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Changing Perspectives on Drug Misuse in The LGBTQ+ Community

Changing Perspectives on Drug Misuse in The LGBTQ+ Community

Talking about the misuse of drugs in the LGBTQ+ community requires that we take into account its unique set of challenges. As a vibrant and diverse community, we each come with our own sets of national, ethnic, racial and economic circumstances that affect the way we live our everyday lives. With that being said the specific contexts for any one individual’s misuse of legal or illegal drugs certainly vary, so this topic is being broached specifically in terms of social spaces, and larger oppressive factors that tend to affect substance use in the community at large. This is especially important as LGBTQ+ individuals are statistically using illegal drugs at significantly higher rates and can, fortunately, be understood through an understanding of factors from youth homelessness and violence to social spaces like bars and clubs.

Some Reasons For Use

Terms like substance abuse and illegal drug use tend to carry with them loaded connotations about legality, morality, and social acceptance, oftentimes functioning as tools for further oppressing and disregarding members of society by treating individuals with substance use disorders (SUDs) as somehow lesser, or undeserving of treatment and care regardless of ones’ sexual or gender identity. Organizations like Rainbow Health Ontario and the Canadian Harm Reduction Network have helped bring light to the specific circumstances of substance use when applied to the LGBTQ+ community. Much of LGBTQ+ culture, especially in cities, has found itself centered on nightlife spaces, like bars and clubs, where the use of recreational drugs are more commonplace. In some cases, the need to associate closely with one’s community opens opportunities for pressure to use drugs. As cities tend to be more politically and socially progressive spaces they oftentimes draw LGBTQ+ youth who have fled violence, or particularly unwelcoming conditions surrounding their expression of sexuality and gender in their homes or former communities. Such changes have given rise to inordinate levels of poverty and a disproportionately high number of LGBTQ+ youth in cities with upwards of 40 percent of youth seeking agency help identifying as a sexual or gender minority according to the United States’ National Coalition for the Homeless. These circumstances leave youth at particular risk, with statistics showing that LGBTQ+ youth are anywhere from 90 percent to 190 percent more likely to use substances than heterosexual youth. The added historical context of oppression by law enforcement and the long-standing criminal status of homosexuality leave other acts deemed illegal in a dubious grey area, as there are oftentimes circumstances where the rule of law does not equivocate with ethical or scientific truths.

In broader societal terms the effects of isolation and stigmatization, as well as physical and psychological abuse, leaves members of the LGBTQ+ community vulnerable to drug misuse regardless of age. Drugs are often tools for escapism. To separate one’s self from past trauma or social stigma on a night out, while having sex, or as a coping mechanism on a regular basis has the potential to feel freeing and can further complicate struggles with potential dependency and addiction. Ultimately this leaves issues like trauma, violence, or internalized homophobia unaddressed when opportunities to safely and healthily deliberate recovery, with support systems like therapy or support groups, exist. But before we address our community’s necessary support role, it is important that we address to what extent substance use and substance use disorders affect our community.

What is The Extent of This Challenge in Our Community?

Given the aforementioned structures in place that has been shown to increase the risk of drug use in the LGBTQ+ community, let’s talk about the numbers. The presence of drug addiction, substance use, and SUDs have been serious issues facing the LGBTQ+ community for decades. But terms of more current research it has been shown that members of the community are twice as likely to have used drugs in the last year and the use of drugs being two to four times higher than the majority population at rates of 39.1 percent versus 17.1 percent. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association have also shown higher rates of addictive legal substances like alcohol and cigarettes amongst sexual minorities. And while five percent more LGBTQ+ community members seek necessary substance use treatment than the majority, that number is still quite low at 15.3 percent.

Talking Mindsets

It’s important that when working to improve and unify our community that we engage with challenging issues like drug misuse and substance use disorders carefully. Many nations have tended to criminalize addiction, which has not only been ineffective for treatment and recovery but tends to perpetuate antagonistic systems of imprisonment and punishment that leave individuals unemployable and less likely or able to seek assistance on top of sexual and gender minority statuses. Major organizations globally, like The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs, have proposed a series of responses to the treatment of drug abuse in all communities which at their core seek to alter perspectives on substance use and SUDs. Treating dependency, substance use disorders, and drug misuse as centrally health issues rather than legal ones furthers a more productive means of developing treatment centers, networks, and organizations while moving away from criminal demonization. As a community LGBTQ+ individuals are particularly aware of how painful and isolating it can be to go unsupported by society at large and how an organized community can work to stand up for its members. As such, it is essential that we as a community support sexual and gender minority individuals regardless of their circumstances, without falling prey to ideology that seeks to mistreat those who may faces challenges with substance use. Who are we to truly call ourselves a community if we do not stand by the most vulnerable amongst us and seek to better their circumstances, in whatever way we can?

We can begin with our mindset. Educating ourselves about our communities challenges help us to more accurately understand and talk about substance use, which creates a more productive dialogue that seeks to support, rather than cast aside, individuals in our community. Avoiding negative judgment that may come from not understanding individuals’ circumstances and stereotyped notions of drug use promote the idea that each person is valuable, is an individual, and is deserving of love and support irrespective of their challenges. Taking opportunities to reach out to those in need around us and educate ourselves about community resources like clinics, rehabilitation resources, mental health professionals and support groups are an important part of advocating openness and support to those around you. The LGBTQ+ community uniquely centers itself on love and acceptance. Fostering that love and support in our own physical and mental care and the care of those around us, from the most vulnerable to the most successful, promotes a culture of health and unity.

Written by Matthew Farrar

Sources

(2007). Substance Abuse in Canada: Youth in Focus. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/ccsa-011521-2007-e.pdf

(2014). LGBTQ People, Drug Use & Harm Reduction. Rainbow Health Ontario. www.rainbowhealthontario.ca/wp-content/uploads/woocommerce_uploads/2015/06/RHO_FactSheet_LGBTDRUGUSEHARMREDUCTION_E.pdf

(2016). “SAMHSA Report Shows Higher Rates of Substance Use And Mental Illness among Sexual Minority Adults.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association. www.samhsa.gov/newsroom/press-announcements/201610110100

(2017). Substance Use and SUDs in LGBT Populations. National Institute on Drug Abuse. www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/substance-use-suds-in-lgbt-populations

“LGBT Homelessness.” National Coalition for The Homeless. http://nationalhomeless.org/issues/lgbt/

Gutierrez-Morfin, Noel (2016). “Report: Lesbian, Gay and Bi Adults Have Higher Drug Abuse Rates.” NBC News. www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/report-lesbian-gay-bi-adults-face-higher-substance-abuse-rates-n671876

Marshall, M. P. et al. (2008). Sexual orientation and adolescent substance use: a meta-analysis and methodological review. National Center for Biotechnology Information.
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2680081/

Volkow, Nora (2014). “UNODC Recommends Treating Addiction as Health, Not Legal, Issue.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2014/03/unodc-recommends-treating-addiction-health-not-legal-issue

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The Highs & Lows of a Young, Gay Addict

The Highs & Lows of a Young, Gay Addict

I had never been particularly well-adjusted in the school setting. It’s not that I wasn’t smart, but with my ADHD, being bullied, coming to terms with being gay, and never really having “fit in”, school just never seemed like a good fit for me.

Elementary school was hell. Looking back, it seemed I was bullied and beat up because I was smaller, shy, weak and different. By junior high, the bullying continued, but the frequency and intensity had lessened. Perhaps it was because I grew a lot in grade 7 and 8, hitting 6′, or maybe it was because I managed to make friends with a couple of the “cool” kids, which made me – at least temporarily – invisible. But when the bullying picked back up again, this time I feel it was because I was “different” (aka “gay”) – I was not masculine enough, too skinny, I didn’t wear the “right” clothes, I wasn’t a jock. It seemed that as my tormentors got older, the excuses for bullying me evolved from obvious physical characteristics to more subtle, social differences. But as we know now, emotional abuse is as damaging as physical abuse. And like other victims of abuse, what you can’t fix, you numb.

My first experience with drugs was a total cliché; I smoked my first joint in grade 7 behind the local convenience store near my junior high school over lunch break. I partook because the guy who offered was the cool new kid. He was from California and nothing like the other kids I had known. I don’t think I got “high” as I would later come to know it, but we laughed, ate a lot of junk food and slowly made our way back to school. Shop class was the first period back from lunch, and I ended up almost cutting off my index finger on the band saw. I took some pretty severe mocking from some classmates over it, but it didn’t deter me from smoking up again soon after, and over the next few years my experimentation continued.

Entering high school, like many other kids, I had hopes of being accepted as a “cool kid”. I chose to switch from my designated high school to one that some of my new junior high friends would be attending. I hoped that a change of scenery would mean a new start. But the bullying got much worse, becoming physically violent through my Grade 10 year. I managed to endure another year, but three days after Grade 11 started, after what felt like a lifetime of abuse at the hands of others, I was in a tailspin. I realized that I wouldn’t survive another year. As fate would have it, I was busted behind the gym getting high. After a trip to the vice principal’s office, some choice words on my part, my traumatizing school years were over by the end of the day. The numbing, however, was definitely not over. Not yet.

After dropping out of high school, I spent a few months in an alcohol- and drug-induced haze, staying with friends, away from my parents, and getting up to no good. I had finally found a group of people who I could connect with. Some were gay, others were straight, some were “alternative,” some were artsy, and most of them didn’t fit into societal norms. After a lifetime of feeling like I never fit in, it was a relief to find people who needed desperately to be accepted for being different, unique, or just plain fucked up. It was during this time that I was starting to explore my sexuality; I was finally able to talk to other people about “being gay” and understand “gay” culture more.

But finding a group of people to relate to was not the fairytale ending. We were all just learning how to grapple with who we really were, and often that was a very messy process. There are not many people who have successfully “found themselves” at the bottom of a bottle or between the rolling papers.

In January of the following year I was at a pretty low point, and on a whim, I took off to Vancouver, BC. I packed up a backpack and left one night telling only a few friends, and no one in my family. In hindsight, I know I couldn’t face my family anymore, not wanting to be who I was, but not knowing who I wanted to be. I needed to somehow start over. A 17-year-old in the big city with access to anything and zero supervision – things didn’t exactly “start over” for me. Just the same Foothills shit, different West Coast pile.

After a while, I crashed hard, and with nowhere else to turn, I called my parents. Luckily for me, they had never given up on me. They brought me home, and tried to help me get healthy and move forward. But as much as they tried, I still was not nearly ready to accept myself nor did I have the maturity or skills to get there. I did manage to get through another few years of high school, this time in an alternative school, but the demons were always present and the addictions were too hard to deny.

After completing grade 12, I spent some time living in Banff working a few different jobs and continued running from myself and the past. Banff was an exciting place to be for a person who loved the outdoors; I hiked, skied and went on many adventures through the mountains. But with many small resort towns, there was a lot of drugs and drinking; it was part of the culture. Every night of the week a different drinking hole featured locals’ specials with plenty of cheap alternatives to escape the hardship of everyday life.

I ended up back in Calgary after a few years and rented a place with a friend who had been there for me regardless of the stupid things I did. Although he struggled with his own issues, he supported me emotionally, let me be me and passed no judgment. It was not a good few years as far as being sober, but I felt at home and part of a family that understood me (or at least accepted me for being me).

It took me many long years to pull myself out of the immediate grip of addiction, and as many addicts will attest, you are never truly free. Each day is a renewed commitment to staying clean. The continued chipping away of my self-respect and self-worth over the years had made it that when I was sober I had an immensely difficult time being a part of people’s lives. The disguises that I had been crafting over the years felt thin and transparent, and I was always scared someone might see the “real me”. But some wonderful people, despite my efforts to deceive them, managed to see the “real me”. We have seen each other through some incredibly difficult life challenges. They have shown me what true friendship is, and they are still part of my life today. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I would be today. But I feel so fortunate that I am still here to share this story with you.

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Plan B

Plan B

For years my mother has used the expression “Life is full of challenges, and if ‘Plan A’ doesn’t work out, then you have to go to ‘Plan B’.” And so onto Plan B we go!

Plan A, our “Round the World Trip,” has been put on hold indefinitely due to a serious illness in the family. The trip and documentary will go forward at some time in the future, and we will keep everyone informed when we are able to confirm.

Plan B, our “Global Outreach Campaign” will be our immediate priority. The search for new contributors and grassroots organizations will continue, which allows us to work closer to home. We will continue to connect to individuals and groups across the globe, and share their stories and activities with you. We will be attending pride events in Western Canada to increase our visibility, to explore opportunities to collaborate with local organizations, and to help bring attention to important issues facing the LGBTQ+ community. We look forward to connecting with you in person and online in the coming months. Stay tuned here and on our social media channels for more updates. In the meantime, be well and be yourselves!

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Round the World 2018

Round the World 2018

It has taken many months of exploring options, but we have now finalized the details of the around-the-world trip beginning in May. With the multitude of LGBTQ+ events that will happen in 2018 to choose from, the many organizations we hope to visit, scheduling dozens of potential individual interviews with locals, connecting with translators (plus tackling the logistics of booking 20+ flights and accommodations over the eight months) coordinating this adventure was a daunting task!

But ultimately when we remind ourselves why we are doing this and what is at stake for LGBTQ+ communities around the world, who are in various stages of enacting sexual orientation laws to protect members, we know it will all be worth it. The organizations and grassroots groups we are meeting with will shed light on their work and provide us with a better view of how they will achieve their strategic goals.

The stories that we will be collecting will continue to be shared on the project’s website, and the footage from the interviews will be amalgamated into a documentary film. Keep reading our blog for more stories and updates.

The big events we are committed to so far are:
– Edinburgh Pride June 15-18
– London Pride July 5-9
– Paris 2018 Gay Games August 4-12

This map indicates some of the cities we will be visiting and will add more as we confirm.

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The Proud Diplomat

An Interview With Kevin Huntting: Founder of The Proud Diplomat

The Proud Diplomat

An Interview With Kevin Huntting: Founder of The Proud Diplomat

Dale:     Tell me about your project The Proud Diplomat?

Kevin:     The Proud Diplomat started over two years ago. The reason I started the project is I am married to a Mexican citizen and diplomat. And, around the time he received a new post, we moved from San Francisco to Dallas, I started searching for information about LGBTQ individuals who were married to a diplomat or living this ex-pat type of lifestyle. To my surprise, I found there was little, if any, information. I wanted to find this information to be able to relate and get insight from other people’s experiences. It just didn’t seem like there was a lot of great information out there.

That’s where the idea was born. So, I created a space where people can share their stories of living abroad, living in different cities, or countries, either single, partnered, or married with the intent of sharing their experiences. It can be very scary and exhilarating to uproot your professional and personal life every 3-4 years or to just pick up and move to a new country to study or work. The spectrum of stories I feature are broad and the site encompasses three main areas 1) the personal authentic stories of this community, 2) global facts and information, and 3) travel and culture. Some examples of the stories I feature revolve around how individuals define home, how to manage a career, and how to manage a same-sex relationship. The project covers a gamut of topics with the primary focus of sharing those authentic stories and experiences so that other individuals can relate.

Dale:     How did you start the project?

Kevin:     Similar to you and your project Living Without Disguises, I wanted to write about my personal experiences. So, I created my own website and blog sharing some of my experiences. My first piece was about picking up and moving both my professional and personal life from San Francisco to Dallas.

There was a lot of anxious energy there, and I had to put all my trust into my husband since I didn’t have a job, friends, or family in Dallas. I had to believe in the fact that I chose love over my career, which is a risk. ” So, I left my career, and started writing about my experiences.”

It was only after writing a few pieces, and understanding a life of constant change, did I start to think this project could be bigger and that I wasn’t the only person going through these types of experiences, so I thought how can I get other people involved to hopefully share their experiences as well?

Dale:     What do you hope to accomplish with the project?

Kevin:     It’s an informative space that, ideally, becomes a global community. I would like for it to become a forum where people can interact with one another depending on where they are. For example, a support network of individuals who may be based in various countries around the world.

I’m far from reaching that goal, but my initial focus has been to help build awareness of the project, and over time I will realize my vision for the entire project. There are significant challenges LGBTQ individuals face from “How do you manage a same-sex relationship if you’re moving every three to four years or you find yourself in a country where you don’t speak the language?” You don’t immediately have a support system to turn to. And, if you don’t have family, or friends it really becomes challenging. For me, establishing a network of individuals who are there to share and support each other and make a positive difference in the lives of others is my goal.

Dale:     How have you found the community responding to it?

Kevin:     Most people respond very well to the overall concept. They think it is amazing and always share how interesting they think it is.”

But like you had talked about with LWD, it seems like sometimes I hit a wall trying to get people to share their experiences. They may start off by saying “Oh, sure, I would be open to participating.” But, many times people get cold feet at the point of making it public. I’d say it hasn’t been as easy as I thought it would be, and a lot of times I have to rely on a close networks of friends that I have here in D.C. to help continue building the stories and finding individuals who want to participate.

But, I am the type of person who believes in the vision of my project, so I just keep pushing forward. I know if I keep pushing it forward something great will happen as my audience seems to be highly engaged, and in need of the content. Last week, I interviewed the Canadian Ambassador to the OAS about LGBT initiatives and, Canada’s perspective and leadership.

So, I’m getting somewhere. Slow and steady wins the race though I would like more people to want to proactively participate.

Dale:     What are the obstacles or the hurdles you’ve found most daunting?

Kevin:     First off, finding people who also believe in what I’m trying to do. Unlike you, I don’t have a non-profit. It’s not an established 501 (c) so there is no board of directors or big budgets now, but I’ve learned a lot about myself and how I work and trying to get people involved.

Recently, I have been involving other individuals in the project as writers and contributors. I am currently working with a gentleman, Matthew, who you just spoke to, in Chicago, and he is focused on the section of my project around Facts affecting the LGBTQ global community. He recently wrote a piece about racisms within the LGBTQ community, and the piece resulted in healthy engagement. I plan to continue   partnering with smart, like-minded writers and contributors in order to increase the quality and quantity of my content.

I would consider bringing in a partner. It needs to be someone who is as passionate as me about the LGBTQ community and wanting to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Sometimes, it can feel like I am the character from The Myth of Sisyphus who is just pushing and pushing that rock uphill, but I am enjoying it.

Dale:     That’s the most important part.

Dale:    So what happens next for you and for the project?

Kevin:     The next steps are producing more quality content on a regular basis. For me, the website and building content that is relevant for my audience is a lot of the work that I’ve done along with the analysis to support it. But, I need to be producing more content.

I think the second piece, which you already doing, is that I need to get out there more and talk about my project face-to-face. DC is such a great place to be because it is home to so many International expats, and diplomats, which is the same audience I am reaching through Facebook, and my website. I need to get out there and speak to people about it. My background is in consumer marketing, but I need to push myself to get out and talk more about my project as this could lead to finding additional support allowing me to take it to the next level.

Dale:     What has been the most surprising part of working on the project for you?

Kevin:     The most surprising part of this project, is that if you have something that you believe in passionately, you should definitely find a way to bring it to life. Don’t listen to the critics, as they are everywhere, and follow your passion as it will result in so much personal happiness and growth. Also, the adage about working hard will result in something good, is so true. Going it alone is challenging to navigate at first, and full of surprises, but the harder you work, and the more you believe in yourself and your idea the better the results. You just need to keep knocking on people’s doors, even when many of them say no. Believe it will happen, and with time, effort, and energy, it will.

I didn’t realize that it was going to be as challenging as it is.

Dale:     In the perfect picture senario of your project, what would be the end result?

Kevin:     I think for me; the perfect result would be a highly engaged global community full of inspiring stories and information. Having a more engaged audience and connecting people through a global LGBTQ network would be success.  And, of course, making a positive different in the lives of others. Let’s get to work! You can reach us by email at info@theprouddiplomat.com or visit us at www.theprouddiplomat.com.

 

 

 

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Why a Nonprofit?

Why a Nonprofit?

On January 15 Living Without Disguises officially became a nonprofit organization. It is a pivotal step in the future of the project, and one I know will allow me to accomplish many of the objectives I have set out over the last several months.

Some have asked: ‘Why become a nonprofit?’  Well, that isn’t an easy answer!

When I decided to create Living Without Disguises, I knew I wanted to develop something that would allow members of the LGBTQ+ community a safe place to share their stories. I wanted to see first-hand what is going on in the LGBTQ+ world, talk directly with members of my global community, and then merge those interviews and journey into a documentary film. I hoped that the website might be a place to connect and for those that don’t have the same opportunities or weren’t in a place where they could speak their truth. I wanted to consolidate this collection of inspirational journeys so that we could see that despite our differences, we are not alone.  

I could have stayed the course and not deviated from my original vision, but as I dug deeper into conversations with individuals and leaders in the LGBTQ+ community, I realized there was so much more that could be done to help unite our community globally. Though I may not be able to define those specifics right now, so many of the people I have spoken to are teeming with ideas of how Living Without Disguises can be a launch pad for advocacy and change.

The fundamental objectives of the project will remain the same but how we achieve them will now depend on more than just me and a few volunteers. As a non-profit organization we are better equipped to envision, manifest and execute projects and initiatives.The board will now oversee the project mission and guide future initiatives, providing a much more formal structure.  The LWD Projects mission and purpose will continue to integrate the personal interests of individuals associated with it, but with more clarity and efficiency.

I have always felt a great responsibility and accountability to the individuals sharing their stories and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole in the project mission.  Accountability and transparency of the project and our objectives will become more important as we grow.  We will not only have the responsibility to contributors but to our donors and how their donations are making a difference in our mission.

To date, the project has been completely self-funded. There had been offers of donations, but in the beginning, I decided that to control the project and not alienate certain individuals or groups, it would be best to decline such support.  Now as an incorporated nonprofit we can choose how we fundraise and those activities will be completely transparent and publically available.  

We will hold our first fundraiser on May 5th in Victoria BC, the proceeds raised will support the project’s vital activities including updating of the project website, copywriting, transcribing services, and hiring of interpreters for the documentary film.  All travel expenses for the upcoming trip remain self-funded, and no money from the fundraising activities will go towards it.

I chose to officially register Living Without Disguises as a non-profit organization so that I could develop the project to its full potential. As exciting it has been to launch the project and be responsible for every aspect of the work , I quickly came to realize that I could not do it alone. And isn’t that why I started this in the first place – so that members of my LGBTQ+ community would be able to connect to others who could support them and their journeys? I realized that maybe I needed to take a dose of my own medicine, and collaborate with additional resources and talent who felt as passionately about this as I did; to call on others who could help me bring this project to a truly global scale.

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Coming Home

Coming Home

A friend asked me when I arrived back in Calgary how was it to be home… I responded that Calgary was not my home, but where I grew up. After 18 years in Victoria, I felt that it was my home and in the months leading up to me heading back to Calgary, I had told many people that Victoria is where I wanted to live out my final days. I couldn’t say how long, it could be a few years or a decade, but in my heart, I thought it is where I wanted to be when all is said and done.

When I left Calgary in 1998 to move to Victoria, I was broken and wanted desperately to get away from the pain that years of addiction and other traumatic events had brought me. The ups and downs in Victoria were many, and I have talked about some of them in previous posts and will reflect on others in the future. Victoria is, ultimately, where I have felt the most at home and myself. In no other place have I felt so deeply connected to the surrounding ocean and nature, the general vibe of Vancouver Island, not to mention the many close friends I have made over the years.

For years my return visits to Calgary brought anxiety to me, and I found it difficult to stay for extended periods. The old wounds had yet to heal and the nagging question of how much control I had over my addictions was always looming.

But things have changed over the years. When I got back to Calgary in April 2017, it felt good to be back in the city where I grew up. I was no longer scared to be there, I am no longer controlled by my addictions and no longer ashamed of being me! Although I was only there for two weeks before departing for the UK/Europe, I was able to see the city in a way that I hadn’t for most of my life. Going out with friends to places that used to be the highest of risk for me, I realized I was able to sit and enjoy time with old friends and laugh and share stories of the old days.

When I made the decision to commit two (or more) years of my life to the LWD Project, it also meant that I would not have a “home” during that time. I have an address and a place that on paper is where I live, but without me being there, it’s just an address. For a person who is a nester and whose home was his sanctuary in the worst of times, it was a big step to give up the safety of a “home”.

My departure to the UK/Europe for the summer was made easier by the fact my two dearest friends, and three godchildren waited in the UK for my arrival. Part of the reason that Victoria had become my home was this family; they had departed on their own journey last August, relocating to the UK indefinitely. When I spent time with them between trips at their home I had an incredible sense of belonging, a feeling of being home. My days began with my goddaughter knocking on my door and then standing at the side of my bed asking if we could go have breakfast. Off to the kitchen we’d go together, deciding what we would be eating that morning. Soon my eight-year-old godson would make his way into the kitchen to join us. He is not nearly the morning person Summer, and I are, but most mornings I could get a smile out of him as he sat down to eat some cereal with us. Following breakfast we’d get ready to head to school. Some mornings were easier than others, but each one meant the world to me. The rest of the days were filled with household chores, shopping, playing in the yard, meals together, after dinner games and doing that which families do. These moments of belonging, peace, and love in my life are to me what home is all about.

When it came time for me to leave the UK and head back to Canada, I had pain in my heart that would not be filled easily. But luckily for me, I had someone waiting back in Alberta – someone I had met in the days before I left on my adventure. Our relationship had grown in the months I was gone, each of us taking time out of our day to Facetime and text when we could. When I landed in Calgary at the end of August there he was to pick me up, smiling that smile of his that lights up a room and my heart. To see him in person after four months I knew I had come back to something amazing and something that would change my life.

After four months I am now fully immersed in life in Alberta again; I split my time between Calgary, Edmonton, and Innisfail. My mother takes up much of my time spent in Calgary, and I am happy for every minute we spend together. She has been my biggest supporter over the years, and we have a bond that I would not change for anything. My old friendships are being rekindled; it is much easier to be a good friend now that I don’t have to hide or be ashamed anymore.

I visit Edmonton as often as possible to see my sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephew. The opportunity to watch these two kids grow into young adults is one of the reasons I moved back to Alberta and it is better than I could have imagined.

But most of my time is spent with Shaun in Innisfail; we are working on the foundations of building our life together. Someday that will include a house that will become our “home,” but for now, I have come to realize that when you find who and what you want in life, to be home no longer requires a physical address, it’s a feeling and knowing you belong. I carry my home in my heart and can access it anytime just by thinking of those I love and the memories we share.

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That time I didn’t come out.

That time I didn’t come out.

When my sister called to ask me to come to her Call to the Bar, I was honoured.  My sister and I had a strained relationship for some years. My addictions and behavior had driven a wedge between us that neither of us was able to bridge. I had not been a very good brother to her. My challenges had caused major issues in the family, and she was the one who had to be there when I was not.  A good portion of the shame I had carried with me goes back to this time. So I was truly touched that she wanted me to share in her commemoration.

In that same phone conversation, she had asked me about my relationship with “S” and whether I wanted him to come.  He was welcome to, but the fact that I had not come out to my father yet might be an issue; she wanted to know how I would handle it. By this time my father was quite ill and hadn’t been given long to live. I could not make this decision by myself, so my Mom and I discussed what to do. I didn’t want to create more drama in an already stressful situation. I didn’t want to steal the spotlight from my sister. If “S” were to come, what would we say to my dad?

My Dad and I had a complex relationship, mostly due to me and my issues. I felt remorse that I wasn’t the son he had wanted, and felt like I had let him down. In hindsight I know this was not the truth and he loved me no matter what my sexuality was and my life choices were. As a more mature man, I can see all that he did to support me and the sacrifices he made to try to get my life on track time and time again.

The night before we arrived in Calgary we stopped at my good friend’s place just outside of town.  They had a gathering of my old Calgary friends, and during the evening the subject of what I would say to my Dad came up.  My friend was a counselor and someone whose opinion I respected, and she always gave you the straight goods no matter what.  I can remember her words like she just spoke them to me yesterday… “Why do you need to qualify who “S” is?  Why not just introduce him and then let your father take it from there.”  It was the best solution I could have imagined in the situation.   

In the morning we arrived at my parents home. My mother came out to greet us and my Dad, being on oxygen and not so strong, waited at the front door.   My heart was pounding in my chest, but I did my best to seem relaxed and at ease.  We got to the door, I said hello and gave him a big hug and proceeded to introduce “S”.  My Dad – always a complete gentleman – welcomed “S” into their home and proceeded to tell him to call him “Mel” and offered him a cup of coffee.

The next few days were full of family and friends, my father was in a wheelchair for most of it and “S” and I took turns pushing my Dad around to the different locations and events.  My father was beaming with pride at his daughter’s accomplishments and all the accolades that came with her hard work and determination!  I was also very proud of her, but those walls between us were thick, and I don’t think she ever knew how I felt for her.
 
Being around the family and having “S”  beside me, my first boyfriend I’d ever brought home had my stomach full of butterflies.  At the time I was only out to my Mom and my sister. I hadn’t seen many of my relatives for a very long time. To my shock several of them figured out the situation right away and came over to introduce themselves; most seemed supportive and even happy for me. A bit of a shock, I must say, but it felt good, and I can remember smiling a lot.

The morning “S” and I were leaving is something that I carry in my heart and is such a beautiful memory for me, one that in a time of my Dad’s sickness made me truly see him in a different light.   As we were saying our goodbye’s my Dad gave me one of the biggest hugs I can remember ever getting from him, my Mom was going to walk us to the truck, and at the last minute, my Dad asked “S” to stay a moment.

My Mother and I left the front door, and I had no idea what was going on.  I put my bags in the truck and stood there. I don’t even remember if I said anything to my Mom or how much time passed till “S” came out.  Finally, “S” emerged, and my Dad waved from the front door. After more hugs for my Mom, and we got in and drove off.  In the moments that followed “S” explained what happened. He looked a bit in shock, and once he told the story, I understood why.  My father had said to him “Thank you for coming and all your help. Thank you for loving my son, I can see how happy you make him.  I love you, and you are welcome in my house anytime, son!”   Needless to say, I broke into tears and was so proud at that moment of my father and his love and kindness.

My Mother and I are very close. She is more than my Mom; she is also one of my best friends.  After my father passed I told her that I didn’t want to chance losing her and not know her as anything more than my mother.  My Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time my father was sick. She went through surgery and treatment and as to date is cancer free… but you never know what might happen. I had lost the opportunity to know my father better and for him to truly know me.  At the time I was not in a place to let him “in.” It is one of my biggest regrets that I wasn’t able to tell him about myself.   I think about him often and wish he was here to see all that I have accomplished and what my life has become. I know he would be so proud and would be standing beside me every step, smiling that smile of his and telling me to go do it if it’s what I need to do.
 
 

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Orlando

My grief that was the genesis of this project

Orlando

My grief that was the genesis of this project

In the spring of 2016, I had been working for CTV Vancouver Island in the newsroom for a few years. When you are exposed to tragic or depressing news stories daily – mass shootings, bombings, racism, hate crimes against gays and other minority groups – you can, unfortunately, become oversaturated, maybe even a little numb. Even stories of politicians attempting to take away the hard-fought rights that the LGBTQ+ community had become so common that it became less and less clear which direction I should focus my attention.

But then on June 12, Orlando happened.

Overnight the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting changed everything for me. I felt connected to my community like never before, and I needed to do something! I spoke to my friends. We shared stories of how we felt, and shared the anguish in our hearts. Everywhere I looked online, on TV and in print, there was a story on the shooting and its victims. In cities across the USA and the world, gatherings and vigils were being held to commemorate the victims and to show solidarity for the LGBTQ+ community.

What hit home the hardest for me, and for everyone I talked to, was that it could just as easily have been me and my friends in that nightclub. I couldn’t help but remember the countless evenings me and my friends would head out for a night at the bar – to let loose, to celebrate events, to meet new people. There was a time when a gay bar was one of the few safe places we could go to be ourselves. Gay bars were the only place to go and not have to be afraid that someone might push you around for looking at them the wrong way or making eye contact. For many of us gay bars were more than just a place to party. Gay bars were home. For me, this was the tragedy. Suddenly somewhere I had considered a safe place was no longer safe. A deranged individual, took all that away.

In my heart, all I could think was who were these people and their families. So much attention was paid to the shooter – who he was and what made him commit such a heinous act of hate. But I wanted to know about the people whose lives were lost. The people whose stories were ended with the pull of a trigger by a madman. I was devastated by the fact that no one would ever get to meet them for the first time, and get to know them. I was devastated that they would never get to tell their stories.

It was my horror, my outrage, and my grief that was the genesis of this project. I realized that I wanted to create something that would enable my community to tell our stories in a place that was safe, especially now that that our one safe sanctuary had been violated in such a horrific way. Living Without Disguises came to be because I wanted in someway to bring our community together, and make sure that each and every one of us got a chance to tell our stories, so that we would never be forgotten in the event that something so unspeakable would happen to us. I was motivated to tell my story, and I hoped that others would come forward and tell theirs.

If you feel compelled to add your story to our anthology, please do.

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Shame

How I Came to Wear the Disguise Chosen for Me

Shame

How I Came to Wear the Disguise Chosen for Me

I have known as far back as I can remember that I liked men. As a kid, I remember seeing the other boys my age or older and feeling something different than when I looked at the girls. I had no idea what it was or how to put it into words what I felt, I just knew it felt more real. I have never felt a sexual attraction to women, although I have always connected with them intellectually and emotionally. Some of my best friends are women, but the pull of desire was never there.

As a kid, I don’t even know if I knew what “being gay” meant. But apparently other kids did. If someone wanted to hurt you or embarrass you or make you feel ashamed, they called you “gay” or “a fag”. In the 70s and 80s, if you were a kid, being called out as “gay” was one of the worst insults that could be hurled at you.

I remember vividly being picked on a lot by certain kids, both boys, and girls. I can see my elementary school playground and hear their voices, see their faces and can feel deep down inside the small remnants of what remains of the fear and hurt that caused.

And I just have to add – it wasn’t just the kids in my life that made sure I knew that being gay was a bad thing. I remember specific adults in my life, people I looked up to, making some obvious comments indicating that being gay was equal to being a deviant, and therefore unworthy of love and respect. Even though I hadn’t figured out for myself that I even was gay, I was receiving some very clear messages (from kids and adults) that a) something was wrong with me and b) I needed to be ashamed of who I was.

The taunts and abuse continued through middle school, but the worst was my grade 10 year in high school. The grade 12 boys found me as a particularly good target for their immature bullying. I remember laughing in disbelief as they would have one kneel behind me and then another push me backward so I’d fall over for everyone to see. Not one person came to help or said anything or offered me a hand up. Maybe they were intimidated or scared or maybe they didn’t even care. I’d like to think even in high school we’d have compassion for each other, but I didn’t see any real evidence of that. Three days into my Grade 11 year, I realized that I couldn’t handle it anymore. I dropped out, and things went downhill from there.

Looking back on my life, it seems clear now that this was one of those important turning points. This was one of the moments where the patterns that would come to repeat over and over throughout my life began to take shape.

I needed to physically escape the torment. I needed to run, but just running from my high school environment wasn’t far enough. I couldn’t outrun the shame I felt from so many years of being taunted, ridiculed and abused, from so many years of denying who I really was. My shame became a disguise that I wore by default. It allowed me to continue to deny who I was, it enabled me to accept being treated poorly by others (even those who cared for me) and not as I truly deserved, and it justified all the self-destructive behaviour that I engaged in to escape even further. Slipping into a drug- and booze-fueled haze to escape the pain of being me was a pattern that began when I chose to walk away from high school.

Now that I am reflecting back on my story, I see where all the threads start to meet (and where they unraveled). Thank you for continuing to read my story. If you missed my first post, here it is.
I started the Living Without Disguises project so that we can see where all our threads start to intersect. On our Stories Map, you can see other submissions from the courageous members of our LGBTQ+ community. I’d love to hear your story of how you came to live your authentic self – submit your story here.