Review (and a personal retrospective) – Behind the Candelabra


With only the most scant help from Google I have been trying to remember more about my personal, professional meeting with Liberace (“Please, call me Lee.”)

It was some time in the mid-1980s, while I was working at a St. Catharines, Ontario radio station, when the subject of last night’s premiere of Behind the Candelabra was making one of his periodic appearances at Melody Fair Theater on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Tonawanda, New York – a suburb of Buffalo about a forty-five minute drive from St. Catharines.

My first impressions of Melody Fair were that it had seen better days (and it has since closed, demolished in 2010). The same could be said for Liberace who, after all, was some eight years older than my father who would have seemed “old” to anyone else in their twenties!

The meeting was what I have since learned was a very routine set-up between journalists, celebrity-chasers, and their self-important subjects. My allotted time of ten minutes or so was no more, on less than anyone else in line claiming “exclusive” access from their particular micro-market’s point-of-view.

I had come out relatively recently and took it upon myself to use my time with a slightly dressed down version of himself to tease out Woodward and Bernstein-worthy details of his private life.

What did he like to doon his days off, infrequent though they may have been?

Spend time at one of his several homes. He liked to cook for his “friends” (none of the bawdy details I would have liked to hear, of course, and portrayed in Beyond the Candelabra and Scott Thorson’s palimony-inspired book.

That’s all I remember about our conversation – riveting I know – having been derailed in my aim of making news out of what was inevitably to be a fluffy entertainment piece.

I grew up feeling a lot of antipathy towards the flamboyant, yet conflicted (a self-professed Roman Catholic) and ultimately talented pianist. This was no role model I would ever want to emulate, should I ever own my own homosexuality.

His age, I suppose, would also have been a factor in his denial of the obvious.

It was, however, his denial of what ultimately killed him that left me feeling quite angry – with him and his church. He never acknowledged dying of AIDS, swearing everyone to secrecy, which of course illustrated the stigma of the times (worse even than now) in his over-the-top way.

I couldn’t separate my feelings for him as I watched last evening, which is not to say that I couldn’t also relate to the inner struggles while recalling my annoyances with him.

Michael Douglas had a hell of a job to do which I found to be well done and credible. Matt Damon also proved himself to be a convincing actor in a gay role and a sympathetic character. In a supporting role I thought Rob Lowe stole the show.

I will watch it again, while it’s still in the HBO lineup, and while I don’t necessarily expect my feelings for Liberace to change I know I am capable of seeing him – jewel-encrusted warts and all.

Coming out as the end of a beginning


This morning on CTV’s Canada AM Kevin Newman, of Question Period fame, was promoting a very important segment on this weekend’s W5 program (Saturday at 7 p.m. ET) and, in the accompanying online article he wrote, “Coming out is toward the end of the process for our gay children” – when learning to accept it is just starting for parents. A very important insight, I thought, as I recalled my own process.

(This weekend’s W5 will not only include Newman’s gay son, Alex, but will focus on out gay athlete @ScottHeggart who I wrote about last spring.)

Kevin’s empathy and insights are quite remarkable, perhaps more so to any families who have not yet been faced with a child’s dramatic struggle towards self-acceptance, and “coming out (as) toward the end of the process for our gay children”.

By the time that I came out to my family in 1981, at the age of 21, I had been through a whirlwind of attempts to make peace with myself but, almost completely untethered and in the shadow of a traumatic childhood and adolescence, I had done so in the fog of abuse of alcohol and other drugs, and in a rampage of sexual activity at a time when HIV/AIDS was just beginning to permeate our collective conscience.  So much living before I could be sure enough to come out!  Notwithstanding the exceptionally loving acceptance of my family more than one reckless genie had been let out of the bottle.

As I look upon the rest of my life as recovery I am optimistic for the future of younger members of my community with helpful, empathetic media coverage and young role models and their families so willing to share their stories.

W5’s ‘OFFSIDE’ airs this Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on CTV, along with livechat at CTVNews.ca

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.

Whispering “Help!” from the windmills (or silos) of my mind


Those of you who have followed me, be it through my writing, my tweets, or home from the convenience store will have picked up on the fact that I have a fair amount on my plate.

I’m a very slow eater.

I recently joined a support group for long-term survivors of HIV/AIDS – in my case it’s been no less than 23 years. Even more recently I quit the group when I convinced myself that there was something to the quizzical looks I was getting from existing supportive friends, surprised that I might have anything I couldn’t discuss with them.

Particularly those who were also HIV-positive; also long-term survivors.

It felt good to formally end my relationship, short though it was, with the “support group” and to tell them why.

I don’t want to compartmentalize my life any more than I’m ever convinced I have to – if at all.

I want to safely, sanely integrate the many facets of my life – which too often feel like they’re in individual silos – into something that I can present to anyone I choose.

To recap what loyal readers already know:

I am a survivor of childhood trauma at the hands of an elementary school head teacher/principal.

I was bullied – by him and by peers both in early grades and in high school. I survived.

In my adolescence I was sexually abused by strangers, i.e. more than once, in a part of my home-town that I would only, as an adult, recognize as a “cruising area” for men seeking casual sex with other men (or, since I was there, with boys).

I buried that sexual trauma until I described the first incident in the third person at a HIV/AIDS-related workshop in 1990, some eighteen years after it started.

Then I buried it again, for the most part, but it kept reappearing particularly in the context of dealing with alcohol and other addiction.

I sought support for the addiction but only occasionally mentioned the trauma(s), believing that help was not available as one-stop shopping. (It was also too much to deal with in the context of my HIV progression to AIDS-related illness, the support and care of friends who have long since succumbed, and my inability to stay sober for more than five to seven years at a time maximum.)

When my brother Craig died tragically in 2007, and I was drinking at the time even if not in the presence – not even the same town – of my grieving family I came to a critical point of despair. Thoughts of suicide both tormented and comforted me.

Earlier that spring I had considered running for political office. Me! On long-term disability insurance! I had also wasted the bulk of an insurance settlement from a 2003 accident as if I wasn’t going to live long enough to enjoy it.

I was assessed and diagnosed with/as (I’m not sure which) bipolar II, one step on the spectrum from the more notorious bipolar disorder or manic-depressive illness, as it used to be called.

Believe it or not it was a relief to get a better understanding of what had begun, to me, simply as an absence of depression – for which I had been treated since around the time I tested HIV-positive – and to make sense of what had clearly become episodes of hypomania and depression.

The cautionary experiences of my peers, plus the general stigma still associated with mental illness, have made it difficult to articulate all that I have been discovering about myself as I review the years but one thing is for sure: I can no longer just be a gay, HIV-positive and (to some a recovering addict) friend or relative to some while hiding the largely successful, but ongoing, treatment of my psychiatric illness. The silos drive me crazy – and anyone with a passing acquaintance of farming will know that silos can spontaneously combust!

I do not know to whom any, or all, of this is news. Please let me know. Maybe this is just a rant I occasionally need to let rip. My emotions are not helped by a temporary physical malady today but, then again, I know that’s what it takes to move me sometimes!

The bottom line is that I want to be able to describe the whole picture, even if I mix oil with pastels, chalk with water. The silos aren’t all filled at the same time, usually, but that’s just the point. I don’t want silos any more. Could you at least help me with a better analogy?  I would be so grateful.

There are at least a few, if not many, important people with whom I need to have my own conversation about…


…this!

It’s certainly not too early to think about Mental Illness Awareness Week

When I read the Ottawa Citizen article (linked above) I immediately thought, “Mom will have read that yesterday,” and what an opening it would give me to discuss my own mental health history with her.

Not long after sobering up five+ years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar II and, although it might seem strange, the news came as a relief to me. It helped to explain behaviour, over and above (and below) drunkenness and depression, which had dogged me most of my adult life. The eventual absence – thanks to treatment – of depression, which became hypomania, went undiagnosed for so long because I quite enjoyed said absence of depression, despite the danger, stupidity and recklessness which accompanied it.

Of course, as my 1,002 posts here can illustrate – at least in part – there’s been more going on in my life than depression so, absent or otherwise, there have been many other factors contributing to my state of being and my sense of self.

I cannot deny, and quite enjoy reporting, that seeking help – even if it took sinking to “rock bottom” to do so – has me feeling mentally stronger than I have in a long time, the occasional extraneous screw-ups notwithstanding.

For that I am truly thankful.

My 1,000th post! (with help from The Equality Mantra’s “A Letter to My Sons”)


What I really like about this is that it could just as easily have been said by my Mom or Dad. (They said and wrote almost exactly similar sentiments when Craig and I came out 31 and 35 years ago, respectively.)

So there you have it, according to WordPress and Price-Waterhouse accountants, my one-thousandth post!

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!

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!

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

Rest in Peace, Jamie Hubley


“I’m tired of life, really. It’s so hard, I’m sorry, I can’t take it anymore.”

“I don’t want my parents to think this is their fault, either. I love my mom and dad. It’s just too hard. I don’t want to wait three more years, this hurts too much.”

As carefully as he worded his final blog entry, the pain being experienced by 15-year old Jamie Hubley of Ottawa is clear and heart-breaking. Jamie ended his life on Friday.

His father, Kanata Councillor Allan Hubley. released a statement citing bullying as one of the factors in Jamie’s death.

In a blog post from three weeks ago, Jamie wrote that he hated being the only openly gay guy attending A.Y. Jackson Secondary School in Kanata.

“I hate being the only open gay guy in my school… It f***ing sucks, I really want to end it. Like all of it, I not getting better theres 3 more years of highschool left…How do you even know It will get better?”

He also said neither the medications he was taking nor psychological therapy was working to alleviate depression.

Bullied as I was – by peers, yes, but far worse by a teacher – in elementary school and then by the back-of-the-bus crowd in high school, I don’t know sometimes how I could have survived when I can relate so strongly to the tragedy of youth suicides, and the hopelessness preceding them, today.  I certainly scoffed at all claims by my parents that these were the best years of my life!  At least the “It Gets Better” campaign makes no such present-day claims.

Jamie chose figure skating over hockey.  So that makes bullying him okay?  As someone who chose the band and drama club over any sport I can relate to following one’s passions over the pack mentality.  I would trade my worst day of rehearsing Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid or Lionel Bart’s Oliver! over my best shift on the ice trying to skate away from the puck.

As is more often the case nowadays than in my school in the 1970s Jamie not only knew he was gay but was open about it and he bravely tried to start a Gay-Straight Alliance in his school.  He was a courageous kid who did not live to see the many accolades and tributes from around the world.

My chosen method of indirect suicide, I guess, was the prolonged torture of excessive drinking, where some days were better than others for a long time thus numbing me to the damage that I was doing.  What had started as experimentation in high school plunged into the real thing once I was away at college.  Struggling to accept myself – let alone seek the acceptance of others – made for easily identifiable signs of problem-drinking just as I was turning eighteen (the last year anyone in Ontario could legally drink at that age).  These were hellish years as I tried to fit in to the socially conservative milieu I found myself in while barn-storming around looking for love in all the gay places (Buffalo and Toronto).

I guess that’s it then.  As unworthy as I felt, as hopeless as life seemed, my faith that an intoxicant of one form or another would at least temporarily change the way I felt probably kept me sufficiently comforted – however delusional – that even the frequent thought of ramming into an overpass abutment usually came after I was safely home.

“It Gets Better” only when teenagers such as Jamie, and peers who are on different paths, are taught about the varieties of sexual orientation early enough – before individuals have even begun to experience strong feelings – so that everyone might find her/his place and grow into as non-judgmental a school environment as possible.

Clearly setting out his last few words, it’s such a pity that Jamie was so desperate and feeling so devoid of hope.

I hope that his parents take Jamie at his word that they bear no blame for his final decision.

It’s just so sad for his survivors to say good-bye.

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.

June 18 proclaimed as Pride Day in the Town of Perth, Ontario!


Imagine my delight, and yes pride, to learn that LGBT Lanark County had won its bid for a Pride Day proclamation in Perth for June 18. (This was also the first I’d heard of LGBT Lanark County. Their web site is pretty impressive!)

The Perth Courier, and an advertiser-householder known locally as the EMC, both had news during my recent visit of the April 19 town council meeting where, just as proceedings began, Mayor John Fenik made the proclamation (among others, including Parkinson’s Awareness and International Building Safety). The Pride proclamation was greeted by applause from members and friends of LGBT Lanark County.

The proclamation will be celebrated with a dance at the Civitan Hall on June 18, featuring both a live band and d.j. Tickets are $15 in advance (available at Shadowfax) or $20 at the door.

Congratulations to LGBT Lanark County. Community events in small towns are an amazing affirmation of the founding spirit of Pride!

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:

“It Gets Better” tops 2010 list


Dan Savage and husband Terry Miller started something in 2010 that Mark Kelley and the CBC Connect crew put at the top of Connect 10: A  Countdown of the most popular stories online in 2010.

Responding to highly-publicized cases of bullying and suicides of gays and lesbians, the “It Gets Better” project was launched with this video on September 21.

It is difficult to watch this and not remember, with horror, the pain of high school.

I have heard of at least two suicides this autumn by people closer to my own age still haunted by bullying, present-day homophobia or other trauma in their youth.

There are, of course, many others who do not attract the same attention as did those in the United States which, in rapid succession, followed a similar pattern: homophobic violence or harassment and then suicide.

LGBT community activists in Toronto chimed in with an “It Gets Better” video of their own: