Nine years older nine years later


It’s been so long I had to look up what SARS stood for (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).

That was part of the underlying score as I spent five weeks in two hospitals starting nine years ago early this morning.

Why was I laid up?

Well an item from Montréal in this morning’s news brought it all back, except that I wasn’t in an argument when I was hit.

Some of the details I remember quite clearly, as I recalled in my story, but the twenty-four-to-forty-eight hours following my mishap have been wiped from my memory – calling my friend Karen, Karen calling my Mom, Mom calling me. I had perked up a little by the time my sisters and Craig called. My down-and-out time was spent in surgery and recovering from it – repairing my right femur and radius by “internal fixation” one at a time, mind you, but under the same anesthetic (these x-rays are roughly what mine looked like when all was done.)

From the moment the first fire-truck arrived until my last day at the rehab hospital on June 6 SARS, and the necessary but de-humanizing preventive measures against it, was a constant fact of life in Toronto. The TV movie made about it wasn’t far off the mark at all.

So nine years later, there’s been a lot of water under the bridge, but I still see the places on my leg and arm where the incisions were made and on days when my body aches those two spots tend to lead off.

Once upon a time living to see 2003 seemed an unrealistic dream, and that spring was quite a nightmare, but I remember lying on my hospital bed “bargaining” to hopefully walk again, use a cane for the rest of my life even, and, while I thought I had to do so for some time, that is no longer the case.

This mishap was the catalyst for a lot of therapy – and not just of the physical variety.  I became familiar with the idea that significant trauma can re-awaken (or rouse for the first time) past trauma.  I’ve done a lot of work in nine years, if I do say so myself.

So there’s my shot of gratitude for the day!

Another long spring walk in Toronto


Bleecker Street Housing Co-Operative

Wellesley-Magill Park

Wellesley-Magill Park

Steam Plant Lofts (part of the former Wellesley-Princess Margaret Hospitals)

Verve condominiums at Wellesley and Homewood

Public art on a utility box near Jarvis and Gloucester Streets (one of many in the area)

One of the former Gooderham residences, this one at Jarvis and Cawhtra Square

Magnolias on Cawthra Square

Toronto AIDS Memorial at Cawthra Square Park, behind the 519 Church Street Community Centre

519 Church Street Community Centre (“The 519″)

Former Oddfellows Hall (1891) at College and Yonge Streets

College Park, the former Eaton’s Store at Yonge and College Streets

A notorious Bay Street dive emerging as a boutique hotel

Walking the labyrinth at Bell Trinity Square

Osgoode Hall, Law Society of Upper Canada

Canada Life

Campbell House, the oldest remaining home from the original site of the Town of York, was built by Upper Canada Chief Justice Sir William Campbell and his wife Hannah in 1822.

OCAD University’s (Ontario College of Art and Design) Sharp Centre for Design, Will Alsop, archt. with Robbie/Young + Wright Architects Inc., is a box four storeys above ground supported by colourful pillars; it is often described as a tabletop.

The spire of St. George the Martyr Anglican Church near The Grange

The Grange (1817) behind the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and now part of it, was built for D’Arcy Boulton (1785–1846).

Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

Victoria University, University of Toronto

“Crucified Woman” (1976) by Almuth Lutkenhaus at Emmanuel College, University of Toronto

Victoria University reflected in the Isabel Bader Theatre

Church of the Redeemer (Anglican)

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)

The Royal Conservatory of Music

Queen Alexandra Gateway, at the Bloor Street end of Philosopher’s Walk, next to the Royal Conservatory of Music, was built “To commemorate the visit of TRH the Duke & Duchess of Cornwall & York Oct. 10th 1901.” The Duke and Duchess later became King George V & Queen Mary.

The entrance to the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Koerner Hall

Scanned: my first post-positive lab results


I found this in a plastic-covered folder in my Rubbermaid file drawer:

My physician at that time, the late Ed Kamski, ordered these tests as a baseline after giving me the results of my “positive” HIV-antibody test. (He also told me that a blood sample taken about a year earlier, in May of 1989, had also been tested and was positive. I remember how sick I was feeling at that time.)

One of the early AIDS treatments, AZT, was starting to get some good press as a possible prophylaxis to head off AIDS-defining illnesses, also known as opportunistic infections. I had made up my mind that I would like to start AZT should I qualify. The benchmark for starting therapy back then was a CD-4/T-4 count at or below 500.  My very first result was 400.  Game on!

Twenty-two years later I don’t have the bodily memories of the shock I was absorbing – positive first, AZT-ready next.

I do remember leaving the doctor’s office and going somewhere – quickly – to cry.  Later that day I went to a meeting of friends, many of whom were either living with full-on AIDS or were in the early days of an HIV diagnosis like me.

AIDS was no longer theoretical.  HIV/AIDS quickly became my constant companion – with all of the smothering that can go along with such a relationship.

 

When I left work, Dr. Kamski suggested I look upon my time as my retirement (and predicted I might have ten years).

It’s been 22-23 years but I still do not take my health for granted.  However it’s only been a few years since I stopped feeling my death-due-to-AIDS was imminent.

Ending the week on a positive note


I checked in with my doctor today to get results from my latest blood tests and the news was all good!

CD-4: 310 (about the same as January)
viral load: undetectable
Hemoglobin A1c: .063 (down from .077)
Weight: 144 lbs.

So I’m good again until June, by which time I’ll have had some more routine, albeit neglected, age-related tests done.

Toronto AIDS Memorial, 519 Church Street Community Centre


With one eye on the wider world, marking thirty years of AIDS (and hopes that we may be seeing the beginning of the end), my other eye is on memories of friends lost here in Toronto (and hopes that many more may yet survive).

Medical update: I could do better if ‘good enough’ wasn’t still good enough


It’s been quite some time since I had the run of tests for HIV and diabetes, in part because of my fear of the results, so today’s news was quite satisfactory with clear room for improvement.

My viral load, a test which measures the activity of HIV in my blood, is below levels of present-day detectability. That’s the goal of this test of primary importance.

The CD-4/T-4 count, a measure of the immune response to infections, is 350. It has been higher, and also much lower (10 back in the early 90s), so I’m hoping that I can see it go up again. (I think my personal best is in the 600s.)

On the diabetes front, my A1c hemoglobin test – ideally at 7% (0.070) came back at 0.077. I know there’s room for improvement and, frankly, was surprised I did that well.

All in all, while I had some apprehensions about getting the results today, I was pleasantly surprised. Oh and my “head meds” are at acceptable levels.

There are some blog posts I’d like to forget – on returning to the NDP


I’ve always tried to make this blog somewhat of a record of my life, however fragmented, warts and all.  Here in the archives is my defiant abandonment of the New Democratic Party for, let’s say, greener pastures.  However right it felt at the time, and for a couple of by-elections and a general election after, I have been back to embracing my NDP sentiments for a while now.

Unless I am mistaken, my leaving had only minimal impact on the party at the national level.  However, at the level of my local riding association on which I served as a member of the Executive, there are amends to be made when the time is right.

This is all swirling through my conscience this week as Canada observes the passing of NDP leader Jack Layton.  Everything from his departing letter to Canadians to the public outpouring of affection for Jack-the-man serve to point out what a great loss the country has suffered.

In one of several meetings with him, I remember running into Jack in the corridors at the national convention held in Quebec City a few years ago.  I had something, forgotten now, to discuss with him.  Surrounded by his closest aides, anxious to continue their walk, he pulled me to his side and said, “Walk with me.”  We conversed, I was satisfied, and the convention proceeded as he headed to the stage.  I don’t know whether Jack always knew my name, if ever, but he always knew my face and knew my passions, particularly as an AIDS activist.

We grew up about forty kilometers, and nine years, apart - Jack in Hudson, me in Valleyfield.  Hudson is on the Ottawa River, Valleyfield on the St. Lawrence.  Friends moved up there midway through high school so I used to cycle across the flat St. Lawrence Valley and make the huge climb up into the hills which hugged the Ottawa.  It was an athletic feat for someone not otherwise very athletic!  I particularly remember making the trip to see the Olympic torch run through Hudson on its way to the 1976 games in Montreal.

I look forward to what is sure to be an outstanding send-off to Jack on Saturday, and to intentionally re-connecting with NDP friends in the days ahead.

There is no hierarchy in grief: Of Norway and Amy Winehouse


Please read this from Scott Dagostino, whose writing makes me admire the way his mind works.

Being someone who might preemptively describe myself as naive (which endears me to world-wise friends and the ne’er do-well-alike), I must say the title of Scott’s post took me in with more than its most obvious sarcasm and led to a deeper, even more evocative message.

The pallbearers of history seem frozen in their places these days, BREAKING NEWS interruptions startling and incomprehensible. Are we to be judged, as facts settle, for an uncomfortable lack of surprise?

As Scott points out feelings surrounding more than one tragic event at a time are not only possible but healthy. I don’t give the blame-stream media much credit for this, one moment sanctimoniously screeching, “What’s with Amy?” and the next re-tracing the steps of her train-wreck. Musicians,fans, and salaried pop-culture followers – many of whom know the industry of which they speak – are a welcome exception.

Those of us who identify with even a fraction of Amy Winehouse’s experience, who perhaps hope that our lives will be remembered not for the hurdles we’ve overcome but for the overcoming itself, would do well to think more than “But for…grace…there go I”. Powerful though that contracted quote may be – for reasons I have felt for a long time – very few would suggest that this doesn’t require willingness to work. Sometimes, and my knowledge of Amy Winehouses’s story begins and ends with her music, an obvious need for help (or defiant cry against it), is not enough when our perception of the problem is her solution (as it has been for me/us in the past). This was not about reasoning with her. We are left to mourn and to miss Amy Winehouse.

Back to Norway and referring again to Scott, he gives examples of evidence that the varieties of scale notwithstanding, it goes without saying that deranged people and their despicable acts are not unfamiliar. This guy – be he right-wing fundamentalist Christian, xenophobe and/or I’m wondering if maybe homosexual-minus-the-gay (wouldn’t that be a clever escape for the Right?) – kept himself alive for probably only the most sadistic reasons, his freedom to speak at today’s court appearance thankfully thwarted.

Nothing will hold back our shock, grief and anger. However a healthy brain is complex and, therefore, resilient enough to process all matters of information and emotions. Maybe even laugh along the way. With a name like “gallows humour”, you know that expressions didn’t come from the “Y” generation, and I’ve been known to enjoy such humour in AIDS circles. A now-defunct letter (newsletter would not suit its editors nor those claiming more legitimacy) called Diseased Pariah made the rounds at the height (let’s hope) of the AIDS scythe’s attempted purge of my community. DP was irreverent, offensive to many, even hard to stomach for some in the HIV-infected camp – of course what wasn’t hard to stomach back then? It found a niche but didn’t last as long as some of us might have liked and brought laughter to the grimmest of times for many.

Whether in formal or informal support groups I have been fortunate to have at my disposal the listening ears, hugs and shared laughs of countless fellow travelers. Many of the best models for care, of self and others, were exercised and developed when hope seemed so fleeting. Those tools are still operational.

Laughing then, as now, was a relief valve of stress, sorrow and feelings of certain death. It has a time and place with receptors eager to work, in the same minds as the distraught, whenever we are ready.

There is an important difference between humour and satire, or other genuine comforts, and some of the crassness or just unwitting ignorance which sells itself as information (news even!)

How long before we hear about “closure”?

I had been meaning to post this sooner but “computer says ‘No!’”

Over 400 “Friends for Life” to thank as they cycle the shores of my gene pond, river, and canals!


There is some hope that this near-historic hot weather will return to “normal hot” by Sunday.  I have no doubt that this will be a great relief to all involved in the annual Friends for Life Bike Rally which leaves Toronto that morning on a six-day, six hundred kilometre ride to Montréal.

It was ten years ago that I completed the 5-kilometre Pride and Remembrance Run in Toronto, something of a mountain-moving feat given my health, which I approached with more than a little trepidation. The spirit alone of this bike rally pulls me in as a voyeur via Facebook, YouTube and Twitter each year.

Aside from the wonderful cause, Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (part of my life since even before I tested positive for HIV twenty-two years ago in 1989), the route has particular meaning to me as it traces – sometimes backwards, sometimes forwards – the emigration of generations of ancestors, mostly from the British Isles and Ireland but also France and Québec, to villages, towns and cities along the St. Lawrence River, the Lachine and Soulanges Canals, Lac St-Francois and Lake Ontario. (This does not include places in inland counties which they eventually helped clear and farm.) These historic ties are top-of-mind as I’ve been working hard on my family tree, particularly this year.  Ancestral hubs, those along the route at least, include Brockville (where new arrivals disembarked and went overland to the north and west), and many points on the route east to Lancaster (where the Dairy Queen at which rally participants will be indulging is a stone’s throw from a cemetery containing the remains of many Scottish immigrant and United Empire Loyalist relatives of mine).

Now, see, if I was along how interesting my yammering would be? Like endless slide-shows or home movies from your childhood!

Heading across the border into Québec signs soon give directions to Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, a small island city where Lac St-Francois squeezes back into the aforementioned Soulanges Canal and St. Lawrence River. It’s an almost completely French-speaking place which, practically from birth,  gave me such an appreciation for the French fact in our country.  From here to Montréal, along the Soulanges, Lac St-Louis and Lachine Canals, are communities with my own memories and the histories of people I never knew but who weaved their France-formed branches into mine via marriages long ago.

Two views from the cycling paths along the Lachine Canal

Once downtown the riders and crews will head to Place Emelie-Gamelin where they will most certainly be warmly welcomed to the annual Divers/Cité celebrations well underway.

This journey is such an inspiration to me.  Many participants are HIV-positive themselves.  I know what it took to run 5 km.  I don’t know what it would be like to even wake up and get going every day, as early as these folks, even if my only duty was cleaning up our camp-sites and riding in a school bus for 600 km!

Some time, maybe.  I’ll leave it on my bucket list.

Not pictured


I am mindful, on this Father’s Day, that I do not have many photographs of Thomas Arnold (“Arnie”) Chaplin.  (The additional ones I do have are wedding party shots with people who might not wish to be published.)  However my memory informs me of many more, in safe-keeping with Mom, from the honeymoon phase, the beginnings of our family, and so on – and more of them in colour!  However, due to the limitations of our cameras of that time (not to mention the cruelty of those large adhesive photo album pages of the 1970s) some colours have faded or been peeled off entirely.  I hope to, however, do my level best to increase my scanned, uploaded collection in future visits with Mom.

The four pictures up top are of Dad on his wagon in Glen Tay, Bathurst Township, Lanark County, Ontario (just west of the Town of Perth), followed by Dad holding my sister Lynn (and a wide-eyed Craig on his right), Dad (at my sister’s age in the previous photo) held in the arms of my grandmother on the farm with older members of his family, and in the fourth picture I am in Dad’s right arm, Lynn in his left, and Craig with the obviously rosy-cheeked grin on the right.

Not pictured is the devoted, hard-working guy I grew up with whose daily routine was almost like clockwork.

He was the first up in the morning (7:10) and, therefore, the first to use our bathroom – so tiny by today’s standards with exactly enough room for a toilet, sink and tub.  Before I was of school age I remember standing on the toilet watching him shave in the mirror.  By 7:25 or so he was eating breakfast with the rest of us in a kitchen-dinette which, again, used every inch of space optimally.  At 7:50 Dad was at the car-port door with Mom, a wet-sounding peck was exchanged along with the daily farewell, “Toodle-oo”  (No wonder spell-check has trouble with that.)  I don’t know how that word entered their vernacular – I must remember to ask Mom.

Dad was fortunate to live about ten or fifteen minutes from work and, as a result, he never failed to drive home at lunch.  This was great when I was in elementary school since we also came home for lunch.  After he ate he laid down on the sofa where, without napping, he managed to have a rest that most working nowadays, and many then, would envy.

At 12:50 Mom and Dad repeated their morning good-bye ritual and Dad was gone until about 5:10 when his 1959 Ford Fairlane, 1968 Buick Special or 1973 Impala drove up the slight incline of our driveway.

Not pictured is the father who, without the perks of a company dental plan, managed to pay for trips to Montreal for Craig and me for braces, in Craig’s case, and then braces – and a whole lot more – for me when I smashed my mouth on the cement foundation of school playground equipment.  (Mom’s income as a piano teacher helped, too, I know.)  Together they also put all four kids through university or college.

Not pictured is the Dad who – together with Mom – calmly accepted, with no outward signs of difficulty, both his sons disclosing that we were gay (four years apart, just like our ages) AND, no more than ten years later, that we were HIV-positive.

‘Unconditional love is what we have to offer,’

says (Dad), looking surprised there could be any alternative.”

Dad (quoted above) took part with Mom in a magazine article, which I am too-generously credited with having co-written, for The United Church Observer in May of 1996.  That would be courageous even now, more than fifteen years later, but they’ve always brushed aside any sentiments of courage when it comes to the complete acceptance of their kids.  (Mom still can’t believe the ever-changing varieties of parents’ rejection of their children.)

Not pictured, indeed, is Dad’s very best friend for well over fifty years who continues to bless us just by being herself.

Not pictured, finally, is my Dad who lived only long enough to see his first grandchild reach eight months old.  He had suffered a slight, non-debilitating stroke and so it was really important as a family to gather in celebration of his seventy-fifth birthday on April 1, 2002.  Just a month later, May 4, 2002, he collapsed and died in the garden he so loved (and he kept one wherever we lived).

I picture Dad, alive and vibrant, on the back step with a handful of onions, leaf lettuce or beets or a couple of Mom’s favourite yellow roses.  But mostly I picture him in his garden.

Back to paying greater attention


When this link Mindfulness and Psychotherapy nudged itself toward my consciousness today on my Facebook page I thought it worth exploring if only because I have too often come down hard on myself for having let slide my mindfulness mediation practice. (Such self-flagellation is, need I say, not part of this discipline – nor, come to think of it, any discipline that has ever been useful to me).

An interesting image came to mind as I pictured myself “in my head”, with hopes of getting out: I saw my mind de-fragmenting, as in the diagrams we see of our hard drives de-fragmenting, useful stuff being moved to join other useful stuff. No doubt plenty can be discarded.

From the earliest days of my illness, particularly when I crossed over from HIV to AIDS, I wanted to be as open-minded as possible to whatever healing technique was on offer – skeptical of anything which purported to cure.

Louise Hay and Dr. Bernie Siegel were early favourite gurus. If nothing else they introduced me to guided visualizations and/or guided meditations.

Being still and listening flew in the face of my experience of even silent prayer.

I do not know when I first heard of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s groundbreaking book “Full Catastrophe Living: (Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness)” but it was first published in 1990, after my diagnosis, and I misplaced my first copy and now use the fifteenth anniversary edition. In the interim I also bought his cleverly-titled “Wherever You Go There You Are – (Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life)”.

Had I fully read the books, and practiced their exercises, I might have been better prepared for the eight week mindfulness course I participated in a couple of years ago. I eventually let the practice go again but it is something I know that I can pick up and benefit from with only a seed of willingness.

May today’s little nudge on Facebook bear fruit.

Hope as verb, noun and/or feeling


Everything I am feeling in this moment is in the context of having watched, via television and Twitter, the roller-coaster of events in Egypt these past 18 days, of having just listened to the Feb. 6 (2011) edition of Tapestry from CBC Radio with Mary Hines, and of having made the seemingly Herculean effort to order refills of my HIV, diabetes and “head” meds.

And already I have forgotten why I could only describe myself as despondent when I opened up this page.

Towards the end of the week, say about twelve hours before the start of Friday Prayers in Cairo, I was in discussion with some peers about the now-tired links I make between the distinct hells of elementary school and my adolescence, then of my instant activism after the 1981 bath house raids in Toronto (just add water, or steam, and stir!)  Oh, and then I added that leap fart of logic that permeated me for so long “…if anyone deserves AIDS I do.”  Even though I quickly pointed out that I have dismissed this asinine proposition, intellectually, I allowed that it may still hide in the nodes of my psyche as traces of seemingly “undetectable” HIV viral load might hide from the best available tests – though I did not use that analogy.  Frankly HIV could probably hide better, regardless of whether it is or not.

It stands to reason then, if reason is all I can stand on, that I might feel despair given Dr. Kenn’s self-diagnoses (AIDS-because-I-deserve-it and mental-illness-because-well-life-just-piled-up).

Listening to myself, as the conversation with my peers played over and over during the walk home, I understood – was aware of, made sense of – almost immediately how the 51-year old Kenn brutally judges (ever-present tense) the Kenneth of childhood, the Ken of adolescence and the Kenn of a promising adulthood.  Then, with a deep sigh, I recognized (again) how tiring this is – to me, sure, and I can only begin to imagine how much so to any audience (at least anyone not paid to listen!)

John’s question emerged, from among the group, asking me how I would respond to someone presenting my self-evaluation.  Not a new question, of course, I said I’d tell them it (circumstance=deserving) was absurd and to cut myself some slack.

That’s what I left with Thursday evening, not picking it all up again until listening today to the aforementioned edition of Tapestry (which, in all candour, is this loner-wannabe’s “church”-of-choice more than any other these days).   While the Thursday evening mood personified wanted to dislike what I was hearing, I could not.

The stream of consciousness of the past couple of weeks (and blog posts) went like this: forgiveness (others and myself) does NOT mean condoning anything, the letting go frees me up for other things – happier, productive, more self-fulfilling things.

Now what?  (Interestingly, this is one of the questions being asked repeatedly about Egypt this weekend).

Should I pack up for Haiti?  No, I don’t think so – not today at least.

Do I believe that wishing to do anything is a foolhardy distraction from what I’ve been carrying, and working on, for years?  Would a change of course, however big or small, negate everything?  No!

Having lived for so long like I could not imagine surviving another year, never mind quarter-life (and more than occasionally not wishing to!), what small steps can I take to change my attitude?

“Fake it ’til you make it”?

“Act as if…”?

Well, internalizing those phrases would be a pleasant change from the self-defeating mantras, so – if nothing else – let this be a beginning.

I understand, and have experienced, how ‘getting out of self’ can lighten the load a great deal.  Therefore I could do a lot worse with my time than thinking about ways to do this.

I would rather be cut down in the middle of something, only at the moment of my death, than continuously sharpening my focus on seeing it come from an undetermined distance.

“Now what?”

Better to live unto/into hope than fear (which I must always recognize is inherent in any comfortable certainty of hopelessness).

Txt, telephone or…blog…let’s talk about mental illness!


This is Bell Let’s Talk Day.

Multiple Olympic medallist Clara Hughes, lead spokesperson for the campaign, was on CTV News in Toronto today. From among the calls she fielded came this articulate gem, “To kill the pain too often means to kill oneself.”

However, and this was Clara’s message, help and hope are available to those who reach out.

Citing Bell’s initiative today, St. Paul’s (Toronto) MP Dr. Carolyn Bennett, in a Member’s Statement in the House of Commons, called on the federal government to move forward with an anti-stigma campaign. I won’t hold my breath.

To kill the pain too often means to kill oneself.

Something else important to point out is that mental illness is on a spectrum. Major depression, bipolar or schizophrenia are examples of the most serious forms of mental illness but there are plenty of gray areas, too – usually the first signs of something more serious.

My first meeting with a mental health professional came around the time that I was diagnosed HIV-positive, nearly twenty-two years ago.  I was put on the lowest dose of a common anti-depressant and it was only when I took myself off it a few years later (unsupervised, such as I did it, is never a good idea) that I realized how much it had been helping.

Then, years later, what I identified as a distinct lack of depression led me down a path of behaviour quite out of character.  Only at the bottom of the deep hole of my own digging did I again seek help at which time I was diagnosed, over time, with bipolar-II – a variant of the more extreme bipolar or manic-depressive.

Listening to a description of the condition and its symptoms I recognized myself and felt much relief. It explained much about recent feelings and behaviour but also put historic episodes into better perspective.

A change in medication once or twice, trying to minimize effects on my lipids, has resulted in a recent period of stability.

I cannot take my moods for granted, certainly not the good ones.  Yet I feel that, so long as I take my medications (“head meds” or those for HIV/AIDS), I have hope.

Social contact cannot be over-emphasized either.

Unpacking (more) personal baggage


Pardon me for the humourless dissecting of my neuroses

Have I mentioned before having used, for many years, the esteem-busting mantra “If anyone deserves AIDS, I do!”  (Looking at it now I feel like each word should be italicized for emphasis, rather than just one or two.)

What a message: If anyone deserves AIDS, I do!

I bring this up in the context of two recent posts: one on forgiveness, the other on the 30th anniversary of the notorious bath-house raids.

If the mantra was esteem-busting, its sentiments probably go back to my elementary school days and my adult bully in the form of my head teacher/principal – a fan of the Boston Bruins, then coached by one Don Cherry.

Just to make things worse I was flunked in his Grade 4 math class (or “held back” as my mother put it) which meant seven years, not six, under his tutelage. Oh well, at least I was with kids closer to my own age for those last three miserable years.

When I was twelve or thirteen, depending whether I was going into Grade 7 or 8, I was sexually abused by stranger(s) in what I would now recognize as a “cruising” area.

None of this – not the teacher/principal terror, not the sexual exploitation – did I talk about with anyone at the time.  It’s only been more recently that I’ve talked with family members about C.G. – the teacher/acting principal – in quite general, yet unfavourable, terms – the closeness of our families’ friendship much less than I had imagined when I didn’t feel that I could turn him in.

He’s now dead, and has been for a number of years.

The bit on forgiveness I had been reading a couple of weeks ago seemed to be worth exploring – even if only letting go of his neck, metaphorically, is all I can manage to accomplish.

If I, as I often say, connect the dots from the bullying school mentor to the pedophile(s) hanging out by the canal it is understandable how I might have been full of self-loathing.  While the only thing, but it’s huge, that I could have changed about the school situation was to have ratted the guy out to my parents the sexual abuse was a classic case of a kid with confusing, homosexual feelings giving in to his curiosity at the hands of a man probably four times his age.  (I just noticed how much easier it was to write about me in the third person.)  The fact remains that, whether I was curious or not, it was the adult’s job not to go through with it.

It seemed as if I had nothing to do, no place to go, with my inner turmoil.  For that I certainly don’t blame my parents.  These were the early seventies, well before “street-proofing” more than don’t-talk-to-strangers and, besides, any mention of my sexual curiosity would reveal more about my sexual orientation than I was yet prepared to share.

I managed to get through high school quite successfully, using my sense of humour and an ability to maintain good grades to disguise any signs of trouble.  It was in college, Niagara College some six hundred kilometers from home, that the inner twelve-year-old drank adult beverages to excess, and the unraveling began.

There was no LGBT peer support on campus, as there is in the area now thank goodness.  I didn’t know enough about drinking to worry about my experiencing blackouts from the get-go.  Then the trips to Toronto began, where the bars and baths seemed like Utopia.  I well remember looking across the lake from St.Catharines and thinking of Toronto as Oz.

Now I live in Toronto and, well, ‘pay no attention to that man behind the curtain’.

If anyone deserves AIDS, I do!

This little ditty has come up in therapy, and more than once, over the years.  It’s not that I believe it, not at its face value.  But knowing, as I sincerely do, that I have ever believed it inside, on some level, still hurts.  So, as someone in a peer group whispered last week, whatever forgiveness – or letting go – I may feel about past perpetrators I just might have a heap more forgiveness of myself to do yet.

I have never bought, in full, the idea that my casual sexual relationships were merely the exercising of the freedom implied in the “sexual revolution” of my early adulthood and well before.  It has seemed to me, with the benefit of hindsight, that my conduct was more of a reflexive response to the trauma I experienced, sexual and otherwise.

Between my drinking and the constant settling for ‘Mr. Right Away’ I was not ready for – indeed I was afraid of – a serious, intimate relationship.  HIV, and then AIDS, added to the complexities.

So I conclude with this attempt to unpack my old mantra.

‘If anyone deserves AIDS…’

It is an absurd notion, this, that anyone would deserve AIDS – that my sex conduct (or someone else’s intravenous drug use, for example), no matter how early in the epidemic, would – and even should - be rewarded with an incurable disease.  The simplicity of this cause-effect formula, simplicity being the preferred way of thinking among the theory’s proponents on the religious right, boggles the mind.  I had just enough experience with them, a couple of years before coming out, to do some psychic damage.

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Galatians 6:7 (KJV)

How’s that for an effective club with which someone (such as me), lacking self-respect, might put in my suicidal arsenal!

(If anyone deserves AIDS)…I do!’

Messages I gave myself, to back up my feeling of deserving, mostly centered around the idea that my sex conduct – regardless of why it might have been the way it was – seemingly left me vulnerable, with eyes wide open one would almost think, to infection.

I blamed myself for everything: from not reporting Mr. G, to giving in to sexual curiosity even though – as I pointed out earlier – the onus for restraint is on the adult in these situations.  I blamed my drinking, at least in part, on these secrets which led to lack of good judgment in my sexual pursuits as a young adult.

How many ways do I need to cut myself some slack?

I recognize this ‘unpacking’ was mostly at the intellectual level.  There’s still some emotional work to do when, I believe, much more self-forgiveness will have the chance to emerge.

30 years “out” – February 5 (when Toronto cops swept through the baths)


If ever I’ve had a “But for the grace of God, there go I” occasion (even though I have problems with that expression) it would have to have been February 5, 1981 – thirty years ago today.

At 11 p.m. that night, more than 150 police carried out simultaneous raids on four of Toronto’s most popular bath houses, arresting close to 300 men. “Operation Soap”, as the police named the investigation, is very well recalled here by Pink Triangle Press. It was the largest mass arrest in Canada since the October Crisis of 1970 and the late Rick Bébout’s account of the raids and the aftermath live on here. This was long before police “sensitivity training”.

Had it not been a weeknight I might very well have been swept up in the raids as I was a frequent visitor to bath houses on my almost-weekly trips from St. Catharines to Toronto bars and baths.

Until the events of that night I was leading a tortuous double life as a twenty-one-year-old, secretly trying to extinguish my homosexuality during the week as part of a conservative church and inevitably giving in to my natural instincts on the weekend (or whenever my days off happened to be) in the anonymity offered by the big city across the lake.

I came out to my parents, writing them a letter.

I was livid when the pastor of the church wrote a letter to the local paper praising the actions of the Toronto police. He was driven from the church not too long after due to an unrelated split in the congregation.

Assuming that television cameras would catch me protesting, following the raids, I came out to my parents, writing them a letter. Their positive response included them telling me that my brother, Craig, had come out to them a few years earlier. Understandably, neither they nor Craig were interested in telling me so long as I was part of the fundamentalist church.

The bath raids brought me out of the closet, frankly feeling more angry than liberated, and I count myself among the thousands in Toronto who can trace their passion for gay liberation politics through the tumultuous events of the raids and the subsequent massive demonstrations. I hung out with Rick, Chris Bearchell (who gave me a button which read “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”) and others, at a few meetings/parties at The Body Politic. I later wrote, infrequently granted, for TBP (the excellent forerunner to Pink Triangle Press’ Xtra!) – particularly when police arrested men having sex in public washrooms in Welland and St. Catharines.

Niagara Regional Police released the names and addresses of the accused. Most media outlets ran them – before trial – including my employer, but not before I engaged in a heated argument with my boss. He insisted on “the public’s right to know” (read gossip) while I argued that the extreme sensitivity of the charges far exceeded the seriousness of the allegations.

Very few of the accused fought the charges. In rural west St Catharines in January, 1985 a 42-year-old father of two, and a Sunday school teacher, was found dead in his car, having soaked himself with gasoline and set off his lighter. Just days earlier, he had been at the Fairview Mall. Three hours before his suicide, he had been charged with gross indecency.

He missed his trial; didn’t enter a plea. He was never convicted and yet he, and many others, had already been punished by the police and the media. The St. Catharines Standard was an outstanding exception, not only witholding the names of the accused but also doing a series of reports on the phenomenon of anonymous sex, even “tearoom sex”.

It was heart-warming to find so many of the activists with whom I had cut my political teeth, in the aftermath of the bath raids, now playing key roles in Toronto’s response to the AIDS crisis.

Using a pseudonym, so as not to upset management at the St. Catharines radio station where I was employed (I’d already caused a ruckus by “coming out” in the local paper), I worked with other activists on various information and political action campaigns through my years there in the 1980s.

When I was diagnosed with HIV, and then AIDS, not long after moving to Toronto in 1988 it was heart-warming to find so many of the activists with whom I had cut my political teeth, in the aftermath of the bath raids, now playing key roles in Toronto’s response to the AIDS crisis. Rick Bébout was among them until his death in 2009.

The Pride parades in Toronto, now held each June, got their biggest shot in the arm following the raids. What had only loosely been called a “community” was now a community indeed. We became very adept organizers and campaigners of all sorts.

Another of the lasting legacies of the raids is the almost universal disdain with which the Toronto Sun is held in the LGBT community. The paper, and most notably columnist Claire Hoy, were constant cheerleaders of the brains behind the raids at the Attorney-General’s office and Metro Toronto Police’s 52 Division. Ironically relations with the police have greatly improved over the years.

The Sun? For “old-timers”, at least, not so much.

What follows is a full-length documentary about the bath raids entitled “Track Two”. I well remember how proud the community was when it was released. It is available, and in smaller segments as well, from Xtra‘s YouTube site.

In fact I’ll lead off with one of those segments because I thought it was so funny and I was mere steps away from the main subject, author Margaret Atwood, during the filming. I even remember that date, February 20.  This was an event at St. Lawrence Market North, a fundraiser for legal defense and for future political advocacy. (The evening also featured a then up-and-coming a cappella group The Nylons.)

Enjoy Margaret’s deadpan!

Now the full 87 minute documentary: