Some may call it back-peddling, some may call it damage control; but denouncing my involvement in The Grid’s recent cover story ‘Dawn Of A New Gay’by Paul Aguirre-Livingston is incredibly important to me regardless of how it may be perceived.
Aguirre-Livingston’s article has drawn criticism from just about every queer individual in this city, and rightfully so. A personal essay disguised as the new gay manifesto, the piece went to great lengths to describe a life of privilege where the comforts afforded to him are not only taken for granted, but also misguidedly portrayed as universal to the gay community.
I grew up in Dubai, U.A.E where homosexuality is punishable by death. I sought refuge in Canada, and have only recently, finally been granted permanent resident status. The fear of having to go back home should I not have been approved haunted me every single day that I lived here. The Grid’s article was a major slap in the face to those not as privileged as Aguirre-Livingston, and to many others in rural areas of this country and in countries around the world.
As happy as I am to hear that there are queer folk out there who have loving homes and accepting parents, the last time my parent’s addressed my possible gayness was at an intervention when I was 13. Where Aguirre-Livingston got cottage privileges from his parents, I had a three hour beating. My mom’s last words that night were “being gay starts with AIDS and ends with AIDS”. She said she would have no problem forgetting that she had a son named Elie should I choose to be gay. As happy as I am to hear that according to the writer, gay youth can come out without facing much prejudice, I know that I was bullied and harassed every single day until I stepped on a plane to leave the Middle East…a far cry from the ideal world Aguirre-Livingston arrogantly assumes we all live in. It is now also a world for which I am a cover model and ambassador on every newsstand in the city. I, unlike Aguirre-Livingston don’t take my safety in Canada lightly; my brothers and sisters all over the world are persecuted on a daily basis and would find his as disturbing and offensive as I do.
Beyond the embarrassment of foolishly agreeing to have my face and name used for something that I wasn’t diligent enough to have read or researched prior to my involvement (I wasn’t interviewed for the piece nor do I know the extent of the writer’s research), I’m saddened at the squandered potential a Grid cover story could have afforded. With gay bullying being as rampant as it is, the recent ‘Kill The Gays’ crisis in Uganda, and the fact that transgendered individuals still haven’t been awarded equal rights in Canada, it shocks me that Aguirre-Livingston chose to claim that our struggle for equality and justice (’cause according to him, everything’s fine!) as LGBT individuals is accomplished. He argues that gay rights have taken a backseat thanks to the birth of Girl Power, the sexual prowess of Britney Spears, the relative normalcy of Will from Will & Grace, and then somehow makes the absurd interjection – quite proudly – that he, the new po-mo gay need not freak out should he occasionally or carelessly have unprotected sex.
Initially pitched as a piece that highlights “the new generation of gays who feel they shouldn’t be so radically defined by their sexual orientation” and why we “want more than just to be “the gay guy” – because that doesn’t inform our place in society or what we do, only who we sleep with – I naively assumed this would discuss the evolution of the modern gay identity within the context of a metropolitan city such as Toronto. This is something that I struggle with, as do many others. I do think Aguirre-Livingston does attempt to tackle the issue, albeit from a very narrow perspective.
In a time when we have more civil rights than ever before, there will come a day when the fight will be over and we’ll be left wondering what to do with ourselves. But we’re not even close to getting there yet.
As a contributor to The Gaily, I was personally attracted to the notion that the article would start a dialogue on how the ‘new gay identity’ would exist in a world that was pro-women and pro-trans, while being anti-racist and anti-classist. Unfortunately, the evident elitism prevalent throughout ‘Dawn of the New Gay’ seems not to be a step forward toward a truly progressive future but a step to the ‘right’ where rich gay men with “fabulously rustic country homes” apparently only sleep with ‘straight acting’ guys. Had The Grid actually published my answer to one of the five questions the 9 cover boys were emailed regarding what ‘straight acting’ means to me, Torontonians would have been treated to the following response:
“Straight looking” and anything that sounds like that is as much of an insult to me as being called a fag or any other derogatory term. Having your sexual preferences is one thing but marginilizing people if they happen to be effiniminate is hypocritical and dangerous. I’m me. Sometimes I’m flamboyant, sometimes I’m not and being asked to express myself any other way is just as bad as being asked to make my way back into that dusty old closet.”
Clearly that answer didn’t correspond with the direction the article was taking but I’m quite confident in my assumption that many gay men, unlike the author, would’ve agreed with me on this matter.
Another major issue community members have with the article is Aguirre-Livingston’s choice to regard the Toronto gay village as an empty, tired shell of it’s former self, mostly because of his personal preference of not wanting to party there. As someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy partying in the village, mostly because I don’t often feel like I belong there, I guess I can kind of see his point. But not wanting to party there is one thing, and completely glossing over the essential services that millions of queers utilize everyday to aid them though a multitude of issues such as HIV treatment, coming out, or homelessness is just irresponsible and ignorant. Though I don’t personally frequent the village often, I never for one second claim that it isn’t an integral part of the gay community. Furthermore, while attending Pride may seem like a chore for the writer, I’ll be attending in solidarity with the millions of people who made it okay for me to kiss my boyfriend on Queen West and in support of the millions out there who aren’t as lucky as I am to immigrate to Canada and escape the horrific injustices inflicted on them in their countries and in their homes. Yes, I will be there. I just won’t be wearing ass-less chaps.
What was set up to be a progressive look at life as a gay individual – with the ‘I’m here, I’m queer’ fight not being as prevalent as it used to be – ended up being a severely nearsighted diary entry by a writer arrogantly looking down on the blood, sweat, and tears of the millions of LGBT individuals who fought tooth and nail to afford him the freedoms he has today. Call it backpedaling, but I’m ashamed to be have been a part of it and deeply regret not asking more questions before I slapped on that crooked bow-tie and gave my best Pee-Wee Herman smile for the camera.
I’m not a victim here and I made a conscious choice to be a part of the cover shoot but I never in a million years imagined the article would be as repulsive as it is. In saying that, the beauty of such a debacle is that in a few short hours, an angry fire in the belly of every queer individual in this city was lit, in turn re-igniting a passion often dormant among many casual members of the gay community.
Read the response from The Gaily’s Executive Editor here.