Friday, December 9, 2011

On the Tenth Anniversary of Aaron Webster's Murder

(Note:  Some material in this post may not appeal to all readers.  Please use your discretion.)

Thank God for Will Travis of Surrey, B. C.  He had the balls to write a letter to Xtra! recently and say what not only he thought for the past ten years, but what I, and many other gay men like us, also thought about the Aaron Webster murder.  

For those of you unfamiliar with the details of this case, here's the story as it appears on Wikipedia:

"Aaron Webster was a gay man living in Vancouver, British Columbia...who was beaten by a group of men close to a gay cruising area in a woody part of Stanley Park...on November 17, 2001.  According to reports, the youths came across a nearly naked Webster and chased him to a parking area where they beat him with baseball bats.  After the beating, Webster was found beside a path in the park by his close friend..." and died in his friend's arms.

Rightfully, the gay community in Vancouver was outraged by Webster's death, organizing a vigil and march held the day following the murder.  Hundreds participated, walking "...through the streets of downtown Vancouver toward the site of Webster's death.  Another rally, including [the then] B. C. Human Rights Commissioner..., was held several weeks later.  Vigils were also held in several other Canadian cities."

I'd be the first to admit nothing should take away from the tragic death of a human being; we cannot lose sight of what happened to this man.  Aaron Webster didn't deserve to die.  End of story.  He was not a threat to anyone.  He was nothing more than a harmless, forty-two-year-old gay man...in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

And that's exactly the problem.  In all the reporting around Webster's death over the past ten years--everything from it being the first gay-related murder to gain widespread media attention in Canada, to "...whether the attack constituted a hate-crime"--no one asked the obvious question: What was Aaron Webster doing, almost naked, in a public park, in the middle of the night, looking for sex?

Here's what Will Travis had to say in his letter to Xtra!, appearing in issue #477, dated December 1, 2011:

In our Western society, we have a sanction against public nudity and especially against public sex.  That's not to deny that in certain singular centres...licensed whorehouses do legally display their lascivious flesh in public spaces.  Stanley Park is not one of those places.

Stanley Park is a dedicated green space meant for the enjoyment [and] leisure...of citizens.  As much as some gay men wish the park were an approved sex arena, it's not!  The odorous, sticky little paths some gay men haunt in the depths of the park are not their private property.  The entire park is public property.  Men who wish to romp around waving their erections, looking to fuck and get fucked need to do that on their own private property.  They need to get a room!

The community at large knows full well that public nudity and public sex are illegal and, in the eyes of most citizens, immoral.

Any sentient gay man knows that violent homophobes exist, that they are real people with a real hate-on, and that they patrol the same dark, self-licensed "play spaces" as the treacherous spot where Aaron Webster was assaulted.

You have to ask: What rational person would do what Aaron did?  What rational, socialized man would deliberately enter a park after dark, strip down to his buck nakedness, and expose himself in pursuit of thrill and debauchery?  Was Aaron surprised when they came to get him?  Only a fool would take the kind of risk Aaron took [p. 4].    

Like Travis, "I'm not a heartless bastard.  I hate that this happened to Aaron Webster, too. Tragedy and treachery in the city.  What I find...tragic and...treacherous is that the community has elevated Webster to sainthood.

"I'm a gay guy.  But if I were ever to be confronted in the park by a naked, boner-raging man I would take real offence [p. 4]."          

Amen!  I was so relieved to read Travis's letter.  It speaks for those of us in the gay community who would never do what Aaron Webster did, but what many men like him continue to do, even today.

So many thoughts run through my mind regarding this matter.  Among them:

What kind of human being is compelled to go to a public park, putting his life at potential risk, for the sake of engaging in anonymous sex?  Someone who doesn't feel he'd get sex any other way?  Someone who has so little respect for himself that he doesn't believe another man could be attracted to, or interested in, him for anything other than sex?  Is this yet another example of just how low self-esteem is in some segments of the gay male community?

Did those who marched in downtown Vancouver following Webster's murder do so to memorialize him, to pay homage to the tragic loss of a human life?  Or did they do it to stand up for what they believed was their right: to cruise for sex in a public park?  I'm concerned too many of the marchers saw themselves in Webster, imagining, because of their own park-going habits, the very same thing happening to them.    

In my estimation, Aaron Webster is not a saint or a martyr.  He's a gay man who made a bad mistake, paying for it with his life.  By definition, a saint is "a person who is admired or venerated because of his virtue," and a martyr is "a person who is killed because of his religious or other beliefs."  Webster was not virtuous in his actions, and he did not have any religious or other beliefs to exalt his death.      

What has to happen for gay men who seek sex in public parks to stop that activity altogether, to see how much more they are worth than that, and to find other ways to fulfill the common need we all have for connection and validation?  How do we ensure another example is not made of a gay man looking for sex in a public place? 

6 comments:

  1. Thanks, JustAMike. I appreciate your interest in, and support of, what I have to say.

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  2. I have just come across this sad testament to humanity in my introductory sociology course. I am continually appalled at what we, as sentient beings, are capable of. I thought to search out further information on the web and found your site.

    I'm glad I did because my very first reaction was disgust that people go seeking to harm others based on their own fear and lack of understanding. I am heterosexual but have a very close friend who is like a brother to me and whom all five of my children call Uncle, who is gay. I cannot imagine what I would feel if my friend was harmed in this way.

    What I am glad to see is your post about the way in which some gay men seek out sex or search for 'companionship' in parks such as Stanley Park. You make a relevant point that is true for everyone, not just gays, about the way in which we seek, ultimately, love and acceptance. I know that being gay presents huge obstacles regarding every aspect of being able to just be who you are within a largely heterosexual world that I cannot begin to understand.

    I hope I haven't said anything to offend anyone. Just wanting to say that this is a refreshing article. Compassion with a good reality check. I like it! Namaste.

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  3. Namaste, on the contrary, you have not offended or upset me in the least with anything you wrote here.

    Like me, you recognize the tragedy that is the Aaron Webster murder, while, at the same time, acknowledging what Webster did, that led to his death, was dysfunctional. That's the only way I can describe it. All of us need to be accepted and loved, but the vast majority of us don't seek that by trolling public parks in the middle of the night.

    What I sought to do with this piece was ask three questions:
    1). Why do some gay men put their lives at risk by engaging in the type of conduct Aaron Webster did?
    2). What do some gay men get from that experience that they can't get in any other way?
    3). How do we fix this so not one more gay man feels compelled to fulfill basic human needs from complete strangers through illicit acts?

    Your comment is heartfelt, honest, and appreciated. Thank you so much for taking the time to read what I wrote and to respond to it.

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  4. The following is a comment I received from Will Travis himself. Unfortunately, his comment did not capture here at the time he wrote it.

    Rick:
    "HEY!

    This is Will Travis of the "Xtra" letter re: Aaron Webster. Imagine my surprise when I ran across your blog - I was Googling my own name on the web to pass some idle time...gee, there are a lot of "me's" out there!...and Google brought me HERE to your blog! A pleasant surprise.

    I'm truly gratified to know that other fags out there see the park-trolling public sex issue for the Dummheit that it is! It's a bloody shame about Aaron, it's a crying shame about sex-trolling in public parks (another of your commentators here does a good job of exploring the sad psychology that may impel men who do it).

    And it's a triple shame that the "Q-munity" - is that how those Pink Triangle people spell it? - has done its best to affirm Aaron as some kind of role model or hero to the Q-munity. I mean, a bold Tenth Anniversary issue? Oh, please! A thoughtful "page three" feature story would have served as a sober, thoughtful remembrance of Aaron. And Vancouver's "Hedda Hopper" gay gossip source Jim Deva should have just backed away. His blab only cheapened the story, he's seriously over-exposed.

    Xtra edited my letter heavily, of course. They sanitized it. Natch. (To give them their due, space had to have been a consideration.) The nasty bits Xtra cut were my expressions of frustration with the dumb herd mentality - some call it Queer Sensibility - that enables witless men like Aaron Webster to live lives of high risk in total, blithe, stupidity [Dummheit!].

    Xtra generally makes me cringe anyway, and this is one of their 'cringy-est" low moments. Pink Triangle's priorities are whacked.

    So I finally cranked out that letter, after ten years!

    I knew, of course, that my letter would rankle some readers. Good. That's the desired outcome. American CNN commentator Jack Cafferty of the "Cafferty Files" said it all: "I'm not exactly what you'd call...[a] poster boy for feel-good news...In your face is more like it. It works for me." It works for me too, Jack. Pity we have only the sex-and-drag-drunk Xtra in our city to publish our voices. Oh well.

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  5. Many thanks, Will, not only for your comment, but also for taking the trouble to send it again, giving me the opportunity to share it with my readers. I appreciate your interest in what I have to say, and I really appreciate your letter in "Xtra!", which was the inspiration for this post and another that follows it.

    Thanks also for having the courage to write what no doubt many of us in the community believe to be true. Aaron Webster's beating death was awful and a tragedy, but he is neither a role model nor a hero. We have other people we can look up to far more than him.

    Thanks again.

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