Archive for September, 2010

Beau temps, beau temps – The Season begins again

Monday, September 27th, 2010

In his poem, A Mistake, Czeslaw Milosz describes an attitude he had of nihilism. He allows himself to indulge in a sense that life does not mean anything in itself and is just a lead-up to death. But then he notices a paraplegic in his village, who is wheeled from the sun into the shade, and back again, according to the weather. The paraplegic notices the world around himself and whispers, in some wonder, “beau temps, beau temps.” Good times. Good times.

As I rushed around last week in the maelstrom of the beginning of term, I kept thinking those words: beau temps, beau temps. My life, since the age of five, has largely been structured around “the season.” Most of the time, it has been the school year, which begins in September and really, even now for me, goes until June, through the last of the grading, re-grading, resolving petitions and academic offenses, reporting on the year and culminating in the hiring process for the following term. July slows down – I vacation. People around me vacation. Then August picks up again, but September really accelerates into the pace of the year.

The “season” of theatre, dance, opera and music also begins. This year, we have already purchased tickets to some of the most exciting dance and opera events: lots of Balanchine as well as other choreographers such as Crystal Pite and Twyla Tharp. Benjamin Britten’s Death in Venice, John Adams’ Nixon in China and Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos. Lots of modernism, works you do not get to see often – though there are plenty of the old stand-bys such as The Magic Flute, but we are not going to that this year. We have enough to look forward to with the new stuff. Beau temps, beau temps.

This morning I was reading The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams and in it, before one poem, he includes a note to his mother, to whom he sent the work, hoping she would like it better than some of his other, more obscure writing. “Art is a curious command,” he writes. “We must do what we are bidden to do and can only go as far as the light permits.” As the school year, the season, begins again and I get caught up in my busy and hectic schedule, I am appreciative of what “the light permits,” from shade to sun to shade again, nature and art, the good times “as long as,” as Milosz puts it, “time is time at all.”

2010 Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life Toronto

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Why do I walk in the Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life?
Because I am gay. Being gay has been a definitive part of my life, something to think about, something to fight against, something to come to terms with, something to comfort myself with, since I was in Grade 2. When I was growing up, the world was largely in denial of the existence of same sex attraction. In popular culture, there were no overt representations of gay relationships and no positive role models. Homosexuality, such as it was acknowledged at all, was equated with effeminacy and that was deplored in boys and men. Same-sex sex wasn’t even mentioned. It was something that wasn’t done; hence, it was an impulse to which you were not to yield.

Sexuality, all sexuality, as all impulses of desire, has to have some controls. Human animals can be, like “competitive eaters” in the non-human world, competitive consumers, not stopping, as we well know fighting with our weights, when they are simply satisfied. But heterosexuality was acknowledged and its impulses were accepted in various circumstances in various ways. I will never forget going to a different barber shop with my father and seeing Playboy Magazine out for customers to browse through while waiting for their haircuts. There were no women there. It was a barber shop. Why not have Playboy Magazine? It was not just that finding women attractive was normal. Finding men attractive was not thought possible. Not in the way that women were, not in the way that women were in Playboy.

In the so-called sexual revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s, things changed. What was implicit became explicit. But that didn’t mean, as we all know, that out-ness changed attitudes. Anyone who hears someone today refer derogatorily to something as “that’s so gay” knows well that homophobic prejudice is alive and dangerous.

So, too, in the early wild celebration of acknowledgement and decriminalization in Canada and some states of the US, the centuries of hiddenness, of self-hatred and shared homophobia did not vanish. So, on the one hand, there was bacchanalia but on the other, an obsession with masculinity both in terms of outing men we would not have expected to be gay, given the representation of homosexuality up to that point, and in terms of being masculine and gay oneself. Effeminacy was as condemned in the gay world as it had always been in the straight world and so for a young man, such as myself, who did not possess conventional characteristics of masculinity, finding rejection in the gay world was harder to tolerate than having found it in the straight world. The great liberation that I had waited for was withheld from me – unless I got a checked shirt, more muscle, a deeper voice, was less excitable, laughed differently, walked and ran differently, became the different person I had never been.

AIDS was a hard lesson. It was a lesson that came at too great a cost. But it was a lesson. It was a lesson that taught us to value ourselves, to “set [our] entreatments at a higher rate than a command to parley” as Polonius advised Ophelia. We learned not to avoid the bacchanalia but to take care. Not to lose ourselves so much that we lose our health, but rather, to find ourselves in our sexual lives. And we learned to honour those selves. Those we lost to AIDS were the masculine and the effeminate, the smart and the silly, the kind, the beautiful and the capable. Men and women. We felt those losses intensely and they led us to understand how much we love one another, notwithstanding characteristics that society, in the past, has derogated.

When I came out a second time, in my forties, I found the gay world much changed. I found many arms open to me that I had not found before. I was changed too, I will admit. I was older, more mature, more confident, less sensitive. But it seemed to me the gay world was kinder as well, more acceptant. That was my experience and it made me happy.

Today, I will join the AIDS Walk for Life to honour my brother Erik who died of AIDS, in 1992, at the age of 40 and to honour all of those who we lost too early, when they were too young. I also walk to pay tribute to the organizations supported by initiatives such as the AIDS Walk for Life, because I know, personally, how much these organizations contributed to my brother’s well-being at the end of his life. I, and my whole family, are tremendously grateful for their work.

And I walk to honour the living, gay and straight, who value what they are, what we are. I walk to acknowledge, to thank and to pay tribute to those who take care.