Reading Paul Aguirre-Livingston’s article “Dawn of a New Gay” last Friday, I immediately thought of another storm that had been dominating my Facebook news feed a couple of days earlier. That particular outrage was over Sun News Network anchor Krista Erickson’s interview/attack with internationally acclaimed dance artist Margie Gillis. In the televised interview, Erickson “questioned” Gillis about her use of public moneys that she has acquired from government granting agencies. The line of questioning was not horrifying in and of itself. What was shocking was the aggressive mode in which Erickson went about it. She repeatedly cut Gillis off. She insulted her and mocked her. At one point, the visibly shaken Gillis spoke out about what she perceives as the disintegration within Canadian society of the capacity to feel compassion and understanding for others. Gillis characterized the lack of support in the general population for public arts funding as a symptom of this overall disintegration. Gillis also implied that the overt hostility and anger that she was facing at the hands of a (so-called) journalist on live television was further evidence of that very absence of compassionate behaviour.
Sadly, I have to agree with Gillis’s observation. The recent election of Rob Ford as mayor and the Conservative majority in federal Parliament strike me as clear indications that our sense of collective responsibility and caring for one another is diminishing and is quickly being replaced by self-interest and greed. A vision of the Canadian social contract that is built on concepts of compassion, altruism and inter-dependence no longer seems to form the basis of our society. Instead, all I see is a political landscape that is dominated by selfishness, fear of difference and a rejection of inclusiveness.
I would describe Aguirre-Livingston’s article as yet another symptom of this societal shift. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with Aguirre-Livingston’s own experience of being gay, and he certainly has every right to live out his sexual identity in whatever way he chooses. I take no issue with that. What is disturbing is the article’s complete lack of awareness/acknowledgement of his position inside the broader world. The article does not speak to the context in which he is living, nor does it place his experience in relationship to a broader community of homosexuals except in the most superficial of ways. His personal and extremely privileged position inside the gay experience is not the norm. Nowhere close, in fact. For a widely distributed media outlet to imply (or outright state) that it is the norm is outrageous. It is the equivalent to some posh Rosedale resident saying that there is no poverty because they do not directly experience it in their own lives and a newspaper publishing it as some kind of legitimate description of a social reality. It is self-centred, short-sighted and irresponsible. It denies our interconnected existence as a community – a community that is made up of a multiplicity of experiences. It feeds a growingly disconnected society of isolated individuals who have little understanding of the larger social realities that they are a part of. This is frightening to me.
For a long time, our identities as homosexuals were formed by adversity. Today, a select group of people from the community have grown up without these experiences of oppression. As a result, certain aspects of their identities are different from members of previous generations. This should be a good thing. This is an important thing for us to talk about as a community. It is unfortunate that this article did not live up to the task. The result is an apathetic, cynical and, often, contemptible piece of “journalistic” writing that further divides a community that has struggled and continues to struggle for equality, acceptance and basic freedoms. I appeal to The Grid’s and Aguirre-Livingston’s sense of social responsibility as they continue to define their role in the world and assess how they can contribute to the betterment of others.