Friday, April 30, 2010

Homosexuality is NOT a Moral Issue!

In the past year or so, I've written several posts in this blog referring to the fact that, for many people, homosexuality is a moral issue.  I'm not sure my brain registered the real meaning of those words when I used them, because, today, as I read a "Vancouver Sun" article--about the dismissal of a teacher from a local independent Roman Catholic girls school because she's a lesbian--I felt utterly incensed.  The article, written by Douglas Todd, referred to the potential rights of the school to prevent the teacher from finishing the school year with her students because of its moral position on homosexuality.  And that got the wheels turning in my head.

First of all, in light of the recent sexual abuse scandals shattering the credibility of the Roman Catholic church worldwide, the first thought that came to me was, how can the church take a moral stand on homosexuality when it can't even get its own house in order?  How is it possible that the church has historically shuffled many of its priests around, in all different countries, when allegations of the sexual abuse of minors is made against them, instead of turning them over to the law, where they should be prosecuted in the same way anyone not involved in the church would be?  This, and Pope Benedict's recent refusal to adequately address this issue with the faithful--not to mention the possible hand he may have had in the discreet relocating of offending priests in past decades--tell me the church, as an imperfect, human institution, is not in a position to judge me as a gay man.  I don't buy it.  I never have, and I never will.

But here's what really got to me:  According to the Google dictionary, morality is "principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior."  Thus, according to the church, engaging in homosexual conduct is wrong, or bad behavior.  And, as a result, homosexual conduct is a sin, which is defined, in the same source, as "an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law."

First, I don't believe God considers homosexuality to be a sin.  I don't care what Bible reference is thrown in my face to support anyone's position that God considers it a sin.  I believe God considers promiscuity, whether at the hands of gay or straight people, as immoral and therefore a sin, but not the sex act itself, particularly if the two people having sex are partners and in love.  (And don't get me started on the issue of sex being a sin if it's engaged in outside of wedlock. For some, that's still a moral issue, based on their religious beliefs, but, sometimes, I believe the church needs to catch up with the times and get out of people's bedrooms.  There are far worse things on this earth than people having sex, particularly in a committed relationship.)

Which leads me to my next point:  I think we can all readily agree that murder is a moral issue, as theft is a moral issue, as rape is a moral issue.  You don't need to be religious in any way to see that.  But homosexuality a moral issue?  Not even close.  I can't begin to compare murder, theft, and rape with homosexuality, or wrap them all together and say they are one and the same.  Because, simply, they're not.  How can someone who engages in gay sex be looked at in the same way as a murderer?  How can someone who engages in gay sex be looked at in the same way as a thief?  How can someone who engages in gay sex be looked at in the same way as a rapist?  They're not even close to the same thing, so don't tell me that homosexuality is a moral issue.

And, finally, I have been with the same partner for nearly eighteen years.  We love each other deeply, in the same way that straight couples love each other deeply (or are supposed to).  We are committed to each other in the same way that straight couples are committed to each other (most of them, anyway).  We are monogamous in the same way that straight couples are (or should be).  We have sex with each other in the same way that straight couples have sex (and hopefully with no one else).  If you say that homosexuality is a moral issue, what you're effectively saying is that what Chris and I share is immoral.  We can love each other, we can be devoted to each other, we can be exclusive to each other--but we can't have sex because it's considered immoral?  That's utter crap.  I refuse to look at what I have with Chris as immoral.  I will not tolerate my relationship marginalized in that way.  I outright reject any religion--including Catholicism, which is how I was raised--that considers my relationship with Chris to be immoral.

I am gay.  Whether I was born gay or I turned out gay because of how I was raised makes no difference whatsoever.  I am what I am.  I can't change it.  And I refuse to be considered immoral because I engage in gay sex, because I don't want to be alone, because I want the same things that straight people want--companionship, love, stability, commitment, monogamy, and, yes, sex.  No human being on this earth, I don't care what religion you're affiliated with, has the right to consider me immoral because I'm gay.  As far as I'm concerned, you are worse off judging me for being gay than you would be if you accepted me because I am gay.  So take your religious doctrine, and your misinterpretation of Bible passages, and your holier than thou attitude, and do you-know-what with them.  In the end, I will answer to one being and one being only about being gay, and that's God--not you.  Mind your own damn business about who I have sex with.  You worry about your own soul; I'll worry about mine.  End of story.     

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gay Pioneering Figures?

Reading Collection Canada 2009:  A Yearbook of Canadian Stamps a few days ago, I saw "...a set of commemorative domestic rate stamps...issued on February 2, 2009, to celebrate Black History Month and to pay tribute to two pioneering figures in African-Canadian history--Rosemary Brown and Abraham Doras Shadd [p. 33)."

Not intending to take away anything from Shadd* and Brown**, two deserving Black Canadians--as I learned from reading the material in the yearbook--I couldn't help but wonder if or when we Canadian gay men and lesbian women would find our own honored in the same way.  Surely, there must be pioneering figures in our country's past who, in their own way, fought tirelessly for the rights and dignity of gays and lesbians in our history.

But who are they?  Over the past several days, I've struggled to think of even one person, a single name, who could be considered on a par with Shadd and Brown.  I've googled "gay Canadian heroes" and discovered extensive alphabetical lists of people from countries around the world, including Canada, who are gay and lesbian, well-known or otherwise, and who may have played a role in helping us get to where we are today.  But do we have any unequivocal, upstanding figures like Abraham Doras Shadd and Rosemary Brown? Unfortunately, none that I'm aware of.  

I think the nature of being gay plays a large part in this.  Shadd and Brown were obviously black and couldn't escape that fact, putting them in a position of being discriminated against when they knew it was fundamentally wrong and were compelled to do something about it.  Does the fact that our kind were more or less able to hide their sexual orientation throughout history account for turning us into cowards when it came to openly fighting for our rights?  I think so.  It's difficult to be a gay Canadian pioneering figure, at any time in our history, when you're not openly gay and can't stand up for your own rights, let alone those of your brothers and sisters.  

Here's the problem that I have with all this.  Despite the various reasons why Black people have been discriminated against historically, the bottom line is that I think most of us now realize Black people are like everyone else.  The only difference between them and other races is the color of their skin.  We get that now, although I know the journey to that truth was long and tough.  Nobody can say that Black people haven't been through hell trying to secure their basic human rights, which they are clearly entitled to.

But so are gays and lesbians.  The problem with ensuring the same human rights for us is that people get hung up on the whole sex thing--when sex is but a small part of who we are.  As I've written before, homosexuality is a moral issue for many people, especially those who take a literal reading of the Bible and believe with all their hearts that God didn't intend for men to lay with men or women to lay with women.  Many people can't separate in their minds their moral position on homosexuality and the basic human rights all people are entitled to, regardless of their sexual orientation.  Just because you don't agree with one being gay doesn't mean he or she isn't entitled to the same human rights you have.

Would we have more gay and lesbian heroes today if homosexuality wasn't so repugnant in the eyes of many, in a way that being Black shouldn't have been either?  Absolutely.  I don't doubt it for a minute.  It's a lot easier to fight on behalf of a discriminated segment of our society when you can openly be who you are, or have no choice but to be who you are, and when you can actively take up the cause for many who face the same unjust or prejudicial treatment based on something over which they have no control.  

You know who I think our gay and lesbian heroes were?  They were people just like you and me, who, over the decades, tried to be good human beings, lived their lives in an upstanding way, and set an example of what being gay and lesbian was really like.  Today, we are where we are, with a far greater understanding in the general population of what it means to be homosexual, because ordinary citizens, despite the enormous personal risk, stood up for themselves when they had to and fought for their own rights, and the rights of all of us in the process.

So, in the future, if we ever get our own stamp to commemorate where we've been and what we've been through, as I believe we should, the image captured could be one of two things:  Either the picture of one gay man or one lesbian woman who, in his or her anonymity, represents the face of gay Canada in general, demonstrating the strength of character and the persistence of spirit we've exhibited to get to where we are; or the picture of a crowd of gay and lesbian people, who, in their number, represent the diversity within our own community and the common dignity we all share.

Any way you look at it, our battle has been no less challenging than the battles other minorities have endured throughout the years.  We may not have "pioneering figures" in the same way that Black Canadians do, but that by no means suggests our struggle has been any less difficult or worth fighting. Perhaps the day will come when two gay Canadian men, in a loving and committed relationship for fifty or sixty years, are looked at in the same way as a bi-racial couple in the '60s fighting for the right not only to be together but to get married.  In my mind, the achievement in both cases is deserving of respect and recognition.

*Abraham Doras Shadd (1801-1882) was '...a "stationmaster" and "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, providing escaping slaves with food, shelter and guidance on their way to their new life in Canada [Yearbook, p. 30].'

**Rosemary Brown (1930-2003) "...fought for the rights of both women and minorities throughout her life and career [Yearbook, p. 32]."

(If you can think of a Canadian gay man or lesbian woman, past or present, whose accomplishment in the area of human rights is on a par with Shadd or Brown, and who you believe should be honored on a commemorative stamp, please leave a comment.  Who do you believe our pioneering figures are?)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Legitimizing Homosexuality


New York, NY (April 22, 2010): Archie Comics, home of the famous Riverdale High students Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie and Jughead, is about to welcome a new classmate this fall! On September 1st, Kevin Keller, Archie Comics' first openly gay character, will be welcomed into the town of Riverdale.

"The introduction of Kevin is just about keeping the world of Archie Comics current and inclusive. Archie's hometown of Riverdale has always been a safe world for everyone. It just makes sense to have an openly gay character in Archie comic books," stated Archie Comics Co- CEO, Jon Goldwater.

(The above is from


As a devoted reader of Archie Comics in the late '60s and early '70s--have they really been around that long?--I was thrilled when I read the above in "The Vancouver Sun" this morning.  

Here was my thought process around this announcement:  How progressive for the makers of the Archie Comics to introduce a gay male character.  What took so long?  

Then:  I wonder how parents of children who read Archie Comics today will react to their sons and daughters experiencing a gay character at Riverdale High, mingling amongst all of the well-known and beloved straight characters.  Will any parents forbid their children from buying and reading them as a result, because they just don't want them to see a gay character legitimized in the pages of something supposedly as innocent and harmless as comic books?     

And then there was this thought:  How different would my growing up experience have been if I'd seen a gay male character in the pages of Archie Comics, if I'd seen myself interacting in a positive way with the whole Archie gang?  How isolated I felt way back when, not knowing there was anyone else like me in the world, with the same feelings and impulses I didn't understand. Imagine how much better I might have felt about myself, knowing there was a character by the name of Kevin Keller? Surely, he would have been a hero of mine, someone I looked up to, someone I wanted to be like.  I would have seen all the positive things that happen to him--for example, the other characters accepting him for who he is, as I'm sure they will--and I would have had reason to hope for the same.        

Yes, my gay experience would have been a far different one.  At least I hope so. And I can't help but be envious of children today seeing a gay character like Kevin portrayed in a positive way, symbolizing the diversity that makes each of us special. 

Thanks, Archie Comics, for this bold and forward-thinking change.  Without realizing it, you will play a role in helping many a young gay kid grow up feeling positive about himself, and seeing the possibilities for his life rather than the limitations.  I don't read Archie Comics anymore, haven't for nearly forty years, but I'm a fan, a big, BIG fan.   

Friday, April 16, 2010


Here's a cautionary tale for a Friday in early spring.

On the elimination episode of "Dancing with the Stars" this week, I saw ten young dancers, each in his or her teens, each purported to be the future of professional ballroom dance.  I couldn't disagree.  These five young men and five young ladies were spot on in their movement, as well as confident and aggressive.  I was impressed with their skill and their poise, and it was a pleasure to watch them.  If they are the up and coming face of ballroom dance, as far as I'm concerned, the industry is in great shape.

As I sat there admiring their talent and their beauty, something occurred to me. Perhaps I could have been a great ballroom dancer, too.  I certainly like dancing. I've always liked to dance.  While I've never taken formal dance lessons, how do I know I wouldn't have been as talented as any one of this young group?  Maybe thirty or forty years ago, I would have been considered the future of dance as well.  Who knows?

Then I began to think about the choices, or the lack of them, that were open to me when I was a teenager, in terms of activities I could involve myself in or potential careers I could pursue.  It wasn't only dance that interested me.  I was attracted to any number of fields, including the travel industry, hair styling, and interior decoration.  The performance arts appealed to me, too, such as figure skating, acting, and singing.

Here's what happened.  I had been teased so badly for so many years about being gay--when I didn't yet know I was gay--that I eschewed any of these interests or potential career paths.  I remember thinking seriously about becoming a travel agent, a hair stylist, or an interior decorator, even looking into the schooling that would be involved, and envisioning myself in any one of them.  But, in my heart, I knew none of them was meant to be.  Not for me, anyway.  

Back in the 1970s, it was women who pursued these areas, or gay men, and, as a result, I knew there was no way I could show any outward interest in them, let alone actively pursue one as a field of work.  What would people think of me if I did?  What would my family think of me, my father, who had always been so hard on me?  What would I think of myself?

If I showed a serious interest in any of them, perhaps I really was gay after all, like so many of my classmates had thought I was.  And, because I was so sure I wasn't gay, or, above all else, didn't want to be gay--couldn't accept that possibility--I turned my back on choices that might have been open to me, that might have been so much better than the ones I made.

Who knows how talented I might have been in any one of them?  Perhaps I could have been a world-renowned designer, or an Olympian figure skater, or, yes, an award winning ballroom dancer.  So many gay men, who had the courage to pursue their interests and their talents and their passions, are famous today for what they've brought to our world in terms of making it more beautiful and a better place to live.  I might have counted myself among them, too.

Who knows where I would be right now, how different my life might have been, how much more of a contribution I could have made if I hadn't concerned myself with what people thought of me.  And all because being gay then was so stigmatized, and I considered it so important to prove to everyone, especially to myself, that I wasn't gay, I wasn't what they thought I was.

I'd show them.  I'd show myself.  I'd be the straight, masculine male they didn't think I was.  No matter where my talents and passions lay, I'd turn my back on them, and I'd pursue a career a man could be proud of (although I had no idea, at the time, what that would be, or whether I could really follow through with it).

Ironically, I ended up in the banking industry.  There may be a lot of men in banking now, but, back in the late 1970s or early 1980s, bank branches were filled with women employees.  Almost all the men in banks were managers.  You rarely saw a male teller or ledger keeper, discount clerk or administration officer.

So I'd eschewed female dominated careers for years, because I was so convinced they were tied to sexual orientation.  Yet I found myself in one.  I was a teller for nearly seven years and never, ever wanted to have anything to do with numbers.  I hated math in school, scarcely passed it, didn't understand the supposed logic of it, because my mind didn't work in that way.

Instead, I wanted to be in the arts.  More than anything else, I wanted to create something.  I wanted to make people more beautiful, make homes more beautiful, make the world more beautiful, because I'm an escapist at heart, and any time I can avoid reality and immerse myself in some kind of fantasy world, comprised of softness and comfort and beauty, that's where I want to be.

I have so much admiration for any young gay man who has the courage and the temerity to follow his heart, and to be what he wants to be, despite what people think of him.  Clearly, not being gay for me was more important back in the day than being who I was meant to be.  And I have enormous regrets that I failed to pursue any one of my passions that I might have been so good at, that I may have been so much happier doing.

If you are young, and male, and possibly gay, heed my words.  Always, always be true to yourself.  Do not turn your back on who you are and what you are most passionate about, because you're worried what people will think of you.  So what if you're gay?  It turns out I've been gay for the past fifty years, and I've been out for nearly half of them.  And, you know what?  The world hasn't come to a crashing halt because of it.  I've gotten this far, and you will too, despite what people think of you (which doesn't mean anything anyway).  

Don't do like I did and regret for the rest of your life choices you made because, above all else, you didn't want people to know you were gay.  It's not worth it, believe me.  It's just not worth it.

I pray we've come far enough over the past forty years that men can be whatever they want to be.  That choices are no longer made on the basis of denying who you are.  And that  each and every human being can use his or her God-given talents to the best of their ability, regardless of what other people think of them.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Trouble with Many Gay Relationships

When I first saw the February 4, 2008, edition of Time, containing a lengthy section on romance, love, and relationships, I was eager to see if I'd find an article on gay relationships.  Specifically, I hoped there would be positive information about gay relationships like the one Chris and I have--long-term, stable, loving, happy, committed, and monogamous.

To my surprise and delight, there was a piece titled "Are Gay Relationships Different?"--different from straight relationships or marriages--written by John Cloud, himself a gay man.  Eagerly, I turned to the article and began to read. Unfortunately, Cloud perpetuated exactly what I hoped he wouldn't.

The frame of the article was a relationship he shared with Michael, whom he'd met in 1998.  They spent seven and a half years together.  Then, in late 2006, Cloud moved out.  He used all the usual cliches to explain what happened:  He and Michael still loved each other, but they weren't in love with each other.   They still had sex together, but there was no passion.  Increasingly, they lost interest in each other, and they felt lost.

Finally, Cloud writes, "The night Michael wouldn't stay up to watch "The Office" finale with me, I knew I had to move out.  Yes, he was tired, but if he couldn't give me the length of a sitcom--Jim and Pam are going to kiss!--then we were really done."

Say what?  The impetus to move out was based on his partner not staying up to watch a bloody sitcom on TV?  Are you kidding me with this?

While Chris and I have favorite TV shows we love to watch together, I can't tell you how many times we've shown no interest whatsoever in the programs each other watches faithfully.  I can't stand watching "Hockey Night in Canada," for example, even if the Vancouver Canucks are playing.  Even if they're playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  But did that lead Chris to think that we shouldn't be together?  No, of course not.

My concern was that the final straw that broke the camel's back, in the case of Cloud's relationship, was too trivial, too arbitrary, and too flighty, typical of some of the fags I've known over the years.  Here today, gone tomorrow, at the least provocation.  Head on a swivel, attention span of a hummingbird, no staying power, no guts.  How could Cloud treat his relationship so lightly?

Upon closer reflection, I decided to give Cloud the benefit of a doubt.  After all, he did say that the challenges he and Michael faced had been going on for some time.  Perhaps he was trying to inject a little humor in what finally motivated him to become single again.

But I still wonder what gay couples, and straight couples for that matter, thought when they read about John's reason for ending his seven and a half year relationship.  Is that how all relationships end--they fizzle out to nothing, the least thing leading to an inevitable end?  I don't know.  Fortunately, to this point, that hasn't been my experience.

No matter.  There was plenty more for me to pick on in this article.

Several times, Cloud asks if he and Michael would still be together today had they been a straight couple.  He writes, "I wondered whether Michael and I could have done more to save our union.  What impact our homosexuality had on the longevity, arc and dissolution of our relationship?  Had we given up on each other because we were men or because we were gay?"

Yes.  Both.  In general--and I know I'll get myself into trouble for generalizing--I think it's easier for gay men, who are supposedly in long-term relationships, to give up on them when they become the least bit challenging.  Or when they are continuously presented with the temptations of the gay world, which there's no escaping:  Lots of beautiful, muscular young men; lots of available sex; lots of fun times as a carefree, single man.

Unfortunately, I think Cloud, whom I admit I don't know from Adam, took the easy route.  I think it was much easier for him to start over again than it was to focus on the problems of his relationship with Michael, and to see what the two of them could do together to preserve it.  Obviously, there wasn't enough in it for both of them to do that.  Or the world outside their relationship looked infinitely more attractive.

I think "for better or for worse, 'til death do us part," like monogamy, is too "straight" a concept for many gay men.  When the going gets tough, the tough bugger off to a new life of working out, loosing weight, and indulging in alcohol, drugs, and lots of hot, anonymous sex, just like Cloud admits to doing.

Whatever happened to working out and loosing weight when you're still together with your partner?  Ever thought that's one of the reasons why your relationship didn't make it--because, not only did you loose interest in the life you shared together, but also you lost interest in yourself, and didn't show up consistently as the best person you could be?

Cloud goes on to write about thinking gay and straight people assume "gay men are worse at maintaining relationships than straight people."  Yes, John, and you've done nothing to disprove that.

And what of gays needing drama in their relationships to fill the emotional holes in their lives from living repressed for so many years?  There's a lot to be said for peace and stability in relationships, too.  I don't know too many people who are happy in the constant web of drama they keep weaving.

And gay relationships being set up for failure by "the crosscurrents of childhood pain, adult expectation and gay community pathologies like meth addiction."  As far as I'm concerned, excuses for failing to put all of your effort into making your gay relationship work.

I'm disappointed that Cloud didn't show the other face of gay relationships, the ones of folks like Bill and Lloyd, Steve and Mike, Chris and Justin, and, yes, Chris and me, who have been together for years--and, in Bill and Lloyd's case, nearly fifty years, going back to 1962, when circumstances were truly tough for gay men who loved each other and wanted to be together in a disapproving world (which Cloud and Michael knew nothing about).

Above all, I'm disappointed that not only did straight people not see in Cloud's essay that some gay people want the same things in relationships that they do (including marriage), but that single gay people, wanting serious, long-term relationships, didn't see what's possible for them.

Perhaps next go-around, Time can find someone else to write an article on the very real possibility of a stable, loving, and enduring gay relationship.  Not only are they out there, they're also worth having.  Despite their own personal situations, writers, like John Cloud, as well as single gay men, just need to look for them.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Roman Catholic Church Sticks It To Us Again

Is it any wonder why I'm still a recovering Catholic?

Here's a little tidbit I found in a local newspaper today:

Homosexuality to blame for pedophilia

It is homosexuality, not celibacy, that is linked to pedophilia, the Vatican's Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said Monday on a visit to Chile, seeking to defuse the sex scandal that has battered the Roman Catholic Church.
"Many psychologists and psychiatrists have shown that there is no link between celibacy and pedophilia but many others have shown, I have been recently told, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and pedophilia," he told a news conference in Santiago.

(Source:  24H Vancouver, Tuesday, April 13, 2010, p. 9)

Let's be perfectly clear.  There is no direct connection between homosexuality and pedophilia.  According to statistics, most pedophiles are straight, not homosexual, although there are some homosexuals who are pedophiles.  The terms are not interchangeable.

What disturbs me most about Cardinal Bertone's words is that he continues to perpetuate the stereotype that causes people, who believe what the Catholic church has to say--and there are plenty of those, believe me--to deplore gay men. As long as we continue to have this kind of misinformation put out there, gay men will have to bear the negative and unfair judgements held against them as a result.

I'm angered that the Cardinal, grasping at any explanation for the unforgivable conduct of so many Catholic priests around the world, would attack gay men, and claim that we're the cause of a truly sick disease.  But I'm not surprised, considering the Catholic church's historical and unwavering position on homosexuality.  The good Cardinal needs to get his facts straight before he flaps his gums about something is obviously knows so little about.

In the meantime, all we gay men can do is continue to live our lives as the best example of who we are, and what we're not.  One step forward, two steps back.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


This is a true story.

In early 1987, I was twenty-eight years old.  For the previous seven years, I'd been a teller in Kelowna at a branch of the financial institution I used to work for, but I was able to relieve on many of the other positions because of my past training.  When an opportunity came up to relieve for the administration officer at another branch in the area--while she underwent cancer treatment--I was asked if I was interested.  Interested?  Are you kidding?  I jumped at it.  Thanks to that turn of good fortune, over the next twenty years, I'd hold one management position or another in a variety of locations, both in the branch system and at back office operations.

In my new position, I discovered a rudimentary email application on our computer system.  This was before Microsoft Outlook or Entourage--some time before our lives were transformed by the email we've become addicted to.  At that time, emails were not sent to specific people; rather, they were sent to locations.  I discovered that if I input transit numbers of branch locations, along with a brief message, I could send a blind email out into the world.  And someone might even receive it and respond to it.  I was excited all to hell.  Don't ask me why.  I could have picked up the phone and talked to anyone at any branch, but communicating through email seemed so twenty-first century.

So I dispatched a series of emails to regional office branches across Canada--in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg, and Toronto--the ones I was most familiar with.  I thought if I were to receive a response, it would likely be from someone at a larger branch, where they might be aware of the email system available to us.  Did I have any inkling that someone in our tech world would discover what I was doing, and that I could get in trouble as a result?  I thought about that briefly, but my initial message was innocuous enough.  All I said was who I was, what position I held, where I worked, and that I'd be interested in hearing back from them, just to see where my responses came from.  The idea of carrying on a communication, brief as it might be, with a colleague elsewhere in Canada was what propelled me forward.

Then I waited.  But I didn't wait long.  The very same day, I received an email back.  I was so excited, my heart raced.  Who knew someone would receive my email and be interested enough to respond back.  I felt as though I was doing something illicit, that I could get caught and reprimanded or even dismissed for using work email for personal purposes.  But, of course, that was ridiculous.  It was all good clean fun, right?

The email I received was from a fellow who worked at the main branch in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a place I'd never been to (and, frankly, didn't want to visit because of it's reputation of having long, harsh, cold winters on the Canadian prairies).  His name was Brian, he worked in an investment department with instruments like term deposits, guaranteed investment certificates, banker's acceptances, and t-bills, canceling and booking them for customers.  That first email was brief, but it was something.  It opened the door to further emails, leaving me the chance to get to know someone working for the same company in a different part of the country.  (As a matter of interest, Brian was the only person who responded back to my initial email.)

Over the next several weeks, Brian and I sent emails to each other, every now and then, as time in our busy schedules allowed.  He told me what it was like to live in Winnipeg, to work in a large branch (where positions were highly specialized), and what he liked to do on his time off.  I told him about Kelowna, a small city in B.C.'s Okanagan Valley; what it was like to work in a small branch (where the employees knew how to do almost everything); and what I did outside of work (not telling him about volunteering to DJ every second Saturday night at the local gay club).  Brian and I were both around the same age.  

Before long, our emails to each other became more frequent.  I really liked Brian--he was warm, personable, and forthcoming.  Over time, I began to consider him a friend, even though we'd never met in person.  I couldn't wait to get to work every morning so I could send Brian that first email of the day during my coffee break, just before we opened the doors of the branch to the public.  After that, it was a little harder to send emails because there was only one computer on my side of the counter, and the receptionist, the discount clerk, and even the branch manager needed to use it to complete their daily work or to assist customers at the counter.  Plus, I didn't want anyone to know what I was doing.  It wouldn't set a good example for the administration officer to send personal emails on bank time.

At some point, I suggested to Brian that we should send pictures of ourselves to each other.  I wanted to see what this young man I'd become close friends with looked like.  He didn't seem to want to send me a picture but finally gave in, sending along with it a long letter on colorful paper in the most beautiful handwriting I'd ever seen along.  I was thrilled when I saw his picture.  I could tell he'd stood in front of a mirrored closet door and taken the picture himself (this was before digital cameras, the ubiquitous habit some people have of taking nonstop self-portraits, and the ability to attach photographs to emails).  His hair was blond, it was styled in a mullet (which was fashionable at the time), and he wore, if I recall correctly, what looked like a pair of striped overalls.  I thought he was attractive, but I also saw something else in the photograph that made my heart jump.

The picture I sent Brian was one a female friend of mine had taken when we'd gone to Father Pandosy Mission, a famous landmark in Kelowna, in early autumn. The setting was rustic, the leaves were turning color, and the sun was bright but hazy, allowing all the tones to look rich and deep.  I'd brought several changes of clothing, from a thick grey sweater with a high collar, to an orangey leather jacket, to light tan leather boots.  Unlike most of the people who took my picture to that point, Rena made me feel comfortable.  As a result, some of the pictures she took were among the best I had of me.  Of them, I chose the one I liked the most to send to Brian.  In the email Brian sent to me after he'd received the picture, he told me he thought I looked like a male model.  I didn't see it--I was still the gay kid I'd tried in vain to run away from most of my life--but his comment got me thinking for perhaps the first time that I might not just look gay, I might actually be attractive to other people.    

As Brian and I had gotten to know each other over the weeks and months, I'd discovered him to be open and honest.  I came to trust him, in the same way I'd learn to trust someone I made friends with in person.  I don't know how it came out--perhaps from our emails that had gotten increasingly personal, or from the pictures we'd sent each other--but we discovered each other was gay.

This realization took our emails, over the busy computer system at work, I remind you, to a whole other level.  I believe Brian was seeing someone on and off at the time (but it wasn't going well), while I was single, with no prospects for companionship or intimacy.  In other words, we were both available and open to relationships.  We clearly found each other attractive and were heavily invested in our friendship.  It's amazing what you're prepared to put in an email that you might never tell another soul if you were in close proximity.  We even discussed what we liked to do in bed--yes, I wrote some of that stuff out in the open on the computer at work that anyone could have seen as they walked by--although I hadn't had much experience with sex at that point and made up most of what I wrote.  

And so our e-affair began.  By then, Brian always placed several x's and o's below his large "B" when he signed off his emails, as I had begun to do above my "R."  I don't know if I focused more on completing my job then, or if my head and my heart were mostly on my emails to Brian and my emotional connection to him, but what was going on between us was distracting to say the least.  The few affairs I'd had with Adrian and Jim, whom I'd met at the club in Kelowna, hadn't lasted more than a few weeks, but what I shared with Brian had gone on for much longer.  Obviously, Brian and I hadn't consummated our relationship, but that hadn't stopped us from devoting ourselves to each other as strongly as you could to another person.  Never mind that we'd never met.  I was alone and lonely, he was alone and lonely, and we were both at the right places in our lives to reach out to the other, as impossible as the circumstances of our relationship were.

In my own way, I think I even came to love Brian.  Or perhaps, now that I know what real love is, I was infatuated with him.  Or with the idea of having an affair over the email system at work.  Or with the attention I was getting from someone whom I'd never met.  Whatever the case, I fell hard, as Brian told me he had too, and I lived to go to work in the morning so I could be close to Brian via the email system.  By then, our emails to each other were short novels, each pouring out the most personal details of ourselves and our lives, and professing our affection for each other.  I think Brian had even started to sign off by writing "Love, B."  In a matter of a few months, I'd gotten as close to this young man as I'd ever gotten to anyone I'd met in person, probably closer.  To say that our email affair was hot and heavy is an understatement.  I was completely gone over this whole experience.  What pissed me off was that I could find a relationship over the email system at work, with someone who was thousands of miles away, with no real possibility of getting together in person, yet I couldn't find anyone suitable to have a real relationship with at our tight-knit gay club in Kelowna.  How ironic.

Then the letter arrived.  Unbeknownst to me, Brian had written me a letter and sent it while we continued to send our emails furiously to one another at work.  I was thrilled to receive another letter from him, in his perfect, kindergarten-teacher printing, until I read what he wrote.

He told me that our affair was turning him into a mess.  He said he'd never felt about someone the way he felt about me (I understood what he meant).  That he didn't know where our relationship could possibly go, since we lived so far away from each other (neither of us had any intention of moving).   And that he had to put an end to our affair.  He wrote that it was almost impossible for him to do what he was doing, but it was best for both of us, before we became even more involved.  He said not to bother writing any more emails to him at work because he would delete them before reading them.  He said not to phone him at work or at home--we'd talked over the phone from home once or twice--because he wouldn't answer the phone.  He said our relationship had to stop before it got totally out of hand (as far as I was concerned, it already had).

I was absolutely sick as I read this letter.  My heart sunk.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  How could he do this to us?  How could he write such a letter, feeling the way he did, yet continue our intimate emails at work for several days after he sent the letter until I received it.  I felt betrayed.  He'd continued to profess his love for me, while his heart had already begun to cut me off.

I was hurt beyond words.  Having little experience in matters of this nature, in person or otherwise, I was as upset and as heartsick as I'd ever been.  My world felt like it had been turned upside down.  I was devastated, as though I'd just broken up with the most wonderful man who lived in the same apartment I did.    

Honoring Brian's wishes, I stopped sending him emails at work, but I couldn't keep my mind on what I was doing.  Every time I thought of him, somewhere in an office in a large branch, performing his daily tasks, I wondered if he was thinking of me, too, if he was as upset as I was by the turn of events.  Countless times during the day, I checked the email system to see if maybe, just maybe, he'd broken down and sent me one after all.  Always, the inbox was empty.  I began to think he'd been really serious about what he wanted us to do, that it had been easier for him than for me to stop all communication, maybe even to put me out of his mind altogether.  I didn't understand how that could be possible, but perhaps he hadn't been as close to me as he'd claimed all those months. Perhaps I was the only one who had fallen hard, and he'd done nothing more than feed me a line he thought I wanted to hear.  Whatever the case, I felt sick at work. I couldn't focus or concentrate, and I wanted to cry all the time.  Several days went by, and I heard nothing from Brian.

Then, one morning, the phone rang on my desk.  I picked it up, and I heard Brian's voice at the other end.  He said he couldn't stand it anymore, that he had to hear my voice.  He said he hadn't been able to keep his mind on his work for days, since he'd known I received his letter.  I told him how upset I'd been by what had happened, that I didn't understand how he could just cut everything off like that. He asked me why I hadn't sent him an email, why I hadn't called him. Because he'd asked me not to, I told him.  I said that if our relationship had been that difficult for him, I didn't want to make it worse by continuing something he no longer wanted to be a part of.  I respected his wishes and would never have contacted him again, regardless of how brokenhearted I was.  He appreciated that but said he'd been wrong.  He said he didn't know where our relationship could go, but that we should continue it to find out.  I was so grateful to hear his voice, to know we were still a couple, albeit one under the strangest of circumstances.

For the next several months, Brian and I continued our affair over the email system at work.  I think we were both a little reserved resuming everything at first, but, as soon as we became comfortable with what had happened, things got back to normal between us.  Our emails became as frequent as they were, as personal, and as filled with signs of affection as ever.

Before long, the intensity of what we shared began to wane, which I see now was likely to happen sooner or later.  While we both still had strong feels for each other, I think we realized that nothing much would ever come of it.  We had talked briefly about moving to each other's cities to be together, but I didn't want to live in Winnipeg, even for someone I thought I loved--I think in the back of my mind, I realized I didn't truly know Brian, and that being with him in person might be very different from being with him through emails and the rare letter or phone call.  And he didn't want to move to Kelowna.  Our lives were in two completely different places, and, thankfully, neither one of us was flighty enough to disrupt them for the possibility of something with a person we'd never met.

When I got a transfer to a branch in the Lower Mainland, nearly four hundred miles away from Kelowna, I knew I'd have limited access to a computer to send emails to Brian.  Perhaps that was as good a time as any to wind things down. We would never say we wouldn't be in contact with each other again, but our affair had run its course, and my moving away to a fresh start in the big city was the perfect opportunity to let each other go.  It had to be done.  I expected to meet new men in Vancouver, and I didn't want to feel like I was tied to Brian in Winnipeg, who would never truly be mine, and couldn't explore the possibilities of having a real relationship with someone I could be with in person.  Brian understood.  He needed to get on with his life, too.

Over the years, I received the odd email from Brian.  Months would go by, even years, and an email from him would appear in my Outlook inbox.  I'd always smile when I saw his name, and I'd remember a very special time in my life when I explored with him emotional territory that I'd never navigated before.  I'd open the email, he'd ask how things were going and update me on changes in his career and life.  And he'd always affix a small x and o below his initial.  I knew I'd always have feelings for him too, no matter what else happened in my life.


In the late '90s, I received an email from Brian saying that he and his lover--I believe the older fellow he'd been seeing on and off while we'd conducted our e-affair at work--were coming to Vancouver.  He wanted to know if I would be interested in getting together, perhaps for lunch.  Would I?  I couldn't believe, after a decade, I'd finally have the chance to meet Brian in person.  Of course, our affair was long over, and I had a real life partner now.  Chris and I had been together for seven years or so at that point.  Brian told me to bring Chris along, that he'd love to meet him.  Brian asked if I knew of any good restaurants, and I suggested Griffins at the Hotel Vancouver, one of Chris's and my favorites.

And so, late one sunny Sunday morning, Chris and I waited on a thickly upholstered leather bench outside of Griffins.  I had no idea what Brian would look like.  Despite taking a look at the picture he'd sent me all those years before, I knew people change--I certainly had--and I didn't know if I'd recognize him.  The time we were supposed to meet came and went, and I was beginning to think that Brian had thought the better of getting together with a fellow he'd had a torrent affair with over the computers at work all those years ago.  After all, both of us had moved on to entirely different chapters of our lives.  What was the point of linking up in person after all this time?

Then I saw someone walk toward me.  I sort of recognized the face, but I wasn't sure.  His skin was tanned, but, as he got closer, I saw his complexion was rough.  Deep lines creased the areas around his eyes and mouth.  Replacing the mullet was a cut close to the scalp.  He approached me and asked if I was Rick. When he identified himself as Brian, we embraced each other firmly, as though we were long, lost friends, and he introduced me to his partner, a fellow who was heavier set with thick grey hair.  We entered the restaurant and were seated.

Brunch was great fun.  Just as I had discussed with Chris, Brian had told his partner all about us.  Ten years after, we could laugh at what we'd been through together, the excitement we'd shared during those mundane days at work, and recall how intense things had gotten between us.  We talked about Winnipeg and travel, our careers and Vancouver.  Despite the unusual circumstances of our meeting, I felt close to Brian, and I think he felt close to me.  Our partners didn't sit on the sidelines; they were as involved in the conversation as we were.  Lunch was served, and, as usual, the food was delicious and the service outstanding.

As I sat at the table, watching Brian speak and laugh, I was grateful that I hadn't been rash all those years before, that I hadn't left my job and my province for the fantasy of a relationship with a young man in Winnipeg.  I could tell from his face that he'd lived a hard life, that our pasts were quite different, and, despite how compatible we'd seemed at the time, we weren't suited to each other after all.  In person, Brian wasn't nearly as attractive as he'd appeared, physically or otherwise.  As it turned out, we had different interests, passions, and goals.  And it seemed to me, as superficial as this sounds, that the picture he'd sent me wasn't a good representation of him.  Perhaps he'd stood too far away from the mirror.  Perhaps the mirror had distorted how he looked.  Perhaps the picture hadn't captured who the real Brian was inside.  Whatever the case, Brian in person didn't feel like the Brian I fell in love with at work.  Perhaps the previous ten years hadn't been good ones for him.  Perhaps he was aging badly. Perhaps he didn't feel the same about the person in the picture I sent him either. Who knows?

What I do know is that I ended up with just the right person for me.  Not only was Chris more physically attractive to me, but also he was reserved, innocent, and patient.  I loved his demeanor, while Brian, in person, seemed to be too much like me--excitable, uptight, intense.  I knew from having been with Chris for years that I needed someone who was similar to me in all the important ways--values, morals, world view--but different in all the ways that allow two people to be together for the long haul without killing each other.  Other gay men might have thought in the e-affair I had with Brian that they had found true love, and that they couldn't let it get away.  That it was the one-time, real deal.  But something made me hold back.  Something prevented me from getting fully drawn into a situation with too many unknowns.  Despite the crazy emotions I felt over those intense months, I kept my head and my heart, preserving them for the one young man who would make me sing in every way that's important.  To this very day, I remain grateful for my levelheadedness--but, also, for the wonderful experience Brian and I shared together, a once in a lifetime thing.

Friday, April 9, 2010


I'm a total Gleek. Like millions of people around the world, I can't wait for the new season of "Glee" to start this upcoming Tuesday night on Fox.  I look forward to the over-the-top Sue Sylvester, Cory Monteith as Finn, Mr. Schuester (one of the cutest and most inspirational teachers around), Lea Michele's wonderful and affecting voice, unique plot twists and turns, and the huge musical production numbers.  That's right.  I'm fifty years old, I love "Glee," and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

What I love most about "Glee" is how it takes what the world perceives as disadvantages in people--like being overweight, female, Asian, Jewish, and gay, for example--and turns them into advantages, strengths, reasons to celebrate.  I admit it, Kurt, the young gay fellow, made me cringe when I first saw him.  He was the quintessential effeminate boy, with the high-pitched voice, outrageous wardrobe, effeminate mannerisms, prissy attitude--and he irritated the hell out of me.  Why?  Because I saw some of myself in him, just as I'd be wiling to bet most gay men see a part of themselves in him, too.

But in facing Kurt, I've had to face myself.  At the same time I laughed as the tough football players waited for Kurt to remove his expensive, haute couture coat before they threw him into a garbage dumpster, I felt sorry for him, too.  I wasn't tossed into dumpsters when I was in grade school, like yesterday's trash, but I was treated in similarly demeaning ways, and I saw in Kurt a young man with a lot of courage and the ability to laugh at himself, which I did not possess.  True, "Glee" is just a TV show with great writers, and I have to keep that in mind.  But it's given me a new way of looking at the adversity I experienced, and a new perspective on what it means to be gay.

Imagine if it were advantageous to be gay, if being gay was something to cherish about yourself, something to celebrate along with the world.  Imagine if everyone looked up to gay people and recognized us for the sensitive, talented, and compassionate people that we are.  Imagine if everyone in the world wanted to be gay, because being gay was infinitely better than being straight, in all the most important ways.  I might be getting carried away here, but you get where I'm going with this.

"Glee" has helped me look at being gay differently, and, as a result, I look at myself differently.  Sure, the real world isn't like the one portrayed on "Glee," but the possibility of it is what excites me.  Looking beyond what I've always known my gay experience to be is what excites me.  And I have Kurt, that lovable queer, to credit for ripping down the sides of the box, and for showing me that, sure, gay people are ridiculed and scorned, but we have value, we make a difference, and the world is a much better place because we're in it.

I read in a magazine recently that, in this season of "Glee," Kurt gets his man--no less than a football player, who also happens to be gay.  That's what "Glee" does best--turns stereotypes upside down, inside out, and forces us to see a world that could be.

Join me on Tuesday evening to begin watching the new season of "Glee."  I guarantee you won't regret spending the time with this wonderful group of talented and engaging underdogs.  You'll likely see yourself in one or more of the characters.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Where We Need to Be

So Ricky Martin came out as a gay man last week.  After I read that in our local big city newspaper, I went looking for reactions on the Web.  I didn't have to look far.  Everyone who's gay, or not, seemed to have an opinion about Martin's announcement--from "Tell us something we didn't know," to "What took him so long?"

I was disappointed with these reactions.  First, just because someone might appear to be or to act gay--whatever that looks like--doesn't necessarily mean he is.  I used to get so pissed off in grade school when many of my classmates made the assumption I was gay--and teased me nonstop as a result--because, at the time, I wasn't even sexual, let alone gay.

Or maybe I didn't want to be gay (I wonder why that would be).  I was at one of those stages one goes through to come to terms with his sexual orientation if it's not heterosexual.  You know, not dissimilar to the stages one goes through when one experiences grief.  The bottom line is, perhaps, for the benefit of the person involved, we should look at sexual orientation in the same way we look at someone who's supposedly committed a crime (all right, maybe this comparison isn't appropriate after all):  It should be assumed one is straight before gay, in the same way that, in our society, one is innocent until proven guilty.  (I realize there are no comparisons between being straight and being innocent, or being gay and proven guilty, so please don't write me about it).

This much I know for sure:  If my classmates had spent more time focusing on their studies and less on my sexual orientation, which was none of their damn business in the first place, they might have performed better in school, and I might not still be working on restoring my battered self-esteem all these years later.

Under the subject of "What took him so long?", I have this to say:  Coming out is never easy for any of us.  We all do it in our own time.  And, when we do, it's not a one-time thing.  We continue doing it for the rest of our lives.  It never stops. You can never say at some point that you are fully out, and everyone knows that you're gay.  That won't happen.

Instead, what will happen is you'll get enough positive reactions from people you tell you're gay that you become empowered to tell most everyone you encounter--if it's appropriate, of course (no one likes a militant gay or lesbian, intent on proclaiming his or her sexual orientation, in whatever form that takes, because he or she is proud to be gay or lesbian and wants everyone to know--doesn't work because it alienates people).  And you won't care one way or the other what they think about you as a result, because, in the grand scheme of things, what they think doesn't matter in the least.  That's been my experience, anyway.

On the other hand, some people never come out--ever.  I feel sorry for them. For whatever reason, they can't make the leap.  Their lives are never truly their own. Either they completely deny themselves everything they are entitled to as human beings, never mind gay ones, or they live in the shadows, struggling to keep their secret at every twist or turn.  I did that for a while, and, believe me, it's no way to live.  In fact, it isn't living.  It's going through the motions.  

In the case of Ricky Martin, he waited until he was thirty-eight to come out--twelve years longer than I did, but at least he did it.  Gotta give him credit for that. I'm not Ricky Martin, and I don't live my life on the world stage, but I have to believe that, at least professionally, coming out for him was far more difficult than coming out was for me.

So, to those of us who were impatient with Martin for not coming out sooner, I say, give him a break.  You don't know what was at stake for him by coming out. No one forced you to come out, or, at least, I hope they didn't, so why should Ricky Martin be pressured to come out because you thought he should, because you thought he should be the poster child for everyone who's gay?  Who are you to make that decision for him?

Finally, I read a comment in a blog that I couldn't agree with more:  Now that Martin is out, the word "gay" will forever be attached to him.  He'll be known as the gay Latino singer from Puerto Rico, whether he wants to be or not, whether it's fair or not, whether it matters or not.  That's one of the benefits of coming out.

Funny, no one's ever described Michael Buble as a straight singer.  He's simply a singer.  His sexual orientation, because he's straight, is never attached to his name as an identifier.  The same can be said of every other straight male or female singer, past or present.  When you're straight, sexual orientation doesn't matter.  And, what's perhaps even worse, the assumption is always made that you're straight--unless, of course, someone thinks he can tell that you're not straight.  Then you get into that whole thing I started out saying above.

So why is it important that, when you come out, not only from that point is the word "gay" attached to your name, but also it's usually the first word used to describe who you are?  Why is it so important that people know you're gay? For what purpose do they need to know that?

Does it help them to orient themselves around you better?  Is their reaction toward you supposed to be somehow different, depending on your sexual orientation, so they need that information up front in order to respond to you in the way they should?

Should your sexual orientation be of any concern to people, if, in fact, they should make the determination of how to feel about you based on everything but who you sleep with?  Like whether or not you're a good person?  Or you make a valid contribution to society in some constructive way?  Why does sexual orientation need to be a part of the equation at all?  What does it matter whether you're gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered--or straight, for that matter?

That's where we need to get with this.  We need to arrive at the point where, if someone like Ricky Martin chooses, in his own time, to announce that he's gay, the declaration doesn't mean anything to anyone.  Even better.  We need to get to the point where sexual orientation just doesn't matter at all, where no one needs to know, or cares to know, who you love and have sex with, because it has no bearing on you as a human being.  That's where we need to be.

That's where we need to be.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

In the Name of Religion

Estranged B.C. son of American anti-gay preacher speaks out

Cranbrook man says his father blames world's problems on homosexuality

Soft-spoken Cranbrook cab driver Nate Phelps is coming forward on Easter Sunday to speak out against one of America's most outspoken anti-gay crusaders -- his own father.
Phelps, who has been quietly living in B.C. with his wife and four children, is the estranged son of Pastor Fred Phelps, head of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan.
Members of the WBC gained notoriety in Canada in 2008 after announcing plans to picket the funeral of Tim McLean, who was beheaded on a Greyhound bus.
Pastor Phelps claimed the grisly murder was God's revenge for Canada's liberal policies on abortion, gay rights and divorce.
Nate Phelps, who broke away from his father and his beliefs in 1980, first revealed his identity to a customer in his cab in Cranbrook.
The fare happened to be University of B.C. journalism student Trevor Melanson.
Melanson went on to write an award-winning feature about Nate Phelps that was published in the Ubyssey and on thetyee.cain 2009.
In his first in-depth television interview with journalist Peter W. Klein, Phelps describes a childhood dominated by a fear of going to hell, and says the WBC shares some of the same traits as a cult. Phelps says his father regularly beat his mother and 11 siblings, used racial epithets, and blamed the world's problems on homosexuality.
In recent years the radical group has outraged many for conducting verbally abusive protests at the funerals of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. Phelps claims that America's losses are God's punishment for increasing social acceptance of homosexuality.
On his "church" website, ( publishes a list of planned protests that he dubs "the love crusades."
In the interview, Phelps says his father was once a brilliant and well-respected lawyer who led several anti-segregation cases and was honoured by the NAACP as a civil rights hero.
Nate Phelps now considers himself an atheist. The interview airs on Joytv's talk program The Standard on Sunday at 8 p.m.