June, Army Base
This is a re-run from last year, because my man-hours are going into my manuscript, not new essays. And because this month I posted Poetics of Gettysburg, and more U.S. citizens achieved freedom to get married.
Strange what higher education leads to: Once I learned to document and footnote, compare and contrast, I started to perceive things like “freedom of assembly.”
I’ve expanded the army base notes; I have a new epilogue where I document David Gerrold on hatred over the new U.S. gay marriage law. In a sense, this whole post is to put Gerrold’s remarks into context.
~How queer: Here in the western time zones we have no Saint Patrick’s Day parades. I guess by the time the frontier moved this far west there was no longer discrimination against the Irish, no need to assemble for Irish pride parades
~ In June of 1989 was the Tiananmen Square massacre. The Mainland Chinese still don’t have any “freedom to assemble” to vent their gut feelings with each other about the massacre. Which means it could still happen again.
~U.S. readers my age may recall how on warm southern nights the sheriff would enter a Black church, make a quick circuit, and then leave again. Blacks could legally hold a bible study, but heaven help them if they assembled to learn world history.
June, Army Base
During this month of June last year, a sergeant major (warrant officer) at the big base three hours north of here raised the gay rainbow flag at headquarters. In this he had the full backing of his base commander. I heard about it on CBC radio.
During this month, every year, there is a gay pride parade in many cities all over the American continent. Why June? Because in this month back in 1969, in the “home of the brave,” gays achieved “Freedom of Assembly”… something the U.S. police would always deny to homosexuals, by having tavern raids, arrests and names published in the newspapers—oh, the horror!
But once homos could legally assemble in broad daylight, free men and women could look at each other and see for themselves that society had been mistaken all this time: Gays could be wholesome clean winners. Without feeling foolish or disloyal to a society that wanted them to be “bad,” they could have the same good posture and self esteem as their neighbors. In Alberta, my home province, without feeling they were supposed to have a limp wrist, they could confidently ranch and rodeo and wrestle steers to the ground. (Gay women, I presume, would barrel ride)
In Calgary, 1968: “They were forced to stay in the shadows because merely dancing with a member of the same sex was a criminal offence in Calgary.” Calgary Metro Weekend, July 17-19 page 8. (The daily free newspaper at the transit stations)
Much more recently: “When I was 16 years old and living in southern Alberta, the only gay people you ever saw were the crazy freaks on Oprah so it was really hard to have a conversation with anybody and say that’s not really what it’s like.” Canadian actor Gavin Crawford, quoted in Metro page 37
Today: Metro on page 44 has a listing of children’s cartoons on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon with LGBT characters. I see the new inclusive term for gay is LGBT. I’m still getting used to that.
As for the southern part of this continent, I doubt any U.S. Army warrant officers are raising the gay flag. Not when “certain people” claim equal rights for gay soldiers would mean men having limp wrists as they dig trenches, adding that some male soldiers would insist on wearing a long cotton dress on parade.
I can’t speak for the rest of the NATO armed forces where, as in Canada, gays have long had human rights, but I can say that in Canada any such foolishness would have been news, talked about coast to coast. Besides, I’m linked to the military community, and I would have heard from my sources. Nothing has happened. So I wonder: Down in the U.S., just who are the “certain people” making such silly claims? No doubt the same people who in Tennessee would you look you in the eye and claim “scientists are saying my grandparents were monkeys.” Unhappily, being religious does not mean being honest.
One would hope colleges would be lanterns against the darkness, but no—I’m sure there are young church-going students today who flatly refuse to open any biology textbooks, refuse to see any “liberal artsy” stage plays like Inherit the Wind, and who, even as their excited peers are engrossed in “meaning of life” conversations, would never ask their idealistic “real live gay” fellow students whether or not being gay is a “choice.” You can lead your horse to college but you can’t make him drink.
My U.S. readers might be saying, “Yes, but Canadian army bases are federal, and just as President Harry Truman offended some Americans by declaring equal rights for Blacks in the armed forces, maybe at this point none of the ordinary civilians in Canada believe in equal rights for gays.” My reply is Canadians are of two minds, of course, and at the end of the day they certainly do believe. Even here in the heart of the bible belt, in Canada’s “most red necked province,” my own, the provincial supreme court has “saved face” for politicians by ruling the law must act as if there are human rights for gays, even though the legislature hasn’t caught up yet… People are content; the land is quiet.
In that sense of unwritten rights, therefore, the piece below, praise the Lord, is dated…
Pauline, age 29, strides happily along the street, her arms linked between a suffragette and Joan of Arc. The street is flowing with women. Some are wearing costumes; some are carrying banners. It is International Woman’s Day, and Pauline is among her joyful sisters. This parade is a safe one for her.
Last June, the last time she had marched along this street, she had been conscious of the cold sweeping muzzles of cameras. Someone had said, “The camera will only get you if it has your number on it.” Pauline was among those who on that day successfully took a calculated risk. Pauline was not captured on film. She did not lose her home, her job or her reputation. Old Aunt Priscilla did not suffer a heart attack. Pauline is… a homosexual… She walked in a gay-pride parade because she is an idealistic woman who cannot suffer injustice in silence. For the next parade, she tells people, she will carry a bullhorn.
Today, Pauline marches amidst the blessed warmth of safety where all are welcome. Among her sisters are Iranians, women of color, and “church mothers for equality.” There are men, too. Pauline hails me as the crowd currents bring us together. “Hey, brother! Would you like a cigarette?” We link arms. We smoke. We shout, “Not the church, not the state, women alone decide their fate!” And then we smile broadly.
Later that evening we go to a bar and she tells of her childhood. She dated boys from her Christian youth groups. One day, she told two church elders that she felt attracted to women. At that time, Pauline knew the word “gay,” but she could not think of applying it herself. She could only say, “felt attracted.” They replied that she was merely bisexual: If she got married everything would be fine. So she carried on with hayrides, tobogganing and bible studies. She dated, had relationships, and one day, she married. Her husband Brian was devout; their marriage produced two children.
Pauline told me, “For years, I denied who I really was, and so meanwhile the shame and confusion just grew… As long as you are in the closet, you are in a low-grade depression… We got a new pastor and he had a wife… One day, I found myself wanting to lean over to kiss her. I was horrified!”
Someone else might have retreated further into the closet. But Pauline was a future parade-marcher: enthusiastic, extroverted, and unafraid. She used the crises as chance to face herself.
Pauline said, “It’s almost like you find yourself on one end, and you lose yourself on another.” Gone was her church life. Gone was her dream of days in the kitchen, looking out past a white picket fence to watch for the returning pater familias. Instead, she struggled with a changing image of God, how her kids could cope with her gayness, and the knowledge that her marriage would end. Pauline’s only hope, which has since been realized, was that she could maintain a friendship with her husband, the man she loved. Since then, she has often had to explain to people that one can have an emotional bond without a sexual bond.
Today, Pauline is a great drinking buddy who seldom complains and is keen to discourse on a wide range of topics—being gay is not her total identity. In fact, when people do not learn of her gayness right away, it is “kind of neat” for them to get to know her as a person first. Otherwise, she can see them struggling.
I prompted her to trot out the laundry list of annoying questions… How could you stay married? Cope sexually? How do you do it with a woman? Were you ever as a child sexually abused? How many men have you had? Maybe you just need a good one to turn you around. How long have you known? Sometimes, she feels pressure from lesbians to deny her husband’s worth during the marriage, but she will not do so. Of the lesbian
mothers that Pauline knows, none had gone into marriage truly knowing that they were gay. For herself, she found out that “you have to think of pleasing each other, so that what you have as a sexual friendship.” Coping? “ With a hell of a lot of lubricant, for one thing.”
Her small-town family has stayed in touch. There was tension and fighting at the beginning, then a lot of pleading on her part, and now they are meeting somewhere in the middle. Her mother’s reaction was typical of any in society. Upon being told, her first words were, “Oh my God, the kids are going to get AIDS.” (Nonsense, of course.) Some of her relatives confused homosexuality with the all-too-common hetero habit of pedophilia. (More nonsense.) Pauline has not dared to tell her in-laws because “… they are not fundamentalists and so they lack a loving side. They are just pure bigots.” She added, “they’d say I was ‘that lesbo bitch dyke that ruined poor Brian’s life.”
Pauline has been “out” for a year and a half. Occasionally, Brian comes up to spend a weekend with the kids, but he needs prompting to do so. A few weeks ago, Brian came with his proposed custody agreement. They argued for two hours before she could get him to agree that her custody rights would not be affected by her getting a gay partner.
Brian, said Pauline, does not understand gays. He even wrote down that she “would not try to convert the children to being gay.”
In some respects, one can understand a shocked husband who remains uninformed. As for Pauline’s friends and relations, such blindness, after a year and a half, may be labeled willful ignorance. This is widespread in our society.
Pauline shakes her head and says, “It hits you, how much you lose by being yourself. The prejudices, the being judged, the lack of legal protection.” At someone’s whim, with legal impunity, Pauline can be fired, evicted, or denied access to city hall, to note but three possible scenarios.
My friend smiles philosophically to say that everyone who comes out has to learn certain things the hard way. Such as not teaching the children to call her first relationship “stepmother.” It seems typical to Pauline that everyone has a bad first lover, often an abusive one. Pauline is hoping to find a special person to love, but it is not easy. Career-minded lesbians her own age often screen her out when they perceive her as being saddled with two kids.
Of course, there is more to life than dating. The gay community offers a variety of leisure activities. Pauline enjoys the drop-in volleyball. Community halls are regularly rented by gay groups. Pauline’s favorite dances are those sponsored by Project Pride, which coordinates over 40 gay organizations, and unity 94, which raises funds for teams going to the fourth international gay games, to be held in the summer of 1994 in New York. Pauline is determined to make it to the Big Apple. “It’ll be a hoot!” she says, eyes aglow.
Pauline also drops in to the university gay student society that holds weekly educational discussions. Religion is still important to her. Often she drags me off with her children to her church, where many of the congregation are gay.
I prefer to socialize with her in the gay bars. Usually we go to one with cool tropical fish. It is heartwarming to see Pauline, who was once in the closet, warmly going up to embrace so may men and women. I am amazed at how many people she knows. Here she may safely hold hands with a woman, or gaze into a woman’s face for as long as she wishes. Eventually, trendy heterosexuals who just don’t understand will come to the bar in ever-increasing numbers. They will subtly gawk and point and giggle and then Pauline and her friends will have to move on. But for now, the bar is nowhere near the end of its gay life-cycle.
I am straight. My friend warmly tells me that she appreciates me validating gay pride. I show no fear that straights will judge me to be gay, nor paranoia that people will make passes at me. So many straights in her bar will trip over themselves rushing to flaunt their orientation.
Pauline’s future is uncertain. So many single housewives stay on welfare until their youngest child is 18. Pauline hopes to avoid that trap by letting Brian have the kids while she tries to learn some sort of trade. However, other gay moms have told her stories of ex-husbands keeping the children—and courts in Alberta are discriminatory. In fact, the latest rumor is that the Alberta Human Rights Commission is to be dismantled, or at least disabled.
And so, Pauline must live in a world she never made. She will not give up trying to change things. Like Moses, she surely will not live to see the Promised Land. Like the prophets, she will march and take the message to her people. And surely, one far-off day, the world will be as loving as the people in one of her parades. I envision her striding alongside her peers, singing
“We are a gentle, angry people, and we are singing, singing for our lives.
We are a land of many colors, and we are singing, singing for our lives.” (Holly Near, 1979)
~Shockwaves are spreading from the recent U.S. supreme court ruling that gay marriage is legal and recognized.
~A writer who has taken actions (not just speech) against gay Americans is fantasy (F) writer Orson Scott Card. Now, with the legal marriage ruling, Card has yet again spoken out.
Here is a link where science fiction (SF) writer David Gerrold quotes Card in the first paragraph, and goes on to explain his outrage.
You can broaden your mind without being on a college campus: If you are a Yankee reading this, in a tourist place like Florida or Arizona, with older winter visitors from Canada, you might try asking any of those Canadian grandparents if Canada has turned decadent over the past decade from having legal gay marriage. (LGBT marriage) Don’t worry, you’re safe: Surely old grandparents wouldn’t laugh at you—but they might laugh in surprise at your question.
I’m not the only man who feels comfortable around gays. In the last month, regarding “confederate losers, looosers” I’ve twice mentioned (and linked) the blog of SF writer John Scalzi. He writes military SF. On a recent (July 19) blog post one of his 106 comments was from a loyal fan ( At 1:45 p.m.-ish) saying:
“I wholeheartedly agree that you are “a loudmouth on the Internet.” Who could argue with that? However, I do wish you could refrain from emphasizing quite so frequently that you’re straight. For some of us, the second F in SF/F is so important.”
I guess by “straight” he means how Scalzi mentions his wife and daughter. A self-confident man, Scalzi nicely replied:
“Ha! Well, (man’s name), what you have me do in the privacy of your own brain is your own business.”
As Calgary Stampede flags wave,
Revised July 2015
~The Inherit the Wind movie version was reviewed by my favorite critic and web essayist, Roger Ebert.
~The Pauline part originally ran as a center spread in the university of Calgary student newspaper, the Gauntlet, in 1994.
~To me a limp wrist is like being a housewife: it should be a nice choice, not an imposed default.