incensed: “How will we ever be able to distinguish between a single person we know and a crowd of people we don’t?! It’s outrageous!” Well, we all got over it. And now there’s only one word for “you”, which simplifies things. 

And speaking of simple, here’s the simple truth. If you’re bothered by someone putting pronouns in their bio, or you refuse to accept it when someone you know has requested that you refer to them as “he” instead of “she”, or “they” instead of “he”, or you get irrationally upset that someone you don’t even know has transitioned from one gender to another, the problem is thou, not them.

What’s your pronoun?

Fear and You + Balenciaga by roijoyeux + Pod21: Caz’s Panic Rescue

Photo of Balenciaga's “Envelope dress”, 1967, with this blog post's title over it.
Balenciaga’s “Envelope dress”, 1967.

Pandemic Anxiety by da-AL + Panic Attack Rescue by Caz Happiness Between Tails

#Covid #PanicAttack #Panic #Anxiety #MentalHealth #Relaxation #Health Have you or anyone you know experienced anxiety or panic? What helped you or them? Caz, a London blogger who worked in mental health, gives her best tips for keeping our heads during these Covid times when anxiety can do us in… Do you or anyone you know suffer from anxiety and panic attacks? Caz, a London blogger who worked in mental health, gives her best tips for keeping our heads during these Covid times when anxiety can do us in… Share your thoughts, experiences, and questions by recording them on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee. Time Stamps (where segments begin): HBT introduction Today’s topic and about today’s guest 1:05 “How to manage panic attacks,” by Caz. Windup, links, a question for you. HBT outro Links used for the HBT blog post of this episode: Original blog post for this episode is H-E-R-E Find Caz' site H-E-R-E — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E for my podcast page at AnchorFM. This week’s episode is the audio version of “Pandemic Anxiety by da-AL + Panic Attack Rescue by Cas” that you can read the text version of H-E-R-E.

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotify and Apple Podcasts, to Google Podcasts and Pocket Casts, along with RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher and more, plus an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is H-E-R-E.

Marianne Williamson, activist/author of, "A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A COURSE IN MIRACLES." Photo by Supearnesh - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
Marianne Williamson, activist/author of, “A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A COURSE IN MIRACLES.” Photo by Supearnesh – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The following famous quote — which author/activist Marianne Williamson is proud of however zillion times it’s attributed to Nelson Mandela (H-E-R-E’s a post I wrote about him) — reminds me of how sneaky my fear of success can be.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

As a kid, I worried that setting myself apart would invite criticism, jealousy, and ostracism. Girls, I was told, must be cute and sweet so they’d be attractive to boys. Women, so it went, were destined to be wives and mothers, no more, no less.

Fears continue to gnaw at me. Now they’re sophisticated, requiring constant vigilance to upend them. Art begs an audience. When art is personal, it’s difficult to not give a damn what others might think, not to mention how wicked my own self-doubt (like when it comes to working on my novels-in-progress) can be. An hour after I was awarded an Emmy, a stranger asked me how the honor felt. My reply was blather. He reminded me that I had indeed won it…

Williamson is correct to point that that being our best benefits everyone. When I’m upset about my goals, I remind myself of her wise words.

Now for a blogger who does what he can to make sure none of us hold ourselves back…

Photo of blogger roijoyeux, his face hidden as he looks down at something he's writing.
Blogger roijoyeux.

roijoyeux, which according to Google Translate, means “King Joyful,” runs a blog by the same name. Growing up in South-Western France as a gay teenager, hearing schoolmates call other gay schoolmates “pédé” (“fag”) was a terrible thing. As a result, it was not easy to be proud of himself.

To help himself and others to be happier with themselves, ten years ago he created a blog that’s an encyclopedia of LGBT+ celebrities. To date, he’s written over 500 well-researched biographies!

He explains, “… many people are not aware that most gay men look and behave like straight men, my blog is useful for them and for my peers who have not yet realized that there is no reason to be ashamed. I know most people are not gay, but it feels great to know that so many great people are gay / lesbian. Learning and writing about their lives is one of my favorite hobbies.”

roijoyeux adds that over the decade he’s been posting, his site, “evolved very quickly in the blog you know today, showing to people that gays are not all drag queens, effeminates or perverts, since many great artists, stellar athletes and other admirable celebrities, are gay.”

Generous even at Happiness Between Tails, roijyeux quotes his role model…  “If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements…” gayinfluence.blogspot.com Terry from Virginia, who describes himself as “A diehard sapiosexual with an ever-curious mind,” started that impressive site in 2011.

Here, with the help of Wikipedia and Gay Influence, he introduces us to one of his many heroes…

Balenciaga, right, with the love of his life, Vladzio Jaworowski d’Attainville.
Balenciaga, right, with the love of his life, Vladzio Jaworowski d’Attainville.

“Cristóbal Balenciaga, the King of the great couturiers, was… gay,” by roijoyeux

Cristóbal Balenciaga Eizaguirre, born January 21, 1895 in Getaria (Spanish Basque Country) and died March 23, 1972 in Xàbia (Spain) was a Spanish fashion designer and milliner.

Actress Audrey Hepburn wearing Balenciaga, and two standard poodles.
Actress Audrey Hepburn wearing Balenciaga, and a couple of furry friends!

He is one of the greatest couturiers, unanimously recognized by his peers and nicknamed “the master” or even “the couturier of couturiers.”

If Balenciaga began well before the Second World War, it was during the 1950s that he completely transformed the female silhouette, making it evolve to finally reach its peak in the early 1960s. Among his loyal customers were the Queens of Spain and Belgium, Princess Grace of Monaco and the Duchess of Windsor as well as Jacqueline “Jackie” Kennedy Onassis.

Photo of United States First Lady Jackie Kennedy wearing a Balenciaga gown 1961.
First United States Lady Jackie Kennedy wearing a Balenciaga gown 1961.

The fact that Jackie Kennedy bought Balenciaga’s overpriced dresses upset her husband President John F. Kennedy because he feared the American public would think his spending was too lavish. In the 1950s and 1960s, Dior dressed the rich, and Balenciaga, the very rich. It was said at that time that a woman “went up” from Dior to Balenciaga.

Below are the most interesting details about Balenciaga’s life…

Youth

Balenciaga, who left school to work for a local tailor at the age of 13, opened his first store in San Sebastian (Spain) at 19. At the age of 24, he already had his own fashion house, a house of which he then opened branches in Madrid and Barcelona, where more than 350 employees worked.

The Spanish royal family wore his creations, but the Spanish Civil War forced him to close his stores in 1931 and go into exile first in London and then in 1936 in Paris, where he opened a fashion house on Avenue George V in 1937. The success of his Parisian house was immediate. Customers even risked their lives by going to Paris in the middle of the Second World War to admire Balenciaga’s creations.

Homosexuality

In Paris, Balenciaga openly lived his homosexuality. It was in 1936 in the French capital that he met the love of his life, Wladzio Zawrorowski d’Attainville, a Franco-Polish aristocrat who was then working as a hatter. It was Wladzio who helped Balenciaga find the funds to open his Parisian couture house. Then he became his partner.

Unlike Balenciaga, who had the elegance and class of an aristocrat but was the son of a simple fisherman and a seamstress, Wladzio was a true aristocrat, whose intelligence and wisdom impressed Balenciaga. The two men moved into the same apartment together, where Balenciaga’s mother also lived.

Photo of Balenciaga, right, with design house co-founder Nicolas Bizcarrondo, and Vladzio Jaworowski d’Attainville and a kitten.
Balenciaga, right, with design house co-founder Nicolas Bizcarrondo, and Vladzio Jaworowski d’Attainville… and a kitten!

One of their employees, Elisa Erquiaga, explained in an interview: “Wladzio was extremely handsome and well-educated and we all knew [they were a couple], but no one ever talked about it in the house.”

The Franco-Polish man was the only person who managed to calm the anxieties of the Master, his lack of self-confidence and his obsessive search for perfection on, for example, a shoulder, a fabric, or how to elegantly hide the wide hips of [writer] Colette, one of his famous clients.

When Wladzio died in 1948, Balenciaga was so devastated that he considered closing his business for a time. He never recovered from the death of the love of his life and although he had homosexual affairs after Wladzio’s death, he never sought to find new love and became very secretive and almost withdrew from the world.

It was in 1968 that the couturier finally retired (at age 73).

Photo of Dovima, a fascinating pioneer supermodel, in Balenciaga, with Sacha the dog, photo by stellar photog Richard Avedon, 1955.
Dovima, a fascinating pioneer supermodel, in Balenciaga, with Sacha, photo by stellar photog Richard Avedon, 1955.

Death and posterity

When Balenciaga died in 1972, Women’s Wear Daily magazine wrote “The King is Dead”. He died very rich, owner of several houses and apartments in Paris, at La Reynerie near Orléans, as well as in Madrid, Barcelona and Iguelda, in his native Basque country.

According to the Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia, the greatest gay couturiers of the 20th century are Balenciaga and Dior, followed by Yves Saint Laurent and Jean Paul Gaultier and in Italy Giorgio Armani and Giani Versace.

Balenciaga’s work influenced many couturiers, such as Oscar de la Renta, André Courrèges who worked in his studio, Emanuel Ungaro and Hubert de Givenchy whom he helped. The Balenciaga brand, which nowadays belongs to the French holding company Kering, is currently under the management of Demna Gvasalia, after the departure of Alexander Wang in 2015, who succeeded Nicolas Ghesquière in December 2012.

Are there ways you hold yourself back?