Wearing HIV (updated)


Please read the comments to this post…Jay provided some very valuable feedback!

For more than a couple of years I have had this “HIV inside” t-shirt and I can count on one hand, with two or three fingers tied together, how many times I have been bold enough to wear it in public.

It’s not as if I don’t look like I have had HIV for a long time.  People in the gay village are familiar with ‘the look’.  I’m as thin as a rail from head to toe with places that are supposed to puff out instead puckering in – specifically my cheeks, all four of them 🙂

Craig, during his last years, was thinner still.  The polymyositis had withered his thighs almost to the size of my forearms.  My legs aren’t a whole lot bigger, mind you, and it hurts to sit on typical café chairs, or even home dining room furniture, with my non-existent ass. 

Alas, I complain.  But I was going somewhere with this.

I am looking for a word to describe the looksism – and maybe that’s the word – that I see within the gay community, to be sure, as well as in the media in general.  Our value as persons is so often, in my view, assessed by our physical attributes.  I was reminded of this by Pissed Off Housewife’s rant against fat-as-a-human-right (if that properly summarizes her point). Obviously I have no personal experience with being overweight but, while I hate being this thin, at least I can see my toes.

Here’s how I see the looksism on Church Street (Toronto’s gay village), and it hits its peak around Pride Festival time (ironic?), which begins next Monday. The teens and twenty-somethings are ideally either thin twinks (which, for their age, is perfectly acceptable – even desireable to some) or they have been working out in weight rooms since high school and are, therefore, quite muscular.  Of course there are exceptions which maybe I ought to focus on more.

The thirty-to-forty year olds are, again ideally, built like brick shit-houses as a result of hiding in gyms all winter or are self-identified bears. These bears (oh, yes, and cubs), in my view, have a healthier attitude (if not a healthier diet) about their looks. In fact they actually aren’t the least bit attracted to flamboyant twinks or the gym bunnies. Again, there are exceptions.  Perhaps, by default, I am in the bear/cub camp although, having said that, I must say that I am not too dogmatic about my preferences. Okay it’s more than a pulse that’s required, to be sure, 🙂 but I would just say that I have eclectic taste.  What I have lacked is the self-confidence to pursue a meaningful relationship with anyone.

So if confession is good for the soul, and not just because of some edict from The Holy See, I have revealed a little of my inferiority complex/pet peeve within my “community”.

I know that it is not just the gay male community that focuses on the superficial, as evidenced by western culture’s fascination with celebrities, but at this time of year, as Pride unfolds close to home, I sometimes feel a little less than.

End of whine.  The pity party has adjourned to the bathroom.

So, if wearing my “HIV Inside” shirt seems a little inconsistent with my low physical self-esteem, maybe by flaunting it I am empowering myself out of this looksist funk in which I find myself.

Considering how much I have survived (do a search within this blog under trauma for starters), May being the 18th anniversary of testing HIV-positive for example, I need not be a shrinking violet. Nor do I seek pity. Honestly.

In my best moments I can appreciate, rather than envy or resent, the physical beauty of the human condition.  And we all have more beauty than we can recognize in ourselves.

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14 thoughts on “Wearing HIV (updated)

  1. Kenn,
    You lost me with a lot of the lingo,Bear/cub?,twink?,but not withstanding that,I see the same little boy that I remember from the farm,only slightly taller and with more facial hair.Your writings exude beauty,charm,wit and I could go on but you would have to send me more money!
    You are too hard on yourself.
    I guess we`re all guilty at some point of judging people by looks.
    I can remember Aunt Glady`s(Your grandmother`s sister) saying about Craig “he must be going through his hippie phase”.If I can remember correctly it had something to do with sandals and long(ish) hair.But I know She and Uncle Joe thought the world of him.
    I really need to get that gay handbook.Please explain twink and bear/cub?I know it doesn`t refer to food(twinkies) and Yogi(bear).

  2. So good to be reminded of Gladys and Joe. Used to visit them on day trips from Perth to Ottawa with my grandmother.

    Twink: sort of the young, party guys – boyish, often slim, maybe a bit on the effeminate side (whether it’s genetic or just “in your face” rebelliousness)

    Bear/cub: Older/younger or plus-size/slim…they like to just be themselves as they are whether hairy (no waxing for these guys, myself included) or a little over-weight (in some cases alot over-weight). Tend to like to snuggle a lot 🙂

    These are generalizations but I hope I’ve shed a little more light.

  3. You have, and lets hope Intel doesn`t go after you because of that shirt logo.
    I don`t know if you remember Dennis the Menace(the show).You and your Dad look like the actor that played that kid`s father.No idea who it was.

  4. Oh, Intel would not know what hit them if they came after me! These days I can be quite scrappy! I got the shirt from an Australian blogger (see Paul Kidd in my HIV/AIDS links) who is even more…frank, shall we say…about things than me! 🙂

  5. Hi there.

    Few concerns about your post.

    I am I guess what you consider not healthy.

    I rarely go to bars but I do exercise and go to the gym. I am in great shape and feel very healthy. I live adjacent to the gay village but usually only watch the parade at pride and thats it for pride for me. I really take issue with your view that bears have a healthier attitude. I don’t understand your use of healthy here. Bears are obese and being obese is very unhealthy. Are you suggesting people are only happy when they are completely oblivious to their own health situation?

    A friend of mine who WAS a bear but is now only a cub nearly died because of what you considered “healthy” from a myriad of conditions resulting from being overweight such as heart issues, gall bladder, then a post operation wound that provided a open pathway into his body cavity for 6 months because his size prevented it from healing properly.

    Health and happiness are very closely linked.

    You also suggest that gay men in their thirties are either obese or body builders. Thats is quite the stereotype you are perpetuating. I would have to say at least 80% of gay men look like their straight counterparts.

    I think the problem you may have had was judging the gay community based on what you saw parading around the village which tend to be body builder types showing off and the bear types that could care less how they look or who they jump in the sack with. The majority of the gay population no longer centres their life around a ghetto, only people looking to pick up or just stare at you do that.

    Not a very fair or truthful post in my opinion. Actually it seems to be perpetuating stereotypes.

  6. Jay,
    I really appreciate your considered comments, more considered than what I’ll admit was an ill-tempered rant on my part, and I do not disagree with any of your points.
    Not to make excuses but it’s been a hell of a spring for me and the buzz on Church Street (surely not the heart and soul of the gay community) had me feeling a little down on things.
    I am grateful for your reminder that the Church Street ‘ghetto’ is not the be-all-and-end-all of my LGBT community of peers, from across the city and beyond, which has sustained and supported me, emotionally and otherwise, for many years.
    I’m going to edit in a “read the comments” suggestion into the post because I really do appreciate your reality check!

  7. No prob.

    I read this blog often and that post didn’t jive with this blog.

    I figured out years ago that the “ghetto” is not the entire scene and slowly it is becoming less of one. We are accepted now for the most part and the city is now my village.

    I avoid Church Street with a passion mainly because its not representative anymore and tends to make one feel badly about ones self. The majority of gay men I know go elsewhere these days, usually Queen Street West.

  8. Hi again Jay:
    You’re so right. The rant was, I would hope it might be said, quite out-of-character for me but I’m going to be self-critical enough to leave it up as evidence of my fallibility 🙂
    I live between Cabbagetown and Church Street in a fantastic co-op half a block north of that little red Anglican Church on Carlton Street. I really ought to orient my strolls to Cabbagetown more often than Church Street – it really does do a number on me!
    Thank you for checking this blog out. It’s nice to get to know my reader(s)

  9. Can I ask a dumb question?
    I apologize in advance because I`m sure it`s going to offend someone.If it`s even dumber than I think it is,please just answer me privately and don`t post it here but I`ve always wondered about this.
    Here goes.
    I`ve only seen bits of gay pride parades on TV news etc and they always show what I would consider maybe what I might call very flamboyant people.
    Is the gay community sort of divided.By that I mean,are there some that think this flamboyant behaviour is ok and it helps the cause or is it that they just don`t care either way.I`m cringing as I write this because I know I`m insulting some people.Maybe I just think this is flamboyant behavior because I`m quite shy and reserved myself.
    Please feel free to edit out anything that is very dumb and/ or offensive.

  10. Checked out Paul Kidd.
    I like.
    Anyone that introduces his chocolate lab as the newest member of his family and invites people to wish his dog happy birthday is my kinda guy.
    Thanks for pointing him out.

  11. Jamie,

    I know that some of the things I write about are not familiar to the majority of potential readers so, trust me, there are no “dumb questions”. Now my answers, well, that’s another matter! 🙂

    The TV coverage of pride parades is, you’re quite right, typically very brief and it therefore tends to show the most colourful people. This is not necessarily bad, although it does irk many people who want the parade to be seen as having something for everyone. For example virtually every part of society is represented in the Toronto parade – religious organizations, labour unions, recreation groups, businesses (major corporations as well as neighbourhood businesses), and many, many more groups too numerous to mention.

    The parade route is crowded with 800,000 or so spectators, a large portion of whom would rather watch the parade than walk in it. Fair enough. Having both marched in, and watched, the spectacle I can tell you that when walking in the parade we do not get a good sense of all the other parade participants and yet a flashy parade, and crowds to watch it, are both required for it to be a success.

    The parade would not be the eye-catching experience that it is were we all just wearing our Tilley hats and casual clothes, as I usually do, marching with our church, our club or whatever. Having been an activist here since the very first parade, however, I can tell you that the whole atmosphere has changed from one of a protest march – when there were basic human rights being fought for – to a Mardi Gras or Carnaval event where the community goes all out to celebrate the diversity, of opinion and culture, within the community. There are also questions, from some, about whether the parade has become too commercialized. Others see that as something to celebrate as our community’s buying power is being acknowledged and tapped into.

    So, I know I have used “flamboyant” to describe some people. But that, it could be argued, shows a discomfort with a part of me that still feels it is sometimes more important to fit in than stand out. I would not want to generalize and assume it is the same for everyone. Having said that, however, as I have grown more and more comfortable with the basics, at least, of who I am it is easier to enjoy – really enjoy – the wide variety of people on display for the parade.

    Thanks for the questions, Jamie!

    Let the discussion continue…

  12. So sorry I’ve never commented before–I love comments on my blog, and should extend the same to others–

    I came often when your brother was ill, but really didn’t know what to say except “I’m thinking of you,” and that seemed so piddly when compared to what you and your family were going through…

    My response to the ‘fattism’ issue has been (and hopefully will always be) that we are all simply muddling through, doing the best we can at any given moment given what life has handed us–helping another traveler along the way is infinitely preferable to knocking them down or hating them for who they are or what they look like.

    By the way–the only problem with that shirt is that it focuses on a teeny-tiny part of ALL that’s inside you.

  13. Hi Karen,

    I see your link to “Housewife” so I understand, and very much appreciate, how her posts about me – especially at the time of my brother’s crisis – brought you here.

    I’ll try to say something profound over at your blog when I have a chance.

    Thanks for writng!

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