Memory Lane: Journey to Gratitude

Memory LaneIt’s hard to believe that we’re coming to the end of yet another year. Didn’t this one just get started? Moreover, has it really been that long since the 1990s ended? Yet as I say that, when I go back into my memory vault, I realize just how so much has changed within my relatively short lifetime. I’m sure if the me from 30 years ago had been carried into today, I would be shocked.

Think about it. On the day I was born, homosexual acts were a criminal offense in my country. They stopped being so four years later upon the adoption of the 1969 omnibus bill in defense of which then Justice Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau famously declared, “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” And it was only four years later that the American Psychiatric Association stopped viewing homosexuality as a mental disorder.

Society as a whole, however, didn’t immediately follow in those significant steps forward. In fact, by the time I came out in 1982 at barely 17, it was still a massive deal to do so. Massive! There was a real and warranted fear back then that coming out as gay could have a negative impact on all other aspects of one’s life, from housing to employment, because being gay could be used against someone for blackmail and discrimination. What’s more, gays and lesbians were never portrayed in a positive manner in the media, and the fact a new deadly disease primarily associated (at the time) with gay men surfaced a year or so before didn’t help any.

I remember the ’80s as a decade when “being out” was certainly very relative notion compared to today, not to mention requiring a lot of guts. I remember being extremely cautious in choosing with whom I would associate. To my shame — but remembering how it was back then! — I recall crossing the street if I saw a flamboyant effeminate man** whom I knew walking toward me. I remember how much I agonized each and every time I gave some thought to coming out to a new friend. And I still remember how nervous I would be about being seen going into Halifax’s only (unsigned) gay club. So, if you had taken the me of 1982 into 2012, don’t you think I would be shocked to learn that same-sex couples have had the legal right for seven years to get married, let alone that *I* would have married …and divorced?

** Someone like Jimmy Somerville sparked so many conflicting feelings in me in the ’80s. I totally got “Smalltown Boy,” but his openness made me uneasy. Nearly 30 years later, I feel extreme gratitude toward him if not an outright crush on what he has become today…

Perhaps you’re wondering where this sudden walk down Memory Lane is coming from? Well …I’m glad you asked.

I began my coming out in 1982 with people like BeeGoddessC. In the course of our conversations, she suggested, given that she’s 15 years my senior and a lesbian, that I might benefit from talking with a guy closer to my age. She suggested Danny, who had recently moved to Halifax and whom I had met the year before while participating in a community event called the Moncton Subway Paint-In. (In fact, the theme of the paint-in that year was the “International Year of the Disabled,” and his design won.) I had not yet been to Halifax and I wasn’t aware that it was a few years ahead of Moncton as far as “gay stuff” was concerned, although that might have been relative to Moncton being more backward at the time.

Anyway, without getting into all the details, I did find my way to Halifax a few weeks after BeeGoddessC’s suggestion and spent a few days at Danny’s. I will admit, though, to my shame, that the naïve barely 17-year-old that I was didn’t know what to expect. Because gays were often portrayed as hypersexual freaks, I even wondered if that would be the moment I would, shall we say, “lose my virginity.” I know it was silly to have thought that, thus why I’m a bit ashamed to have wondered about that. But, of course, nothing of the sort happened; he merely did what BeeGoddessC figured he’d do: listen and advise.

It was such a memorable trip that, for many years afterwards, I could describe it in exquisite chronological detail, including the name of his (female!) roommate, where we went out to eat, and our midnight trip to Peggy’s Cove. Being the vulnerable teenager that I was, I developed a massive crush on him as a result of his kindness. In fact, I idolized him, albeit so very privately. The mere mention of his name would send my heart racing. Although he’s only four years my senior, he became in my heart and my mind’s eye the epitome of grace, kindness and sophistication.

But then one evening at BeeGoddessC’s, she casually dropped that apparently Danny had moved to Montréal. I remembered how shattered I felt learning this news. For a year or two I had quietly held a torch for him, but to him, I realized, I was just a younger hometown boy whom he’d hosted and comforted. We weren’t exactly close friends, so there was no reason for him to tell me that he’d moved. What’s more, there was no way he ever could have known how I felt about him, and the paradox is that my attraction to him wasn’t really sexual. It was, as I said, that of a vulnerable guy coming of age.

Obviously the torch I held went out. I went from thinking about him every day, to occasionally, to never. However, if someone in the following years and decades mentioned his name, I’m sure I could never suppress a little smile. And occasionally, as we moved out of the ’80s into the ’90s and HIV/AIDS caused such ravage among gay men in North America, I would think to myself, “Is he okay? Is he still alive?” Granted, I had that thought for many with whom I’d lost touch over the years, but the thought that HE might not be okay or alive would make me sadder than most.

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I mentioned at the top how different everything was as far as being gay in the early part of my life. However, had the 17-year-old me been catapulted 30 years ahead, would I not have been just as surprised to see what other stuff changed as well as what didn’t really change that much? I mean, in 2012 we’re not driving flying cars like the Jetsons, and frankly the clothes we wore in the ’80s looked more like something out of Star Trek than what we wear now!

But in 1982, I certainly never thought vinyl records would be relics like 78s were back then, or that our world would become so incredibly small and virtual, thanks to computers and the Internet, that I would be working from home …for a bank, no less! Remember that, in 1982, the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall not only still existed but also didn’t show real signs that they would crumble just seven years later. Pierre Trudeau was still Canada’s prime minister, just as he had been for almost my entire life at that point. If someone made $50K per year, s/he was likely holding a very high position (a federal Member of Parliament in 1981 made about $47K). Cable TV, if one had it, perhaps gave a dozen channels. If someone had a second household TV, it was likely a portable black-and-white, while the main colour TV was a piece of furniture almost as big as a baby elephant. AM radio was for pop and Top 40 music and FM radio for higher audio quality and targeted music. Cash registers in stores were still essentially huge mechanical devices; 1- and 2-dollar bills still existed and losing a 20-dollar felt like a huge loss. (Heck! I still remember the 10-dollar bill I lost one night at the Cosmo around that time, when the hourly minimum wage was about $3.80!) Most phones had a rotary dialer; only a few had numbered buttons. Cell phones didn’t exist, let alone portable phones that doubled as hand-held computers and cameras.

And you certainly didn’t see two guys walking down the street hand-in-hand, even in a major city, unless they were cruisin’ for a bruisin’.

As for actual “cruising,” I never developed a knack for it. But would I have foreseen in 1982 that this artform would essentially have disappeared 30 years later, or at least primarily moved into a virtual realm?

And would I have known that it would be through that virtual realm and this thing called “social networking,” which would have drawn a blank stare from me back then, that I would make contact again with Danny?

Indeed, like a lot of us these days, I’ve found long-lost acquaintances and friends through the infamous Facebook. I found Danny back in June 2009, but you’ll recall that’s around the time NowEx was coming to Montréal for supposedly six months which instead turned into that well-documented two-month finale. Because of that spectacular relationship collapse and my subsequent tailspin, I never replied to Danny even though he did confirm back that, yes, he’s indeed THAT Danny, that he’s still living in Montréal, and that he had “so many nice memories of me.” (Awwww… Maybe I hadn’t been as insignificant to him as I had thought, even though I was just a mixed-up kid at the time…)

He came back to my mind a few weeks ago and I sheepishly sent him another note through Facebook. Since he doesn’t sign onto it very often he took several days to respond, but when he did it was again in a manner just as lovely and gracious, referring this time to how it seems like we met in a completely different lifetime. And he was very keen on the idea of trying to touch base with BeeGoddessC, as he’s heading to Moncton for the holidays and seems to be planning to split his time between the Montréal area and Moncton in the coming years in order to be closer to aging relatives.

This time I only took a day instead of three-and-a-half years to respond to him so that I could give him BeeGoddessC’s coordinates well before he was to head out to Moncton. Moreover, in addition to giving him a very condensed version of what I’ve been up to for the last three decades, I reminded him of my memorable visit with him in Halifax 30 years ago, adding that if I had never told him just how significant that trip had been to me and properly thanked him for it, I was finally doing so now, 30 years later.

The world really has become small, but as well, I’ve come to the realization that life can be like a weird winding path along which we travel sometimes carefully and other times carelessly. When careless, we might take some people for granted until it’s too late, like I fear I did with Raymond. But sometimes, when we’re careful, we can go back along that winding path and, with luck, have the opportunity to thank someone who has made a huge difference on our journey to now.