Wearing HIV (updated)


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Please read the comments to this post…Jay provided some very valuable feedback!

For more than a couple of years I have had this “HIV inside” t-shirt and I can count on one hand, with two or three fingers tied together, how many times I have been bold enough to wear it in public.

It’s not as if I don’t look like I have had HIV for a long time.  People in the gay village are familiar with ‘the look’.  I’m as thin as a rail from head to toe with places that are supposed to puff out instead puckering in – specifically my cheeks, all four of them :)

Craig, during his last years, was thinner still.  The polymyositis had withered his thighs almost to the size of my forearms.  My legs aren’t a whole lot bigger, mind you, and it hurts to sit on typical café chairs, or even home dining room furniture, with my non-existent ass. 

Alas, I complain.  But I was going somewhere with this.

I am looking for a word to describe the looksism – and maybe that’s the word – that I see within the gay community, to be sure, as well as in the media in general.  Our value as persons is so often, in my view, assessed by our physical attributes.  I was reminded of this by Pissed Off Housewife’s rant against fat-as-a-human-right (if that properly summarizes her point). Obviously I have no personal experience with being overweight but, while I hate being this thin, at least I can see my toes.

Here’s how I see the looksism on Church Street (Toronto’s gay village), and it hits its peak around Pride Festival time (ironic?), which begins next Monday. The teens and twenty-somethings are ideally either thin twinks (which, for their age, is perfectly acceptable – even desireable to some) or they have been working out in weight rooms since high school and are, therefore, quite muscular.  Of course there are exceptions which maybe I ought to focus on more.

The thirty-to-forty year olds are, again ideally, built like brick shit-houses as a result of hiding in gyms all winter or are self-identified bears. These bears (oh, yes, and cubs), in my view, have a healthier attitude (if not a healthier diet) about their looks. In fact they actually aren’t the least bit attracted to flamboyant twinks or the gym bunnies. Again, there are exceptions.  Perhaps, by default, I am in the bear/cub camp although, having said that, I must say that I am not too dogmatic about my preferences. Okay it’s more than a pulse that’s required, to be sure, :) but I would just say that I have eclectic taste.  What I have lacked is the self-confidence to pursue a meaningful relationship with anyone.

So if confession is good for the soul, and not just because of some edict from The Holy See, I have revealed a little of my inferiority complex/pet peeve within my “community”.

I know that it is not just the gay male community that focuses on the superficial, as evidenced by western culture’s fascination with celebrities, but at this time of year, as Pride unfolds close to home, I sometimes feel a little less than.

End of whine.  The pity party has adjourned to the bathroom.

So, if wearing my “HIV Inside” shirt seems a little inconsistent with my low physical self-esteem, maybe by flaunting it I am empowering myself out of this looksist funk in which I find myself.

Considering how much I have survived (do a search within this blog under trauma for starters), May being the 18th anniversary of testing HIV-positive for example, I need not be a shrinking violet. Nor do I seek pity. Honestly.

In my best moments I can appreciate, rather than envy or resent, the physical beauty of the human condition.  And we all have more beauty than we can recognize in ourselves.

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Niagara Falls and freaks of nature


I will not attempt to write a one-size-fits-all travelogue of Niagara Falls from whence I have just returned. For background to some of my comments – plus a whole lot more – I would suggest a look here. I will not even try to match that body of work.

Completely on impulse I decided to go to Niagara, for a day-and-a-half or so, to take pictures of what I was sure would be winter beauty unimaginable at the height of the summer tourism season. I was not disappointed. So far I have uploaded 130 photos to my Webshots gallery. (More may be added as I create another category for other falls-related pictures.)

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I think, with the exception of a day visit a few years ago, this was my first trip back to ‘The Falls’ since I lived in Welland and then St. Catharines, both about fifteen miles away, back in the 1977-87 period. It was certainly the first winter visit since that time – and it almost seemed, despite evidence to the contrary borne out in the number of day visitors, that I had stumbled on to a little secret about Niagara’s winter beauty. (In my day Niagara Falls was not very successfully marketed as a year-round destination.)

Just two hours from Toronto it is one of those places, like the CN Tower here, one tends not to visit unless out-of-town guests wish to go. Unless one is an avid gambler, in which case I guess many more frequent trips would be almost inevitable nowadays, it is easy to forget that there is such a beautiful system of parks, on the perimeter of the Niagara, so close to Canada’s largest city. (The casinos I will touch on later.)

A place which inspired a Marilyn Monroe movie and countless falls-jumping daredevils can be forgiven for a little tackiness. Alas, Clifton Hill remains a carnival of gawdy signs, must-see places – family-friendly, I’ll grant them that – like wax museums and other $10 and $20 diversions. Yet fools and their money…

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I cannot stress enough the pleasure and awe one experiences closer to the river, where the roar of the falls easily drowns out the roar of recorded tourist trap barkers up the hill.

Now on to the casinos which, other than taking some pictures of their exteriors, I was not the least bit interested in visiting – a lack of interest for which I am immensely grateful, or I’d be sure to be visiting these premises.

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The first casino was located behind the Falls Avenue hotels (where buses continue to congregate en masse so obviously the original cash-box remains very active.)

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Not too far away, literally above the Canadian falls and at the opposite end of the park, now stand the behemoth Fallsview Casino and its associated hotels.

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This was the area, on the once-much-better-protected Niagara Escarpment, where the tallest structures were two observation towers (the Skylon and the Minolta), a pyramid-shaped IMAX theatre and a then-smaller, albeit ever-ambitious, Oakes Inn and a few low-rise motels. The Minolta, now the Konica Minolta Tower Centre, doesn’t even charge admission any more now that it is directly connected to one of the new hotels. Who am I to argue with that positive change?

This is the southwest skyline now with, as locals were telling me, more to come.

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The Niagara Falls mist, for which the legendary Maid of the Mist is, of course, named, can now, depending on wind direction in the vicinity of the falls – which, in turn, is affected by the towers on the hill – soak falls visitors, at the popular vantage points adjacent to Table Rock House, in ways that previously only adventurous tourists would wish aboard the Maid or down in the tunnels behind the Horseshoe Falls. While I’m all for super-soakers at summer Pride parades it is a phenomenon I was not prepared for in February. Had I only done some light research. [1] [2] (Registration may be required at the second link).

As a result during my afternoon photograph hunt on day one my winter jacket and casual slacks were first soaked and then frozen, only losing some of their stiffness once I had retreated indoors to Table Rock House (as seen here from ground level atop the escarpment) for a snack and a break from walking. And, yes, that rainbow to the right of the building is the real deal :)

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Ultimately, however, the soaking was not a vacation-buster and, as luck would have it, when I returned for evening photos, wearing lined, cross-trainer pants over my jeans (the trainers made of unknown combinations of materials) – recycled garbage bags for all I know – the soaking did not occur.

This Globe and Mail article sums up, at least in its headline, what is my sentimental attachment to the abiding natural beauty of Niagara Falls. The piece does not settle, though, for the mere splendour of nature. Given the copious number of minimum-wage, tip-dependent jobs created in the new, now-year-round Falls economy, it is very clear that a few people – developers, property owners and, perhaps, local politicians – are becoming very, very wealthy while the rest…not so much.

So go to Niagara Falls, in winter or summer, for whatever other reasons you may have but go, too, for the pictures.

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