Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Canadian gay culture - one view from the inside

Looking for something else online, I came across this article written in September this year, from a Canadian newspaper. Just occasionally it helps to get an 'insider's view' of something. It probably won't cheer up your Christmas, but it is worth a read. 'Poignant' is probably the word.

"Life After Death" by Michael Harris

... My peers and I are supposed to be “over” our gayness. It’s unfashionable to have gay-related “issues.” Many of us consider the gay newspaper Xtra passé. Even the gay bars are tired spaces, for the most part, and younger crowds prefer one-off parties at weird hotel bars that aren’t explicitly queer.

I partake in all this, and enjoy it. But the impulse to do away with the ghetto and focus instead on social autonomy is also a flawed, neo-liberal ambition. We like to believe we are masters of our own fate (even as proponents of “free will” have a hard time explaining why poor people consistently produce poor children). Culture matters, actually, and nowhere is this more evident than in HIV test reports. Aboriginals comprise about 4 percent of Canada’s population, for example, but make up 6 to 12 percent of new cases. Race even affects the way people become infected. Aboriginals most often become positive via intravenous drug use; among Latin Americans and Asians, it’s mainly gay sex that leads to infection. Among the black population, heterosexual contact is overwhelmingly the cause. HIV preys on a culture’s fault lines. Like many diseases (tuberculosis in Buenos Aires, say), it is a litmus test for class distinction.

Single gay men in Canada are up to six times more likely than our heterosexual counterparts to kill ourselves. We tend to smoke more, drink more, use more illicit drugs. In a 2003 clinical guide, Dr. Allan Peterkin and Dr. Cathy Risdon estimated that the lifespan of Canadian gay men is between twenty to thirty years less than the average.
HIV, then, is a rude reminder that our civil rights movement is incomplete. How can I feel like an equal when gay men are damned to abbreviated lives? ...

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  1. "Gay men, like anyone, are well aware that we ought to use condoms. Just as the more than five million smokers in this country realize that the benefits of nicotine are limited to momentary gratification. Just as the more than two million Canadian diabetics know that chocolate cake is a transitory pleasure with real consequences. We, none of us, live rational livesGay men, like anyone, are well aware that we ought to use condoms. Just as the more than five million smokers in this country realize that the benefits of nicotine are limited to momentary gratification. Just as the more than two million Canadian diabetics know that chocolate cake is a transitory pleasure with real consequences. We, none of us, live rational lives." (from page 2)

    Thank you, a very helpful article and moving - it reminded me of various friends (such as a fellow student when I was at sixth form, who was HIV positive) - and of how utterly impossible I found it to point them to Jesus.

    Tim, Enfield

  2. Thank you for this. I think what is interesting is the explicit statement: ‘Single gay men in Canada are up to six times more likely than our heterosexual counterparts to kill ourselves.... etc.’ Obviously I realise that you have posted this article out of your deep compassion for these men. The real issue seems to be that the best thing that single gay men can do, is settle down with a partner. However there is much difficulty in this, because even in Canada, but more so in the UK, there are those who spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to demonstrate that being a homosexual is in some shape or form ‘disordered’. This is curious, when we look at the recent ONS demographic breakdown of homosexuals vs. wider society and see that the former are far more likely to be educated to degree level, work in professions or managerial work, be in employment and have not been long term unemployed – which of course means they disproportionately contribute to society – in our present economic climate, it is the kind of ‘disorder’ that helps rather than hinders! (see:

    It is difficult to infer things from half quoted statistics. But if we look at HIV infection rates, it curious to note that the more Christian a society, in Sub Saharan Africa, the higher its HIV infection rate among heterosexuals. Hence from this, it could be inferred that orthodox Christianity is a lifestyle choice that is likely increase one’s chances of HIV infection – and conversely, that being Muslim in African substantially improves you chances of not getting HIV.

    Or if we look at children’s welfare, the most dangerous and risky place for a child in terms of the possibility of murder or sexual abuse is of course the family home. Children are far, far more likely to be sexually abused by a sibling, uncle or father than a stranger – and the vast majority of children who are murdered each year are killed by one or both parents.

    I well remember this edifying and informative article posted on Anglicanmainstream in the summer:

    “A study published in May, 2011 in the journal Cancer, discovered... a risk factor. In a large study, 8.25 percent of men who self-identify as gay were cancer survivors, versus 5.04 percent of men who self identified as heterosexual...’ What Anglicanmainstream didn’t mention was that the study went on to demonstrate that 4.63% of bisexuals survive cancer. Hence using the skewed logic of Anglicanmainstream it is far healthier to be bisexual than either straight or gay... Obviously this is tosh – the study was showing ‘survival’ rates not who gets cancer – and as gay men are more likely to have access to good health insurance cover (because they tend to be richer and better educated), they are more likely to survive cancer – the study wasn’t saying more gay men get cancer than the wider population, Anglicanmainstream just chose, in the interests of Christian charity no doubt, to suggest that it did...

    What I hope I am demonstrating is that it is very easy to present statistics and social trends that show various groups or sections of society in a poor light. Hence the real question is WHY some people want to do this and what is it that is trying to be achieved. Is it a noble purpose, or simply a desire to malign and point the finger?

    Whatever, in the quoted piece above, it seems that what would really help gay men is NOT to be SINGLE. Given that gay people and gay relationships face so much prejudice it is no wonder a disproportionate number of gay people end up in despair. Hence, if this article is posted with the intention of helping gay people (which seems unlikely) – then the way forward is clear. Stop prejudice, finger pointing and the ‘easy’ righteousness of Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14)

    Happy Christmas:

    Peter Denshaw

  3. Peter, I hope you read the whole article (4 1/2 pages) not just the quote extracted from the end of the article.

    The whole thing, as I said, is 'poignant' (perhaps not the best word, but the best I could find) in its account of the post-HIV 'death sentence' world, where, nevertheless, the mood described is of living 'in the valley of the shadow'.

    The impression I got from the author was that despite all the social developments that have taken place, there is still a problematic aspect to his experience (and one, furthermore, which he does not seek to lay at the door of others).

    I posted it for what it is - an 'insider's' view. Doubtless, there are other views from the inside as well, but this was the one I read.

    It is painful and uncomfortable (I hope!) for anyone who takes the trouble to read it, but it is worth the reading.

  4. For many years I worked in palliative care at one of central London’s teaching hospitals. The bulk of my work was cancer care, but I also took on many of the AIDS defining cancer cases, particularly those of Africans who were illegal immigrants or who had leave to remain, but no recourse to public funds. A good portion of my job was trying to sort out what happened to their children after they died. I was particularly struck by how homophobic many of these patients were and how religion – Christianity (very rare to find a Muslim with AIDS) – was a very visible occupation. It was also noticeable that there was a great fear of members of their churches finding out about their illness. Because they had a cancer it was easier to ‘hide’ the real reason. From the life histories I took, it became obvious that casual sex and extra marital sex was part of their culture, despite their strong conservative Christian beliefs and practice.

    I am sure you will agree that is curious that much is made of the ‘gay lifestyle’ and the associated HIV tag that so neatly attaches the sin to its price. Yet there is little comment about the lifestyle of people in Africa. They are seen as victims; whereas gay men are seen as collecting the wages of sin. We never hear the phrase ‘African lifestyle’, but my ears and retinas weary with the phrase ‘gay lifestyle’.

    I am in my mid-40s, like many middle-aged people the majority of my close friends are the ones I made in my early to mid-20s. Of these, three are ordained clergy, there are a few ex-girlfriends I am still close friends with; I have a few male friends, mainly from work and then there are my gay friends – close and not so close, they number around ten: not one fits the description of this Canadian tale of woe. Oh I have known people die of AIDS, but no one I knew well. In fact if I allow my thoughts to ripple out and think of all the gay men I know (probably – remembering I live in London) around another twenty, perhaps one or two of their number fit the ‘promiscuous gay’ description. But then I can also think of several straight friends who also ‘put it about it’.

    What I am saying is that great care is needed not to presume that just because someone is gay, they lead a certain lifestyle. The rise in STDs and alcohol induced liver problems in young people would not be seen by many Christians to be an endemic quality of heterosexuality, despite that fact that it is mainly heterosexuals who suffer from these problems. Here Christians can use their experience and know that many young people lead very different lives. So it is with gay people – they too lead very different lives from the stereotype that seems widespread in the Christian media. I find it rather odd that those who adhere to a religion which itself is riven with schisms, sects, denominations and factions and where ‘Christian’ can mean different things to different people; that so many eagerly embrace the notion that ‘homosexual’ means just one thing – one kind of life style, one mode of behaviour, one worldview.

    The Canadian story is a sad one – but it is not a universal description of what it is to be a gay man – either here or in Canada. As you note it is one view from the inside – and as is always the case with ‘one view’ they frequently lack objectivity and usually are confined by an individual’s experience. I am sure, if I were to write a piece on my experience of four years as a member of a conservative Evangelical church, you would quickly take issue with some of my descriptions and conclusions. The same is true here – it is one view, but not THE view...

    Peter Denshaw

  5. Peter, as you say - one view, but not the view.

    If I may take up one point you make, I used to be on the staff on an east London church with a very large African population. Theological conservatism was commonplace (and nothing wrong with that - the Creeds are pretty conservative) but in so many ways (and not just in sexual morality) this did not permeate to life practices.

    What I found personally frustrating was that this was not addressed as an issue.

    Sex before marriage was virtually accepted as something that shouldn't be challenged because it was 'part of their culture', which seemed to me not far short of racism.

    I also expressed my unwillingness simply to celebrate World AIDS Day as a 'victim' orientated event, given that the cause was pretty obvious in most cases. (Yes, there were victims, but they were victims of behaviours which were (a) preventable and (b) immoral - something which it seemed no one was willing to spell out.)

    Someone in the recesses of my mind there has long been a book/article titled 'How Christianity failed the Black World'. It'll probably never see the light of day, but I'll stand by the title.

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  7. Revd John

    It is so refreshing to hear this, concerning African Christianity in London! I have been – on several occasions in the blogging sphere – accused of racism when I have noted that it is foolish to rework the ‘noble savage’ discourse of the 19th century into modern Christian thinking. i.e. the putative belief that Sub-Saharan Christianity is somehow ‘purer’ and more orthodox – mainly because of the stance of many (tho’ not all – e.g. ++Tutu) on homosexuality. As a newly qualified social worker, in the early 90s, I managed a faith-based residential home for disabled adults, in London. A good portion of the staff were West African. At the time I was full of the white-middle-class paternalism that is so often mistaken for anti-racism (when in reality it still places a white liberal worldview as the mediator of dialogue and is – ironically – a subtle form of racism). I was told many of these staff were practicing Christians. A year later I realised it is very wrong to make presumptions about other cultures just because they fulfil a certain need – a wishful thinking that takes away the humanity of a group – either by oppression or by not seeing the fullness (the beauty and the warts and all) of that group. Some of my staff were excellent – however there were a disproportionate number who used their piety to veil their misconduct. The number of times I have held a disciplinary meeting for a member of staff only to hear ‘But Peter, I am Christian, I would not do this...’ When there was incontrovertible evidence that the person had done wrong.

    A close friend of mine, now an Anglican priest, but at the time just a flat mate, berated me for expressing some liberal idea – and pointing to the African churches as the bastion of orthodoxy. A decade later he and his wife went out with CMS to Africa and on his return his views on African Christianity were very much changed!

    Of course this is not true of all African Christianity – my own church in north London is about a fifth West African, and many have gravitated to this middle-of-the-road Anglican church because of their negative experience in other churches.

    You might find Rev. Dr. Garnet Paris (University of Birmingham, UK)’s paper ‘The Myth of Reverse Mission’ rather interesting. He notes that the idea of reverse mission (from Africa to Britain) is at best a gross exaggeration of what is happening in Britain at present; his research suggests (as does my own experience and research) that in the main African pastors are coming to the UK to minister to immigrant populations - not the white population - and that these churches are divided along racial, tribal and national lines.

    Whatever, it is an interesting area and my own comment, when some Anglican churces in the West have sought episcopal supervision from African bishops, is that sooner or later, some of these churches are going to get their fingers burnt....

    As for AIDS – I think there is some interesting work to be done on the change of emphasis. You will no doubt remember in the 1980s there was much talk of AIDS as a plague visited on the sinful homosexuals by God (poor theology, I know, but it happened nevertheless)? Two decades later and African AIDS is portrayed by many Christian charities/churches as a terrible tragedy (which of course it is) – but it is curious the same ‘leniency’ wasn’t afforded to the willy-woofters – except by liberal churches. Here there are echoes of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. There’s a PhD thesis waiting to be written on this! However, not by me... I am just writing up my own and couldn’t face another!

    I’m off into the maelstrom of the West End for some last minute shopping (I must be mad!!)

    Have a happy and Blessed Christmas.


    (reposted as I made mention of the views of an episcopal colleague of yours – then suddenly realised they were made at a dinner party – not from the pulpit, hence private and not necessarily a public view, so removed the sentence!)

  8. Peter, just to continue this a bit further, the right response would not, of course, be to discount the conservative theology or the demands it makes on us. Rather, the need is for a fuller application of sound teaching. In other words, 'right use' not 'disuse' is called for.

    It is not at all strange to find an orthodoxy accompanied by a lack of orthopraxy. Indeed, this was Israel's problem throughout much of her history, right down to the time of Christ.

    Similarly, the epistles are full of exhortations to both orthodoxy and orthopraxy. The reason, I am sure, is straightforward - it is much easier to identify the truth than to apply it.

    BTW Garnet Parris was one of several good friends at theological college. I hope he is still fun!

  9. Yes, I suppose it can be summed up by Matt 23:23 & 24. And yes BTW Garnet Parris was great fun when I met him at the May Inform event (see:; but he also spoke very well and gave a memorable paper.


  10. Peter, or indeed Luke 6:46, "Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?". I also wonder whether the East African Revival, with its roots in and legacy of pietism, may have something to do with it - but that is a story for another day (not Christmas day)!

  11. Educational and informative. John's "I was just saying" defence is so old and the more people call out his underlying reason for posting the better. I'm just saying, pause for thought etc, etc.

  12. One of the "gay agenda recent victories was established when homosexual autoworkers were successful in coercing the UAW management to quietly slip their gay and lesbian partners into the autoworkers benefit package...These same-sex gay and lesbian people had nothing to do with the auto industry and didn't work for the companies or earn these benefits.