Friday, November 6, 2009

Letter to "XTRA! West," Dated November 5, 2009

Dear Managing Editor:

At the risk of belabouring the "sex without shame" issue that's occupied space in recent editions of "Xtra! West," I can no longer sit by and not add my voice to those already heard.

As a middle-aged gay man, who's no longer a West End resident and who's been in a loving, committed, and monogamous relationship for over seventeen years, I find many of the articles and columns published in "Xtra! West" utterly irrelevant. What do I care about the gay clubs in downtown Vancouver and what's going on in them; twenty-somethings presumably looking for love but settling all too easily for sex; kept twinks, public sex, S & M, prostitution, and polygamy? And what about those reviews of gay and lesbian porn? C'mon, "Xtra! West," are you kidding me?

As a good first step toward positive change, I'd suggest "Xtra! West" be clear on who it serves, and what role it plays in our community. Examine your mission statement. You might discover what you've done over the past number of years no longer meets the needs of your changing readership, and you should be open to that.

On the subject of "sex without shame," as I see it, there are two important points:

First, in his letter to the Editor, Darrell Michaud of Vancouver writes: "Sex, especially who you have sex with, is at the heart of what it is to be gay. It's what defines you as gay."

Mr. Michaud, neither being gay nor having sex with my partner defines me. I'm a human being first, who happens to be gay. As such, I'm keenly interested in all issues that make me human, sex being merely one of them. I'm no more defined by having gay sex than straight people are by having straight sex.

The Vancouver Sun, Metro Vancouver's biggest newspaper, isn't just about straight sex, and all its various perversions, because most of its readers are straight. So why should "Xtra! West," our gay and lesbian community newspaper, be mostly about gay sex, and all of its perversions, because most of its readers are gay? Gay people need to put the role sex plays in their lives into perspective. It's important, but it's by no means everything.

Second, in the same issue, David Myers of Vancouver writes: 'Readers [of "Xtra! West"] who complain about the coverage of [sexual issues such as promiscuity, public sex, SM culture, and prostitution among others] want our community to present a "responsible" and "respectable" face to the public in order to court straight acceptability.'

Frankly, Mr. Myers, I could care less what the straight community thinks about me having sex with another man. Nor do I feel any shame having man-on-man sex.

What I do care about, more than anything else, is how people in our gay community see themselves, particularly in light of the over-emphasis of sex, at the detriment of more important topics, in publications like "Xtra! West." When you see enough of this dreck, in articles and columns, not to mention advertising, you begin to define yourself according to it, as Mr. Michaud apparently has, thereby giving it more importance in your life than it should have.

I'm disappointed in Robin Perelle's defensive comments on this issue in the editorial titled "Sex without shame." To me, there is no relationship between celebrating sex--enjoying it shamelessly--and parading it through the pages of the local newspaper that you're responsible to the entire gay community for editing. Rather than state that the reason why your readers are up in arms with much of the sexual content of "Xtra! West" is because of a backlash against the sexual revolution, and internalized shame for engaging in sex that is unacceptable to the straight community, you should listen to what many of your readers have told you. That returns me to my suggestion above regarding your mission statement, and what your responsibility is to our community.

Arguably the most influential publication in our gay and lesbian community, "Xtra! West" has an opportunity like no other: To present positive aspects of what it means to be gay and lesbian, for the benefit of gays and lesbians, not to appease the straight community. The emphasis should be on building up the community; celebrating what makes us unique in an uplifting and inspirational way; featuring role models and people of substance who set great examples; providing us with information that's current and helpful on a myriad of topics unrelated to sex; representing all segments of the community, including those who have gone largely unnoticed in your pages, such as gay and lesbian couples, and the issues and concerns affecting them.

Self-hatred is epidemic in the gay community and leads to all manner of risky, destructive, and homophobic behavior, which we see consistently in your pages. Using your newspaper primarily to perpetuate the myth that all gays are about is sex will do nothing to help us with the greatest challenge we face: learning to respect and love ourselves 
first, so we are capable of respecting and loving others and accepting that from them in return. I can only imagine what we’ll be capable of if we ever arrive at that place. 


  1. Wow, I had no idea. Good post, Rick. You should consider sending a copy of this to the paper. I'd be curious to know how the editors would receive your comments.

  2. Already have, Wendy. I wrote it with the intention of sending it, then thought I wouldn't. But, what the hell, these points about being gay have bugged me for a long, long time, as you already know, and I could no longer keep quiet.
    I've worked long and hard to understand how I feel on this subject, and, even harder, to put it all into words. I get so upset that I can't think straight (so to speak), or I get muddled up in my thoughts and ideas. I believe this letter is my best articulation yet on this subject. I'll let you know if anything comes of it.
    (Ideally, I'd like to be a freelance writer for "XTRA! West." In August 2008, I submitted three completed 1,000 word essays to them for a proposed column on gay couples. I was told my writing was good but wasn't the voice they were looking for. With the recent heat they've taken from so many readers who are fed up with the over-emphasis on sex in the publication, maybe, MAYBE they will be more open to other ideas, like my proposed column. I can hope, can't I?)
    Thanks for your comment and encouragement.

  3. I'm really glad you sent the letter Rick. I agree with you 100% & hope they consider your proposed column.

  4. Thanks, Jeanette.
    I'm not sure how much contact you have with "XTRA! West," especially their online version, which is essentially the same, but I'm getting so fed up with the sexual content. Enough already about sex, sex sex. What about me as a human being? What about all of my other interests--from travel to home decorating, self-discovery to the arts, and gardening to role models? There's so much more that "XTRA! West" is in a position to provide its readers, from a gay and lesbian sensibility, that I really believe they're forsaking everything else at the expense of sex.
    Let's hope the ongoing discussion of this topic in its pages yields the results some of us are looking for.
    Thanks again.