Another important day for self-acceptance


1620674_211997655668182_2093232841_a

 

 

If I have learned nothing else about my bipolar II today, it is that I am certainly not the only one in similar circumstances who has found photography to be a healing past-time. Facebook is teeming today with some of the creative works of the bipolar support community.

Scrolling through various blogs and web sites I have also seen confirmed that we face many of the same risks to ourselves as my fellow survivors of childhood abuse, sexual and otherwise, most pointedly suicide. Which doesn’t make me suicidal. Just so you know. It’s just one of those options I have kept in my back pocket since it seemed clear, however wrong, that I would be dead of AIDS-related illness before the 90s were finished. Of course it’s also a tragic reality among those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as we have heard about too often in connection with soldiers returning from Afghanistan or other battle-weary countries.

To be frank I am feeling very optimistic about my process right now. My p-doc is closely monitoring me as I add another “head med”, as I call them, to my cocktail of HIV, diabetes and bipolar medications. Spring has, for many years, been a time of hypomania which I used to refer to simply as an absence of depression. But it got much worse than a passive absence. When the cat (or black dog) is away, well…I played alot. Absent of depression, present with feelings I thought I could control, a deception of self that alcoholics often talk about, too.

I have often described the feeling of hearing the Bipolar II diagnosis, and the ways it fits me, as a day of sweet relief.  It was difficult enough to live with a lifetime of, let’s say, ultimately poor decisions; I was glad to hear a biological explanation for them  It doesn’t absolve me of everything but I have more compassion for myself and others.

Anyway the new med seems to be helping a lot. There are fewer sleepless nights, especially deliberately sleepless nights and I’m back on an even keel that I have experienced many times before on this journey.

Here is a series of three recent photographs taken here in Toronto, Canada, which I call Walking past colours

 

1 2 3

Lunch with Vito Russo


Disclaimer:  My memories have been assisted by Google and a piece of paper, 8-1/2″ x 11″ divided in half, on which is written the following:



After signing up for The Movie Network again recently, I came upon the film Vito: A Man For All Seasons.  I was immediately transported back to the early summer day in 1982 when I met the celebrated author, filmmaker and activist Vito Russo. It was at a very ambitious conference, at the U of T perhaps, put on by, among others, The Body Politic collective called “DOING IT! Lesbian & Gay Liberation in the 80s”.

Vito put to words, and obviously used film clips, what he had done in the book but had us riveted with laughter during the presentation and in the question and answer period which followed.

Because I was staying with a couple of the conference organizers for the weekend and, I’d like to recall, at 22 among the younger guys there I was invited to lunch with Vito – then in his 30s and a real looker!

We walked to a patio along the north side of Bloor, I’m guessing near Brunswick, perhaps Dooney’s.

This sheet of paper protrudes from my copy of Vito’s book “The Celluloid Closet – Homosexuality In The Movies” which had come out the previous year (as had I).  I described to him how upset I was that I had not remembered to bring the book along on my break from my then-dreary existence in St. Catharines.  Such, apparently, was the extent of my troubles back then!  He thought nothing of just folding a sheet of copy paper in half and writing the cute note.  This story goes with it whenever the opportunity presents itself.

While I’d like to launch into a tale of love unleashing itself into a passionate, long-distance relationship, as we sat across from one another, I can’t even allow my “based on actual events” note to take me there, as much as I’d like to.

He vented about Ronald Reagan.  (By comparison we were experiencing the second go-round of Pierre Trudeau, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms round at that, with Conservative Brian Mulroney only in our nightmares.)

The documentary inevitably moved to the beginning of the AIDS crisis and its eventual taking of his partner Jim Sevcik in his thirtieth year.  That same year, 1985, Vito himself was diagnosed with Kaposi’s sarcoma and died in 1990, just a year-and-a-half or so after my diagnosis.  But what a difference there has been, both in opportunistic infections and in our respective treatment options.

Vito went on to become a founding member of the media-monitoring group Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

In 1987 Vito, Larry Kramer and ten others founded ACT UP!, the AIDS activist organization which has been at the centre of some of the biggest developments in AIDS anger, compassion and care.  A clip in the film is of Vito shouting,

“People are dying of homophobia.  They’re dying of Jesse Helms.  They’re dying of Ronald Reagan…AIDS is a test of who we are as a people!”

Given all he went on to do in his AIDS-shortened life I count it a privilege to remember the joy of that day on a patio in Toronto and the personal touch of his autograph.

December 6th


While we honour the memory of all victims of male violence against women everywhere, before and since, Canadians particularly recall today – on this our National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women – the names of the victims of the Montreal Massacre at l’École Polytechnique on December 6, 1989:

Geneviève Bergeron, 21, was a second year scholarship student in civil engineering.

1

Hélène Colgan, 23, was in her final year of mechanical engineering and planned to take her master’s degree.

1

Nathalie Croteau, 23, was in her final year of mechanical engineering.

1

Barbara Daigneault, 22, was in her final year of mechanical engineering and was a teaching assistant.

1

Anne-Marie Edward, 21, was a first year student in chemical engineering.

1

Maud Haviernick, 29, was a second year student in engineering materials, a branch of metallurgy, and a graduate in environmental design.

1

Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31, was a second year engineering student specializing in engineering materials.

1

Maryse Laganière, 25, worked in the budget department of the Polytechnique.

1

Maryse Leclair, 23, was a fourth year student in engineering materials.

1

Anne-Marie Lemay, 27, was a fourth year student in mechanical engineering.

1

Sonia Pelletier, 28, was to graduate the next day in mechanical engineering. She was awarded a degree posthumously.

1

Michèle Richard, 21, was a second year student in engineering materials.

1

Annie St-Arneault, 23, was a mechanical engineering student.

1

Annie Turcotte, 21, was a first year student in engineering materials.

1

Each died, in a deranged man’s gun rampage. because they were women.

shutterstock_157718

AIDS is still here but so am I!


Submitted to Aless.ca today

I find the anticipation, whatever the outcome, of World AIDS Day quietly overwhelming.

“Not much,” I replied to a friend asking what plans I had last night.  I might as  well have had dental freezing in my brain, such was the unacknowledged numbness.

When I think of World AIDS Day I think of, as a blur, the forty or, I’m sure, more friends and fellow travelers who died of AIDS long before, and some since, the chance to survive with complex medications existed.

It is such a blur that I do not wish to single any one out.

Nearly six years ago, a blogger friend in California reminded me of something I do not mention much about my family, and then it’s usually “someone else in whose footsteps I was following”. I always respected my brother’s own, non-blog, ways of carrying himself in public.

Let’s just say there was this guy I write about more than anyone else (me) with an older brother who, like me, is gay and has been living with HIV/AIDS since the 1980s. Both are openly loved and accepted by family, close and extended, and many friends.

When I “came out” to my parents in 1981 it was not a complete surprise when they revealed that my older brother had also come out to them a few years earlier. One of the reasons I had not been in on that, however, was the fact that I – at that time – was test-driving ways of suppressing my homosexuality, to the point where I joined a right-of-Baptist, left-of-Pentecostal church for awhile. The test-drive, as evidenced in my subsequent writings, ended in a high-speed crash into a spiritual wall. My internal emotional injuries were very serious.

After I came out to our parents my brother wrote me a letter (in those days before email and long before Facebook), another letter I wish I had kept. In addition to lending support and understanding, I recall the note offering some wise advice about the difficulties inherent in living out one’s sexual orientation in a gay ‘community’ which, at times, can seem like a very cruel world. (Rufus Wainwright, a favourite, profoundly captures this in his song “Poses”.)

To say that Craig and I became closer, after I had withdrawn from my ‘doth-protest-too-much’ stance against homosexuality, would be an understatement. However, to this day, I regret any actions that separated us during those times. The relationship thankfully evolved to being much more comfortable over the years.

I learned in confidence, in the mid 1980s, that Craig had been infected with HIV – news which Craig later shared with other family members.

With all of that background, I vividly recall having a picnic lunch, a few years later, with my Mom and Dad during a brief vacation I had taken deliberately to disclose my HIV-positive status to them.

This being 1990, my medicine bag only had AZT in it and yet it seemed like the heaviest thing in my back-pack that day. Knowing that I would need to take that capsule before the picnic party had returned to Mom and Dad’s home I now only recall these key moments of the conversation.

 Kenn: “When Craig told you he was HIV-positive the best information he had, at that time, was that I was negative.”

Mom (sighing deeply): “Oh, don’t tell me…”

 

That was in the summer of 1990, a little more than a year after routine blood-work had first shown tell-all “counts” in reverse, certainly abnormal, proportions. (Those blood samples, from the spring of 1989, were later tested specifically for HIV and were found to be positive.)

That picnic seems like a lifetime ago. My parents and siblings gradually integrated this overwhelming information and were very accepting as I shared my story publicly, even via television and newspaper media. (One magazine article, originally meant as a simple tribute to my parents’ longstanding involvement in their community, included the traumatic events when my mother barely survived an attack of necrotising fasciitis – ‘flesh-eating disease’ – and how my father suffered a major heart attack as Mom was in the midst of her recuperation at home following more than two months of critical care hospitalization.)

In layer-upon-layer of irony Craig fell in April of 2007 and, tragically, hit his head, suffering irreversible brain damage.  He died a few weeks later just days before what would have been his fifty-second birthday.  Mourners shook our heads as we thought about Craig having survived twenty or more years of HIV/AIDS, quintuple bypass surgery just a year before, only to have a freak fall end his life so horribly.

I still carry Craig with me and, while we shared an AIDS diagnosis as well as our sexual orientation, he was definitely his own man and I miss him as much today as any other.

I’m sure that Craig would be proud of his United Church of Canada electing a gay man as Moderator


The criteria my brother Craig set out for the United Theological College award in his name reads in part:

To recognize the powerful and passionate ministries of gay and lesbian persons and to honour one whose life’s work has been particularly distinguished in its clear commitment to such central Gospel values as personal courage and integrity, life-affirming faith and spirituality, an unswerving commitment to social justice, a sustainable environment and solidarity with those who are poor or marginalized.

Now I’m not making an early pitch for next year’s award but I can imagine that Craig would be pleased and proud of the United Church General Council’s choice of openly gay Rev. Dr. Gary Paterson as Moderator for the next three years. In fact, he was one of three openly gay candidates in a record field of fifteen nominees.

Craig was not completely open with his sexuality right up until he took his early retirement, at which time, it turned out, his parishioners were far more concerned for his health and well-being than his sexual orientation. He had been able to come out to many people in his congregation over the years when he thought it would be helpful but I know he took something of an envious delight in me being as open as I have been for so long.

The United Church of Canada broke new ground, and cracked open parched, dusty ground, when in 1988 – twenty-four years ago – its General Council decided, by no means unanimously, that every Christian, regardless of sexual orientation, was not only welcome in the church but was “eligible to be considered for ordered ministry.”

Craig was at that assembly in 1988, speaking of sexual orientation in the third person, feeling the slings and arrows of the often acrimonious debate. In light of all the love which surrounded us when he died, and the wonderful memories of Craig his parishioners shared, it is still so painful to imagine what that meeting in Victoria must have been like for him and other lgbt colleagues.

That was then. This is now. Although my direct relationship with the United Church has never been the same since Craig’s death, I applaud the decision-makers who re-affirmed the church’s 1988 decision in such a big way.

AccolAIDS much appreciated!


Healthline editors recently published the final list of their favorite HIV & STD blogs and I’m pleased to let you know that this blog made the list, which can be found here (in no particular order).

I am very appreciative of this vote of confidence!

Kenn Chaplin is no defeatist; he’s brazen, energetic, gut-wrenchingly honest, and inspiring. This active blogger, political activist, traveler, and long-time AIDS veteran knows a thing or two about living with AIDS.

He fills his blog with jokes, personal stories, tributes to friends who have lost the fight, and lovely photos of anything he wants. Along the way, he educates his readers about life with AIDS. Kenn knows (and shows) it’s not always easy, but hopefully he also knows how important his strong, steady voice about life with AIDS is for the rest of the HIV/AIDS community. Go, Kenn!

For those who loved Kyle


I’ve been wrestling all day – less with what to write than how to write it – so I thought I’d begin with an absurd fruit-plate. Leading with humour is something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. Regardless of what was going on inside, my outside presentation was most often light if not downright hilarious.

Granny Clampett imitation? Kenneth does a great one!

The soprano soloist at church? I sang a masterful likeness.

My repertoire of farm animal sounds and imitation flatulence?  Unequaled!

So it is that I identify with comics whose gift is thrashed from unpleasant early experiences in life – despite presenting myself as a funny kid within a happy family.

I must roll aside that instinct to entertain at the most difficult of times as something terrible happened over the weekend in the community of housing units we call the Bleecker Street Co-Op. Other than to say “Hi” in the lobby now and again, or at a co-op party, perhaps at a panel discussion, I did not know him so it wasn’t enough to hear that Kyle Scanlon had died to put together who he was.

The first picture shocked me into recognition.

That big round, bearded, animal-loving face always had a smile in our infrequent exchange of greetings.

As social media spread word of his death today it was very moving to see how many people were so much closer to Kyle.

Kyle completed suicide and, right from the very first posting on the subject, it is clear that he leaves behind shocked, inconsolable, loving friends.

Trans PULSE where he was a founding member.

The 519 where he’s worked for ten years, first as the Trans Programs Coordinator and most recently as Education, Training and Research Coordinator.

As reactions have distilled over the hours, very familiar questions are asked repeatedly.

Why would he do this? He always seemed so bubbly and cheerful!

After coming through so much, why would he be despairing? Could it have been an accident?

I wonder why he didn’t reach out for help.

Of course I do not know that he didn’t.

Within the shock and grief there exists a self-mutilating belief that maybe we could have done something…if only.

These are questions I sometimes worry about leaving unanswered whenever thoughts of desperate action – thoughts of the “catch and release” variety, mostly – cross my mind.

The sadness Kyle’s friends and loved ones are feeling is no doubt deep and unspeakably real.

I hope there is a bit of comfort in sharing with one another, as you will, the experiences that best illustrate Kyle during happier times with him.

gudbuy t’jane on trans and suicide

Wherefore art thou, Cardinals? – Oh!


This was a landmark day in the lives of Ontario high school students who have been exercising their democratic rights, without the vote even, for the passage of Bill 13, the Ontario provincial government’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) initiative.

It passed in the Ontario Legislative Assembly with 65 votes in support, from the combined efforts of Liberal and New Democratic Party members, and 36 votes against from the Conservatives.

No thanks to the Cardinal!

Of course, besides the horrors of bullying, I empathize strongly with victims of sexual abuse, be they school children or the prey at Penn State, where the nightmare continues with today’s farcical early developments in the trial of accused coach Jerry Sandusky.

As I’ve written before, my greatest personal bully was in elementary school, a teacher (who would become principal), but my peers picked up where he left off, particularly on the 40-minute bus rides to and from high school.

So I have “issues”, many of them similar to those at the heart of the GSA debate. The work continues – which makes me so happy that GSAs are growing in popularity.

While their red-capped overlords protest, it is wonderful to know that Catholic teachers back GSAs!.

Order in the Court!

Town of Perth, Ontario moves to conserve downtown’s beautiful buildings


Perth Town Council has taken the bold, even if obviously necessary, step of creating a formal Downtown Heritage Conservation District.

It comes in the form of a by-law which outlines the boundaries of the district – North and Harvey Street (to the south) and Wilson and Drummond Streets on the west and east sides, respectively. There are also a few encroachments across these boundaries south of Harvey and north of North Streets.

A staff report to Council stated that by approving the Plan, Council would “ensure that the Town’s heritage conservation objectives and stewardship will be respected; strengthen the relationship of our heritage brand and cultural tourism goals and objectives; ensure a culturally and economically vibrant downtown core; preserve the Town’s built heritage; set the stage for the Town’s 200th Anniversary celebration in 2016; ensure that guidelines pertaining to emergency preparedness are in place in the event of a natural disaster. (Ex. Town of Goderich)”

Well done Perth!

Newspaper clipping from Mom: “A GAY JOCK TAKES OFF THE MASK”


It was on the front page of the Ottawa Citizen’s March 17 “Saturday Observer”  section.

The paper sat on a table beside Mom’s comfy chair, where she keeps anything she wants to pass along to me.  She knows that, like Jamie Hubley, whose passing touched me so deeply, hockey stories wouldn’t normally need to be on that pile.

Beneath the headline a full one-third of the page is a picture of a hockey goaltender, his mask flipped up on his head.  21-year old Scott Heggart looks confidently into the camera and smiles, his right hand holding one of the goal-posts.

The online version does not include what is, for me, a very moving picture of Scott and his family, including boyfriend Brock – a picture large enough to fully cover “above the fold” on the third page – sister, father, boyfriend, Scott, mother and brother.

Scott has been chronicling his story by posting videos to YouTube here for a long time and one of his featured playlists “Coming Out” includes “First my take on coming out to my family, then my family’s take; final note on the interviews with my family, followed by my advice to those looking to come out.”

But it’s the video of his appearance on CBC’s “Q” with Jian Ghomeshi that opens his main page and summarizes what’s been going on – fantastic!  What an inspiration!

No sentence could undo the harms caused by Graham James


I join the outcry today over the sentencing of convicted serial pedophile Graham James to two years in prison for the sexual abuse of Theo Fleury and Todd Holt. Counter-intuitively (because I knew it would just get me stirred up) I watched the news coverage of the lawyers’ statements and victims’ reactions.

Graham arrived at court wearing his best perp ensemble:

Following sentencing, which The Globe I think rightly criticized for its lack of nuance, Todd Holt spoke on behalf of cousin and fellow victim Theo Fleury.

“I stand here today, on behalf of not only myself and my cousin Theoren Fleury, but as a voice for every man.

For all the young boys, the old men and the ones that got stuck somewhere in between because of the most devastating type of abuse; sexual abuse inflicted on us by someone in a position of trust and authority. Theo and I were two of those who got stuck in that middle place between boy and man; we made some terrible choices and watched the life we were meant to lead spiral down the drain.

No longer.”

It was, for me, a powerful and meaningful beginning to an expression of feelings – I even heard myself in his words - which later criticized the justice system.

This was where I switched to thinking, “Hmmm…”, and I’m sure it will take me some time to sort out why.

As my headline reads, and as legions of all types of crime victims can attest, the length of Graham James’ sentence, while still shocking (considering that two years probably won’t last two years), is secondary to the horrors, and their after-effects, that James inflicted on Theo Fleury, Todd Holt, Sheldon Kennedy and who-knows-how-many-other young hockey players I would otherwise not know, let alone relate to.

They are still recovering, having taken the familiar route of spiralling downward before they were fortunate enough to make it back without ending their lives.  Theirs, as mine, is a life-long journey.  Every time I/we think we have reached another air-pocket of resolution, something takes it away – or at least I let it be taken away.

There’s a tough-on-this-kind-of-crime demon whispering inside me thinking Graham James and his ilk should be chemically castrated, if not as a barbaric punishment then at least as a preventive measure.  Or is that just the wolf of murder by lethal injection in sheep’s clothing? And would that alone take away his predatory impulses?

My self-image, a work in progress, was moulded in part by a monster or two in my childhood.  I continue to try to make sense of so much, even the crap in my own past that makes no sense at all.  But I persist, with your help.

Adieu Madeleine Parent


Aerial view of  Montreal Cottons Valleyfield works. Copyright undetermined as per citation at Université de Sherbrooke's Bilan du Siècle <http://bilan.usherbrooke.ca>

Aerial view of  Montreal Cottons Valleyfield works, 1950. Copyright undetermined as per citation at Université de Sherbrooke’s Bilan du Siècle

I was saddened to learn of the death last night of the iconic Québec labour activist Madeleine Parent. She was 93 so I knew that when I wrote this tribute to her more than five years ago I would more than likely outlive her.

One thing is certain – the legacy of Madeleine Parent will continue to live on for many years to come!

So three lawyers walk into the Ontario Legislature…


…but this is no joke!

There’s a friendly exercise each morning that the Ontario Legislature sits when Members have the opportunity to introduce guests seated in the gallery – family members of one of the high school student pages, perhaps a visiting township reeve, or dignitaries representing other governments, be they in Canada or elsewhere.

It must have seemed surreal, then, for Toronto Centre Member of Provincial Parliament Glen Murray, his voice choking up even as he began to speak, to introduce (to a standing ovation from all sides) two fellow lawyers – Douglas Elliott, representing EGALE Canada, and Adrian Jjuuko of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Uganda. This is the organization that has been leading the opposition to Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill often called the “Kill the Gays bill” in the media which, though delayed last year, was reintroduced a few weeks ago with all of its worst provisions, including the death penalty. It could become law in Uganda within 30 days and the government has continued its harassment of LGBT groups while it waits.

Mr. Jjuuko, although heterosexual himself, risks persecution when he returns home later today just for being the strong advocate that he is.

Whatever other pressing matters may have been discussed at Queen’s Park following these introductions today I did not hear them.

For further information and to positively agitate see:

Amnesty International

Human Rights Watch

The New Civil Rights Movement

Final tributes to Jack Layton in pictures


It was an emotion-packed, life-affirming day.