Sunday, 9 February 2014

Sure -- march against Russia: but what about Canada?

Does anyone remember Dr. Richard Schabas?
In 1990 Aids Action Now staged a protest against Dr. Richard Schabas, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer.  Five hundred demonstrators marched on Queens Park (in February!) demanding Schabas’ resignation. And Ontario’s AIDS service organizations were outraged. Schabas believed that AIDS should be described as a ‘virulent’ disease  -- which would have empowered public health officers to quarantine carriers who were ‘knowingly exposing others’ to HIV. Dr. Schabas felt that any HIV positive person who engaged in sexual intercourse -- condom or not – should suffer the threat of quarantine.
Does anything sound familiar about this?
It should.
Just a few years later (in 1998) a Canada Supreme Court decision required individuals who are HIV-positive to disclose their HIV status to sexual partners before engaging in activities that pose a risk of transmission. Up to now, 98 people have been charged with crimes involved non-disclosure — almost half of them in Ontario.
Well hey -- I don’t see anybody marching.
In other words, Canada’s laws against what Dr. Schabas (in 1990) called ‘knowingly exposing others to HIV,’ have gone a little farther than the threat of quarantine. Now, HIV positive people – whether they use condoms or not – can be jailed on charges of assault for non-disclosure. Or (like Johnson Aziga of Hamilton) they may even serve a life sentence for murder.
So why doesn’t anybody seem to care?
Is it perhaps because gay men are racist and sexist? You see, in fact, not all who are jailed on the new HIV non-disclosure charges are gay. Some are heterosexual women, and a sizeable portion of high profile cases involve heterosexual men of colour. Could it be that gay men are only concerned about ‘rights’ when it only involves their own?
I think the real reason is this: 24 years ago gay men were much more concerned with the notion of justice than they are today. Now it’s all about gaining the approval of the straight community. These days if you ask a gay man if people should be put in jail for spreading HIV, he will answer -- robot-like -- as most straights do: “But aren’t people who knowingly spread HIV evil?”
Yes, those who do not disclose are sometimes (not always) very bad people. But should they go to jail? Firstly, remember that AIDS is no longer a death sentence – in fact it is now a chronically manageable disease. Secondly, incarceration for non-disclosure actually discourages people from getting tested, and thus encourages the spread of AIDS. Thirdly – and most importantly – jailing  people for non-disclosure is not a disinterested legal action: it’s all entwined with racism, sexism, and homophobia.
Back in 1990 we instinctively knew that Dr, Schabas and his ilk were homophobic and anti-sexual -- and assumed they were probably religious fundamentalists. Nowadays we seem fine with newspapers running photos of HIV positive women labeled promiscuous by scandal-mongering journalists, or of black men deemed to be hypersexual ‘dangerous offenders.’ In our eagerness to show straights how much we are willing to condemn promiscuity -- we have tossed some of the most vulnerable in our community directly under the bus. Queers would do well to remember pastor Martin Niemöller’s famous poem:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Socialist/Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Trade Unionist/ Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Jew /Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Or is this -- like our outrage over Dr. Schabas – something gay people would rather forget?

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman made me think......

            The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman made me think I’d better write this because who knows I might be dead soon.
            I mean we all might be.
            Anyway I was listening to a recording of the The Producers and it suddenly struck me how hard it is to run a gay theatre, anywhere.
            As you know I started a gay theatre many years ago called Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.
            Anyway, I was just listening to The Producers, you know, trying to be nice, I really was trying to like it (I was!) and some of the songs are fun I guess, and then I realized that the whole of The Producers is about two things. It’s about a pair of loser producers who decide to put on the worst surefire piece of crap play ever -- one that will be a flop on Broadway for sure. And the two things they decide it should be, in order for it to be a real failure, are:
a)   about Hitler
b)  gay 
And all I could think of was – wow! So here I was, all these years, trying to run a gay theatre but to no avail. Because it is, unfortunately, the most impossible thing to do in the world. Because everyone thinks that ‘gay theatre’ is pretty much as awful as fascism.
            Indeed, when I started the theatre many years ago, I wondered why so many gay musical theatre types hated me. Now I know why. It’s because the theatre has traditionally been a gigantic closet. It’s a place where men can be gay without being gay. Before Buddies in Bad times Theatre came along, an effeminate man could be an actor -- and his mannerisms would just mean that he was ‘flamboyant,’ or ‘expressive.’ But after Buddies in Bad Times opened in Toronto suddenly all the closeted gay actors were threatened because maybe the theatre wasn’t a place to hide anymore. Maybe the theatre was (god forbid!) actually a gay place.
            Well I happen to think the theatre is a gay place. Because it is a place for lies. (Don’t let the avant-garde-ists tell you that theatre should be like real life; theatre has been claiming to be ‘real’ since the dawn time, but no one has ever succeeded in putting on a play that was real, or even doing real life in front of other people. As soon as the play starts, it’s fake, we know it’s fake, and that’s why we love it and can get lost in it.)
            We learn how to lie from the theatre, and there’s nothing that gay men need to know more than how to lie. In the past, they used to lie about being gay. Now -- though they often admit to the man-kissing part --  they like to pretend we all want to be married, go to church, and adopt babies. (This is supposed to make being gay okay.)
Lesbians, of course, lie too. But the fact of the matter is that our culture is so sexist that when women lie about their sexuality it doesn’t matter as much as when men do. What if all the men were gay (the religious right really worries about this a lot) and there was no one to impregnate women anymore?
No more begetting.
And what if men weren’t strong and didn’t carry swords so they could kill lots of people -- sorry, I mean, so they could protect us all from evil?
Plato was right to be afraid of art, and artists, and theatre, and song.
And I do have to apologize to all those musical theatre fags for making it tough to stay in the closet.
I just wanted people to know how gay theatre really is.
But if Mel Brooks is right (and for sure he is!): people don’t really want to know.
So, what can I say?
 I screwed up.