Thursday, 16 March 2017


Dear Stephen Sondheim,

 I'm writing this because I was sitting on the bus this afternoon listening to Barbra Streisand sing ‘Send in The Clowns’ on my ‘Best of’ Barbra Streisand album. Now usually, when I’m listening to anyone sing ‘Send in the Clowns’ I can’t get Elizabeth Taylor from the movie version out of my head. You know that moment Steve (can I call you Steve, like Oscar Hammerstein used to?) --  that moment when Elizabeth Taylor gazes down at her own humungous breasts in that terrifyingly low-cut gown and inquires “Are we a pair?”
But today it was another lyric that struck me --
“Isn’t it rich? Isn’t it queer? Losing my timing, this late in my career?”
Okay, I’ll say it.
Why, oh why Steve, did you have to use the word ‘queer’? I mean couldn’t you have written --
“Isn’t it rich? Isn’t odd? Losing my timing this late in my job?”
Hm. I guess that’s not quite as good.
Maybe that’s why you’re Stephen Sondheim and I’m not.
But you see the point is Steve that there are loads of words that rhyme with ‘career’. The problem with queer is that it doesn’t just mean ‘odd’ it also means ‘homosexual.’ And I’m sure you’re aware of this Steve -- as you are gay -- a lot of little gay boys just love your musicals. And when they run to their parents to play them their favourite song they have to watch as Dad winces when Barbra (Elizabeth Taylor, or Glynis Johns) sings ‘isn’t it queer’ thinking ‘Oh no, Dad knows what that means. It!’
Now I could understand if you don’t want to do this right now. Maybe you don’t want to change the lyric at this late date.
I mean after all, A Little Night Music is kind of a masterpiece, and all.
But, wait.
I have another idea.
There’s still time for you to write that big, gay musical! (Jerry Herman did it!) I mean do you want to die (sorry to bring that up, really I am, but-) without writing your  big gay ‘opus’? You don’t want to end up like Edward Albee, do you? Gay, dead and no gay opus?
I wouldn’t think so.
I hope I haven’t offended you.
It was...well it was just a suggestion.
And I hope I didn’t step out of bounds by calling you Steve, Mr. Sondheim.
It’s just that after hearing your work I just feel we are so close.
Very Sincerely,
Sky Gilbert

Saturday, 11 March 2017


I eagerly attended the documentary about James Baldwin called I Am Not Your Negro. I was especially excited because Baldwin has always been somewhat of a hero for me; a gay misfit whose iconic and beautiful gay novel Giovanni’s Room changed so many lives.
Well lo and behold, as I sat through the flic I became more and more befuddled. Had I imagined it? Was James Baldwin actually straight? He certainly doesn’t talk about his gayness in this particular documentary -- although at one point in the movie Baldwin answers someone’s accusation that he was a homosexual (without speaking of being gay).
So just to set the record straight (or should I say crooked?): James Baldwin was gay. Or perhaps to be completely accurate, I should say he was homosexual (as the term ‘gay’ didn’t come into common parlance until the end of his life). His sex life was somewhat complicated by the fact that he was quite effeminate and not beautiful in a traditional way. Also, his preference was for straight and bisexual men. The love of Baldwin’s life was Lucien Happsberger, a 17 year old, white, bisexual Swiss artist whom Baldwin met in Paris. Baldwin’s novel Giovanni’s Room (published in 1956) tells a very tragic -- some might say discouraging -- gay tale; but no one could argue that it was not enormously revolutionary for its time.
So why make a documentary about Baldwin and ignore the fact that he was gay?
The most obvious answer is homophobia. It would appear that anti-racists are afraid of muddying their cause by bringing sexuality into the discussion. If you are trying to convince racists in a homophobic society that black people are okay it might hurt your argument to admit that some black men are gay.
However, the buck doesn’t stop with I Am Not Your Negro. The film is just one of many instances of race trumping sexuality. When someone is black and gay it seems to be more important to talk about racism than homophobia.
I heard via the grapevine that the Academy Award winning film Moonlight was a film about a gay black man. I went to see it, and outside of one brief scene of adolescent masturbation the leading characters are unable to come to terms with their sexuality; as adults they can hardly speak of their teenage shenanigans, and they barely touch. The website rogerebert.comsays the film is about “a boy and then a man who has trouble figuring out his place in the world.” Elsewhere I have seen the film described as being about ‘friendship.’
I am (as you may have guessed) a white gay man. Some will say that I don’t have any right to talk about this because I don’t understand what it means to be black. I will accept the latter but not the former. 
Believe me, I don’t want to write about this. But someone has to.


Thursday, 2 March 2017

It’s Time to Break the Silence Around PrEP

Have you heard about PrEP?

Well if you have, you could be forgiven for being confused.

PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) is a drug that stops HIV negative people from becoming infected with HIV. Simply put, if you are HIV negative and you take it and then have sex with someone HIV positive who is not wearing protection, it is highly unlikely that you will become infected with HIV.

But exactly what you know about PrEP depends a lot on where you get your information.

The San Francisco AIDS Foundation says that “for people who take 7 PrEP pills per week, their estimated level of protection is 99%”

Sounds great! I’m gonna get some PrEP!
But wait....

The Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta says “Daily PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90%.”

Hm...that doesn’t sound quite as good. 

And what does Toronto’s own associate officer of medical health Dr. Rita Shahin say? “People on PrEP … could be more likely to acquire STIs because they may not be using condoms.”

Gee Whiz. Thanks for the useful information, Rita!

What is going on here? What is the conspiracy of silence -- which is really a conspiracy of lies -- surrounding a drug that could change our lives? Why is it that the only time we hear about PrEP on CBC is when a doctor is advising us not to take it? PrEP is a major breakthrough in the fight against AIDS. HIV negative people can now protect themselves from being HIV positive. Why isn’t this news being shouted from the rooftops? 

Most importantly, why aren’t gay men happy about PrEP and why aren’t they ‘spreading the news’? 

Could it be guilt? Could it be shame? Could it be that all these years of people telling us that AIDS is God’s punishment for our sexuality has actually made us hate ourselves? I understand that PrEP doesn’t protect against Syphilis, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia and Hepatitis, and people should still wear condoms.  But that is a separate issue.


Is there some reason why no one seems to want people to know about the effectiveness of PrEP?

It’s a question that plagues me. 
And honestly, I’m very afraid of the answer.