Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Tag: gay rights

Are We Over the Rainbow Yet?

Well, the good news is we’re winning.

The victory of same-sex marriage in New York was preceded by a poll showing that Americans were more comfortable electing a gay person president than a Mormon (bad news for Mitt Romney and John Huntsman), demonstrating that even our Southern neighbours are rejecting prejudice in favour of the live-and-let-live attitude of young people. Those born after 1980 overwhelmingly support gay rights and, for a generation famous for apathy and texting, it’s one of the things we should be proud of.

Here a shrill voice chimes in, “There’s still a lot of work to do!” To which the eternal answer is, “Of course there is; I never said there wasn’t.” But things have changed and changed for the better.

So why does the approaching Pride weekend fill me with angst? I feel like melancholy Charlie Brown, kicking dirt with his head down: “Good grief, Charlie Brown! Only you could take something joyful like Pride and turn it into something depressing!”

Why do I feel a bit sad? Well, there’s the Valentine’s/New Years thing, namely that I don’t have a date. And while yes, Pride is not usually associated with romance and monogamy, when you spot couples on Yonge or Church Street walking hand in hand, perhaps having come from places where they wouldn’t feel comfortable showing their affection publicly, it gives one a pang of longing.

Pride memory from five years ago: cuddling with the Big Ex, watching a drag queen in a rainbow dress perform Etta James’ ‘At Last’ and thinking that, at last, my love had come along. Didn’t turn out that way.

But Pride isn’t about coupling so much as community. The parade, the various marches, the special events and much of the accompanying literature and photographs all push the idea of a queer community, composed of six-pack Abercrombie hunks, middle-aged lesbian moms and tattooed trans activists who support the Palestinians. ‘Community’ is as important to the modern queer world as ‘coming out’ (where else does one go after coming out?) and we’ve invested heavily in the perception of a diverse and dynamic neighbourhood.

But what of those who feel a bit let down by the community. Christmas can make people with complicated feelings about their families (family being to Christmas what community is to Pride) feel depressed and disconnected. If you have mixed feelings about Church Street and ‘Queer Street West’, if you feel that we have a lot of wasted potential as a community, Pride, with the increased pressure to go out and celebrate, can leave you feeling a little bit blue.

We’re one of the largest queer communities in the world, with members from around the globe, but not that you would be able to tell that from our cliquey and awkward attitude at bars. When I go out, I get the sense that everyone wishes their situation was different: single people long to be coupled, and coupled people use drinking as the excuse to flirt with others. Meanwhile, groups of friends perform a complicated tango of almost-making out with each other, which may make things awkward later, but is preferred to actually meeting new people.

(If you couldn’t tell, these observations are mostly of gay men. In contrast, I know of three lesbian couples who got engaged last year.)

I once had a conversation with Sky Gilbert in which he opined that everybody gets disillusioned with the gay community, that it has a purpose but then you have to move past it. In fact, he has a poem called ‘Coming Out’ in which he describes attending a queer men’s group. During one discussion, the narrator glances out the window and sees a vast, uncharted jungle: “dark and deep, verdant and lush, where a dense green valley plunged precipitously to a cleansing stream, overhung with fragrant, swinging vines. The cries of exotic birds pierced the air as they soared from tree to tree, occasionally lighting to spread their beautiful feathers in an obscene, erotic display.”

Years later, having long since left the group, he returns to the office. All he can find outside the window is a single tree.

Oh well. So sometimes you’re disappointed and a bit sad. Who isn’t? Why, Max, did you think you were special? The fight for gay rights isn’t about making people happy; it’s about fairness and freedom. One of the results of the legal and social changes of the last forty years has been the increased happiness of queer people, but general acceptance, protection from harassment and marriage equality (among other advancements) are not guarantees of a happy ending.

That’s up to us.

There’s still a need for Pride (look no further than our uncomfortable mayor who treats us like lepers), as there is for a queer community. Try as you might, you just can’t dance to Katy Perry in a chat room. I’ll be out there this weekend, trying to meet people and have fun.

If you see me, say Hi.

Hello Dolly

or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Stereotypes

One of the things I hated about doing queer studies at UofT (besides the esoteric discussions centred on some inane straw man of a theory, which nobody believed anyway) was the inability of students to get past ‘deconstructing’ things. The focus on every identity being ‘socially constructed’ (thank you, Judith Butler) has convinced a whole subset of young academics that ‘deconstructing’ identities is a worthwhile endeavor.  My professor, on hearing someone wanted to ‘deconstruct’ the traditional male, or the feminine wife, or whatever, would say “Okay, but what are you doing in a class room?”

Then there was that much-discussed but rather silly cover story in The Grid which, because some white, hipster queers don’t like rainbow flags, declared a new way of being gay. The author didn’t seem to realize that resenting stereotypes is as grand a tradition in the gay community as musical theatre and bath houses. Gays in the 1950’s didn’t like their stereotypes; same in the 1970’s. The only result is that new stereotypes are formed (which the cover photo suggested, what with its bearded, bow-tied, plaid-wearing homo’s).

Stereotypes are not always bad. They can help people find a place in the community and get comfortable with their identity. We fight for human rights so that we have the freedom to be whatever we want to be, not necessarily be reactionary and original.

I think it’s hilarious that as a refugee from academia, first fleeing to Ireland and then to WORN Fashion Journal, my first major article was not only about stereotypes, but celebrated them. And based on it and Sara Guindon‘s gorgeous illustrations, we created these wonderful paper dolls.

Through my article, I have ended up putting gay men into little packages based on socially-constructed identities. I wonder how Michel Foucault would feel.

Click here to check out the WORN issue with my article ‘Out of the Closet’ and click here to order these fabulous little guys.

Introducing Wilfred the Fairy: With his snappy suit, pink carnation and sidekick poodle, he wouldn’t be out of place tickling the ivories in a Noël Coward comedy. While his jokes may be dry and a bit cruel, he’s a sweetheart deep down who tears up when Judy Garland sings ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’.

Don’t let Gunther’s tutu fool you. He’s a tough-as-nails Radical Drag Queen who doesn’t let gender binaries or police officers prevent him from marching in pride parades and high-kicking his magenta heels. By mixing femininity with masculinity (note the beard and hairy legs) Radical Drag Queens of the early 1970s forced people to question what, if anything, gender meant.

None of that gender-play for Lance the Clone. He likes his t-shirt tight, his green jeans tighter, and his moustache well trimmed. While Fairies of the 1950s had dressed like dandy aristocrats to escape the bourgeoisie, Clones of the 1970s embraced the icons of working-class manhood (cowboys, soldiers, construction workers) to show the world that just because you slept with men didn’t mean you couldn’t look like one.

Tobias the Leather Man has only one inspiration: the leather-clad biker. Gay men were into black leather for almost as long as the Hell’s Angels. He demonstrates his sexual interests with signifying keys on his belt or with a coloured hanky. But beneath his studded and studly ensemble, he’s harboring a secret: he’s got tickets to go see Bette Midler with Wilfrid next week.

Max’s Big Gay Article

It’s finally here! The WORN Fashion Journal feature that I brainstormed on this here blog oh so long ago has arrived fresh from the presses (and boy, has it changed a lot since then!). If you like my writing in pixels, just wait until you see it on paper. I’m so thankful for everyone on the team who made it possible: Haley for helping me research; Gwen and Serah-Marie for their editing and commitment in making the piece everything it could be; Casie and Stephanie for fact-checking my many words; and the rest of the WORN team for copy-editing, proofing and believing in my ‘big gay article’.

The entire issue is looking pretty spectacular. It’s the best of the world of WORN: insightful, witty and quirkily pretty.

How can I pick up a copy, you might ask. The best way to behold the glory of Issue 12 and supporting the magazine is to come to our Fancy Pants launch party tonight at the Dovercourt House, starting at 8.00 (but going quite late). I shall be there and wearing something awesome. (It’s a surprise.) Or you can order it online or drop by in person to these fine stores.

Keep chasing that rainbow.

Rapper Is Gay, But Not

Rapper Lil B has come out of the closet in a very public way: he has titled his next album ‘I’m Gay’. But before you go looking for him on Grindr, keep in mind that he’s heterosexual.

“I’m very gay, but I love women,” he maintains. “I’m not attracted to men in any way. I’ve never been attracted to a man in my life. But yes I am gay, I’m so happy,” he said. “I’m a gay, heterosexual male.”

Yes, it’s confusing, but that is the magical world of hip hop.

Is it a gimmick? Possibly. The rapper has a reputation for outrageous tweets and for heavily monopolizing facebook and myspace to further his career. Even the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has provided only lukewarm support by saying that they hope it is a “sincere attempt to be an ally.”

But, even though the album has not been recorded yet, the backlash is very real. Former fans have lambasted him with homophobic hate mail, some even sending death threats. “People been hitting me up like, ‘I’m gonna bash your head in,’ ‘you faggot,’ ‘I’m gonna kill you,’” he claims.

“I’m not gonna stop and I’m not scared of anybody on earth. That’s why I [titled the album ‘I’m Gay’] and nobody gonna stop me.” A brief survey of the online rap community uncovers some pretty vitriolic language, some saying that anyone who listens to Lil B is now automatically gay and others pronouncing his career dead.

Lil B has said that his support for queer rights motivated the title (“I got major love for the gay and lesbian community, and I just want to push less separation and that’s why I’m doing it.”) but the real explanation might be a mixture of sincere support and career-boosting publicity.

At it’s best, ‘I’m Gay’ has exposed the level of homophobia in the rap world and how it can be unleashed on even a straight man. Like the books that used to be written by men who went ‘undercover’ pretending to be Jewish or black, Lil B has bravely tried to walk a mile in somebody else’s rubbie slippers.

Yes, it gets better

I was bullied in high school. Because I figured out I was gay the summer before grade nine, even though I didn’t in any way ‘come out’, when you know yourself it becomes that much more obvious.

There was one young man in particular who harassed me in class, mostly by saying things under his breath. It was physchologically, if not physically, threatening. As it often is for us little queer boys, gym class was the hardest and I remember another guy stopping in the middle of a floor hockey game to matter-of-factly tell me I was a “gay faggot”. That day, as I was wont to do, I wandered out of gym class early. No one noticed.

I informed at least two teachers of the bullying. I remember one of them trying to do something about it, but it didn’t calm me down. One lunch hour I went home and my Dad couldn’t stop me from crying. He recently told me he feels guilty he didn’t do more.

I don’t think I ever felt I was in real danger, just that I would never feel comfortable at that school. My only recourse was to keep going and by grade 12 I had a healthy number of friends and the incidents basically stopped. And in university I was completely accepted, eventually making my first gay guy friends and meeting my first boyfriend.

Things got so much better, thanks to good friends and an accepting family, that I sort of forgot my bullying experience, which is why I took awhile to relate to the growing ‘It Gets Better’ campaign, spearheaded by gay sex columnist Dan Savage. Once you’re out of the situation, and years have past and it’s gotten better, you don’t want to think about it anymore. You survived and you’re happy.

But that’s wrong.

Not everyone survives their bullying , as a spat of recent queer suicides reminds us. We are winning the legal battles in North America, and are doing even better on the cultural front. But we can’t get complacent and think that TV shows and movies with queer characters are going to do all the work to make this world an accepting place. Watching Kurt on ‘Glee’ can help a gay teen only so much, especially as not all of us can burst out into cathartic show tunes.

I survived. It does get better.

But we have to remember where we came from.

Just go for it!

Sometimes a kiss isn’t just a kiss.

Sometimes it can change the world.

When singer Adam Lambert makes out with male members of his band during his concerts it is a part of his Boy George retro-kitsch glam-rock theatricality, an act of defiance against sometime-blatantly homophobic jeers the ‘American Idol’ contestant has endured.

On Tuesday, he announced that he would heed the Malaysian government’s wishes and not kiss anyone onstage during his concert in Kuala Lumpur. He said that his “main goal was to keep people entertained, not make them uncomfortable.”  “It’s a tough decision to make, but there are so many amazing fans in Malaysia that it’s more important for me to be able to come and do my show there for them and entertain them and thank them for supporting me.”

I’m not Adam Lambert (actually, I can’t name one of his songs) but if it was me up on that stage, I would have a full-on, no-holds-barred, snog with a guy. I would kiss a boy and, yes, I would like it.

First of all, the government restrictions, which ban kissing, stripping and jumping (?!) on stage during concerts are gender-neutral and therefore not connected to Malayasia’s horrendous homosexuality laws, so I would imagine the punishment would be less harsh than twenty years in prison for sodomy. Malaysia has the unfortunate combination of priggish colonial laws along with fundamentalist Islamic groups all too willing to use homophobia to gain political power. For instance, while cross-dressing is not technically a crime, transgendered Muslims can be charged under Syariah law for “impersonating women.”

While prosecution for gay sex is relatively rare, for groups like the “People’s Anti-Homosexual Voluntary Movement” (which lobbies for stricter anti-gay laws) and, one fears, the Malaysian government itself (which banned gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people from appearing in the state controlled media in 1994) it is all about appearances and to keep queer sexuality hidden and shameful.

Which is why Adam Lambert should kiss a guy on stage. I assume there’d be a fine, or they would ban him from performing in the country again. Are they really going to arrest an American celebrity? And if they do, they have instantaneously brought the attention of the world onto the state of LGBT rights in Malaysia.

In the 1991 documentary ‘Truth or Dare’ about Madonna’s ‘Blonde Ambition’  tour, when she is about to perform at (what was then still called) the Skydome, a couple of Toronto police officers arrive to warn Madge that if she performs ‘Like a Virgin’ as she has during the rest of the tour she could be arrested. The cops’ problem is her “simulating masturbation” which they claim goes against Toronto the Good’s decency laws (“So what’s considered masturbation?” Madonna asks. “When you stick your hand on your crotch,” her brother replies.)

Discussing it with her managers, she is adamant that she does not want to change her show, that she is an “artist” with “artistic integrity” and that, as a further bonus, if the officers arrest her after the show, she will be in every newspaper in the world the next day (no one could ever accuse Madonna of avoiding attention). After mocking the “fascist state of Toronto” during her dancers’ prayer circle, she performs the song as she always did, grabbing her “crotch” and humping a bed on stage. The police do nothing. Perhaps they thought a warning would suffice in order to protect delicate Toronto eyes?

Later in the film, while in bed with her back-up singers, Madonna remarkably admits that she sometimes is haunted by “who do you think you are” doubts. She knows she is not the best singer, nor the best dancer, but she explains that her interest is in pushing boundaries and exploring new ideas. Considering ‘Truth or Dare’ era alone, her ‘Blonde Ambition’ tour brought a black-latino-queer world of ‘Vogueing’ and pansexuality into the mainstream. Even if you believe it’s all self-centred careerism (as one critic put it, “one long hussle”), you have to admit Madonna has a knack for pushing society’s buttons.

If Adam Lambert really cares about his Malaysian fans, and not just continuing to do concerts there and in the rest of Asia, he should consider his queer fans in the audience. They have never seen a gay person on TV, let alone a kiss. The fearlessness of it would inspire them to be unashamed of who they are, and if it was followed by an arrest they would see clearly what needed to be changed in their country. In this complacent era of facebook ’causes’, where redemption misleadingly seems a click away, it’s worth remembering that sometimes you have to risk something in order to change anything.

If Adam Lambert is thankful for the support of his Malaysian fans he should consider supporting them.

Immigrants, Tories and the Gays

Apparently, I’m causing people to vote Conservative.

I’m sorry. It’s not like I’m trying to. But that’s the inevitable conclusion of John Ibbitson and Joe Friesen’s article in The Globe and Mail about the political beliefs of immigrants: new Canadians are increasingly eyeing the Tories and, though they may give lip-service to smaller government, it’s all about same-sex marriage and gay rights.

Ibbitson and Friesen write that “a new immigrant-friendly Conservative message and a new, more conservative immigrant are finding each other, shaking the once-ironclad bond between new Canadians and the Liberal party.” They introduce Helen Poon, originally from Hong Kong, now of Markham, Ontario. Five years ago, the pastor at her Cantonese Protestant church shocked her by encouraging the congregation to vote for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives because they were against same-sex marriage and abortion. “They said same-sex marriage is not God’s law.” (Also today, the Star reports on criticism of the Pope for not speaking out more fiercely against the mafia in a speech in Sicily. He was more concerned with ‘family values’. Oh, priorities.)

The pastor must have been persuasive, because now Ms. Poon is “considering” voting Conservative. She’s not the only one, as the last election saw the Tories win six new seats in immigrant-heavy suburban ridings. The writers point out that many new Canadians come from countries which had both stricter traditions and ineffective or corrupt governments, leading them to be more socially and fiscally conservative than the average Canadian voter.

When Randeep Sandhu, a Punjabi businessman, first arrived in Brampton he got involved in the city’s Sikh Liberal politics before drifting to conservatism. Same-sex marriage was “the final straw”, but Sandhu doesn’t elaborate on that epiphany, instead emphasising his fiscal conservative beliefs: “The way we were raised, we were taught conservatism, from eating habits to spending habits. That’s the thing I like about conservatism. There’s less misuse of funds. It’s not elaborate government where everybody gets their share of the public money.” Evidently, he has no problem with “elaborate” government restricting gay rights.

Because the connection between smaller government and tradition “values” is sketchy at best, what is sadly going on here is good ol’ fashioned prejudice. Even though they have no intention of reopening the issue, the Tories think they can stir up some votes by tapping into new Canadians’ unease about homosexuality. Like the spectre of racism which haunts the Tea Party “movement” south of the border, the manipulating of prejudice is politics at its most cynical and ugly.

And it’s hardly a long-term winning strategy. Even Stephen Harper knows that his party’s future is not in social conservative ‘wedge’ issues which do nothing to expand his support in the important urban ridings they need to start winning if they are ever to get a Majority. And playing on traditional intolerance often ends up being a one-generation trick. Not only are the children of immigrants born in Canada more likely to hold the progressive views of their  friends (Ms. Poon notes that her son picks up his social beliefs from school and “hates Harper”) but younger newcomers have less adherence to the traditions of the ‘Old Country’. “For me I think it’s important that gay people are considered equal,” said Subir Mann, a 22-year old Punjabi student, who came to Canada as a child. “Part of the reason I’m anti-Conservative is that they often mix religious issues with politics. That can be very dangerous.”

Very true, Subir. The Tories would be wise to remember that many new Canadians come from countries in which religion is constantly embroiled in politics, whether it be reflected in the official state church or, at worse, long-standing sectarian violence. Not all traditional beliefs are worth holding onto.

I felt affronted by the article repeatedly using gay rights (both anti and pro-) as a motivating factor while hiding it from the headline and pull-quotes. It bothers me that my identity as a gay man, and our government’s sanctioning of my marriage (‘some day…’ he thought wistfully), motivates people to support a party I oppose. But new Canadians should be able to relate to this: their identities, their presence in this country, worries some voters who think we should allow in fewer immigrants and have less multicultural accommodation. Always remember, we have more in common than you think.

I Shop therefore I Gay

While I’m all over the WORN blog, my absolute dream would be to get a story in the actual magazine. I entered my internship thinking I had all sorts of ideas, I quickly became insecure that none of them were good enough. WORN only comes out twice a year, so we have to be very strict about what goes to print. I eventually remembered that queer history was the focus of my Masters and that, as the first gay male intern, it would also be good representin’ if I wrote something about gay men and clothing.

So here’s what I’ve got so far, and to help me get moving on it (the pitch is due in October) and to act as a sounding board, I’m going to tell you what I’m thinking.

The stereotype that gay men like clothing and fashion is so entrenched in our culture that we rarely question it, and at times act as though it is somehow biological. Remarkably, the persona of the Oscar Wildean dandy from the end of the 19th century still holds sway. Daniel Harris, in his amazing book The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture,  which heavily influenced the way I think about all this stuff, argued that shopping and clothing was a more economical way of asserting snobbish queer sensibilities than art-collecting or going to the opera, the preoccupations of the aristocratic dandy.

“We have devised an ersatz aestheticism that we cultivate, not only through our involvement with the arts, but through our involvement with department stores, through shopping, the purchase of expensive toiletries, vintage wines, fashionable clothing, and designer accessories like Rolex watches and Ralph Lauren eyewear. The display of our refinement as consumers…easily replaces the display of our refinement as art lovers. In the course of the twentieth century, homosexuals have turned the aestheticism of art and culture into the aestheticism of products, the commodities that spill out of the Macy’s bags constantly swinging from the arms of the urban homosexual, a figure laden with the spoils of his spending sprees, an image that has largely replaced that of the monocled fop twirling his cane and sniffing the carnation in his lapel.”

In the same essay, Harris, like many other scholars, focuses on the desire of gay men to find each other as the motivation for a lot of gay culture. From cruising at bars, dropping cinematic hints (“Are you a Friend of Dorothy?”), and even attending Judy Garland concerts simply as an excuse to “act gay” in public, explanations of gay traditions have often focused on identifying oneself to others, either for sexual or communal reasons. This has also been the case with gay fashion, be it leather and jeans, pink mohair sweaters or the legendary colour-coded handkerchief symbols. (And, okay, I can’t really get into this here, but apparently a houndstooth bandanna sticking out of your pocket means you’re into biting, and if you stick a doily back there, you like doing it in public restrooms! Amazing!)

But what about shopping for one’s self and dressing as a means of asserting identity, as sociologists now think about it? Cara Louise Buckley wrote “In the transition from modernity to post-modernity, the notion of an essential self…has been displaced by a far more fragmented, fluid, and contingent understanding tied to image, style, looks and hence consumption.” So, it’s not so much ‘I Shop therefore I Am’, as Barbara Kruger’s photo has it, as ‘I Am because I Shop.’  

Rather than focus on who gay men were trying to attract with their clothing, I would consider clothing, consumption and fashion as an important step in their development of a gay identity, both personally and collectively.

And there’s no escaping the seventies, the decade when queer culture crossed-over,  gay politics went mainstream and people were encouraged to come out of the closet en masse. The 1970’s are to gay men what the 1770’s are to American patriots: a founding era whose traditions, style and legacy are still drawn upon today.

In Forging Gay Identities; Organizing Sexuality in San Francisco 1950-1994, Elizabeth Armstrong presents a useful breakdown of the three phases of the gay rights movement: the early, conservative ‘homophile’ activism of the 1950’s and 1960’s, the radical leftist revolution of 1969 and the early seventies, and the ‘lifestyle’ era of the mid-seventies onward, in which homosexuals (mostly white, middle-class gay men) asserted their identity through shopping, clothing, music, clubbing and interior decorating. I would use Armstrong’s framework and place clothing and fashion into the context of 1970’s gay identity formation, arguing that dressing up has been an essential aspect of accepting one’s homosexuality and coming out of the closet for many gay men since.

What I’m still wondering about is whether I should focus mostly on the 1970’s and make it a historical piece, or if all that should be the background leading up to a series of interviews with gay guys now. It might make sense to focus on the seventies, but I would have to do a lot of primary research (scanning every copy of The Advocate from that era, say, for articles about fashion and photos and illustrations of clothing). On the plus side of doing interviews, I off hand can think of twenty gay guys I could ask about clothing, their personal style and their shopping habits, but with no guarantee of useful answers.



True Blood

As a fortunate gay man living in 21st century Canada, there’s very little I can’t do. I declare my sexuality without fear of arrest and imprisonment, I can be a teacher, run for office and marry my partner. There are many neighbourhoods in Toronto where I even feel comfortable walking hand in hand with my boyfriend. That is, if I had one…

But I cannot give blood, because I’ve been with men.

Justice Catherine Aitken of Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice has upheld the ban on men who have sex with men from donating blood, which has been on the books since 1977, citing the fact that HIV and other sexually-transmitted pathogens are more prevalent in the blood of gay and bisexual men than in that of heterosexuals. She acknowledged that gay and bisexual men may feel discriminated against, but “the impact is not in the same league as the impact on a blood recipient who has to use blood or blood products in order to survive or to make life livable and who is asked to accept lower safety standards.”

In addition, Thursday’s ruling ordered Kyle Freeman, who donated blood numerous times in the 1990’s but who denied having sex with men, to pay $10,000 in damages to Canadian Blood Services. He had been quietly flaunting the rule, but in 2002 sent an anonymous email to the blood agency objecting to the policy as a gay man who had lied repeatedly in his screening. The agency obtained a court order to trace his identity with the help of the Internet service provider.

Reading Justice Aitken’s ruling, one could almost believe that blood went directly from the donor’s vein to the patient, but, of course, donations are always tested for hep B and C, HIV 1 and 2, human T-cell lymphotropic virus, West Nile and Chagas disease, which is caused by exposure to bugs in central America. Blood agencies have justification for erring on the side of caution: between 1980 and 1990, about 32,000 Canadians were infected with HIV and hep C with tainted blood, a disaster which nobody wants repeated. But if the blood is going to be tested anyways,  what is the justification for banning some people from donating? I was going to suggest double or triple-checking blood from men who sleep with men, but that is ludicrous. If there’s any doubt about it, throw it out, but don’t ban the donator because of what he has admitted about his sex life.

I thought we had a Charter of Rights and Freedoms for that kind of thing. Turns out, not so much.

Justice Aitken said that Freeman’s equality rights were not engaged because the Charter only governs dealings between individuals and governments, and, although Canadian Blood Services was created by the different levels of government and health ministers, it is considered an independent corporation. Furthermore, the Justice claimed that Freeman’s rights were not infringed upon because the act of donating blood is not considered a defining element of Canadian identity.

Justice Aitken: “The opportunity to give blood cannot be considered in the same league as the right to marry, the right to receive spousal benefits, the right to earn a living and the right to participate fully in life at public school—all rights for which homosexuals have successfully mounted equality case in Canadian courts.”

This element of the case is disturbing for activists and lawyers and goes beyond simply gay rights. “That’s a dangerous decision,” Doug Elliot, a lawyer representing the Canadian AIDS Society, said. “Governments are privatizing their activities all the time. If they can escape Charter scrutiny by setting up a corporation to carry out whatever program it is they’re concerned about… it will be an easy way for them to insulate themselves.”

In The Globe and Mail, Elliot added that blood donations are decreasing on university campuses and that this issue may be souring the younger generation against Canadian Blood Services.

“What is really going on is that gay men are donating blood anyway. CBS is not doing anything aggressive to investigate this because they know that the question is stupid. They are essentially encouraging people to ignore a question that they don’t respect and to do their own self-assessment. That is a very dangerous proposition.”

Options are to lie, or give up trying to help people, Freeman’s only motivation for donating.

Ironically, on the same day in the United States a federal judge ruled that the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy against gay people in the armed service is unconstitional. The judge said that the policy does not increase troops’ safety (the traditional justification) and has a detrimental effect on the military.

I wish Canadian Blood Services would adopt a policy of “don’t lie, don’t discriminate”.

We all, from blood recipients who shouldn’t feel safer just because CBS is cutting down their load to men who have sex with men and have rights guaranteed under the Charter, deserve better.

Hello Sex, Goodbye Gay

Grindr is a free downloadable iPhone app which lets you find “gay, bi, curious guys” in your immediate vicinity. As Polly Vernon writes in The Observer, “It shows you who these men are and what they look like; it’ll tell you how far away from you (in feet, and even more thrillingly, fractions of feet) they are standing; and it will allow you to ‘chat’ them, if they take your fancy.” Gone are the days when one had to waste time surfing profiles on dating websites, spending hours getting to know someone on instant messenger, only to discover, in person, that there’s no chemistry or that the other person is nuts. That past time will soon look as dated as cruising by the steps on Church Street.

Grindr (pronounced ‘grinder’) was launched on March 25th 2009 and witnessed its biggest boost after Stephen Fry, Oscar Wilde incarnate himself, sang the app’s praises on a British talk show. Now, it has more than 700,000 users in 162 countries, and it continues to grow.

“I’ve never, ever had so much sex in my life!” a gay friend informed Vernon. “I’ve probably had as much in the past eight months of Grinding as I have over the 20 years since I came out. Maybe more.” Other interviewees mention hooking up in the subway, staying in and waiting to see who walks down their street, or capping off a nice evening out with friends by checking out who’s at the restaurant to take home.

Basically, sex on demand.

And Grindr’s creators have their eyes set on the straights, with a heterosexual version expected to launch “at latest” by the end of the year. Vernon writes that Grindr “marks a major evolution in how all of us – gay, straight, alive – will meet and interact with each other. Depending on who you talk to, this is either brilliant (liberating, socially enabling – the end, even, of loneliness and boredom); or a potential disaster (signaling the end of monogamy, facilitating sex addiction). Either way, it matters.”

A sex-on-demand-app was one of those ideas, like picture phones, which predated the technology that made it feasible. Around ten years ago I watched a TV program in which they advertised ‘gay-dar’, a little pager-like device which would beep when it sensed another one in the room.

“And what’s to stop gay bashers from using them?” a middle-aged lesbian asked the spokesperson. “Um, that’s something we’re obviously very aware of and concerned about dealing with…” the inadequate answer came. The segment ended with the gay host ‘meeting’ a young man who’s gay-dar had gone off, and if the gizmo’s safety concerns were already causing you doubts, the sheer awkwardness of the televised meeting would have convinced you to stay away.

“Well, that’s the end of a useless invention,” I thought, turning the channel.

Apparently not.

While I’m totally sex-positive and not a prude, I have mixed feelings about the sex-on-demand culture of Grindr, although perhaps it will siphon off the people who are just looking for casual sex, allowing more room on internet dating sites for those looking for ‘something more’. Obviously there’s still the safety concern, but I doubt there’s that many violent homophobes who would want their iPhones notifying them all the time of the queer men around, just in case they wanted to beat them up.

And let’s take a moment here to remember how lucky we are to live in a country in which homosexuality is not illegal, for in many places in the world downloading Grindr would practically be signing one’s own death sentence.

But straight hooking up is another matter entirely. The truth remains that heterosexual women are more apprehensive about sex with strangers than gay men, and I doubt that even women who are very sexually active would like to be signaled out as ready and willing to every straight man in a bar.

But for the moment, let’s focus on its effect on what is quaintly still referred to as the gay ‘community’. Joel Simkhai, the Israeli-American man who founded Grindr, said that he felt isolated as a young gay man.

“I think every gay man starts asking it, from the moment he realizes he’s gay. You are somewhere and it’s: ‘Who else here, right now, is gay? Who?’ You are looking around, you are constantly wondering. Because coming out is a lonely process.” So Grindr is meant to bring queer people together, but in a different fashion than traditional community organizations and hang-outs.

About the title, he explained that “We liked the word. We liked the notion of a coffee grinder, mixing things together… And there’s the term ‘guy finder’ in there, too. We wanted something that was masculine but was not about pride flags. Was not about…”

“A politicized idea of gayness?” Vernon offers.

“Yes! And was fun! And was in a way – not about being gay. I’m gay; I am a proud gay man. It’s not that we have any issues, right? But Grindr’s not about gay rights, or gay anything. It’s about finding guys. Being among your peers. Socializing. Being part of your community. It’s not about: ‘We’re here, we’re queer.'”

So meeting other gay guys is not a gay thing? Grindr is about being part of the community but not about being ‘here and queer’?

There’s nothing new about men who sleep with men who don’t like the names ‘gay’ or ‘queer’, who take no part in the community and live on the ‘down low’. But Grindr could make finding men for sex while completely bypassing gay bars and websites infinitely easier.

Which, of course, is fine, if all you want is sex and don’t feel any connection, socially or politically, to other men who sleep with men.

I spent the better part of last year frustrated at post-structuralists and their obsession with ‘deconstructing’ identities, and queer activists who seemed more concerned with Palestine than gay rights violations around the world. As Nicole LaViolette wrote in The Globe and Mail yesterday, Western world queers are sadly comfortable and complacent when it comes to not reaching out and helping our sisters and brothers in countries where they are constantly under threat.

Maybe I was concerned with the entirely wrong threat to the community. It’s not sexual theories which will unravel the tenuous bonds linking the alphabet soup of GLTTBQQ-etc. It’s sex itself, which, ironically, was what brought us together in the first place.  

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