Friday, 1 July 2011

The Gay Canadian...

Hello Friends.

There's no excuse for a blog this late, but let me offer one anyway. Earlier this week, a cashier at work quit unexpectedly. This is not to say she offered two weeks notice and left us in a bit of a jam, but rather called fifteen minutes before her shift was going to start to say she wouldn't be coming in that day, or ever again. This left the rest of us scrambling, begging other part-timers to come in, and pulling double-shifts just to keep everything going. Such was the case these last few days, and the late nights/early mornings have meant I haven't had time to write. And this week of all weeks, where Canada Day celebrations and Gay Pride are combined and celebrations for both happen simultaneously, that really warrants a thoughtful entry. There's no excuse for not writing about that this week, but let me offer one anyway.

On the one hand, I am very proud to be Canadian, but I worry that the current political structure doesn't represent the best interests of this country. I am also proud to be gay, but I worry that catty drag queens and Grindr don't represent the best interests of my sexuality. I wrestle with these questions of pride and... to borrow from the Simpsons, what's the opposite of pride? Shame? Not quite shame. Less pride. I wrestle with these questions of pride and less pride on weekends like this, and wonder where I fit.

Dream: Determine my level of pride in Canada and gayness.

Goal: Achievable. The average Canadian may not know how much he or she takes pride in their country, but we've all heard stories of chaos and unrest across the world (and especially in that country to the south of us) and said, “At least I don't live there.” Similarly, not every gay will wave a flag and march in a parade, but every gay has a series of coming out or coming to terms with stories that they will share at a party when they're well-lit and convinced they have the attention of everyone in the room. So determining a level of pride shouldn't be that hard.

Plan: Look back on my gay Canadian life and recall when I had pride, or less pride, in being Canadian or gay.

I remember realizing I was Canadian on this weekend some twenty-odd years ago. When I lived here in this Big City as a young, young kid, my family would sometimes make the five hour drive to Detroit to visit my mother's cousins. My first memory of this was a trip on the 4th of July weekend. It seems like we were outside that whole weekend, barbecuing, swimming, Frisbee-ing, etc., and the evening of July 4th made me see that Americans do patriotism right! The fireworks were unbelievable, as was the completely heartfelt, not ironic, singing of the Star-Spangled Banner by everyone in attendance that night. I remembering hearing throughout my childhood from various members of my family that at every school day, every sporting event, every conceivable occasion, “Americans put their hands on their hearts and sang in praise of their country, gawdammit!” Can we say that about ourselves as Canadians? I can't remember the last time I sung O Canada, or the last time I did with any genuine pride or emotion. So, less pride there.

I remember realizing I was gay probably in the seventh or eighth grade. I wish I could link it to some significant event, like watching a rugged marlboro man dive into a lake, or realizing I knew the entire score of Annie, but there was no such realization. And unlike so many other thirteen year olds who seem absolutely tortured by this obvious-to-everyone-else idea, I can't say knowing I was probably gay caused me any real strife. I had not been indoctrinated to believe that a wife and kids were my expected path, nor do I come from a particularly religious family, so I didn't feel like a vengeful God was wringing His hands and wondering what was to be done with me. Add to that the fact that I did community theatre as a kid and community theatre is filled to the brim with doctors, lawyers, teachers, businesspeople, and parents who take a few nights off a week to be in a play and also happen to be gay. Not that I knew they were gay at the time, but in hindsight, the women who were “roommates” and helped build the set together, or the guy who wore a scarf with his leotard to dance rehearsal, they probably weren't on the Anita Bryant mailing list. So I can't say figuring out I was gay lead to a swell of pride, or less pride. It just was the way it was.

When I was nineteen or so, my parents became Canadian. My mother and father, born in the States and UK, respectively, had long put getting their citizenship on the Someday List. Whether it was a disinterest in paperwork, or fear of jury duty, they just never took the necessary steps to become Canadians. Finally, though, they both put the wheels in motion and applied for the various meetings and tests that were required. I wish I knew what prompted this call to action. Perhaps it was the fact that many of the American and British relatives of my parents had passed away, or that my brother and I (Canadians) were becoming adults and voting in elections, so maybe they should too, I couldn't say. Anyway, they were embarrassed that it had taken them this long to finally become citizens, and hoped to keep everything pretty quiet. However, when a coworker of my mother's heard that they were applying for citizenship, he made the necessary calls and arranged for the official “Becoming Canadian” ceremony to take place at my mother's school, at an assembly, in front of the entire student body. I think my brother was still at a student at the school when this was going on, so we joked that I should have come to the ceremony too, and brought the dog, just to fully embarrass everyone. And of course at the time, I would have been mortified to sit through such a thing. But now I sort of wish I had been there. Someone at the newspaper heard that a local schoolteacher (my mom) was becoming a Canadian in front of all her students, so there was a picture of my mother, and my mortified father, on the third page of the newspaper with the headline, “Ostimes Now Proud Canadians.” And I think we all were.

It was around that time that I (finally) came out to family and friends. The whole coming-out thing is such an embarrassing experience. You're basically volunteering information about your sex life to your family, which is always fun. I'm not sure why I waited so long, but I think part of the reason was that I didn't have a boyfriend, or even any dates, so it wasn't as if I was sneaking around, leading some kind of sexy double-life. But I did feel like my reluctance to come out probably had something to do with shame. If it wasn't a big deal, why couldn't I just say it? I did what I think is typical of a lot of gay people, which is to test the waters with people who have no stake in the matter. My best friend lived a few hours away and I would visit him often. He'd known I was gay for ages, and nobody else knew me there, so I started just being the gay guy among his friends, or at parties or whatever. I didn't know most of these people, and they certainly didn't know me, so it was a very risk-free way of trying that hat on for awhile. I did the same thing once I got to university, not being dramatic about it or anything, but just having it be known. It was comfortable and freeing, but I started to get the gnawing feeling that I was being really dishonest to the people I cared about the most, my close friends and family. I wasn't doing anything sexy, but this was a double-life, and I didn't like it much anymore. Then I was a Christmas party with a bunch of university friends, to whom I was (one of) the gay guys. Then a girl walked in who was the sister of my close friend Mike and was also the daughter of coworkers of my mother's. I said hello to her and then got the hell out of there. That was too close, I thought, any slip-up and the worlds would have collided. Shortly thereafter, I was talking to Mike on MSN (remember when MSN was a thing?) and he said, “Uh... I was talking to my sister, and she was at this party and she was talking to the girl who's party it was and... uh...” and there it was. Having circumstances be such that I was forced to finally talk about it to friends and family was actually the greatest thing. So of course I did and OF COURSE everybody was fine with it. Nobody seemed surprised either, which was also, the greatest thing. Not to speak for all gay people, but I think, at a certain point, a gay person just wants to be asked. The awkwardness isn't around people knowing that you're gay, its having to sit them down and tell them, which is the worst (even in best-case-scenarios, like the one I just described). Now I bring Jon around to those same friends and family, who treat him like they would anyone else's partner, which gives me tremendous pride indeed.

I have today (Canada Day) and Sunday (the Pride Parade) off this weekend, in between long work shifts, and I'm so glad. I may have conflicting feelings sometimes about what it means to be Canadian and gay, and while I don't think either of these things define me as a person, I am proud to live in a country which, among other things, makes it okay to be both.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I'm not much of a flag waver myself, but it made me stand a little bit taller.