You’re at the gay bar, hanging out with friends. Maybe you’re dancing, or maybe you’re sharing stories around the pub table. Meanwhile, you’re making eyes at some strapping lad across the room. When the bartender comes around, you order the beau a drink. He joins you and you chat for a bit. As the night wares on, the two of you agree to go home together, back to your place.
Sound familiar? It’s my story, it’s your story — it’s our story as gay men. It’s also Chris Raynsford’s. He took a guy home from the bar, just like we’ve all done before, except that Chris got beaten and killed.
It’s sickening. Nothing can return the vibrant, friendly thirtysomething to his friends and family. There is no justice possible for those who knew him. Still, the man who killed Chris received a life sentence, which carries with it 25 years of jail time before he’s eligible for parole, the stiffest possible punishment for taking a man’s life. Two lives ruined.
We’re at a delicate point in the community’s healing process. This fall, we’ve learned details about Chris’s death that nobody wanted to know. For the first time, our community has learned how Chris died — cause of death, murder weapon, timeline of events. It’s been heart wrenching and visceral.
Where does our community go from here? It would be easy to internalize the terror we’ve felt at this monstrous act of violence. It’s easy to become fearful of others, to balk at trusting those we meet. It’s easy, especially, to become afraid of casual sex.
That would be easy. Healing is hard.
As difficult as it is, we can’t let our minds fashion a cause-and-effect relationship out of casual sex and being victimized by violence. We must not mistake Chris’s love of life and sex for a dangerous lifestyle where becoming a victim was only a matter of time.
Unlike our straight friends, we can’t always meet potential partners during our everyday life. We tend to meet our partners at gay bars, on the internet, and in the parks.
Some of the most affecting testimony the jury heard at trial was from Chris’s friends, saying how they begged Chris to be more careful. His friends at the bar that November evening warned him about Sabastien Roy, the man who would turn out the be his killer.
Make no mistake: I’m not promoting recklessness. Trust your instincts. Trust your friends’ instincts. But don’t give in to fear. It’s a matter of being smart without being cynical, prepared without being paranoid. It’s a hard balance to strike, but one worth reflecting on.
Safe party practices apply, and everyone’s got a favourite.
Friend number one uses a buddy system. At the bar him and his friend know who is going where, with whom. He leaves his date’s street address, name, and telephone number with his roommate — and lets his date know he’s done so.
Friends number two and three are a couple who swing. They both meet partners on the internet but they meet their dates in a public place before arranging a bedroom shenanigan.
Friend number four: Speaking of public, public sex — where a passerby could hear a scream from the bushes — may just be safer than sex at home, at least where strangers are involved. That’s the philosophy behind Breathless, which is where at least one acquaintance takes her play-dates.
Since we’re discussing sex and safety, I should mention that World AIDS Day is in December. It never hurts to underline the usual meaning of safe sex — protect yourself.
As tempting as it is, let’s not absorb the wrong messages as we cope with the fallout from Chris’s trial. Chris was by all accounts friendly, outgoing, and trusting. If some of those traits helped Sabastien Roy manipulate and murder him, it is not because Chris should not have been outgoing and friendly. I invite you to reflect on the importance of trust as the community heals in the coming months.