3 min

True meaning of health

Sex-positive, shame-free, self-directed and inclusive

COMPLEX AND INTEGRATED INDIVIDUALS. Phillip Banks of AIDS Vancouver. Credit: Robin Perelle

He was a US Serviceman on his way to Korea where he would be stationed for the next six months. A large man in his late 20s with tattooed arms like steel girders, he didn’t look happy to share the small space we’d been assigned.

I was a tired fag returning to Vancouver from the third national Gay Men’s Health Summit, held in the States. The experience had been incredible and I was feeling euphoric. It was late, my flight had been delayed and I just wanted to get home. Before I sat down next to him I never would have imagined the experience that was to follow.

After settling in, I turned to him, smiled and offered a “hey, how’s it going?” My eyes did a quick up and down, taking in as much of this incredibly hot man as possible before I realized what I was doing. Coming from the summit, where I had been sequestered with 350 other gay guys, my real world defences were a little slow to kick in.

As I looked up and saw his face I could see a glimpse of sweetness and my fear faded away.

“Hey,” he replied, “what’s up? Where you comin’ from?”

As he spoke, I could swear I felt his leg press into mine slightly. The cabin lights went off and for a moment, I felt a little mind-fucked. Was he playing with me? Setting me up? I decided to reject my discomfort and give him an honest answer. What’s the worst he could do? There is no tolerance for violence on planes these days.

I told him I was coming from the Gay Men’s Health Summit where we explored how to create and sustain a movement that will shift gay men’s health from an HIV-centered model to a broader, more relevant approach to health and wellness. A movement directed by gay men that values us as complex and integrated individuals.

His forehead wrinkled up a bit and he looked confused. Then his face cleared and I could see he was thinking about his response.

The plane was taking off. We were pressed back into our seats and I was momentarily distracted when I felt his leg press harder against mine. He shifted in his seat and his fingers fell lightly onto my forearm. I got totally turned on-the feeling was electric. We sat there for about 10 minutes moving ever so slightly closer-each responding and reacting to the other’s movements as the plane climbed into the sky. We used our blankets to cover just how cozy we were getting. When the engines finally quieted he spoke.

He said he understood how important it was to not just see gay men through the lens of HIV. He wanted to see talk of gay men transformed from one that is narrowly focussed on disease and victimization. He, too, believed we needed an expanded focus that includes our rich community assets, our collective resistance and our incredible resilience. He understood this as a gay man and as an African-American.

Wow! I had made all sorts of assumptions when I saw him and now I was feeling totally blown away. We spent the next four hours talking about a gay men’s health movement and what it had to look like. We used terms like sex-positive and shame-free, self-directed and inclusive.

And we explored our sexuality together.

I’m home now and I feel the power of the gathering and this serendipitous connection stirring within me. I am more convinced than ever before that we must advance a gay men’s health movement both within and alongside a broader gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender health movement. No one must be left behind.

This is the work being done at AIDS Vancouver’s Gay Men’s Health Programs and by our partners locally and nationally. But key to this movement is your involvement. If you want to get involved there is room for everyone. Our hard work will see the day when my Serviceman friend will get back as much from his country as he gives.

When all of us get back as much as we give.


AIDS Vancouver.