Meanderings of a mental health client in good company


10 years ago this month, I was writing about my mental health, Andre Gagnon and Emile Nelligan – still fascinations all!

My journey with AIDS...and more!

Would it be much of a surprise, even to the casual reader, that I am a mental health client? I have been since soon after my conclusive HIV diagnosis in 1990, although I wish now that I had sought such accompaniment long before then.

It started out with a window-shopping spree of psychiatrist seeking. Word-of-mouth recommendations, even from friends, do not necessarily mean compatibility.

I was diagnosed as depressed or, at first, “severely depressed”. Treatment for this boosted the deep lows, to be sure, but – in hindsight – did nothing for periodic highs which, precisely because they were not low, did not bother me so much. Now, with that 20/20 perspective, some of the highs were pretty destructive, and had been for a long time before I was HIV-positive. Could it be that they even led to my being infected? Such is the speculation of one who can spend…

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1,013 followers – questions?


I don’t know who you all are, but the blog machine tells me there are 1,013 of you following me here.  You can also find me, Kenn Chaplin, on Facebook.

You’ll know that I haven’t been writing much lately so, might I ask, if you have any questions for me?

Remembering “The Romans” – The Romans II Health and Recreation Spa, gay activism, bathrooms


spartacus-0612-jpg-650x0_q70_crop-smart

just an illustration🙂

I found it in the Yellow Pages, which I was checking out at the Toronto Coach Terminal on Bay Street. I had just arrived from Niagara College. It was 1979. I was 19. I thumbed through the book, checking “Baths”, which brought up bathroom fixtures mostly, then I think I tried “Saunas”. I can’t be sure how I found it; only that there it was, complete with a not-to-scale map. Turns out it was very close.

This was well before the mass bath-house raids by police of 1981 – well before I took that occasion to come out to my family.

So everything about Toronto at that time of my life was huge. But I found my way to The Romans, where I stood in line briefly to hear how men entered, what was said, what, if any, identification was required.

I rented a room, a real bargain, I thought, at less than $20. Once inside the facility, I noticed an active gym, showers, a lounge, a pool, two saunas (wet and dry), a whirlpool and a lot of faux pillars, statues and plants. This small-town boy was impressed.

Turns out the room was about the size of a train roomette, with a single bed and a locker, a small table and an ash-tray. But as I made my way through the maze of hallways to find it, it was clear that the decor was not uppermost on the priority list of my fellow bathers.

I do not recall all I got up to that night, perhaps for the purposes of this blog that’s for the best, but I have a vivid recollection of being with a guy I swore could have been Gino Vanelli who, at that time, had wild, dark curly hair (and all over his body!).

There were lots of men, in various states of undress, cruising the hallways, checking out the various facilities.

It was a pleasant initiation, the experience I would expand by visiting other bath houses over subsequent trips, in quick succession over the years, into the city.

Bath houses were so central to my early gay life in Toronto that I always kept money for a room separate from my beer money, in the event that I didn’t hook up with someone at a bar.

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.

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” was the largest mass arrest in Canada since the October Crisis of 1970. 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 my church wrote a letter to the local paper praising the actions of the Toronto police.

Assuming that television cameras would catch me at the protests, 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 Bebout and 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, in January, 1985, 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 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 withholding 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.

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.

I am reminded


I am reminded of December 6, 1989 at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique.

I am reminded of February 5, 1981 – Toronto’s bath house raids, the catalyst for my coming out.

I am reminded of stolen innocence as a child at the hands of a stranger.

I am reminded of the “flu” I couldn’t shake in May of 1989 when HIV was settling in.

I am reminded of the impact of a taxi cab as it rolled me on to the street on April 30, 2003.

I am reminded of a street preacher verbally assaulting me following the opening ceremonies of World Pride 2014.

I am reminded of AIDS vigils when I was incoherent with grief as I thought of the scores of people I knew who have died.

I am reminded of my connection to the human family and, in the context of the Orlando massacre, my LGBT family and friends in particular.

Out for 35 years


Reading something which noted that 1981 was 35 years ago jarred me into realizing that it was three-and-a-half decades ago this very month that I officially came out of the closet, by which I mean letting my family know that I was gay.

It was in the context of the uproar over the bathhouse raids by Toronto police in which, but for luck, I was not involved.

This weekend’s cold temperatures remind me of the cold nights spent protesting the raids, a fear of being seen on the TV news which propelled me to pen a letter of coming out to my Mom and Dad.

It was met with a phone call from Mom in which she assured me of their unconditional love for me (after I had imagined worst case scenarios of a different kind for no reason).

35 years!  I was a fresh-skinned 21-year old then on the eve of the first cases of AIDS being reported in the United States.  I managed to escape the first waves of death which swept through the community and now count myself among ‘long-term survivors’.  AIDS still seems very real to me but I no longer take for granted that I will die prematurely.  I’m trying to accept that there are some things I just don’t know.

There have been other things which could have, and could yet, kill me but, for now, I am trying to re-experience the energy I recall from those powerful days of protest in 1981.

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

I’m Thinking, “This is Going to Hurt!”: On ‘How Not to Deal with Grief’


From my friend Betty Ann on her Facebook page:

“This article deeply moved me…as I suspect it will for any of you who have been impacted by the kind of grief associated with multiple loss, deaths due to overdose and or HIV/AIDS. Rather than just clicking on “like”, can you write a few sentences in a comment? Maybe just something about how this article landed with you? Guess I’m lookin for a little peer support here…”

I know there are many stories related to this piece which could be written. Don’t be afraid to jog my memory or ask a question.

I URGE you to click on the following link and read:

Guest Post – How Not to Deal with Grief

Remember those days when we couldn’t decide how to go to a funeral and make sure a dying friend was okay?  Open casket versus closed? Cremation versus traditional burial?  Would it be okay to go a little over the top in church?  Someone else is sick?  I thought he’d killed himself.

“…those days…come screaming back out of nowhere. I don’t live with it; it lives in me. It is a part of me and makes me what I am. That does not mean I want it. I am not alone in this. And I am not alone in finding that loss accumulates and is sticky and hangs together like lumps of tar and sticks and sand on the beach after a storm.”

“…these thoughts, the ones of dead friends and loved ones, are in the heap in the back corner. They lurk behind the door with a skull and crossbones saying; “Fuck Off, Asshole,” in 72 pica. Then in smaller type: “You know who and what’s in here, so why don’t you just walk the fuck away?” And every so often I walk through that door for whatever reason and it takes days to recover.”

“People died around you. Repeatedly. Let me emphasize: Repeatedly. There were no protease inhibitors. No Truveda. Just blind hope, determination, anger, solidarity, organizing, guesswork and gambling on whether to take a drug or wait for the big one that will work — and die waiting. This was not a time of long-term sustainability.”

“I am not perfect. But I have found some happiness in my life, not by achieving resolution, but by acquiring wounds, then healing some and developing scar tissue that will always be there, and by just keeping going.”

My laptop feels too small for what I want to write. I need a full-sized keyboard to spread out my fingers as on the keyboard of a grand pipe organ. I know the feeling of not wanting to go through personal items and photographs of friends lost. But I also know it’s an irresistible tug sometimes. I more often than not know what it means just to still be here when I could have, should have been dead, with only analogies of Vegas or God’s perverse selection process as explanation. I reject both.

I know that “just keeping going” has taken a lot of courage for many people, so why not me, too? I accept that there have been times when it seemed much simpler to die than to just keep going. I’ve even wished I would have died long before now. But there are new things to work on, new struggles to wage, even while bearing all the scars of having nearly shit myself to death.