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Mr/s. Movember

Local photographer kicks off Movember with gender bender project

Chris Vautour

Chris Vautour

Vancouver photographer Belle Ancell had a vision of handsome queer women in moustaches. For Movember, she made it happen. On a fall day as the rain poured outside and Madonna reverberated on the stereo inside, six queer women sat for their close-up. The camera clicked and the first lesbian Movember project in Canada, “Mr/s. Movember”, was born.

The Movember photo project is a series of six queer female models ranging in age from early twenties to late forties, photographed in portrait, and in a moustache. Movember is a global campaign to raise funds and awareness about men's health – specifically prostate cancer. This year, the organization has added mental health issues to the campaign.

Belle Ancell is a celebrated child of the 70's and loves moustaches. She heard about the Movember campaign when she relocated to Vancouver two years ago. “I thought it was a fabulous way to create dialogue about prostate cancer and to support men's health. I kind of wished I could participate and grow a moustache myself. And that is how the idea for Mr/s. Movember came about,” Ancell explains. She thought it would be fun to get a group of handsome, queer women together to rock their own moustaches. 

The photos in “Mr/s. Movember” are about identity, playing with identity, and raising awareness by prompting private and public conversations in the GLBTQ community about health. Some of the models in the project identify as lesbian, butch, male, female and all of the above. Yet all queer women have men in their lives – whether they are partners, brothers, fathers, uncles, nephews, or sons who are dealing with prostate cancer and mental health issues.


The stats on men's health

  • 2 in 5 men will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime
  • 1 in 7 men in Canada will develop prostate cancer
  • 1 in 5 men will experience a mental health issue this year
  • 4 out of 5 suicides among young people in Canada are committed by men, despite men’s lower - reported rates of depression

Peter Verge, Chair of Movember Vancouver comes from a long line of prostate cancer survivors. When I asked him about including the gay and lesbian community, he says, "We aim to be inclusive, embracing all communities in the city. This year, the Vancouver Men's Chorus is hosting a "Shave Down" on November 1, which should be an amazing event. Some have been in beards for 10 years." 

Verge adds, "I think one of the largest threats to male health is poor mental health. We need to reduce the stigma of talking about things such as depression and do more to understand it. The moustache helps start that conversation."

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men with lung and anal cancers are more prevalent in gay men. The factors that increase the risk of developing prostate cancer include: increasing age (over 50), a family history of prostate cancer, and African ancestry.

Studies show that many men don’t get regular health checks for the following reasons: fear it will lead to a hospital visit; embarrassed to discuss their health issues; find it too hard to see a doctor because they just can’t fit it into their schedule; and just can’t be bothered making an appointment. And the list increases if you are a gay/bi/trans man and don't have a doctor you can trust. This can lead to delays or avoiding routine care for early detection of specific cancers.

A 2011 study in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that GLBTQ people experience more mental health problems than the heterosexual population. Dr. Apu Chakraborty of University College London, UK looked at rates of mental disorder among 7,403 adults living in the UK. Rates of depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobia, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and alcohol and drug dependence were significantly higher in homosexual respondents. This work follows earlier research in 2008 when Professor Michael King and his team at University College London, looked at whether mental health problems have previously been found to be higher among homosexual people.They reviewed 28 papers on the subject and their analysis revealed twice the rate of suicide attempts among lesbian, gay and bisexual people. The risks of depression and anxiety disorders were at least one and a half times higher, as was alcohol and other substance abuse.

Wayne Robert, Executive Director for BC's Health Initiative for Men (HIM) says “When you look at the structure of our society and lack of support for gay men growing up, I am surprised it isn't higher. Gay men are resilient and one of the things we strive to do is embrace sexuality as we grow into our individual selves.” One of the most important factors in maintaining good mental health and dealing with stress, depression, anxiety is to have a supportive community that includes health care providers, friends and family/and or chosen family.

Roberts notes that one of the projects they are in the early stages of with the Men's Health Initiative (a Movember partner) is to investigate how all men learn about sex, sexuality and mental health. Where does the information come from? The answers to these questions will benefit and apply to gay men as well.



“I am very happy to see this year's Movember campaign focusing on the LGBTQ community more and for including anti-bullying and mental health in it's funding for this year” says Ancell. She says this is just the beginning for the Mr/s. Movember photo project. Over the next year she will be photographing more women and having a fundraising gallery opening of all the images in support of next year's 2013 Movember campaign.

When asked what it was like to be photographed, electroacoustic composer Chris Vautour laughs and says, “It was really great. Belle was amazing to work with. I'm not a model so the hardest part was coming up with the right pose. The moustache helped me feel a confidence in my portrayal. Belle has a sensitivity as a photographer that brings out the best in you.” The portraits reflect this quality.

“The project felt like we were coming together to do something for our community. I am excited about having that discussion with people who see the photo project and want to talk about it,” Vautour adds. “Plus – a lot of work went into those moustaches! I was honoured to be chosen and to represent a group of women who care enough to do a project like this.”

Proceeds from the “Mr/s. Movember” photo project will be donated to the Movember Foundation. To view the complete portraiture series, visit www.belleancellphotography.com.


Aileen Penner

I am a writer, poet and science communications specialist. I also curate art-science collaborations.