Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2011/ You Win, Rick Mercer

You Win, Rick Mercer

So last October Canadian comedian/political analyst Rick Mercer produced a rant for his show The Rick Mercer Report. The rant is about gay teen suicides, and how adults should be more active in making the world a better place for gay teens. Below is an excerpt of the piece (which I transcribed manually):

It's no longer good enough for us to tell kids who are different that it's going to get better. We have to make it better now. That's every single one of us -- every teacher, every student, every adult has to step up to the plate. And that's gay adults too. Because I know gay cops, soldiers, athletes, cabinet ministers. A lot of us do. But the problem is, adults, we don't need role models; kids do. So if you're gay and you're in public life, I'm sorry -- you don't have to run around with a Pride flag and bore the hell out of everyone, but you can't be invisible. Not anymore.

The rant got a lot of attention, both online and in the traditional media. The first time I ran across it (while wasting my life reading blogs, natch) I watched the YouTube clip, admired the production, basically (albeit abstractly) agreed with the message, and moved on to other Internet distractions. But then the Globe and Mail wrote an editorial opposing the piece, and the producers of CBC's Q with Jian Ghomeshi capitalized on the free CBC publicity by organizing a debate on the topic, and I listened to the podcast of that debate, and something shifted. The Globe and Mail editorialist offered a number of arguments -- that we have rights to privacy, that we have many different identities in addition to our sexualities, and on and on -- that I found myself disagreeing with vehemently despite having advocated those very arguments myself. Something shifted.

I spent a lot of time thinking about my reactions to that debate over the next couple of days. I found myself writing out pages and pages of notes and thoughts and reactions, some of which I will bore you with below. The end result was that I decided to stand up and be counted (alternatively: that I decided to offensively flaunt my sexuality in public). So here is my unfiltered, unambiguous declaration:

I, Paul Nijjar, being of unsound mind and somewhat sound body, do hereby declare that I am sexually attracted to men.

If you want to round that statement down to thinking I am gay, then you are probably more correct than incorrect -- but you are not allowed to feel betrayed if I engage in intimate relationships with women at some point.

I realize that to my three regular readers this is the most banal revelation ever. Not only have I offensively hinted at my sexuality in several other blog entries I have posted this year, but I have declared this declaration outright in filtered ones. This will also come as little surprise to those who interact with me in person, some of whom know and many of whom have long suspected. But now the Internet knows, and there is no going back.

The Deal

Up to this decision, here was the deal I made myself:

As far as I can tell, the last time I explicitly denied my sexuality was in 2002. I have confirmed it a few times since then. When the topic has come up I have attempted to steer it in other directions -- nobody wants me on their team, and it is easier for all parties concerned to pretend that I am not a sexual being.

Moreover, although I have been sexually attracted to men I have never been in a sexual relationship with one (note to Canadian Blood Services: no, not even once since 1977, and not before that, either). Other than being non-Catholic, I have pretty much been the poster child for the Catholic's Church teachings of (unhappy) celibacy.

Basically, the deal boiled down to this: when I became sexually active, I would be obligated to register my membership as a gay person. But I did not feel that orientation itself obligated me to make any banal proclamations. What shifted?

What shifted was an understanding of the debts I owe to homosexual culture and society. Even though I am not sexually active, I benefit from the bravery and openness demonstrated by others in many ways.

Historical Activism

Openly gay men and women have fought so that I may live without serious fears of being persecuted for my sexuality. I'm not just talking about gay marriage -- I'm talking about gay-oriented newspapers and magazines, the right to conduct one's sexual affairs in privacy, and many other privileges that were illegal just a few decades ago. I have no intention of getting married (gay or otherwise) but I have and do read gay-oriented publications, and I benefit from knowing that I will not be persecuted if and when I become sexually active.

Furthermore, gay men and women fought for these rights despite a plague that wiped out a generation.

The Gay Blogosphere

Several times a week I read blogs written by men who identify as gay or bisexual. Simply by living their lives and writing their experiences online, they have entertained me and given me strength. Above all else, they have taught me that there is a wide diversity of ways in which gay people live out their lives. Some people are partnered, some are single, some are multipartnered. Some are teachers, some are computer technicians, some are scientists, some are psychologists. Some came out early in life, some came out in middle age after long marriages and children.

I disagree with Rick Mercer when he says that adults don't need role models. Although many of the bloggers I read make choices that I wouldn't (and some make choices I find troubling), each one of them models the diversity of lives that gay men live. As a panelist on TVO's The Agenda commented during their Rick Mercer debate, it should not matter that these role models are gay. But it does. There is a sense in which these people are members of a tribe, and for better or for worse some aspect of my identity belongs to that tribe. If these people had not been willing to blog openly about their thoughts and lives, then I would not benefit from their insights. I don't know whether that would make my life richer or poorer overall (my life would be profoundly better if I spent less time reading blogs) but given how my perceptions of "the homosexual lifestyle" have changed since discovering these blogs I have definitely gained something by reading them.

Local Presence

Closer to home, time and time again I have found comfort and inspiration in the people around me who live open lives. Even though my workplace comes out of Christian roots, I have no real fears that I will be persecuted if my sexuality becomes publicly known, because some of my coworkers are already out, and because there are prominent people in the broader movement (notably James Loney from the Catholic Workers in Toronto) who are openly gay.

One of the reasons my proclamation feels so banal is because my little social bubble feels so safe. I don't know whether all of Canada is safe or even whether the broader Kitchener-Waterloo area is safe for gays. But locally it feels like almost a non-issue, because I know some gay people who appear to live out their lives without a lot of discrimination. That may be a false perception (as no doubt I will learn and perhaps experience myself), and I have been friends with people who were pretty anti-gay, but overall I feel that we have gone beyond tolerance into acceptance. I cannot help but feel that this is partially because so many people already know gay friends, coworkers, family members, and neighbours. Part of the reason it would be easy for me to be open about my sexuality is because most of the people around me already know other gay people.

Also consider that regardless of how safe my social circles actually were, it would be a lot less easy for me to observe that safety if others around me were not open about their identities.

The Fallout

I cannot think of many places in the world where coming out would have fewer negative consequences. I don't have to worry about a repressive government. Since I am old and live on my own, I don't even have to worry about getting kicked out by repressive parents.

Nonetheless, I do have worries. I worry about discrimination. Both my job and my housing are in jeopardy, and I don't like the thought of being denied opportunities because somebody found this blog post.

I also worry about losing friendships and respect. I am surrounded by Christians and people of other faiths at work and in my volunteering. I may well lose friends (which are already in scarce supply), and I may well lose the respect of those who know me. I know that some of the people who read this blog are pretty religious, and some of them come from faiths that condemn homosexuality. Maybe they will respect me less than they already do after reading the rest of my blog.

There are nuances here. I have met and grown to like some people who were racist and homophobic. I have learned a lot of positive lessons from these people, because despite having unpleasant views in some areas, they were also pleasant people with knowledge and insight in other areas. Having said that, some people are going to hate me, and I have to accept that.

I worry about the filter of homosexuality people will apply to everything I believe, say and I do. I have a bad tendency to apply these filters to others, so I expect others will return the favour: "Of course he is obsessed with blood donation! What do you expect?" "Of course he doesn't drive! It's easy for him!" "Of course he advocates electoral reform! It's part of the agenda!" It becomes so easy to classify a person according to this one facet of his or her identity. But as the Globe editorialist noted, we have many identities, and some of them conflict. It's a shame that in our culture sexual identity tends to trump others.

I worry about being a role model. I am not an exemplar of anything particularly worthwhile, and I worry that others will generalize from my dismal existence to homosexuals in general. I don't want anybody -- kids or otherwise -- making the same stupid decisions I did. I don't want people thinking that all gay people are as messed up as I am.

I worry about the dreaded "gay adolescence", about being all gay all the time. Already I have shown hints of this -- I have brought up my sexuality so many times this year. But it could get a lot worse:

I think part of the reason people go through the "gay adolescence" is this idea that disclosing one's sexual identity is liberating. Once "the secret is out" then the floodgates open and people say all of the things they had been repressing for years and years. That makes the speaker feel good, but it gets really tiring for the listeners after a while.

A big part about this sexual identity thing is supposed to be "being yourself". I think that does not apply in my case. Already I know that I cannot be myself in public or elsewhere -- I continually have to moderate my natural inclinations in order to be even borderline socially acceptable.

I also worry about my intentions being misinterpreted. I have already jeopardized at least two friendships because people thought I was hitting on them. I don't like that trend, and I don't want it to continue. The counterfear to that is that when I do make passes at people -- in particular attractive ladies -- they won't believe me. (Attention people who think I may be hitting on them: just ask. I will attempt to answer truthfully.)

The Future

I do not know what the future holds. It's fairly likely that nothing much will happen.

I certainly do not expect to become sexually active any time soon -- with men or women. At the end of the day I am still fat, short, balding, hairy, depressive, stubborn, controlling, financially insecure, miserly, poorly-dressed, self-centred, and a Linux user. These are not qualities amenable to getting dates. I also suspect that I harbour a fair amount of internalized homophobia, which I doubt will change anytime soon. I do not like thinking about this, but there is a good chance that I will be celibate for the rest of my life. (Alternatively, there is some danger that other aspects of the "gay adolescence" will kick in, with the result that I engage in wild, meaningless sex with hundreds of people who all have remarkably low standards.)

I do not know how to live with authenticity and integrity, especially when it comes to intimate partners.

One natural next step is to argue that standing up and being counted is not enough -- that I am now obligated to get involved in volunteering and activism around LGBT issues. I do not look forward to this.

I am not sure that my proclamation is an attempt at self-improvement. I owed a debt to others. If standing up to be counted helps others, then that's good. Otherwise, hopefully I did not take an action that will prove to be too expensive.