I know a lot of my friends and family are tired of the stream of political material I have been putting out.
I am tired too.
I am tired of being called faggot by UCP supporters.
I am tired of getting messages from UCP supporters that tell me that Jesus can cure the abomination inside me.
I am tired of vandals and thieves targeting us for our political affiliation.
I am tired of explaining basic economic theory to someone who gets all their news and education from UCP meme factories and the guys at work.
I am tired of my objective facts and education being less valuable than poorly formed opinions.
I am tired of having to explain to people why our human rights and the safety of queer kids should get a little more weighting than your heating bill.
I am tired of explaining to “supporters” of the queer community why you can’t support us and the UCP at the same time.
I am tired of fighting a politician who has been negatively impacting me and people like me for the last 20-25 years of my life.
25 years you say? Aaron how is that possible? Kenny is only just now running for leadership of this province how could he have affected you so long ago?
Let me tell you about an old wound and how I got it. One that has been torn back open by the UCP political campaign and its supporters. One that keeps me up at night and has been at the root of many of my panic attacks.
I grew up knowing I was different from a very young age. I was a smart, anxious and very observant kid. I knew there was a part of me that wasn’t welcome in my home, in my family, in my school and in my province. Heading into the Klein era I had front row seats to the battles the queer rights movement. I watched as brave Albertans fought for our right to be employed, to access housing, to marry, to see each other when sick, to mourn and to be equally recognized under the law just like everyone else. I also watched how everyone around me reacted to their bravery. For the most part it wasn’t encouraging.
I heard every epithet for a gay man uttered around the kitchen table and the school yard during political discussions. Every sharp word was a wedge separating me further from those who should be the ones I held closest. Making me fear who I was and what was going to become of me. The seed of that fear was planted early and deep.
The harder Klein fought, the harsher the rhetoric around me got and the worse it was. Because you see it’s rarely the words of the politician that causes the harm but any time a politician runs on the fear of the “other” it allows their supporters free reign to give into darker urges. That is where the harm is and that is why I am so desperately worried about this generation of queer kids and what they are going to have to deal with in the current political climate.
I didn’t really put it all together until recently but back then Klein was fighting so hard because Jason Kenny and his ultra conservative think tank was pushing a virulently anti-gay agenda and were the ones pressuring him to use the not-withstanding clause to circumvent my charter rights. He was the source of the resistance to me being recognized as a human with equal rights just like the rest of you. He may not have been holding the knife that caused the wound but he sure as fuck was the one applying the pressure. This was my entrance to adolescence and he popped up again as I entered adulthood where he led the campaign to take away my right to marry at the federal level. None of which he has apologized for.
I had a hard time throughout school. Kids can tell when someone is different and the bullying and abuse because of that followed me until University. I had a quick mouth and fast legs that helped me survive but each attack, each punch and each slur widened that wound. I think for most people Junior High and High School is a time of self discovery, of experimentation, of first dates. I had none of those things. I spent my formative adolescent years building a labyrinth around myself, so I could be alone with my self loathing, my anxiety and my fear of rejection.
And alone I was with my wound and depression. While I had friends throughout those years many whom I hold dear even today no one made it through the labyrinth really. To this day I am still not certain many people do. In my mind the wound is always going to be there and so I built walls and walls of armour to protect it. Each new attack was a brick for those walls until I was surrounded.
Going to a catholic school in the conservative suburbs ensured that there would be no institutional escape for me. No kindly teacher to rescue me from a world that hates and fears me. Books, comics and binge drinking were my means of escape. I can not tell you how many times I sat alone in my room in the dark writing terrible poetry and contemplating suicide. This is around the same time that persistent cyclical negative thoughts started running through my brain. On a good day they would just tell me I was worthless and on a bad day they would echo the words of politicians like Jason Kenny and much much worse.
This is the core of the wound. On bad days even now, the voice whispers in my ear. It never has kind things to say about me. I know it is lying now but back then I had no one to really turn to get that confirmation. Even when I was surrounded by loved ones I was alone.
When Jason Kenny says that he will leave it up to the teachers to decide whether or not to out a queer kid despite all research and expert knowledge saying that would be catastrophic for many of them I think back to who I was back then and I shudder. I can’t tell you with any certainty what I would have done had I been outed to my family by my school but I can tell you that I was teetering on the thin edge of a knife for 6 years and that would have likely tipped me over.
GSAs did not exist when I was growing up. I can only imagine what it would have been like to have a safe place to explore who I was with other people like me. I can only fantasize about the person I would be today had I not been so utterly isolated by fear in those formative years. Who would I be right now if I had the chance to grow up like a straight kid? If I had felt normal? If I had peers that understood me? Even if it was just an hour a week at school.
I didn’t really come out to most of my family until I was 26. I spent the better part of a decade preparing myself and them for that to happen. I waited until I was in my own home with a career and an education and a long-term partner before I did it. I made sure that there was no chance they or anyone else could make that wound bigger. The labyrinth grew in complexity until I could no longer differentiate me from it and the wound beating at its heart. This is the damage that fear creates.
I am blessed with many straight family and friends in my life who make the effort to support me and my relationship but none of this came without work and planning and I know that deep down most straight allies fundamentally can’t understand what it is like to grow up differently because that understanding requires first hand experiences that I would never wish on anyone.
To my straight family and friends understand this: I do love you but I am not one of you. I haven’t been one of you for decades, maybe I never was. It has been drilled into me during formative years. If I have seemed distant, unavailable, abrupt or combative know that these are the survival techniques I needed to stand before you today. I have given you a peek past the armor and into the labyrinth around me, a glimpse of my wound and the journey I have been on with it. I did this so maybe you could understand me somehow.
When I was going through school I made a promise to myself. I would use my skills and my privilege to make sure that queer kids like me wouldn’t have to go through what I did growing up. 20 years of social progress later and Kenny shows back up with a team of bigots here to create new “others”, new wounds for minority groups to carry around with them every day of their lives.
This isn’t a story of tragedy it is a story about survival and I do not need your apologies or sorrow. Also know I am not special in this regard. I am just one of the lucky few who made it far enough to have a platform to share this story. Many of us are not that lucky. Hearing the stories of queer people like me over the years and how closely our experiences followed along each other shows me how unremarkable my life is and how universally a minority group can be affected by political campaigns like the one the UCP is running now.
I am sharing this, so you can understand why I am fighting so hard against the UCP and Kenny and why I am asking for your help. This man has based his entire political career on the backs of people like me. He has attracted candidates who have expressed horrific and untrue positions on other minority groups to stir up fear in you.
I am a proud Albertan, Canadian, Edmontonian, businessperson, advocate queer man and partner. My life experiences are not yours and your life experiences are not mine. I hope you never have to experience the kind of hatred and vitriol queer people experience on a day to day basis. I hope you never have your humanity debated by pundits on TV. I hope that if someone did come after your rights they way they do mine that you know I would fight for you. I hope.
Kenny is an expert in fear and I know because he helped people like you to plant that seed of fear in me decades ago. I am asking that you join with me in rejecting that fear of the other. I am opening the doors to the labyrinth so that you can see a little bit of the world from my perspective.
I ask that you try to put yourself into the shoes of that “other” and ask yourself how you would feel if you were walking in that person’s life and what wounds they may carry with them, what fears they have had to overcome.
I am asking you for the fearless advocacy I see in my queer peers.
I am asking you to reject the lies that helps fear grow.
I am asking you for your voice, for your strength and for your vote.
I am asking this not because I am some left-wing ideologue but because I know first hand that the politics of hate and division leave wounds that never really heal. I know based off everything I have experienced that the value of a community lies in our differences and we can’t make real lasting change unless we are working towards that change together with hope.
I ask you this because I am so very tired and right now as you read this there is a little fabulous Aaron out there in this province. He is scared and alone and he is listening/watching you right now. His life and the lives of others are depending on it. Our democracy is depending on it and I am depending on you.