Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Changing the world one step at a time.

Last night I had the amazing opportunity to attend the historic ribbon cutting at Michael Phair school. I first discovered Michael from the front page of the Edmonton Journal in the early to mid 1990's.  At this point I had known for years that I was different from most other guys and that those differences were not looked upon kindly by the majority of people around me.

The paper had been out on the living room table, Michael was featured rather prominently fighting for some cause (I can't remember which one at this point as there were so many battles in Alberta in the 90's) and the adults were talking about politics as they occasionally did and one of them referred to him with a common gay slur and immediately dismissed what he was saying.  The specific slur has faded from memory but the consensus of those talking was that they agreed. 

In my life as a closeted boy immersed in the ultra-conservative Klein era prairies I had a few flash points of hope/recognition that I was not alone.  RuPaul was one of these flash points and Michael with his larger than life personality, his over the top glasses wardrobe and fierce activism on the front page of the Journal was another.  Here was this guy who was different like me who was not only elected but making a difference in a place where I thought that was impossible.

From that day on I watched for him in the news and through him discovered many other queer activists making massive changes to what was for me a dangerous and unfriendly province.  Michael was a beacon in the dark. Through his work I discovered there were many lights battling the darkness and they were not as far away as I had originally thought. 

If you had told me at that time that I would be sitting in a school gym filled with people celebrating his work in under 25  years and that they would be naming said school after him I would have laughed at you and called you crazy for such a thing would have been impossible. I think that in itself is the most amazing testament to this man who makes the impossible possible.

I was pretty emotional last night and inspired. Michael's story is one that shows that change can happen if your willing to work for it and one person's energy can ripple across and activate thousands of others who go on and try to do good. I like to think (and hope) that I am one of those people.

There is a saying "never meet your heroes".  Michael and the other amazing queer community leaders that I have met over the last decade or so (you know who you are) proves that adage completely wrong. 

Meet your heroes be inspired by them and work with them if you can. Give back to your community and help those without voices speak not because you want the pat on the back but because its the right thing to do.  Its what Michael does every damn day.

The sate of world affairs and the hatred I have seen on my own Facebook feed from people who should nknow better can be so demoralizing. Last night showed me that change for the better is coming and it may not happen tomorrow or the day after but with work it will come.  I saw how one person can make a difference for millions.  There is no force in the universe, not ignorance, bigotry or hate that can stop the spread of that kind of energy. 

Thank you Michael for teaching me that, for being a role model for me and for showing me how powerful one voice can be.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

On Pride and Prejudice

So just some thoughts that have been rolling around in my anxious brain I wanted to share with my queer community. I have avoided wading into this mostly for my own mental health (it has been a difficult month) but the proliferation of casual racism and bullshit I have seen on my feed in the last week alone has forced my hand.

The queer community has made some amazing strides in the past 60 plus years. We achieved this by: demanding change, organizing, protesting, rioting, educating and even dying to further the status of queer people. Fighting to make sure the next generation had an easier, better life. Change did not come from many of societies’ institutions out of kindness or because they saw us as people (they didn't) but because we demanded they treat us like everyone else. I am eternally grateful to those that came before that stopped the wheels of inequity from crushing them and demanded change. They have created a far better world for me to live in. This great work is a tapestry of a billion inches taken here and there that have moved mountains. It is with great regret however that I need to inform you that despite what you may have been told the work is not done.

In my work both professionally and in the community I have had the opportunity to meet people on both sides of the debate on the appropriateness for uniforms and weapons in pride. I have seen first hand the passion and hard work that these people are doing to enact change both internally and externally. Meeting all of these people has helped me immensely to consider and recognize my own biases and blind spots and try to address them and this work is always ongoing but ultimately the work is not done. When I look at the commentary from fellow community members that I have seen on my Facebook page the last year, what has come to the forefront is that much of it is reductive, myopic and offensive and does a great disservice to the hard work that is happening behind the headlines. I am disappointed in many of you for resorting to rhetoric instead of taking the path of empathy and understanding. Calling members of your own community who are undeniably subjects of systemic racism, snowflakes/whiners for standing up for themselves is unacceptable. Calling queer service/law enforcement members fascists/racists for wanting to be recognized for the hard work they have done to change these institutions and make them better for queer people from the inside is also unacceptable (I have yet to see any cases of this on my feed tbh). As subjects of discrimination I expect more from us when sections of our community cry out for help, which is why it is so clear to me that the work is not done.

You don’t understand the issues? Don’t know anyone directly affected by this? Get involved and maybe you will learn why people are asking for the things they are. I do not begrudge activists for using the same tools prior generations did to enact change. I know my perspective shifted after meeting people directly affected by both sides of this. I also think the best way to honor the achievements of the previous and current generation is to continue on the work that started so long ago. I know there is no ideal solution. There never has been, which is why we have had and will have to fight, organize and communicate so fiercely to continue on. The quest for true equality is a maze. There will be many stops, starts and dead ends that require some backtracking because there never was and never will be a clear path forward. Anyone that tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something. The key is to keep walking together on that path and make sure that we aren’t leaving anyone behind to get to the end faster. Unless we get there together the work is not done.

Some of us have been left behind. The fruits of this revolution that have benefited me so greatly have not been shared with all of us. Nelson Mandela once said “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest”. I think about this often when I look around at the increasingly grim world I am faced with. I have always been of the “think global act local perspective” when it comes to change because otherwise the task it too big. The achievements we have made in the last 60 years are so delicate, tenuous and new. I see that every day when I look at news coming out of the US or Chechnya or one of the many other countries where people are treated differently because of who they are. This great revolution is the legacy of anyone marching under the queer banner to carry on and continue because the work is not done.

So I ask you internet friends who have been so confident in your opinions and blanket statements who have the privilege to be able to stick your heads in the sand and say “THIS PROBLEM DOESN’T AFFECT ME SO I DON’T SEE IT AS A PROBLEM” these last few months to engage in some real introspection. I ask that you think about why your experiences alone may not be enough to be so certain about the correct solution? I ask that you put real thought into what the lives of others are like who live with completely different challenges than you do. I ask you to reflect on what is more important symbols and institutions or the actual people they effect? I ask you to think about ways we can honor our queer service/law enforcement member’s achievements while helping tackle systemic problems in the organizations that they work for? I ask you to think about your own biases and blind spots and how they have affected your world view and opinions. I ask you to consider how we can make sure that no one gets left behind? After you have done these things then you are ready to answer the last question. What have you done with the benefits you received from over half a century of activism to help get the work done and make things better for the next generation that comes?

I stand by Calgary Pride and the hard thankless work these volunteers are doing to try and make sure that we all make it there together. Happy Pride everyone let’s get to work!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Living Proud and In the Now

The Orlando shootings hit me really hard.  I had already been in such a dark place before they happened.  My bestie lost one of her trans students to suicide the day before and we were reeling from the loss of a girl who we had predicted was going to be the most fabulous queen to hit Edmonton in years.  Hope was fading in my mind.  For weeks I walked around like a zombie.

Living a life outside the mainstream never seemed harder or more grim.  I had never felt so separated from the straight world who really didn't understand anything that was going on or why it was hitting the queer community so hard.  I got tired of fighting off tears at work.  Just so tired of everything.

As the names and faces of the victims streamed through, one of the first was of Edward Manuel Sotomayor Jr. He was my age, had a good career and a man he loved even his funeral was the kind I would prefer.  He was an alternate universe me and he had been gunned down doing something I would likely be doing on a Saturday night.  Then the other victims stories started to come out.  Boyfriends being buried together.   A man's last act to save his partner, a mother saving her gay son.

These people were all robbed of so much and we were robbed of them.

I have a list of names running around in my head.  People I have lost because of suicide, societal inaction and violence.  I think most people in minority groups have lists like this and now a new generation has to start making lists (something I always hoped they would not have to do).

All of this put things into sharp perspective for me.  Like a telescope finally coming into focus I could see myself clearer than ever before.  The fire was re-lit.   I knew what I wanted to do.  There is a scene in Sense 8 where Nomi a trans woman talks about herself not being just a "me" she is also a "we" connected to so much more than herself as her reason for marching in Pride.  This is what the queer community is all about to me.

Greg and I will have been together for 9 years this September.  We had always joked that we would wait until all of our straight friends to get married before we would even consider it.  If the events of the last few months have shown me anything it is that life is so very very short and that love is a very precious commodity.

I knew I had to propose.  We had waited too long and I know I want to spend every moment I have left with him in my life.  So a plan was hatched.   With the gay rodeo being cancelled we agreed to go on a road trip vacation to the mountains.  I managed to find a seat sale to Vancouver however and so we switched it up and planned a quick getaway to lotus land.

After sneakily getting his ring size I ventured out and got a ring the day of the flight.  No one knew about it but the girls at work and me.

Canada Day, July 1 we went on a hike in Stanley Park.  I wanted to find the perfect spot with just the two of us to pop the question.  For most of our lives we are surrounded by friends and family.  For this moment I wanted it to be just the two of us.

I told Greg to keep a lookout for the biggest tree we could find because I wanted to take a picture hugging it.  We walked for hours until we came to the perfect spot.  It so happens this spot was in a cruisey area of the park and we bumped into a bear and his adorable dog.  After chatting with him for a bit he went on his way and we had the forest to ourselves again.

He said yes!

Go live and make the most out of every moment.

Thank you for reading this and for following my adventures. We love you.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The end of an era

I still remember my first time.  I was 24 and after months of renovating my first condo I decided to get out of town for the Canada day long weekend and go to the gay rodeo at Simon's Valley Ranch.  I was still not out at home or at work and knew no one else who was going.  I had a knot in my stomach the whole way down.  What was it going to be like? Would I make friends?  Would I  get laid?

My first gay rodeo changed my life.  It showed me there was no one way to be gay and that there are others like me.  I never thought I would find a home or family through it but I did.  I have never met a group of people so open and welcoming to everyone who came through the gates.  In the many years that have passed we have loved, fucked, cheered, cried, consoled, bled and competed.

Between dodging tornadoes, surviving the eagle's free booze tents, jello shooters, winning, losing and riding a steer in a (fabulous) dress in front of my bio family (including my Grandparents) my life has been enormously enriched by the hard work of the Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo Association and it's members.  

With the confirmation that ARGRA is no more I want to send out a sincere thanks to everyone who worked so much to give me a place I could find a family in.

I love you thank you.

When a gay organization ends there is always speculation and what ifs and a million armchair volunteers with opinions about how they could have done it better.

I know our family is hurting right now for many reasons.  But family exists to support. each other  So please when you look out at your community, your adopted queer families ask your self.  Am I doing enough?  Am I involved enough?  Am I helping to create a world where queer kids growing up will have it better than me?  Am I building the family or tearing it down?

Our community groups need more than $ to survive.  They need most importantly your time, your commitment and your ideas.  Events of the last week have made it so very clear to me that we need strong queer: community groups, safe places, bars, coffee shops and charities to support those still trying to find themselves.

So please go out this weekend and the weekend after that and the weekend after that.

Get involved.  Volunteer.  Mentor. And above all else LOVE with every ounce of energy you can muster.   #liveproud

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Be it destiny or gravity I want no part of it.

The flashing pain of being thrown to the floor.
The feeling of his vice like grip around your neck.
Your brain screaming, begging for oxygen as you pass out.
The panic when you see the rage in his eyes as he comes towards you.
The cold wet metal of the RV panel grinding up against your shoulder blades as he sputters rage in your face.
The gaping wound in your heart that knowing that she sided with him.  

These sensory ghosts, they haunt me everywhere I go.  
Distance, time, perspective, acceptance and forgiveness have been my shield.  
Denial, self deception, weed, booze have been my sWord. 
Like gossamer wings in a hurricane they never last for long.
All these years fighting the darkness within me.  
It was a symptom not the source.

My source, my rage.
An endless fountain, white hot and blinding.  
Filled with all the things I swore I would never be and could never do.
An ultra dense star of pain surrounded by black.
I feel it like a pit in my stomach and an ache in my temples.  
How do you contain a star?

When that star shines my head fills with shadows.
This is where the ghosts dwell.  
Fueled by every failure, every lapse in control.
Fires stoked until the star consumes me again.
The cycle unbroken from the dawn of my time.

Lapse, relapse, repeat until you die.

The evidence begins to pile up.
The case not quite closed.

Am I destined to become my father?

So in other news I know I am depressed because that is the only time I write shitty self reflective poetry.  I have no right to be as angry and frustrated as I am.  My life is pretty awesome and I have done so much and have so so many amazing people around me.  My temper is so short right now it is like I am white-nuckling through life.  I have no idea when the next thing is going to set me off.

I know this relates to my general anxiety levels and I know that comes from some shitty parenting combined with a family wide genetic pre-dispositions to anxiety issues.  But I just fucking hate it when I see him looking back at me eyes squinted and teeth clenched.

I have also found out some things.  More family secrets that confirmed things I already suspected.  Everyone is a fucking victim and mental illness is a bitch.  How utterly mundane, sad and obvious it all is.

I am trying to set my own path but keep running over ground well walked by my predecessors. I know I am smart enough to get out of this cycle but it is so so hard some days to even get out of bed.

I know I can do it I just don't know how.

Monday, January 11, 2016


Hey Blogger
I missed you.

2015 was a year of challenges and discovery.  It was a year of cleaning up messes from the clusterfuck that was 2014.

Things I am proud of:

  • Tackling the constant negative thoughts about myself that caused so much harm.   I always assumed this is how other people's brains work as well.  Opening myself up to the fella about the issues and the root causes of them really allowed me some perspective.  Self love ;) is the most important kind of love and in 2015 I started to confront and destroy all of my self loathing.
  • The condo's major issues appear to be resolved.  We haven't had a leak or serious issue since the work was completed in March.  We won't know for sure until the spring thaw has passed but I think we are in pretty good shape on the home front.
  • Work has completely turned around for me.  I have been able to realize the first phase of my dream project and have learned a lot about being a better manager.  For a long time I was lead to believe that I was the problem with the company.  With the new management team in place and all the changes we have made I see now that I wasn't the problem and I am very good at my job. 
  • The Fellowship of Alberta Bears not-for-profit really took off this year.  The board organized more events than ever and we managed to figure out a formula that really works for our members and minimizes our risks.  It was a lot of hard work this year but it really paid off both for the organization and our selected charities. 
Things I need to work on for 2016:
  • I need to find a better work/life balance.  Even with all the changes we have made in the last year I spent too many hours working or volunteering and not enough time with my friends and family.  Sometimes this makes me feel like a ghost.  Observing the lives of loved ones from afar and not able to properly participate.   I see this really improving on the work side of things at least for this coming year. 
  • Be more spontaneous.  I have been in survival mode for so long that getting my brain wrapped around new ways of living and thinking can be a tough job.  I plan to say "Yes" more to myself and to the world.
  • Take time for myself and reflect.  As an introverted extrovert it can be tough being in the middle of so many things with no breaks.  Just like I have to say "Yes" more often I also have to say "No" sometimes and take some time for myself.  Part of this will be to post more to this blog.  I have a tendency to forget about the past and I need this journal to provide a record of what I am doing in my life.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The PrEP Files: Part 3 It is always darkest before dawn

I had originally planned a number of separate posts detailing talking to my doctor and getting the prescription filled.  Having gone through the whole process however I think I need to provide a more current update as I would have done things differently had I known then what I do now.

Here are some things point form that I discovered while trying to get my prescription filled:

  • No one will know what to do with you.  The systems in Alberta are not designed to deal with this usage yet so every step will be a process of education and clearing out miss-information. 
  • Getting the prescription filled is not as easy as going to your local pharmacy only two pharmacies provide truvada in the Edmonton area (the Rexall at the Royal Alex and University of Alberta Hospitals) and they are not super easy to get to.  Accessibility is something I took for granted and those who are dealing with the healthcare system in Alberta with HIV have a number of barriers accessing services and medication.  
  • Only an infectious disease doctor can prescribe truvada and get it covered by Alberta Health.  This is a huge deal and something I will go into more detail on later in the post.
  • People will treat you differently.  My local pharmacist looked like I had handed her a bomb when I tried to get my prescription filled.  That look was echoed by every health care person I have had to deal with in getting the pills.
  • Be sensitive to your privileged status as a negative person trying to access medications used as a critical life saving tool for many people. 
  • Also note that groups and organizations that you may have relied on for help in the past may not support the use of PrEP.  This kind of political bullshit really pissed me off as I was reaching out for informational resources from local queer groups that should have been able to provide at least some help and all I received was silence.  
  • PrEP is very expensive and establishing how you are getting it covered should be the first thing you do.  It was the last step we took and so far has been the most difficult and very expensive.  
  • There are great resources out there if you know where to look.  This facebook group has been by far the most helpful.  I learned more on that page than I did from any other official resources.
Step 1:  Talk to your Doctor and provide them with education materials.  Be open and honest with them about your sex life.  If you can't do this you should try and find a doc you can trust.  We found ours through our local pride centre.

Step 2: Establish that you can get coverage.  As of today I can confirm that Manulife Group Benefits will never cover the medication in Alberta until the CMA recognizes it as a legitimate use and treatment.  Talk to your benefits provider.   This is a lengthy process for most benefit companies because they don't have answers ready and often there is paperwork that you and your physician may have to fill out for pre-approval.   There are no programs currently in Alberta that help people find coverage for PrEP.

Only after doing both of these should you even consider getting PrEP.

I was asked this past pride weekend if all the work and expense was worth it?  My answer is not a simple yes or no.

For a short while I was able to experience sex the way it should be without fear or concern of the big bad wolf that I was raised to be terrified of.  It is a freeing experience and I am glad I had it. Traveling this path has been difficult and it has opened my eyes to a great many things that I had been ignorant to. There is little doubt in my mind that this treatment should be in the hands of every single person who needs it.

Accessibility is the problem and until that issue is solved PrEP in Alberta will never be ready for the average person who needs it most.  Until then the small handful of people fighting, educating and pushing the medical corporate establishment and the queer community will continue to do so but it takes a chorus of voices to enact change.

So please go out and educate yourself educate others and ask those power brokers why this isn't being provided to a community seeing a rapid increase in infections.  Together and only together can we solve the problem of accessibility.