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.

Walking the walk – with assistance

First there was the pre-Christmas illness. Then, while in Perth, I went for only one walk – to the pharmacy – in a town which normally calls out for long walks.  I even felt unsteady on my feet roaming around Mom’s big old house.

Mom, who has been using a walker  herself for a year or so, suggested I check into getting myself a walker once I returned home.

I did.  Yesterday. A walker from my community’s storage was made available to me.  I took to it like the proverbial duck to water, although I’m a tad tall for it.  I went out for some milk and bread, pushing/being pulled by my new friend, then walking the long way home to put some miles on it.

Last night, oblivious to what barriers I might encounter, I went to a meeting via the subway, folding and carrying the walker where necessary, happily taking the offered subway seat, then walking the several blocks from St. Clair station.

I am easing into it.  There are walks which I can easily do without help, so it may surprise people when on other occasions I present with the walker.

It helps me walk.  It gives me confidence.  Why would I worry about what anyone thinks about me using it.

Chasing the HI on a glucose meter

I spent the afternoon yesterday in the Emergency Department of Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital after a drug overdose, albeit accidental, when I tried to eliminate a “HI” reading on my glucose meter with two, then three times the recommended dosage of my insulin.  It was lost on me that doubling and tripling up on a time release insulin formula was plunging it well beyond my control, rather than naively reining it in.

“Stop chasing the ‘HI,” quipped the ER doc after an uncomfortable stay, clearing me out with an IV, a cookie and some orange juice.


Thank you to staff of my housing co-op for providing me with a ride to, and a taxi from, Mount Sinai and to Ryan for staying with me pre-treatment.

Honours from ACT

It was both an honour and a pleasure this past Monday to receive an award for 25 years of service at the AIDS Committee of Toronto’s Annual General Meeting.  I must confess to feeling like I have drawn on more services than I have provided but the 25 years is amazing, even from a survival point of view!  Here I am with ACT E.D. John Maxwell:

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‘Times Have Changed’ at 40 Wellesley St.E. #HIVnow

40 Wellesley St. E.
40 Wellesley St. E.

The latest ambitious awareness campaign by the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT), #HIVnow, “asks big questions, puts forward honest answers and issues clear calls to action”.

The “Times have changed” theme comes to mind as I watch the slow demolition of 40 Wellesley Street East, a medical offices building where I learned of my HIV status in 1989 and received medical care there for several years. Hundreds – thousands even – of HIV/AIDS patients were seen in these offices at the height of the crisis in the early 1990s.

If those demolished walls could talk…

Guess what’s next for 40 Wellesley.

Leaving Unit 503 upright

I am surrounded by boxes, both packed and empty. This week I am changing units within my housing co-op, moving house for the first time since 1992.

When I re-located to this building 23 years ago I thought, with good reason, that my death was imminent; that I would be here a short time before being discreetly carried out, feet-first, in a black bag – as had been the case for several other friends with AIDS before and since.

Diane Frankling Co-operative Homes, formerly Bleecker Street Co-op, has historically given priority for its rent-geared-to-income units to people living with HIV/AIDS, persons with mental illness (I am, therefore, dually qualified) and women escaping abusive relationships.

Just one floor up and across the hall, dominant morning sun will be replaced by the afternoon’s; plants will need to be re-positioned accordingly. Rather than a view of Cabbagetown roof-tops I will look on to another apartment building and, to my left, a partial but exciting view of Toronto’s impressive skyline.

While I have purged a lot of stuff, and packed quite a bit more, the move just one floor up has me in a sense of suspended animation. Clothes remain on hangers because, well, they can be carried upstairs just like that. It’s the same with my plants.

What I can only pack figuratively are 23 years of memories from here – the early house parties, the cats which I have loved (Sujata is only beginning to suspect we’re up to something), the recovery from my 2003 crash (John Kerry, I so relate to your broken femur!), and the guests and uninvited who have plopped down on the dump-bound sofa.

The weight of these years is affecting me emotionally, positively and poignantly, but it is a marker of the new era of HIV/AIDS that I am leaving Unit 503 walking upright.

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