Sunday, December 01, 2013

I Wonder: World AIDS Day

I wonder if they know.

I hope they do.

I hope they don't.

We are sitting having breakfast in a busy cafe. There are people everywhere. The design is utilitarian. The tables, communal. Four or five long tables lined with chairs provide the seating. There is only one table, for two, set off to the side. No one ever sits there. Couples and small groups grab seats and make portions of the long table theirs. We sit at the end of one of the tables. Further down there are two children, waiting for their father to bring them breakfast from the counter. The boy knocks over the metal chair next to him, "It falled over all by itself, Daddy," he calls to his dad who didn't notice the tiny accident. We smile.

A young couple, boys really, come along with their tray packed with food, and sit at the next table over, both on the same side. I remember that age, thinking that I was all growed up not knowing that the growing continues for a very long time. They are casual with their relationship, little touches, loving looks, all indicate that they are in the throes of a new relationship. No one around much notices, no one around much cares.

I wonder if they know.

I hope they do.

I hope they don't.

I notice that the older of the two young men rests his hand on the knee of his boyfriend as they speak. Its such a natural thing to do. Its such a loving thing to do. It seems radical to none, except maybe, me. That move pulled me back, back in time. To our first few weeks of living in Toronto. Of going to watch the crowd of howling heterosexuals pelting tomatoes and eggs and stones at gay men, on Hallowe'en, going into the Saint Charles Tavern. Of police watching, smiling encouragement at those who managed to pelt filth or hurt on to those who braved the sidewalk. Single, solitary, men claimed the street. Later, much later, our city would become freer. Sidewalk by sidewalk, street by street, place by place. Later, much later still, would come touch. Touch like a hand resting on a knee in a restaurant full of families, full of the world.

I wonder if they know.

I hope they do.

I hope they don't.

It came from nowhere. We were dying. Our first walk down a hospital corridor. Andy was sick. The disease was still nameless, a dread that couldn't be spoken of except in rumours and whispers, he sat alone in a room, lost. He recognized us, but didn't know where he was. He kept asking us to take him back to his room. This was not his room. These were not his things. "Please, take me back." We were young, confused, we tried to reassure him that he was where he was supposed to be. He wasn't of course, so he didn't believe us. On our way out he grabbed my hand, "Do I deserve this," he asked, "is this my fault?" Their meal is done and now they are sipping on their coffee. Now they simply hold hands as they talk. Hold hands. Touch. Love.

I wonder if they know.

I hope they do.

I hope they don't.

Some say that no-one cared. That government didn't respond. That the medical establishment was uninterested at best, hostile at worst. I don't agree. They aggressively cared, they watched us die with grim pleasure. We got what we deserved. Preachers preached hate about love. We were held responsible. Our touch was lethal. Our love was punished. Two men were arrested at Yonge and Bloor, blocks from where I write this, for kissing. Just kissing. It was a crime. We were felons. The death penalty had been decreed on a whole community. There were those who openly cheered our deaths. There were those who watched simply silently pleased. Those who mourned, did so quietly. At first.

I wonder if they know.

I hope they do.

I hope they don't.

The younger man gets up and goes to the counter, he gets a danish. They laugh about how hungry they are. Their voices full of innuendo, their eyes full of each other, full of what the day will bring. The pastry is ripped apart, shared.

I wonder if they know.

I hope they do.

I hope they don't.

Someone, I don't know who, got angry. Suddenly the love we shared privately, alone, together, became the love we shared publicly in protest. There was a rising up. There was a chorus of dissent. This was a battle that would be fought. In the same streets where we had been pelted with filth and hurt, we now marched with conviction. Our lives mattered.

OUR LIVES MATTERED.

OUR LOVE MATTERED.

WE MATTERED.

Suddenly. Suddenly. I am back in the present. Joe is putting away the tray and the cups. He is knocking down my foot petal so we can be on our way. We've things to do today. We've tasks that need doing, we've lives that need living. We survived to see the day. This day where touch was touch and love was love and two young men moved about in freedom as if the world had always been thus.

I wonder if they know.

I hope they do.

I hope they don't.

13 comments:

Kris S, said...

Powerful and poignant.

Anonymous said...

Dave,

today I nearly run out of words to comment this post. Yesterdays post was heavy, todays post is intense.

I want to give you and Joe a Hug from afar, as I will hug one of my best friends and his partner today. ( We plan to do christmas cookies. )

I am so glad to live now, at the time where the fear of a looming doom or disease does NOT overshadow the act of loving someone anymore.

Julia

Anonymous said...

i’m crying.

Louna said...

Such a poignant, well written post. I'm not one of the young men you saw, but I'm a lesbian and not much older. And believe me, I know. Not in the same way you do; you watched your friends die and I only know from stories and movies, but my life isn't always free of fear. These boys show their love now, but what will they do once they get their first job? What will they do if they go abroad? In a forum, a lesbian was wondering whether to accept a wonderful job opportunity that implied spending a few years in Saudi Arabia. And of course I think of my brothers and sisters their, in Uganda, in so many other countries, that are being prosecuted, imprisoned, killed, that will not always be offered asylum if they try to come to Europe, and not be allowed to bring their partners with them.

We came a long way, and mostly I live and love without fear. But we still have a long way to go.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful.

Sue

wendy said...

I remember.

Beth Gallagher said...

I know and I am grateful for I was able to marry my wife less than two months ago in a very public and proud way. I am so proud of you and Joe and all of the people that paved a way before me and took the abuse in a graceful and not so graceful ways because it matters. The fact that those boys probably don't know is beautiful. Times they are a changing. Certainly on the backs of men and women that fought the good fight because it mattered. My life as a wife, a home owner, lesbian business owner, and most importantly an adoptive mother is whole and beautiful because people stood up for what is right.
Thank you so much for writing this today. <3

CL said...

Very moving post. I'm gay and 30 years old, and when I read about this history it's almost hard to imagine what it was like. We have to deal with disapproval from family, and it can be painful. But we take for granted that in our big liberal U.S. city, we feel normal and free. All of our friends are not only accepting but relaxed -- we don't feel different from them at all. We can touch each other in public, and while we get occasional stares, we'd be stunned if someone told us to stop.

Shan said...

I heard part of a radio interview the other day on CBC, talking of the concept of gay history. I think it might have been with the producer of the play you saw the other night but I'm not sure as I tuned in in the middle. The person being interviewed said he had found out about the pink triangle of the Holocaust, and surveyed gay youth to find (and I quote) NONE of them knew about it. I almost couldn't believe it, as I can't remember NOT knowing of it.

Hardly any time has passed, historically speaking, since World War II; even less time has passed since the 70's-80's, dangerous decades to be gay. You'd think the next, freer generation would be hyper-aware of such recent cultural history. Especially since, as others note above, it is still going on in many forms.

Your statements "I hope they do/I hope they don't"...I really get that. On the one hand, it's important to honour the past and, for lack of a better phrase, "appreciate" the freedom you have. On the other hand, isn't that the point of freedom? That it doesn't cross your mind that you could ever NOT be free?

XO

Deb said...

I'm so glad you can finally live (and love) in peace.

Anonymous said...

Dear Shan,

I live in Germany and I learned a lot about the Holocaust and the Nazi regime and about Konzentration-Camps.

But until your mentioning I never came across the pink triangle.

Do I have to do more research?

Julia

Dave Hingsburger said...

Julia, you can start here ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_triangle The pink triangle is one of the primary symbols of the gay movement.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Dave,

now I know...

For me pink was always associated with my gay friends. I just thought they liked the colour! Uh, oh?

Maybe I am really living in a more accepting time.

Julia