Pride, Sobriety and the Power of Friends

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I am suffering from some form of post-Pride emotion. I am not sad – far from it.  It is more like solemn feeling stemming from the cessation of days and days of immense joy.  Actually, I keep contemplating this word “Joy,” probably because I am feeling so much of it lately.  I feel happy much of the week, but joy is a whole other level, nearly off the charts.
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This week I am quite reflective of all that I just experienced and feeling a lot of gratitude for it all.  This Pride that just quickly past us by has been my favourite of all of the Prides I have experienced. Why?
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Pride, Sobriety and the Power of Friends.

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Pride
I have it. Feeling ashamed of who I am was so tiresome and I no longer want to feel that. Hiding who I am is toxic to my soul. As the years go on, I settle more deeply into my authentic self.  I continue to mature emotionally, intellectually and physically – hell, I own these grey whiskers and wear them proudly.
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I wore stilettos this weekend to the Davie Street block party; my toenails were painted to complete the look.  I remember a day when the thought of doing it was frightening for some reason, like I would be judged. Unpacking why we believe that clothing is gendered is a whole other blog post, but, simply put, a person should be able to wear whatever they want and feel confident in (so long as we aren’t breaking any laws ((unless those laws are oppressive and need to be addressed)) ). Let me tell you, I felt incredibly confident – not to mention sexy – in those heels.  I am proud that I was able to realize my wish to dance my face off in heels and to feel comfortable (emotionally!) while doing it.  And let me tell you, I can seriously bust a move in those puppies.
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heels Heels 2
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It has taken me a long time to get to where I am today – to feel confident being me.  It’s fun to continue to get to know myself and to explore things that make me happy. I like Chad today, and I certainly used to not like Chad very much at all.  I used to look at myself in the mirror and say, “I hate you, why do you have to be gay?” Today I love myself and that is something of which to be proud. Yes, I have more growing and learning to do and I look forward to it. If the future is a better version of how I feel now, I am eager to get there.
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I’m gay, and I’m proud as fuck about that.  So many people still live lives of closetted shame.  Our country is becoming less oppressive when it comes to people within the LGBTQ community, but we still face certain ridicule and violence.  Part of my pride and joy I felt this weekend stemmed from holding an awareness that so many of our brothers and sisters around the world may never experience such a weekend, lest they be persecuted or beheaded.  I am grateful and do not disregard the injustices faced by thousands of others internationally.   I feel proud that I can experience Pride not merely as an onslaught of parties, but as a reminder of my privilege.  This reignites the fire inside me to continue to work towards international LGBT rights.   A lot of work still needs to be done.
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Pride
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Sobriety
In January, I will be 5 years clean and sober.  Something else I feel highly proud about.  Furthermore, I feel proud that I can enjoy such a weekend without illicit substances.
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One of the things that I found particularly enjoyable this Pride was being able to tell people, “actually I am sober.”  I was asked, “what are you on?” and “do you want some K?” or “would you like some of my beer?”  When I reply that I am sober and that I do not drink or do drugs, people are often surprised – their faces and reactions are memorable.  I got down and dirty this weekend, dancing holes in the floor everywhere I went.  Surely I must have looked doped up on some speedy E, but I wasn’t.  The closest I came to being “high” was the energy kick from a Redbull.  I thrashed, stayed up until sunrise, and danced like a mad man… as most do; however, there was one obvious difference:  I had a smile bolted on my face where as a majority of others looked rather miserable.  Of course, this isn’t to say that all those who “party” look like goblins, no, it is just that, as a sober person who used to consume huge amounts of drugs and alcohol, it is very evident to me when people’s faces are drug-driven.  As the night progresses, it is common that the partygoers look haggard and frowny, with mouths that move as if by some force beyond their control.
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On Sunday night at Rapture, one of the many final Pride parties, I came to a place of sheer joy.  Every so often I get caught up in a DJ set to such a degree that my body seems to move on its own accord – to me it is a spiritual experience.  I smile, and sometimes I even laugh because I feel such joy – it’s just so bloody awesome.  I used to only experience this if I were at a party somewhere all hopped up on “molly.” However, today I can feel this ecstasy in sobriety and to me that is one of the greatest gifts ever.
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“You are fun” and “You have such a good energy about you” are a couple examples of the comments I received this past weekend.  I love to hear them… having fun in sobriety is exactly what needs to happen for me.  There is this belief that as soon as drugs and alcohol are no longer a part of the story, the story becomes boring.  That is so far from the truth.  My life has become evermore enjoyable since making the decision to commit to sobriety.   You never know, maybe the people who I crossed paths with and chatted with about sobriety, for however brief, heard or saw exactly what they needed to hear or see.  If I can live by example and show others that sober living is actually WAY FREAKIN’ BETTER then my life purpose has expanded.
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I was in the hottub tonight and was hearing a couple of guys talk about Pride, and that the jacuzzi was exactly what was needed to help replenish their serotonin that was disintegrated by ecstasy consumption.  I have heard comments from others about their hangovers and their “recovery week.”  I am SO happy that I never have to have a hangover again, god willing, and that my serotonin levels are stabilized naturally through self-care, fitness, and seeking the things in life that bring me and others pleasure.   My only sense of “recovery” from this weekend was normalizing my sleeping routine.  5:30 am bedtimes certainly throw me off!
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The cherry on top: I remember everything I did, and not a single aspect of what I did is embarrassing or displeasing.  No blasted blackouts or mornings of shame and regret.  Fuck yaaaasss!
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sober
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Power of Friends
This is the first Pride where I really truly felt as if I were part of a friend circle.  We spent a lot of time together, and it was amazing.  Of course, years past I had people to hang out with and to celebrate with, people I cherish and care about deeply, but this year was different.  I am blessed with a group of friends who support me, love me, and enjoy whole-heartedly my presence – I can feel it.  I feel comfortable, welcomed, and “part of” more than “apart from.”  It is not uncommon for me to go out and celebrate Pride on my own.  In fact, I have attended several parties solo, something else of which I am proud.  I went solo not because I had no friends, but because my friends and I were not tuned into the same wavelength.  These friends that I am so grateful to have are friends who either do not drink or drink very little; they are friends who can party hard and party clean!  They know about my sobriety and support it, which is clearly the most important part of any of my current relationships in this world.
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As my confidence level grows, and my life in sobriety expands, I am meeting more and more people who ride wavelengths similar to my own, people beyond the friend circle just mentioned.  Periodically this weekend I crossed paths with many of these people, and we enriched each other’s lives if only for that moment.  It is really quite powerful to have these kinds of friendly connections.  It is becoming clearer to me that if my friends fail to enrich my life or bring me joy, and vice versa, and bring me struggle and strife instead, than these people are not supposed to be in my life – joy is too easy to lose and life is too short.
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What I love about this friend circle is that it is incredibly diverse and thrives on welcoming new and interesting people. Vancouver social circles are very challenging to penetrate, they seem to have a clique shellac that leaves no room for new additions.  Many of the people visiting Vancouver often say to me that it is “difficult to make friends here” and that the people are not friendly.  And, I get it.  I do not disagree.  Why is that?  What is it about Vancouver gays that makes intergroup socializing such a ghastly idea?  Anyways, that is, again, a topic with enough juice for an entirely separate blog.  What I mean to express is that I am happy to have spent this Pride with such a kind-hearted and welcoming group of people who have allowed me to feel nothing but love and acceptance.
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Holy crap did we ever have some fun together!  Like, serious joy.   I look forward to future adventures.
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Friends
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Coming home from the gym tonight I just felt struck by the urge to share these thoughts.  Sometimes this happens…
Thanks for taking the time to ready them.
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Rainbow Blood Donor Clinic

UPDATE: June, 2015

Because of the work I put into the Rainbow Clinic, NetCAD has nominated for an award.  I was selected, and am to represent BC and Yukon at the Honouring Our Lifeblood even in Ottawa!  I feel very honoured :)

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UPDATE: April 27th, 2015

I went back to NetCAD today to do my usual donation, my 13th donation to be exact.  While I was there, I was informed that donors have continued to come in because of seeing the Rainbow Donor Clinic in the media, and that “everyone has been very lovely.”  Several people have since returned for their 2nd donations, which is great to hear.  The community has been engaged.

My Grindr profile continues to say “I donate blood at Canadian Blood Services’ research lab, NetCAD. Ask me more.”  This continues to be polarizing.  As I was sitting in the clinic today, someone was messaging me about the discrimination based on orientation, that CBS must “do some grovelling” and that the community must defend itself.  He goes on to say that my “passivity is the death knell for gay culture.” – As you can see, some people still choose to sit in anger and frustration… others have shifted perspectives, made acknowledgements and started to do what they can while waiting.  You cannot win them all.  Viewing this campaign as “passive” is blatant ignorance.  This, my friends, is “action.”

Coincidentally, as I was waiting to donate at the clinic, a Thank You letter arrived for me.  No need to mail it to me, I was right there! Perfect timing.  This letter comes from the CEO of Canadian Blood Services, Graham Sher, and the Chief Medical & Scientific Officer, Dana Divine.  This is what it says:

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To me, this Donor Clinic was, and continues to be, a success.  I am super grateful for the support and the response.  If you have not yet done so, book an appointment to donate at NetCAD.  It all starts with research and development.

Thanks.

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Original Post:

Why a Rainbow Blood Donor Clinic?  The common question that people keep asking me.  I hope that here I will be able to clarify my reasons and articulate my intent.  Each journalist I have spoken with has reduced my story to a meagre selection of quotes, scattering them amongst his or her article or broadcast.  I do not think anyone has heard, thoroughly, what it is that has driven me to initiate yesterday’s event.  Here we go:

  1. I got tired of hearing “I cannot donate blood because I am gay.” –  Ok, so this is a blatant misunderstanding.  Not once does Canadian Blood Services (CBS) say, “We will not take blood from anyone who identifies as gay.”  One’s identity is very different from his or her activities or behaviours.  You are not deferred from giving blood because you are gay, you are deferred because you are, probably, a man who has had sex with another man (MSM) in the last 5 years.  This, to me, is an important distinction. Conflating identity and deferral is misleading.  A man who identifies as “straight,” and who has sex with another man at least once in the last 5 years, would also be deferred.  In fact, currently there are men who identify as “gay” and are currently contributing to the blood pool that is used for transfusion.  Bottom line, gay men ARE able to donate blood, however, they may be deferred for a number of reasons based on the level of risk within their life.
  2. I wanted to create a space for dialogue, fact-finding and the clarification of misunderstandings. – It is time to change the dialogue.  There are many upset people in the gay community and whenever this conversation rises it is clear to me that resentment and anger are major players.  I have held onto that anger myself, for many years – I get it.  I also hear A LOT of questions, often weighted in passion and emotion, about the MSM policy, why it isn’t changing, why heterosexual anal sex isn’t grounds for deferral, why it isn’t based on science, why monogamous gay couples are ineligible, and on and on. This event provided a unique opportunity to be in the company of blood scientists, members of the blood recipient groups, CBS staff from Ottawa and Vancouver and other LGBTQ community members.  It allowed a space to directly ask these important questions to the men and women with the answers.  If you had a problem or a complaint… you had the chance to bring it forward.  Stewing in it, and perpetuating anger and misunderstandings, it not at all helpful.
  3. I thought that men who are deferred should learn about other ways that they can save lives, in the meantime. – It is my belief that the conversation around the MSM policy controversy has reached saturation.  This is a global conversation, and an international concern.  Health Canada and CBS are more than aware of the need to reevaluate the policy, and CBS is in the process of compiling data since the 2013 Policy Change, when we moved from a lifetime deferral to a 5 year abstinence restriction. So, until we go back to the drawing board, what can we do today? How can we be helpful today, while waiting for tomorrow’s possibilities? This is a driving force that brings me to NetCAD to donate.  Donations that are given at NetCAD are used for research and development and this has the potential to save millions of lives through some advancement in blood science.  You never know.  Also, MSM men are still able to participate in CBS’s OneMatch program, in fact, yesterday I provided my DNA to CBS and am now a potential stem cell donor for someone who may need it.  DNA matches are not as easy to come by as one’s type of blood, and it is important to continue growing the DNA donor bank.
  4. I wanted to show Health Canada and CBS that we, the gay, MSM community, are healthy and interested in giving back to our communities by making blood donations. –  I wanted to make it clear that we are here, ready and willing.  I feel that it is important to emphasize our utility.
  5. I wanted to tackle an old issue in a new way, and, in the long run, affecting changes in the Policy. – I am not fond of the current MSM policy, and trust me when I say I have my complaints; I feel that the whole approach to screening and deferrals should be adjusted.  I, along with many of the deferred men, want this policy out the window.  While I understand the policy, its history, its necessity and its gravity for recipients, it is very clear to me that it is insufficient.  Learning about science and research projects, talking with others, and doing whatever else I have said thus far is not targeting the MSM Policy directly, but it is making people talk, it is showing our interest and it is beginning to rebuild the tattered relationship that exists between CBS and many gay men, and this, readers, may alter or impact policy at a national level.    

Why Me?  My story is like many.  I went to donate, I didn’t pass the questionnaire, and I was asked to leave.  I was not given any supportive information or provided other options; it was a feeling of shame and rejection. That was 12 years ago.  Since then I have written articles, participated in focus groups in Ottawa prior to the policy change and have deeply researched this policy within Canada but also in an international context.  This Rainbow Clinic is another stop on my journey towards donating blood for transfusion.

My involvement will not end here.  In discussions with many CBS staff yesterday, it became clear to me that I am now part of the history of the MSM Policy and will probably be part of the future of the MSM Policy. Changes do not happen over night, especially on a national level, when lives are at stake.

Responsibility must be taken by the MSM community. Something that I have begun to acknowledge is that over 50% of new HIV cases are within the gay community.  This is a very disproportionate number… Check out this article by Tristin Hopper for more details.  Someone once said to me, “You can’t bitch about that which you allow to happen,” and I believe that it holds true in this case.  Of course, I do not blame the community for the health disaster of the 80s; the history is beside the point.  I am talking about today and moving forward. The gay community must take steps to mitigate the high incidence of HIV.  What is being done on OUR side of the fence to ensure that HIV doesn’t spread further?  I believe that we, as a community in a high risk group, have a duty to ensure, as best we can, that our blood remains free from viruses.  We cannot complain about the policy but disregard the reason why.

How did the Rainbow Clinic turn out?  The day was a huge success!!  NetCAD hit record numbers of donations.  We had some people come with the sole intent to voice opinions and to ask questions, which is awesome! Others came in to learn and to show support or learn their blood types… donating isn’t for everyone, of course.  The whole day was busy and we had many engagements with CBS staff and NetCAD researchers.  People were walking in off the street to donate as well, and we had quite a line up at one point.  The food provided was delicious and, overall, it was a pleasure to spend the day at the clinic.  Surely many of us have a tender arm, but it is worth it!

It has been an incredible journey.  It is amazing to me that out of my fleeting idea, all of this has unfolded.  What if I never sent that original email to NetCAD proposing this collaboration? Let me tell you, I am so glad that I did. Being an active participant in something so unique and momentous will forever remain part of me.  I encourage you to take a stab at your fleeting thoughts, go for them, propose them… you never know how they will be received or where they may go.

I have to say, that Canadian Blood Services has been tremendously supportive of this venture.  Engaging the LGBTQ community was as important to them as it was to me; our interests aligned and we ended up organizing this incredible event.  Perspectives were changed, opinions were changed, information has been gained, and more netCAD donors have been gained.  This is great stuff!

Am I part of the problem?? Really!? I am surprised by some of the comments and opinions that have been thrust my way since this started rolling out.  Members of the gay community have been messaging me with some rather bold comments, suggesting that I am part of the problem and perpetuating homophobia and discrimination.  I imagine that this looks like I am “in bed with the enemy” because many folks are not fans of CBS.  The fact of the matter is, at least I am engaging and trying to do something.  Some people simply want to be angry or stir the pot; they get a sick kick from hoarding resentments.  To those people: “Carry on, for it will have no impact on me.  I know where my intent is, where my heart is, and where my courage is.”

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Here is a list of Media links, in the order in which they hit the public… This Rainbow Blood Clinic has blown the lid off of Canadian media.

January 19th – Vancouver Xtra. “Deferred from giving blood, gay men urged to donate to research” 

January 23rd – Yahoo News. “Vancouver clinic offers sexually active gay men a way to join the blood donor system”

January 27th – 24Hrs Vancouver. “Vancouver clinic encourages gay men to donate blood”

February 2nd – The Globe and Mail. “Vancouver clinic looks to recruit sexually active gay men for blood donations”

February 2nd – Global News. “Rainbow clinic encourages gay men to give blood”

February 3rd – ICI Radio-Canada. “Vancouver: la Societe canadienne du sang accepte les dons d’hommes gais aux fins de recherche”

February 3rd – Straight.com. “Gay men can donate blood for research at Rainbow Clinic”

February 3rd – CBC News BC. “Canadian Blood Services sets up ‘rainbow clinic’ to take donations from gay men”

February 3rd – CBC Radio. “Canadian Blood Services appeals to gay men”

February 3rd – Drex Live. “Soundcloud Clip: Drex Live Tuesday Feb 3 Hour 1 – 26 mins in”

February 4th – CBC Radio. “A 180 on blood donation policy”

February 4th – Huffington Post. “Canadian Blood Services sets up ‘rainbow clinic’ to take donations from gay men”

February 4th – CBC News. “CBC News Vancouver at 6 – 27minutes in”

February 8th – CBC Radio’s “The 180” – “A 180 on blood donation policy” 

April 7th – Outlook TV – “Outlook Channel on Youtube – 12 minutes in”

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PRIDE… a perspective

PRIDE

I am feeling impulsed to write.  I have been triggered a few times over some weeks, so now its time to take the shot. Thank god for blogs…  I can spit out my thoughts and have the eyes of curious other’s read them.  My inner voice can be experienced in and through the reader.

Pride week has ended… and I am incredibly happy to have experienced it.  I am happy because this past Sunday 650,000 people can into the downtown core of Vancouver. They came to a Gay Pride Parade and Celebrations that has been happening annually for 65 years…  They came to Celebrate.  They came to Celebrate Diversity, Liberty, Happiness, Life, etc.  Pride has become so much more than a brave Expression of Gay Rights. It is a way for us to recognize the differences among us and to Celebrate them.  What a Gift.  I do not know of another day where there is so much Joy, Christmas included.

650,000 people!  I am curious to know the stats here.  What were the arrests? At what rate did people fight? Were there many tears, beyond the tears of Joy?  This past Sunday, I rode a float through the thousands of people, and my heart was filled to the brim with Joy and Happiness.  People were there to support, express, and just have Fun!  The sun was out.  The smiles were on.

I am a gay man, and I am Proud of it.  I have come through my own inner turmoil and have grasped the very essence of who I am and I hold that essence, chin up, with Pride.  I am gay, and I fucking love it.  I am incredibly moved by the contrasting experiences of my compatriots living in Russia, Ecuador, Nigeria, etc.  Any gay person who tells me that they “don’t do Pride” or who scoff at the occasion need a swift kick in the rump. Show some Respect.  Take a look through the lens of a different perspective… there is another way to view this colourful day.

A friend voiced his distaste for Pride to me tonight and it clearly highlighted this intense feeling of frustration and sadness inside me. I learned that it is the negative attributes of Pride that cause this friend to feel this negative way.  It is in the chaos, the drugs, and the sex-driven shenanigans that this particular person finds distaste.  Fair.  That shit makes anything distasteful.  Same can be said for Halloween, New Years, and any other major party night. The darkness always shows its ugly face.

Darkness aside… this colourful day should bloody well be Respected.  And yes, I said, “should.” I grew up in a country where I was allowed to be gay, even though my upbringing and socialization told me otherwise. I can only imagine the incessant difficulty involved with living as a homosexual in any of the countries that incriminate and even kill for it. We have Rights, and most of them come from our forefathers taking marches down the streets asking for them.  Today, we carry the Tradition, with incredible Strength, with 650,000 Supporters.  Look how far we have come.

I Celebrated this Pride for the souls around the world who couldn’t even Dream of the Gift that we as Canadians have been given.  I Love who I Love, and they cannot love who they love.  I kiss who I want to kiss… and I do not have to fear a deadly retribution.

My eyes wandered the crowds this weekend, and I saw so much Life. So much Light. I cannot simply sit here and leave this feeling unexpressed.

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinions…naturally, and here is mine: any homosexual who scoffs and undermines this powerful day of LGBTQ Pride needs a perspective adjustment.  If history played out differently,  it could have been you hanged, stoned, humiliated, or imprisoned.  Sure we face hardships as gay men, lesbian women, transgendered people, transexuals, queers, two-spirited individuals, bisexuals, etc… and I feel it is our Duty to stand up together and show the world that we are simply humans wishing to express Love.  It’s not about how we have sex. It’s about being True to ourselves. It’s about Love.

Why a Rainbow?  Well… some say each colour represents a different sexual identity… and although this may be true, I see it differently.  Let me ask you a question.  How do you feel when you look into the sky and see a Rainbow?  The rain is clearing, and the light of the sun is pouring through the clouds.  Rainbows are a prime example of everything that is tiful on this planet… and these Celebrations are the same.  Few, if any, people look into the sky and say “Ewww, that rainbow is ugly… it makes me sick…”  No, it is awesome.  It inspires awe.  So can we.

No shut up and show a little respect for our brother and sisters who are suffering

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http://www.thegailygrind.com/2013/08/06/gay-teenager-kidnapped-and-tortured-by-russian-neo-nazi-group-is-believed-to-have-died-from-his-injuries-video/