“A Christian who happens to be a lesbian”, Susan Mabey’s is a name which has been more than incidental in the long struggle for LGBT inclusion in the United Church of Canada. Cited by the Chaplin Award committee for her recent bridge-building, even as a self-described ‘lightning rod’, as the multi-ethnic Toronto school where she teaches Grade 2 struggled with the new provincially-mandated health and sex education program, Susan drew national attention of a different kind in the early 1980s when she was refused ordination in the United Church of Canada due to her sexual orientation. (She very quickly established herself as a minister of Christos Metropolitan Community Church at a time when the largely-LGBT congregation was beginning to be devastated by AIDS illness and deaths.)
Her 1999 Doctor of Ministry thesis was entitled “When the Valley of the Shadow is Littered with Bones: Ministry in the Midst of Multiple Bereavements”.
The Chaplin Memorial Award was established following the death of my brother, Craig, in 2007. It is meant to lift up the outstanding vocation of an openly lgbtq person. Susan will be presented with the award as part of the Convocation of United Theological College, in Montreal this May, the tenth anniversary of Craig’s death.
This coming Thursday I am having a number of teeth and partial teeth extracted as my mouth make-over goes into high gear (This is the work that is more typically done by the fifth year of one’s sobriety but, as I didn’t think I’d live long enough to bother, I’ve waited until the tenth.) Yesh to life, as it were.
I am reminded of an occasion several years ago when I had both of my front teeth extracted. I distinctly remember going to see Les Miserables on stage with my friend William sans teeth and under the influence of a couple of Tylenol 3s.
No such plans this Thursday evening. Perhaps I’ll rent the forgettable film version of Les Mis.
It is a measure of self-compassion on this Bell Let’s Talk Day when I can slow down and remind myself of where I am and where I’ve come from.
I have a long history of, and recovery from, substance abuse – chiefly, but not solely, alcohol – begun shortly after a period of sexual abuse in my adolescence – which followed an elementary school teacher experience with hell.
Since I was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1989 I have been treated for depression, and later bipolar II which is treated with medications and talk therapy.
I have been through a lot but I’m always gratified to hear of other people’s struggles on days like this.
I describe myself, rightly so I think, as a long-term survivor of AIDS and HIV. I offer as evidence my being diagnosed with HIV in 1989 and my long, slow recovery from AIDS-related Cryptosporidiosis in the early 90s – the effects of which shadow me to this day.
Over the years, due to a serious accident and other incidents, I have also been treated for major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II.
My mood has been mostly stable, arching towards a bit of depression after Christmas.
With the approach of Bell Let’s Talk I find myself taking stock of my mental state and wondering, what’s next?
While the good folks at the University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry work on my smile in a major . long overdue way, I feel optimistic, not having realized how isolating broken teeth have affected me.
But now what?
I sometimes still tie my survival, and my right to pull the plug, to my mother’s life (no pressure, Mom!), having made a commitment to myself to live as long as she does.
But if I get a nice set of teeth after all this oral surgery is over, I won’t want to squander all that with a shortened life – certainly not of my own doing.
The blank page stares up at me, “World AIDS Day 2016”. That will be Thursday.
It’s not like it used to be when life was much more urgent, desperate. I think of the dead. I still sorely miss my friends, friends from our twenties and thirties. Gone. It’s like Remembrance Day, but I don’t like the war analogies that go along with that. I wonder what they would have been like had they lived with me into my upper fifties. If only treatments could have saved them. It’s been twenty years since the 1996 World AIDS Conference in Vancouver which was bursting with excitement over the promise of new treatments, combination therapies nicknamed “the cocktail”. I was on three, and then four drug combinations as soon as they became available, eliminating ones with severe side effects only to find new side effects with the alternatives. Lipodystrophy – fatty humps – and lipoatrophy – loss of muscle mass in my face, limbs and butt. So I sit on a cushion a lot. It’s chronic but manageable, don’tchaknow? I remember World AIDS Day 1993 when I took a bouquet of wild flowers to the AIDS Memorial. CBC News followed me around as I placed single flowers by the names of individuals I knew until I tearfully ran out of flowers before I had finished. That was the year of Jim’s last Christmas and I went home and wrote the first of many annual holiday letters in hopes of cheering him up. There was the year I put a call out for writers to submit stories of how HIV/AIDS affected them – and was pleasantly surprised with the response.
HIV is still here and, despite some attempts to downplay it, so is AIDS. HIV, and expectations that I would not live long, have rotted my teeth. As a yes-to-life gesture I am endeavouring to get my teeth fixed which will probably be a wholesale replacement with dentures. This is not merely cosmetic, though it is that, too. I am not eating as well as I could were I to have a full mouth of comfortable teeth. So the good folks at the U of T School of Dentistry have begun to fix me up. I can no longer deny that I might live long enough to need these damn teeth. All that remains is to come up with the funds.
My friends didn’t live long enough to have dental problems. I didn’t think I would either. As crises go, I’ll take this one.
As heard on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning today Wood Haven Country Lodge in the Kawarthas opens its heart next weekend to women and children from area shelters, offering them a get-away in the busy holiday season. David explained to Matt Galloway that when his partner died of AIDS several years ago, he decided to extend an invitation around Christmas to women and children who might enjoy a getaway in Buckhorn.
This tremendous act of generosity reminds me of similar hospitality extended by Sue Johanson, during the 90s, to groups of people living with HIV/AIDS. Sue, of “Talking Sex” fame, turned over her guest cottage on Lake Simcoe to support groups from ACT for week-long getaways throughout the summer. Lifelong memories were made by many people who might otherwise never have escaped the city.
David is challenging other Bed & Breakfasts and lodges to follow his lead at a time of year when bookings are down and the opportunities to spread happiness are way up!