Tag Archives: AIDS Committee of Toronto

Pride 2015: Loving my gays

25 Jun

gay prideI have known and loved gay men ever since I can remember. A man my father worked with when I was a wee child was gay – this was in the early `70s when being gay was still hush-hush and freshly decriminalized in Canada – but I had no conception of sexuality. Sid was flaming and living a lie, married to a woman. As a kid, I could neither put my finger on what it was about Sid that I was sensitive to, nor did I have the language to describe my perception of him, but there was something extra special about Sid: he had a lisp, a limp wrist, and he loved martinis.

What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.  – Tennessee Williams

In high school, I made friends with Jay, a fun, gentle gay man who I am still friends with. Jay was just Jay and his sexuality was not an issue – in our social group at least. Trying to deal with high school in the 1980s when homophobia was rampant and homosexuality very misunderstood, I was grateful for people who broke the rules and weren’t afraid to be themselves.  Jay was one of these; he was just himself and we couldn’t understand why people made such a big deal out of his sexuality – especially at a time when the people who teased him wore horrible mullets and listened to crappy bands like REO Speedwagon!

He took me into the clandestine gay bar in our small prairie city, a place very close to one of the larger and popular hetero bars. It was a secret place – we had to be signed in by members of the club and buzzed in through the locked door. At that time, being gay and being a gay ally was dangerous, so precautions had to be taken. But it was a wonderful time; Jay told me about his exploits with older men who recognized his state of being even before he did. It was a time of discovery about ourselves and our tastes; our rebellion, our character, and our desire to be ourselves. Through Jay, I learned to have fun and be true to myself no matter what people said about me.

Before you criticize queens, fairies or someone who acts ‘too queer’, consider where we’d be without them. -Ken Hanes, The Gay Guy`s Guide to Life

My first job out of high school was at a Canadian department store where I worked in the menswear department. This is where I met Greg. He was always neat, tidy, and smelled good. Greg was older than me and lived with his boyfriend in a gorgeous apartment in an old building with white pillars in the front. They introduced me to lots of older professional gay men who immediately accepted me for who I was, and I was completely taken by their open minds, their zest for life, sense of fun, and of course, their good taste.

Life can throw tough circumstances at us, but when you’ve got a life-long friend – especially a gay one – you know that you’ve been blessed. Greg and I have been through good times and bad together, still going strong 30 years later. He’s easy to talk to and laugh with; we have common loves like clothing and design. We don’t live in the same city any more, but no matter how much time has passed since we’ve been in contact, we always pick up where we left off. Greg taught me that no matter what a person’s sexual identity, we share the same joy, fear, and pain because we’re all human.

There’s this illusion that homosexuals have sex and heterosexuals fall in love. That’s completely untrue. Everybody wants to be loved. -Boy George

I spent ten wonderful years volunteering at the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT). I was the first woman in the history of the agency to volunteer for the gay men’s outreach program, where I handed out countless packs of condoms and lube to guys in gay bars and talked about safer sex and social issues. In the beginning, some bars didn`t welcome women but I went in anyway and did my job with the objective of preventing transmission of HIV and STIs, and ultimately saving lives.  I also coordinated the route on several AIDS Walks for ACT to raise money for services for positive men in the community. My time with ACT gave some of my most fun and fulfilling moments, and I gained a deep understanding about the gay experience, gay politics, sexual health, and stigma; being open-minded, how to listen, and how not to judge.

I have no idea why gay men love me, but I would have to assume it’s because they know how much I love the gays! Everyone needs a good gay man in their life. – Chelsea Handler

The bond between gay men and hetero women is a natural match; most of my friends are gay men. I’ve met many fantastic gay men and made friends with some of the more amazing ones who have completely enriched my life. If you ask me, gay men are perfect beings created from the best elements of the masculine and the feminine and the more they are recognized and empowered, the better world it will be. I am very fortunate to know so many gays and I couldn’t imagine my life without them – love you all, darlings – Happy Pride! XOXO

PS – I’m taking July off writing – enjoy the summer!

My life with the fellas

22 Dec

It’s Christmas week and we’re all preparing for holiday time – which I want to be a part of too – so for the second last post of 2011, I’m going to refrain from getting heavy into research and instead bring you a little personal history. Why? Because people often ask me why I work with men only and this seems like a good time to share.

That's me in the middle.

Childhood

I was brought up with boys, namely, my two boy cousins, one of which was born 5 days before I was (we just had our birthdays over the last week). My cousins influenced me greatly, and when my younger brother came along, I was surrounded by boys, playing “boy” games, playing with “boy” toys, talking about “boy” things. I always had more boy friends than girl friends (still true). Consequently, this influenced my way of thinking and understanding,  and I went out of my way to be accepted by boys and try to fit in with them, and I suppose this is where my interest in males in general began.

Clothing

I can’t explain why, but I have always been fascinated with men’s clothing. During my late teens, I started understanding my build and found that men’s pants fit me better than women’s pants did (being 5’2 in the 80s, when women’s pants were high-waisted, was a recipe for disaster – pant waists went half-way up my back which made me look ridiculous).  With a simple alteration to take in the waist, I found that men’s trousers were a much better fit, giving a roomier thigh and a better fit in the rise because I am short-waisted (“rise” is the measurement from crotch to the top of the waistband). I also liked the deep pockets. I really came to appreciate the simplicity and fit of men’s clothing by wearing men’s garments.

Back in those days, I guess I was an artsy kid who stuck her nose in philosophy books and listened to the original “alternative” music that was mostly British and definitely underground. I shopped at second hand stores that had a lot of clothing from the 1960s and loved to wear men’s sport coats from that era (with the sleeves rolled up of course).

In 1986, I graduated from high school and rented a tuxedo to wear to my graduation. I made a gold sleeveless top to go under the jacket and found a black matte satin shoe with pointed toes and a low heel. Most of the girls in my class wore puffy, ruffled satin dresses to the grad – many in white for some reason. I loved my outfit, the substantial feeling of the tail coat, the smooth look of the cummerbund, and the ease of the trousers.

The same year, I got a job in the men’s department at a prominent Canadian department store. This is where I learned a tremendous amount about men’s clothing, textiles, and care of fabrics (I wonder if anyone invests in training for their staff like this anymore). I was fascinated by the items in the “men’s furnishings” department – tie clips, hankies, socks, ties, Arrow dress shirts, underwear, and robes, much more so than the women’s stuff on the upper floors.

It took a long time, but eventually I got to wearing more women’s clothing than men’s and by the late 1990s/early 2000s, I got quite girly about it. Now that I work exclusively with men, I’m veering back to my love of menswear  and having suits made at men’s tailors. I love the comfort and the ease of men’s clothing, and often wear shirts and ties with suits and heels to work.

Curious

One of the things that drives me is that I’m curious. Curious about most things, but not all things – math and hockey are the immediate examples that come to my mind. I did a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Theatre design (costume) and started doing a double major in psychology until I hit the point when I would have to take a statistics class, and I was terrified of this idea. (Now I wish I had taken that class so I could understand the statistical information in the research I look at.)

The psychology classes really opened my eyes and helped me understand the social aspect of humans. Social psychology plays a large role in the masculine research I do, explaining the influence of nurture and how it affects us. This has helped me understand the ways in which men have existed in the past, how they exist in the present, the issues that face them, how society expects them to deal with these issues, and the consequences of social imposition.

The last time I took a science class was in grade 10, which I failed and had to re-take in summer school. Other than that, I just passed my natural science class in university (I took geology for some reason), and once I got through that, I abandoned the subject for several years. Now I find myself driven to understand WHY, and I look to science, social and natural, for answers (it’s much easier to digest now that I want to understand it and can choose the way it is presented to me). Since my favourite topic is the masculine condition, I like to read about neurology and endocrinology to understand how my favourite subjects operate in the world. Looking at men from scientific and social angles helps me understand them, communicate with them, and ultimately, helps me help them.

ACT

Another thing about me is that I’m not afraid. I like to do things that have never been done before. Becoming the first woman in Canada to specialize in men’s image is certainly among my trailblazing efforts and I’m quite proud of this.

I am also proud of the work that I have done with the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT) , where I volunteered for several years. I had a very dear friend in the 1990s who was HIV+ and a client at ACT who introduced me to volunteer work.  I loved the experience and dove deeply into volunteering, learning about HIV and AIDS, the stigma around the illness, and the issues that gay men face. I was the first “volunteer extraordinaire” recognized by ACT in 2002, and was the first woman in the history of the agency to volunteer for gay men’s outreach program, where I helped to mold the program, trained outreach volunteers, facilitated workshops, and spent 5 years out on the front lines handing out condom and lube packages at gay bars in they gay ghetto of Toronto.

It was here that I learned something about myself. During my time in outreach, I constantly engaged men about safer sex and social issues, and I was a good listener. On so many shifts, I was humbled by men opening up to me and pouring out their feelings and experiences because, I decided, they had no one else to talk to. Evidently, this didn’t happen to any of the other volunteers in the outreach program and I understood that I had something that could help people.

One of the best things I learned at ACT was about judgement, or what it is to judge and why we shouldn’t. I learned that as humans, we judge; it’s natural to us. If we didn’t judge, we probably wouldn’t have made it this far (as in, is the ice on the river solid enough to hold my weight, or is this week old milk safe to drink?). We have to be able to estimate how things will effect us, to form an opinion based on what we perceive, and move from there. So this type of judgement is fine, but acting upon our judgements of other people without fully understanding them is not.

ACT taught me that it is impossible to know everything about other people – the mental, emotional, and physical condition they might be in, where they come from, what experiences they have shaped them, etc., and without this information, our brain fills in the missing bits with assumptions that we so seldomly check out to get a better understanding of that person. For example, if someone rushes by and bumps into you on the subway platform, we might automatically swear at that person because of the way they have affected us without knowing why they rushed by without saying “sorry”. For all we know, that person could be on the way to the hospital to see their best friend who was just in a car accident, or perhaps they are ill and need their medicine, and this is affecting them in some way. The point is, we don’t know why that person bumped into us and we can’t possibly know why until we ask them, but we don’t often take the time to find out, relying instead on our preconceived notions that are often incorrect. Understanding this, I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt. It certainly makes things better for everyone.

Empathy, non-judgement, a history with menswear, and a strong masculine influence has helped shape my career and has fed my fascination with men, their clothing, and their condition; I am absorbed and rivited by you fellas. But now it’s time to rest – onto the holidays!