3 min

Getting away to come out again

Looking for gay life in various cottage countries

Go hard or go home!

No, it’s not your disgruntled midlife crisis young trick telling you to leave the motel room. Or your gym trainer commanding while you plead for mercy. Or a racist asshole telling me to “go back where you came from, bitch!”

It’s a whole town reading you the riot act.

For a queer, Kelowna is a hard act to follow; a hard geographical junction between “out” and “closet.”

I’m parachuted in and out to work in a community development campaign to sensitize all about the particular health needs of gay, bisexual, and straight men getting it on the side, based on the premise that homophobia has poor health side effects. Wish us luck.

Leaving the cocoon of Commercial Dr is scary. No wonder adventure and pioneering are for the rich and famous; the rest of us sort of lay low.

I write about Kelowna from a cottage in Muskoka, Toronto’s take on the Hamptons where I have come to heal the harshness from the Kelowna visits and the tear and wear from life in Vancouver. Can anyone do this in seven days?

Kelowna is Vancouver’s take on the Hamptons (well…): on Bernard St folk are aging and healthy, young women and men are resplendent white with a golden sheen of summer tan, supple, tall, boisterous, blue-eyed skies, testosterone trucks and pressed-up cleavages on the blonde girls.

A sense of self-righteousness hovers above Kelowna, in the lovely Arts Centre (nothing nude!) by the lake and in the new condos by the bird sanctuary. Where are the moreno workers and the old men in turbans that occupied a few seats sandwiched by the usual layers of hefty businessmen on my flight here? What will be the experience of the lovely queer artist Michael V Smith when he moves here to teach this fall at UBC Okanagan?

I fly back to Vancouver to partake in the cheese of the fantasy that is Pride 2008, the anxiety of out-of-towners on E getting flogged or laid to take back home a fantasy that this is the randy fare served everyday in Vancouver (I wish!).

John and I are invited to a friend’s roof to watch the fireworks on English Bay suspended in a cloud of BC bud (smoky joy!). The next day we watch every company, non-profit and politician in existence parade by rather quietly, politely —unnerving.

That night, aboard a 70-year-old tub at the Plaza of Nations with a motley crew of eastsiders, we celebrate Doug and Herb’s unique Spartacus 10 anniversary. It’s Fellini’s Amarcord all the way to Point Atkinson and back (a dancing blast!). Could this be reproduced in Okanagan Lake?

In Kelowna, by the lake water in the evening, on weekends, there is live music. It is a paradise of forbidden fruit, yummy muscle fathers, bikers spilled over from celebrating a Hell’s Angels anniversary in the region, and drifters, the very specimens that populate the work that I come to help with here.

There must be men who have sex with other men amongst these. Standing here in the 30 degrees heat the statistic seems almost corporeal; not simply one more research castle in the air.

Could I get me some of this dream? Drag one of them behind the Irish pub door and let him have his way with me?

Memories rush in of Chile in a dictatorship and soldiers on guard bearing machine guns fucking me behind their checkpoint. Repression gets folks horny, but I can’t fathom the idea of spit-and-push these days, not to mention my delicate lower back.

Reality shits a brick: you are too old, too urban, too queer to savour the forbidden fruits of the Thompson-Okanagan.

So it turns out that what I used to do so exquisitely when I was a teen in a faraway country —the running around with married guys —is not only bad for your health but also perpetuates a repressive social life for out and proud queers.

Here, near Gravenhurst, it is all a distant memory, much like Norman Bethune must be a distant memory for the Chinese now enveloped in an Olympic cloud of smoke and racist western media assaults.

Coming out becomes clear; we all need to get away, take a holiday from the neighbourhood, from the Drive, from what is comfortingly familiar to us.

We need to watch cheap horror movies in the syrupy dark of the night with dear friends, chuckle, eat starch and sugar, warm peaches like nature intended, and loads of Miss Vicky’s. We need to float face up in the water watching the moody weather unfold briskly over the Canadian Shield, forget about the treatments, the unbearable seriousness of being gay, the debts, the ailing parents, the growing children, the T cells, did I mention the debts?

Coming out is not about disclosing it all to others. It is about not worrying about it all anymore —and don’t say this is obvious, it took me 20 fucking years to figure this one out, so go hard or go home!

Take any chance you get to reinvent yourself while summer twirls away in its fiery parade.

Right behind marches in September with its diet of intense work, cooling mornings and workouts to stave off treatment side effects… reality hits.