AIDS is still here but so am I!


Submitted to Aless.ca today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To say that Craig and I became closer, after I had withdrawn from my ‘doth-protest-too-much’ stance against homosexuality, would be an understatement.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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AccolAIDS much appreciated!


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

I am very appreciative of this vote of confidence!

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

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

For those who loved Kyle


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

Granny Clampett imitation? Kenneth does a great one!

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

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

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

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

The first picture shocked me into recognition.

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

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

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

Trans PULSE where he was a founding member.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gudbuy t’jane on trans and suicide

Wherefore art thou, Cardinals? – Oh!


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

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

No thanks to the Cardinal!

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

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

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

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

Order in the Court!

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


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

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

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

Well done Perth!