Re: How a change of heart led to a backlash from the ‘Church of Nasty’


How a change of heart led to a backlash from the church of nasty

Dear Mr.Coren,

I have been a follower, if not always an admirer, for many years.

Your change of heart, more quantifiable with each successive column I read from or about you, has touched me a great deal.

Suffice to say I weathered some of your former comments, written or on CTS, no worse for wear but, so convincing were you, I find I need to pinch myself to take in how you have changed.

I am by no means a model gay citizen. A recovering alcoholic, HIV-positive for 26 years, and a gay rights activist since 1981, my journey seemed to be at right angles to yours. I don’t know that I have ever scorned you in public but, to the extent that I have resented you, I apologize. I nevertheless admired the strength with which you held your convictions.

Please work on Dr. McVety 😉

All the best,

Kenn Chaplin
Toronto

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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:

World AIDS Day 2010 – Stories – 2 – “This friend living with AIDS who gave me so much…” by Dominique Gauvreau


Each author in this series has generously given me permission to post their work. The views and experiences shared are their own. Where applicable, links will also be provided at the end of the piece.

This is the World AIDS Day, 2010 entry in Dominique Gauvreau’s blog Rencontre sous le Chêne de Mamré (Meeting under the Oak of Mamre):

(Google translation edited by KC)

 

“This friend living with AIDS who gave me so much…”

 

 

There are people who cross our path at random and without knowing just how they transform us.

In the 1980s, a mysterious illness was striking the gay community in Montreal. Acquaintances were dying around me. I was terrified. At that time I was not “out”, essentially living in a gay underground. I hid because I was ashamed of who I was. I hid because I was told again and again that being gay was against nature, immoral, abnormal. Imagine being more affected by what was dubbed the “gay cancer.”

I entered adulthood marked by a childhood in the holy water, where the Catholic Church thought it was the only one which could possibly save me from eternal fire. I was influenced more by the existence of the devil, and fear of damnation, than by a God who loves unconditionally. At this time of my life, I was still marked by homophobic attitudes, having suffered beatings and taunts at school. I was so ashamed that for fifteen years I kept secret a sudden sexual assault in late adolescence.

My silence and my imprisonment in these underground confines led to hidden relationships – dangerous, anonymous, without boundaries and dead to any fear of taking medications, alcohol and street drugs to gild my non-existence. That led to a deep depression. Well-meaning Christians stretched out their hands to heal me, yet told me that marriage was the solution to my very gay problem.

I didn’t get it, seeming to sink further. Naturally! That God rejects and hates gays was well known. I did not deserve to live.

I met Marcel at a party. He told me his life story. He was one of the first I knew who spoke openly about his HIV status. Marcel was a believer and soothed by his faith even though it was very different from mine.

We did not get together too often. We met once by chance walking on Ste-Catherine. Pleased to meet and share some time together, without a pre-arranged date, we went to the chic restaurant “Cristal” in the gay village.

One day as I paced the streets, feeling out of it, at a very low point in my life, religious and social tensions at their lowest, Marcel accosted me with his big smile, hugged me and told me how much he loved me. There was universal love, unconditional. I firmly believe that his actions that day prevented me from throwing myself under a subway train. He was kind of my angel of the day.

Several years have passed since then. Today, I work for GLBT inclusiveness and I am aware of the realities of HIV and AIDS. I’m light years beyond the young man I was at that time. However, I am shocked to see that so much remains to be done in moving toward a society that’s more tolerant and inclusive. Unfortunately, prejudice remains and there is a rise of the religious right and those who would rather see the social exclusion of people with HIV, showing homophobic feelings.

When I see the repercussions in the media of intolerance and hatred on young people who end their lives or who are considering doing so, I ask myself many questions. I have to wonder if anything has really changed in forty years. Some narratives or stories that I hear have disturbing similarities to what I experienced back then. When a character like Benedict XVI speaks of homosexuality as an injustice and against the will of God it is really baseless, ideological bullshit.

Getting back to my friend Marcel, I saw him one fall evening, cold and rainy, in a restaurant. He was letting me know about his next stay in hospital. He gave me his phone number and told me he did not really like people calling it, except me.

After several attempts to contact him, I remained without news. Worried I returned to the restaurant to ask the waitress if she had seen him lately. She told me that he had died.

Every December 1, I think of Marcel and I thank God for having placed him in my path. I think of all those I knew or I know who live with the reality of AIDS. I invite you to do the same and perhaps contribute a donation to an organization or recognized charity.

For my part, in Montreal, I suggest you donate to Cocq-SIDA. I also invite you to learn about the new “Jasmin Roy Foundation” which works to fight against homophobic attitudes in schools. This is another reality which touches me closely and which unfortunately has been topical in recent months.

 

 

"Would we still be friends if I was HIV-positive?"

 

 


Biblical text of the day

Today, the biblical text is not that suggested by Taizé as I usually do.

31 “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. 34 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? 38 And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? 39 And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’

Recontres sous le Chêne de Mamré

Perhaps my most difficult topic yet (for Tyler Clementi)


Let’s talk about suicide!

The single-most read entry of this blogever – is seeing an up-tick in hits as the one year anniversary of this local tragedy looms large.

Today, with the recovery of his body, social media are decrying the suicide, and circumstances behind it, of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, a gifted eighteen-year old violinist who was humiliated, and outed, more than he could bear when his room-mate posted a video to the internet showing Tyler and another man having sex kissing!

Three days later he leapt from the George Washington Bridge.  His was the fourth young gay suicide (widely reported across the United States) this month.  One shudders to think how many others there might have been that didn’t make such a public statement.

Now do I really think that, on top of all their despair, these young people decided to die with such an exclamation point?  Probably not, but who’s to say there might not have been a bit of “I’ll show you!” to underline just how hopeless they felt.

It’s difficult to know.  It has never come up on the gay agenda.  That’s right the “gay agenda” which intolerant people seem to believe is our quest to take over the world and yet who bristle at the idea that we would just settle for full equality.  Intolerant people, beginning with adults, feed intolerance to others.  They can’t eat and spew it all themselves.  Kids like Tyler Clementi’s room-mate are enslaved by the need for conformity.  Anything different is to be avoided – they even call it “gay”.  Intolerance responds well to peers.  Gangs are not required when more innocuous cliques or clicks (of the mouse) can puff up your social network and whatever views you wish to share.  I’m the first to admit that this works equally well for the intolerant and the intolerant of the intolerant.

I suppose it’s my choice to be connected with people who report such things as gay youth suicides.  Suicide has been a fact of gay life since I came out nearly thirty years ago.  What makes these four recent deaths so vexing is that they were each preceded by bullying.  It’s bad enough that the conditions are still not right to prevent some kids from feeling like they need  to commit suicide, but it’s worse – and criminal – to describe the situation as having been driven to do so.

Sometimes I think, and perhaps project, that when I’m telling my story there’s a sinking feeling inside my audience (one or one hundred) such as, “I don’t know how (and/or why) you’ve avoided suicide.”  My story, however, betrays any idea that I have not and, for the purposes of my definition, I’d suggest there is both active and passive suicide.

How many times have I been warned that I was killing myself?  Whether or not the concern seemed reasonable to me at the time an autopsy of  my spirit would most likely have confirmed it.  This goes beyond not looking after myself, too, as if that were not insane enough.  The end-game in my young adulthood was not to end up unable to work for physical and mental reasons.  However I was so intent on running away from myself and my secrets and my shame and – it must be said – everything good about me it seemed the formula to do that  was the easily available poisons, legal and illegal, mostly consisting of (or certainly starting with) alcohol.

One of my favourite descriptions of where this led, and the search deep beneath it, was described in a letter from psychiatrist Carl Jung to one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson:

You see, ‘alcohol’ in Latin is ‘spiritus’ and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.

One of the peaks of my early coming out process was when I was able to cut loose from the fundamentalist Christian tradition I had taken on in college where, at the time, there was no positive reinforcement of any kind for LGBT students.  (That’s something that is a must, and a barometer for tolerance, on any campus!)

I didn’t give my beliefs as a teen much thought when my family attended church each week so, coupled with the angst of my being gay,  I was ripe for the picking by the Bible-literalist church I went to in college.

However I led a double life which became unbearable and I eventually came to see coming out as freedom, not something to be feared.

Had I ever attempted suicide?  Yes, at a surprisingly young age with a blessedly inept plan.  I tried to shut my bedroom door on my neck repeatedly.  Just not too forcefully, besides which the faux wood of the door would not have hurt me too much even at full strength.

Such was my most serious attempt but, just thinking about it, what kind of despondency was I feeling?  Well I was still in elementary school so the worst feelings always had something to do with my school bully/head teacher/principal wannabe.

The freedom I believed myself to be experiencing with alcohol as a young adult, self-abuse, was my suicide plan – no it was more passive than a plan.  It was like, “Give me death, unless something better comes along.”

I did not realize, though, that thinking about suicide (and I assure you that I have checked “yes” to that on forms over the years without knowing the consequences), might put a little red star on your file.  I understand that now.  I know that if I’m capable of thinking about it, there’s always the risk of following through.  Suicide ideation, as it’s called, is of course a much larger statistic than actual suicides.

All of which leads me back to Tyler and, locally, David whose circumstances while different led to them being driven, and quickly, to tragic ends.  There are some instances where it’s not enough to just cluck “What a shame!”.  Stock-taking of youth education, peer support, zero-tolerance of bullying (gay or straight as kids can be nasty to anyone), anti-homophobia measures – they must continue so long as the horror of being found out as gay, or nastily revealing evidence which would leave no doubt, is the most terrifying feeling a kid could, in their mind, possibly experience.

Unholy hubris


Crooks & Liars blogger karoli got it so right when she wrote, “If you have had the misfortune of being one of those kids who was sexually victimized by an adult, the one thing you know is the script. You know it by heart, and even after years of therapy and recovery and acceptance that script can send you back — right back — to where you were all those years ago, or yesterday.”

Earlier in the weekend I was facebooking articles about the allegations against Atlanta-area “Bishop” Eddie Long (the quotations are because I’ve never heard of a fundamentalist Christian minister, I don’t care how big his church, having such an old-school hierarchical title).  There was a certain amount of righteous indignation motivating me as, yet again, another anti-gay Christian preacher on a pedestal was being brought down by allegations of the very behaviour he has organized marches in Atlanta against. 

Having only heard about the disclosure late Sunday night by CNN anchor Don Lemon that he had been molested as a youngster, I’m still wide awake well past bed-time.  Just like karoli says – stuff gets stirred up all over again, even some thirty-eight years later for me.

What both karoli and Don said is true (I’m calling him by his first name because he’s been a facebook “like” for a long time and I now feel closer to him, however unrequited that may be.  I’m used to that!).  Those who have been in situations similar to the alleged victims in this case have an extra sensitivity to words used and scenarios created by abusers.

karoli: “They start by telling you how special you are, and how they want to spend time with you, help you to succeed. They invite you to their secret place, whether it’s their house or their office or even their car. They’re affectionate in words and speech, and they reach out, little by little and draw you in and because you’re a kid and they’re an adult you let them. It’s not until later that the shame overcomes the privilege. They find you because you’ve had trouble in your life, or your family isn’t all it should be, or you’re poor, or you’re smart, or whatever it is that attracts. And once they find you, they pursue you. Relentlessly.”

I can still see that pervert in the early-70s, brown Pontiac Parisienne who, having wrung out my innocence once, now drove down the same dirt road past me with his swim trunks below his knees.  I never gave in, though, and took not just a little pleasure in seeing him frustrated.

As Don Lemon pointed out, many African-American boys and men have a lot of taboos about homosexual acts – taking great pains to leave talk of such things to private times with their partner.  “On the down low.”  The shame inherent in this hyper-secrecy could explain the “Bishop’s” carefully chosen words on Sunday, although his body language also spoke, it seemed to me.  So then how courageous was it for these four young men, each with detailed allegations that were independently reported, to share their stories with their lawyer – their individual pictures on TV!  The courage this will continue to take going forward will knock hard against the taboos.

Long portrayed himself as little David (despite his size, his wealth and a large, cheer-leading congregation) going up against Goliath, the giant.  Huh?  Four kids and a lawyer, hardly Goliath.  Maybe his task is Goliath – to refute the charges and stay out of jail.

On this International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia


To Head Teacher/Principal wannabe C.G., who rarely missed an opportunity to taunt me, terrify me, pit me against his son and my other classmates;

To the kids who teased me for the friends I chose;

To those who often made the forty minute bus ride to and from high school each day so frightening;

To the older men who exploited my youthful sexual curiosity, leaving me with the impression that this was what “gay” is;

To the “Bible-believing” evangelical church which took me under its wing in college when I was bent on crushing my sexual orientation;

To the bottles which I sought to quell pain, only to find more;

To the internalized mindset which had convinced me that I deserved AIDS;

To anyone who has ever yelled “Faggot!”, whether at me directly or in a crowd;

To you, and many more who do not come to mind immediately, I say you cannot have me, you cannot defeat me, and there is nothing wrong with who I am!

May 17th was chosen to celebrate this International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia to commemorate the World Health Organisation’s decision on this date to remove homosexuality from the list of mental disorders.

This morning Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke, whose son Brendan had recently come out before being killed in a tragic car accident earlier this year, helped launch (cbc.ca, CP24, Sun, Globe and Mail) an EGALE Gay-Straight Alliance web site aimed at promoting positive peer pressure among students against homophobia and transphobia.

There can’t be too much understanding and support and Brian Burke, who will be an honoured participant in this year’s Toronto Pride parade, is a parent like many would love to have.