A policy change years in the making, on Thursday Health Canada approved Canadian Blood Services’ submission to eliminate the three-month donor deferral period for gay and bisexual men. Moving away from a blanket ban, the national blood donor organization will be able to screen all donors regardless of gender or sexuality. Instead, donors will be screened based on their sexual behaviours. Canadian Blood Services (CBS) is expected to introduce the new behaviour-based questionnaire approach by Sept. 30. It will apply to both blood and plasma donations.
Too bad the United States has recently starting sliding back into the fascism of the uninformed.
Okay I’m back here again. After I said that I had written the last tale of growing up gay I realized that the story didn’t end there for me. Nor does it end for the rest of us when we come out. Why? Because we continue to grow and change. Evolve. Most notably this all happens within the first couple of years. You discover so much about what being gay means to you. All the existential introspective listening to music while pondering your life occurs in this time period.
So I wanted to again write about the experiences I’ve had and to the best of my ability generalize it as I feel many gay men may have at some point experienced these stages. Because we reconcile those experiences and learn from our past when we talk about them. This isn’t so much a tale as it is just an exercise in random, yet meaningful, assortments of different stages/aspects we go through.
This is the term given to gay men the first year that they are officially out of the closet. It’s generalized that way because in a sense you’ve been born again. The world is new, and this is the time when you can actually celebrate who you are openly. Everything in the world seems so big. More real. You could definitely compare it to the first time Mary Tyler Moore walked the streets of New York City. You feel so revitalized and aware of pleasures, both simplistic and deep.
There are so many firsts that occur when you step out into the world as a gay man. No more trying to hide the fact that you love men and want to have sex with them. You openly talk about sex. Some of us during this stage just want sex. Lots and lots of sex. One of the many advantages of being a member of this community is that you’ll find out is that sex isn’t hard to find. And I certainly will not begrudge anyone that partakes in this behavior (safely).
It’s all exciting and you want to soak up every catch phrase and whatever the in thing to do is at that time. Go to every gay bar that you can get into. The rush of excitement every time you write down the words “I’m gay”. You take a deep breath every time you say it to someone who doesn’t know the truth yet and are either greeted with a displeasing reaction so you can give a quick rebuttal that you’ve rehearsed a thousand times mentally. Or take a huge sigh of relief when they are welcoming and loving.
But this stage isn’t all fun. Just with everything else in life this time period teaches you that there is a darker side to just about every community. More notably, this is when you find out about rejection. Scathing, brutally honest rejection. I’m not talking about when a crush says no thank you after you have finally worked up the courage to ask them out. It’s when you walk up to a prospective guy to show interest in you will flat out tell you whether they like you or not.
They will unabashedly tell you everything that’s right or wrong with you. Wrong hair, terrible shoes, lame accessories, ill-fitting clothes, dieting tips and workout routines they think would help you look better. That’s just in the first minute of talking to him. We also quickly learn about the social hierarchy of sex and how many will immediately size you up within 3 seconds and label you a top, bottom, verse, dom top. power bottom, vers top, vers bottom or anything in between. You will also be categorized based on size and body hair as if you are a new produce that needs to be bagged tagged and shelved until ready for use,
It could range from gym rat, otter, bear, leather daddy, twink, cub, “straight acting” gaypster (gay hipster) gaymer (gay gamer) bromo (gay dude bro) manther (gay cougar), a bunch of other lame inane adjectives or the ever so dreaded “average”. In my first year of being out, I’d say the labels is what I struggled with most because I outright abhor them. As many gay people of color will tell you, we’ve already had enough with being categorized just by your natural appearance. I’m in no way knocking it if you feel like they embody your personality. But my free loving nature resists any attempts to categorization or labels. .
Anger/Rejection of Perceived Gay Norms
After your gayby year, you feel like you’ve got the hang of it. Because this is most likely the most self-indulgent superficial year of your life. At least it was for me. I took full advantage of all the gay world had to offer and more. But I came down hard to reality after that year. Because we learn about how we are truly affected by society and what is really going on with us. Our problems as a community. This can result in a lot of anger.
The reality of the world may lead to this stage of anger because as both an outsider and eventually an insider you see vanity and self-absorbed tendencies to the max. After that much self-indulgence you become frustrated because that has been your world for such a long time. Failing to realize the true complexity the gay community could appear to have a total disregard for feelings or a total lack of acceptance to any differences. There’s more than likely frustration that accompanies this because you felt that it was different. Then you learn that it is all about the places you go and the people you associate.
This time is also marked by, depending on your perspective, harsh realization that people don’t always equate sex with love. Or maybe you’re angry because you are just fed up with the archaic labels and shallow pace the gay community seems to be set in. You may see the majority of gay men as superficial egotistical airbags.
This is the time where you may become outspoken and angry at society. Angered how religion and God’s Word is twisted to fit man’s image when it’s fueled by greed and power. You begin to reciprocate the anger that is directed at you because you remember all the times you were afraid of being who you were before coming out. You are angry because you feel like you always have to be on guard to protect yourself from those incensed with hate and bigotry.
Introspection of Gay Lifestyles
This is when we look inside for answers because we want to make sense of this community. All the things that you have learned and all the feelings of anger and frustration build to a point where you quietly back away from all things gay. It’s not so much that you don’t want to be gay it’s your way of searching for answers. You ask yourself how you can find contentment in so much chaos. You speculate and theorize about how you can coexist with this pace. Then you begin to question your outlook.
This is the time that you learn the true nature of your sexuality. You learn the mechanics of having sex with another man. And now that you’re listening and asking real questions about life, you learn and hear the real personal impact of HIV/AIDS from the people you meet. You realize they are not the virus, that they are people.
This is also when you question everything that you had to push back out of your mind because being gay was the only thing that mattered. But now you’re learning that it’s only one aspect of who you are. You question the very notion of faith and what you believe to be truth or creature comforts.
You’ve learned about activism and how to get involved in fundraisers for hospice care and youth centers. You donate to the cause and let your actions speak for you rather than heated emotions taking over. You reconcile so much of the anger you had both with yourself and with society. Sometimes, after years of being in this community, the sad, detached, distrustful, and overall apprehensive feelings of expecting anyone of real value coming into your life has merely been the result of your outlook.
All this time you’ve spent thinking, wondering who you are and what gay means, you come to a serene, clear moment that places all of these emotions that you’ve had about the gay community and about yourself. Again you learn to not look at any person or situation by the few superficial aspects that commonly define them.
This is when you’ve finally and completely accepted yourself and your sexuality. No longer do you feel like you have to declare how masculine you are to prove your worth as a man No longer are you concerned with how gay you look because you know that you can only live your life. Instead of being angry and having resentment towards those that do have it all together or all the advantages of society. this is the time where you just take action accordingly.
Getting involved to help when and where you can. By this time in your life you realize that maybe you shouldn’t look at movies or base finding love off of sitcoms. That true genuine people are around that will share your interests and concerned for your well-being. At this point when you write the words “I’m gay” you see it as just a part of who you are, like hair color or height. This is the time marked by when you’re looking for someone to spend your life with, you aren’t too concerned with him being a top or bottom as chemistry will work that all out, You’ll care more about if he’s genuine, engaging, and considerate to who you are and building your lives together.
These are when you have friends in your life that instead of picking you a part because of their own neuroses will always pick you up when you fall. You are finally able to see a plethora of loving, caring men that truly want to help you gain your identity that’s separate from all the inane sometimes uninspired labels. All visible from the beginning that maybe you overlooked. You will learn that you’ve learned that you are not just a letter to the acronym of LGBT and neither are the rest of the men of this community. You recognize that gay is not the subgroup in this community. This the moment that you truly are a complete, actualized being.
Again this is a very rough assortment of some of what we experience. Some of us go through all these aspects and stages one at a time, all at the same time or none at all. This was basically to show that we are in fact always growing no matter what stage.
Several weeks ago I was asked to do an Op-Ed on whether an HIV negative man should date someone who is positive. Being completely honest, I was nervous. Not because the subject matter of discussing HIV/AIDS makes me nervous, but for fear that I wouldn’t fully encapsulate my point correctly or present each side of the argument accurately. So I held off for a while to ruminate and collect my thoughts. Methodically trying to map out how to present it to a community that has such a taboo about even discussing the subject, fearing an association to something that affects the entire community.
During this process I kept revisiting excerpts of different points I wanted to bring up and as time went on thought they were too convoluted or sounded insulting or just was too random to be of use in the article. I then came across a brilliant and honest depiction of what it was like for a man living with HIV to go out seeking romance or possibly love. David Duran’s story about being positive and navigating through social dating apps really touched me because I truly felt the frustration he expressed about disclosing his status to men he could have some potential sexual relationship. I related to it because I felt frustrations when I’m discounted or erroneously judged because of race in the gay community, another taboo subject rarely discussed.
As I thought about the comparisons it made me think of how taxing that has to be on the gay men that have to endure the silent ridicule and muffled disdain for something that could have happened to any of us. Now some may chagrin to that statement I just made but they would do well to remember that condoms do sometimes break. They should remember that just because someone says that their STI test came back negative doesn’t always mean that they don’t have the virus because it hasn’t shown up yet. So yes it can happen to any of one of us.
This reflective journey made me remember an incident about understanding what HIV is after I came out. I came across a journal entry dated a little over six years ago where I attempt to process whether or not I would date a man living with the virus. I’m going to share a part of this entry to show some of the mistakes I made as a younger gay man and how this experience may resemble the reactions that David and other men have faced. I hope that even though it shows a bit of my own ignorance back then that it may also open eyes to the misconceptions and negative attitudes surrounding it. Because as I always state in these articles, nothing ever changes if we don’t talk about where we went wrong and how we can overcome these flaws.
Saturday January 27th 2007
Tonight I feel like I messed up big time. My first real venture into socializing with gay men, something I dreamed about was a wash. I was finally able to openly flirting with a guy..but in the end it just came out awkward. I was grateful that William had invited me out cause even though it’s been over a year since I came out I don’t know anyone other than the man I’d loved and lost as a circumstance of bad timing and a couple of random guys I fooled around with. This was supposed to be a big step but it..just didn’t turn out right.
I got along with everyone and flirted with the guys and that was received well. Later on this guy walked in. Black hair and the most brilliant luminescent emerald green eyes I can remember. Checkered shoes with a matching scarf and pinstripe suspenders. A hipster from head to toe. I was so taken by him. A few drinks and I felt comfortable enough to say more than hey. We talked about school and politics. He was as so sharp and articulate as I always think I am.. Sweet smile and his butt. Amazing. After we went out back to talk more we leaned in to kiss but he stopped before we made contact. Saying he had to tell me about his status and I was so in the moment it wasn’t clicking to what he was referring to. He said he was positive.
A few seconds of confusion until I realized he was talking about HIV. I was just so caught up in the moment..but I wasn’t able to hide how hard the statement had brought me back down from fantasizing about us throwing each other against the house and me having my way with him. The starry gaze in my eyes was replaced with shock. I could tell he’s seen this expression before and it makes the whole thing worse. And I noticed that he noticed my initial reaction that was in my face that easily to him said “no” when I didn’t know what I would do. But I know he’s seen that face before and a resolve that nothing would come of our earlier flirtation. Shaking and so upset, probably heightened by the alcohol, my reaction condemned this man and I felt so ashamed, that I may have hurt his feelings. I began to cry.
Spontaneously crying, like I always do when I feel I’ve deeply offended someone unintentionally. He was trying to say something like “it’s okay, I understand” but all I could do was profusely yell how sorry I was if I made him feel bad or that he wasn’t desirable. Because I felt like at that point I couldn’t just save face and say of course it’s not an issue but my reaction said differently. Even worse that I know what that feels like on some level to be rejected on something you can’t change, though not to the degree that he had to have felt. Too often I’ve had resolve to rejection as sometimes as an African American you have to brace yourself as some people do react to you this way.
And here I am most likely making this guy feel that way. Both of us embarrassed at the moment I was having I flagged a sober friend to drive me home…Could it have been the era I grew up in? Definitely. I grew up in the 80s and 90s in the south, the time of the Cold War and the Reagan era that seemed to completely and utterly fail to diminish the impact of the virus. AIDS was on the news almost every night. And people were terrified I was terrified. These all sound like more excuses about whatever I’m subconsciously afraid to say.
Growing up I remember so often when the subject of gay came up it was automatically synonymous with AIDS and then death. Back then it due to the reprehensible negligence by the government so it really was a death sentence. I wonder if that image was ingrained as I was processing the fact that I was gay; maybe that had some weight in how I reacted. I just remember being so afraid growing up thinking if I’m gay then I’m automatically destined to inherit this disease? Of course I know better than that now. I know antivirals helps a person live normally. But back then that was all I knew. Maybe it’s all an excuse.
Why did I react that way? Why am I trying to justify being so wrong. This isn’t like me. It’s not like I have anything to worry about. I get tested for STD’s at least once every six months. And if we were intimate together I would take the same precautions that I always do. So why did I respond that way. William called and said the guy wasn’t offended and understood but I still feel like a horrible human being. I wonder if it wasn’t completely subconscious, or lingering fear. Maybe that’s why I panicked because I had internalized all the lies and manipulation I had been taught growing up from the media. All I know is that I was embarrassing tonight. And probably hurt someone’s feelings. I hate this feeling and sorry for all this,
I remember during this whole ordeal I kept thinking that if I referred to it as a disease instead of a virus that it was insulting. Or what if it’s the other way around or both or neither. I was just so afraid of offending this man and those amazingly beautiful emerald eyes of his. More likely it was fear that I still had not dealt with and it all came to the surface that night. I needed to reconcile that because no matter how open minded I believed I was, for whatever reason I was seeing a status rather than a person. That was why I had that reaction. For me, I needed to change that outlook immediately and I believe that I’ve done so.
Some things are the same as they were then. I still slightly look away when I make eye contact with someone I’m extremely attracted to and smile. I still have terrible one liners that somehow makes the guy I’m talking to laugh..still don’t know if it’s out of civility or genuine affection. I’m still immensely drawn to hipster. I still use protection every time I have a sexual encounter and get tested at least once every six months to make sure that I don’t have any STD’s. But now I do not treat a man that is positive as some fragile being I need to tiptoe around. No longer through my awkward, panicked behavior do I treat these men as though their status is the only thing I see. I view these men as men, just as deserving of love and affection as anyone else. As it should be.
So maybe the worse thing I did through that experience was be afraid of offending someone else’s feelings (which is at times still a flaw). But it was necessary for me to go through and learn some of the prejudices that I may not have been aware of back then. As the years have went on I grew to see people as people, no matter their circumstance. I now know that I would consider dating an HIV positive man the same way I’d consider dating any other gay man. Would there be lengthy discussions and all precautions before during and after sex be taken? Absolutely as I take those precautions with every man I’m with sexually, as we all should be.
So how do we challenge ourselves to stop letting stigma dictate how we treat these men? How do we evolve and overcome the insensitive and sometimes downright ugly reactions that we may have when these men are looking for the same things we’re looking for? Talk. Just as we did when we first discovered that we’re gay. We sought out after answers about what our sexuality meant and what sex would someday mean to us. We learned the mechanics of protecting ourselves and those we sexually engage. We learned that we don’t want to be treated differently on the basis of one aspect of ourselves.
Sometimes it is necessary for us to revisit the lessons of the past and apply them to a different situation. The one thing all of us can do, regardless of status, is talk openly about HIV. I’m not saying that anyone has to share the exact same opinion on this because I understand why people would have reservations about it. Who knows, maybe I still do as I have not dated anyone who is positive. But at least I am ready to talk about it and learning more. Because I do believe there are valid concerns, just like any relationship you embark upon. Education is paramount, not only in prevention but in understanding what it means to those living with the virus.
All relationships have obstacles that we will all have to face. But that doesn’t mean that you have to treat these men so distastefully. As David has said, we are all kin, and status doesn’t remove our sexual nature or desire or our humanity. Basically the only thing I ask every gay man to do is challenge and examine why they have a certain view on this topic. Question where your beliefs come from, question what you fear, and ultimately do what’s right for you. And always protect yourself. Talk.
Thank you David for being my muse and inspiring me to find the right words to express how I feel. And my journals for yet again showing me how reflection is always necessary for growth.
People always want to analyze the constructs of any community and label each component. We all do in order to understand the unique complexities that structure a culture’s behaviors, customs, and even thought processes. Understanding the mechanics allows us to be able to understand why people are the way we are. And the gay community is no different. We have certain things about us that are a part of our daily lives that help us in one way or another. Often, when asked about what things are involved in our daily lives one thing always comes to mind that makes our experience as gay men truly unique.
Now this is the one accessory that nearly every gay man has in their possession. It serves as a calendar and journal that documents the inner workings of your life in just about every aspect. Most of us, at some point, reference to these record keepers as they are often the ones that help us analyze our lives. No matter how feminine or masculine any gay man claims to be, this is acquired in one way or another and is a part of your daily life. And it always comes in the form of a woman.
This woman does just about everything with you. From picking out clothes to going to night clubs together. Workout together. Eat together then obsess about your weight so you have to go workout together again. You have great movie marathons and dance parties to occupy the lonely nights or just because you love to dance. Road trips and music concerts become your freedom anthems. You cry together over breakups and laugh after your latest conquest in the arena of love. She defends your honor and stands by you
They are most likely one of the first people we tell that we’re gay, if not the first. And even though they have always known they quietly sit as you shed copious amounts of tears and console you, all the while allowing you to tell your story. Even though they will never completely understand what it’s like to be different they do everything in their power to make sure you don’t feel different around them. They let us know that it’s okay to be who we really are and let us know that there is always someone there no matter what anyone else thinks.
Often they are the voice of reason that talks us through the pained experiences that we encounter every day. Not only do they witness the trials we face as gay men when we are ridiculed and harassed, but also when we are facing that prolific battle of accepting ourselves internally. Because we all know that there is so much more than saying the words “I’m gay” when we come out. They stand there with us to lift our spirits and tend our wounded hearts and egos.
They will rally at our first gay pride parade and compare notes on deciding if the insanely hot guy that walked into the coffee shop plays on our team or team hetero and then have some of the most intricate dialogue to see who’s right. Throughout so many first steps that we take as gay men are greeted by the solace these women provide.
They will listen to you when you both attempt to decipher the biggest mistakes made in both past and current relationships. They will listen for hours on end to the endless mounds of exposition that you give on life because you do not understand why relationships have to be so damn complimented. They simply have a way of making everything in life a little more glamorous.
They grant us a smile just because they want to brighten our day. To assist in the most mundane of tasks to the wildest of adventures. From our resounding victories and conquests in love to the devastating life altering despair of ending relationships, they are there for us. To the casual outside observer, the dynamic of a gay man with a straight woman as best friends would resemble a tv sitcom. And maybe in some ways it is a little like Will & Grace. But it’s not all sunshine and smiles.
When we’ve done something wrong, they won’t let it slide.They will call you out on your crap faster than anyone else. They now when to coddle us and when to tell us to stop feeling sorry for ourselves, to pick up, dust off, and get back in there and fight for what we want. It is not asked for it is demanded because they often see the strength that we are unable to in our more fragile moments. They challenge us to challenge ourselves to be better men than we once believed.
By now you know who I’m referring to. They are referred as the hags of our communities. And I know there’s another word that goes before that. A word that we are called when we are bullied and beaten and threatened. A three letter word that can haunt some of us for our entire lives because it is associated with being weak. And we are not weak. And neither are the women that stand by us and as a result I refuse to say it, because for me it is a word of disrespect no matter the context.
See these women are not accessories. They are our friends. Too often we lose sight of that and treat these treasures like the latest fad that can be ditched at any time. They are not the sidekick to our superhero complex, there merely to provide some form of comic relief to our overdramatic lives. These women are in the thick of it right along with us. To many of us they become a never-ending source of strength when we are at some of the most vulnerable times in our lives. These women have a somewhat detailed account of the experiences we go through every day. They love us. So why would we ever degrade the magnitude if their significance by calling them a hag?
I know that most of us do not treat these exemplary women that are in our lives in such vapid fashion. But this is for the ones that do openly, or may not recognize that they do. I also know that it’s about semantics. I know that words only have the power that we allow them to possess. But it still needs to be said from time to time that these magnificent women are not to be the brunt of our jokes whenever we’re feeling vindictive or projecting our own insecurities upon. They do not exist to merely serve our purposes, both deep and superficial in nature. They are not and should never be at our beckon call. They are people just like us. They are not hags. They are our friends. One of the best kind.