Celebrating 16 years as an Affirming Congregation...
THIS IS MY STORY - AND HOW IT DEVELOPED.
THIS IS MY STORY - AND HOW IT DEVELOPED.
How did it all happen…from those memorable simple days in the country…surrounded by parents and relatives, wanting to go to school with the big kids when I was three, carrying books like theirs, and following them up the road till a neighbor phones mother to tell her I’ve been seen. She got her morning run just about every day and no amount of discipline seemed to change the situation. The only result was I got to start school a year early…still carrying the Eaton Catalogue.Those days soon passed and I was going on the bus to Junior High with 1500 students, and I quickly got introduced to dances, constantly being asked if I’d found a girlfriend yet. Finally, I could say, “yes.” What a gleeful day that was but I wondered what all the fuss was about. It was no big deal and brought me no excitement.
I took a special interest in all those team sports and always looked forward to gym days, especially volleyball and basketball. I wasn’t tall enough for the main team so always got to play in the “B” league. I felt uneasy in the locker room because of the urge to stare, as it somehow felt wrong to me, and I started hearing the demeaning terms applied to guys that did that.
In Junior High School a special interest in acting developed as I got to perform in one-act play festivals and in three years at high school my talent was put to use in several play competitions. My singing voice was noticed by the music teacher in his glee club, and he chose me for comedy roles in his operettas. By my graduation year in high school I was the comedy star in his final operetta. In the final two years of high school I spent a lot of time searching libraries, hunting down theatre courses and schools offering drama courses. Finally, there was a MacLean’s article on Ryerson which talked about their special courses, and one even centred on broadcasting and theatre.I applied and got accepted much to the surprise of my parents…because of things like I “didn’t have the brains” and “we didn’t have the money so I’d have to get a job too.” The deal was done and with a restriction of only two dollars a week after room and board I went successfully through the first year.
That was the beginning of coming to terms with my sexuality as I met several guys all too eager to inform me how like them I was…and here’s what happens. It sounded ‘way too scary and more of a change in lifestyle than I was ready to make. In a way it was a relief to have that information, and find out there were so many like me, though I knew I’d be sent out of the family if they were to discover the truth that I was gay.From that point of learning and subsequent return to my homeland there were many pitfalls along the way. I had knowledge and found myself in the midst of secret societies of gay guys but not ready to open up and admit the truth because they might tell the rest of the community. I note here that, to be caught gay was a more dangerous situation in the 60s & 70s…not unlike the situation we saw in “Brokeback Mountain” and I went through a couple similar suspicious episodes with an uncle who was attacked when he picked up a hitch hiker and, only a few years later he was found dead in his home. Though suspicious the family had no desire for an autopsy. The doctor wrote “cardiac arrest” and left it at that. They work together, those country folk.
At this point I was getting established in my short lived performing career…here in Toronto and on tour in several productions. I was successfully paying my rent, performing in touring shows and in venues throughout the city. Every touring show put together some gay men who enjoyed their lives on the road…and in Toronto it was easier to increase your social life and expand career opportunities.In the mid-eighties our friends and acquaintances started suffering those mysterious symptoms which worsened as the decade continued. Friends and acquaintances were dying at frightening speed, and word on the escalating devastation put us in terror. The education bombarded us and life became a celibate existence for most, while more and more cases broke out. It’s a relief now to hear about the controls in place against the HIV infection and tests of vaccines being run on humans, in search of a prevention serum.
In all that time I was without a church, but none of the ones I attended during the 80s after I arrived were inviting for some reason.I was introduced to Glen Rhodes in the late 80s but went on a series of tours outside the city. When all that had ended I went back to the apartment search, and in that process, ran into the Glen Rhodes friend who knew there was an apartment in his building and introduced me to the manager. Next time I came back, I was shown the apartment and the next month it was mine.
Glen Rhodes had just voted to become an Affirming Congregation which made it even more interesting as a place to worship. It was only a year later my friend admitted to me he thought he might be HIV positive and was going to get checked. A few days later he called me to say he was positive, and he was going to permit himself to be used for every medical test and procedure to bring about any kind of cure available.One of the first things I did while attending Glen Rhodes was to join the Diversity Committee and attend the monthly Affirm United meetings set up by national office for Affirm Congregations. These meetings were put in place as informative conversational gatherings to exchange current material on the GLBT groups who needed guidance.
The Affirm Committee had difficulty in maintaining a regular progress of topics and local attendance dropped off as we were learning the various topics of interest. National Office then decided to close that department and our leader got a church to operate, so the monthly meetings stopped, just as word of an international conference of GLBT positive religions around the world presented their program for WOW2000, to be held in the summer at the University of Northern Illinois in Dekalb.Thanks to our leaders and ministers for being so adamantly interested in providing the highest level of education on these elusive topics. A large representation of United Church people met there…six of whom were from Glen Rhodes. It was an overwhelming experience which I shall never forget, with people far wiser and far more informed, than I could ever have imagined and many facing challenges I could never endure.
I discovered the Shower of Stoles…some 200 stoles collected from donors who were practicing clergy until they were discovered to be gay, lesbian, or trans people…and were stripped of their commission and excommunicated from the church. We had a small collection on display here when we celebrated or 10th Anniversary.WOW2000 brought us face-to-face with long forgotten and ignored discrimination truths we still carried with us. It was tough love we were forced to hear on the final day of our conference, which came to light in our first service and put before us almost every day after that, with the Canadians expressing surprise we should be accused. We’re not as bad as ‘they’ are…but lo and behold, we’re still carrying our prejudices buried deep in our heritage and we practice it without knowledge…and at WOW2003, in a whole day devoted to detailed study on the topic, the white population got well and truly educated to their inherited “position of privilege,” especially the men. We have no idea how deeply we’re buried in our given and accepted privileges which we receive and accept without question…but both givers and takers should perhaps be aware of what we give and what we take.
It was in Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, at WOW2006 three years later we came to terms with our age old discriminatory personalities. A whole day of face-to-face discussion, dramatized situations showing some unacceptable action and talking which we hear, and say, on regular basis. Our job was to discover why and how the situations presented should look in future. I came away with a whole new understanding how some of my comments should be adjusted.My education isn’t over but I feel much better prepared to face the work we need to do…and feel the need to find a way to get going on that work.