3 min

Who does your PR?

It can be a pain not having control of your own image

When I start to read a news story about some guy getting convicted for sexually abusing a child, my eyes skip from paragraph to paragraph until I find the gender of the child. I want to make sure the victim is a girl.

Not that I want to see little girls rather than little boys getting abused; I wish abuse of both would disappear. I just want the guilty party to be anybody but a gay man. Let it be a straight man, a straight woman, an attack by newborn babies or by rabid monkeys. Anything but an otherwise friendly gay uncle or a loner bachelor in a dirty downtown apartment or one of those cabals of paedophiles I’ve always heard about.

I’m not alone. I see fellow homos constantly scanning their peers, gay activists and gay celebrities for character flaws. Any sign of problem behaviour is distilled, disowned, declared to be the property of a minority. Perhaps a mentally ill minority.

No one speaks out against glory holes, park sex, SM, recreational drug use or multiple sexual partners quite like a homo who does not partake. He bristles and blusters as he fans Out and Advocate and Hero magazines on his coffee table so his friends and family won’t mistake him for someone they might read about in the paper after a bust at an adult theatre. The perverts are giving him a bad rep and he’s doing all he can to shake it off. They’re depraved. They’re self-loathing. They’re hurting social acceptance of homos with their bad behaviour.

No straight person – barring the sexually ambivalent and the fervently religious (which, I suggest, often overlap) – frets nearly so much about who’s sucking who in what venue. Straights who don’t like unconventional sex will avoid thinking about it altogether or, given authority, persecute it as discreetly as possible to avoid taint by association.

The moral judgments cut both ways. Poor Stephane Prud’homme. Chosen to represent the rightwing Canadian Alliance in a hopelessly unwinnable Montreal riding, Prud’homme has become a lightning rod for queers who are conservative. He’s a traitor. He’s a mask for the Alliance’s social conservatism. He’s a hypocrite being hung out to dry. He’s self-loathing. He’s sending the wrong message to Canadians about who gay people are.

Prud’homme is in the same category as those queer condo owners who want their streets “cleaned up,” homeless people and all, and with marriage-and-religion homos who are considered in some circles to be an assimilationist embarrassment.

This goes beyond difference of opinion, ideology or politics. There is an underlying desire to control what other homos do, to jump to judgment when other queers act in ways that conflict with how we live our own lives. We know the tremendous diversity of the gay and lesbian community, but we’re still intent on limiting it, of wanting the community to reflect each of us personally.

I know what triggers the spin doctor in me: my mother’s first words when I came out to her at age 24: “Stay away from young boys. Remember that priest who got charged.”

She thought she was giving practical advice; I was taken aback. I couldn’t believe she had discarded all she knew about me – was immediately prepared to see me cavorting with the 12-year-olds I had always had zero interest in – because of some news story. I had suddenly lost control of my image, like a celebrity harassed by the tabloids.

My mother hadn’t, of course, discarded all she knew about me. She didn’t know any openly gay people and was merely repeating the most recent thing she had read as an automatic response, as a way of demonstrating some worldliness on topic she knew nothing about.

The priest she read about didn’t represent me any more than Stockwell Day represents straight men, than OJ Simpson represents black men or Margaret Atwood represents women.

Wanting to be represented is a dead end desire. Individual gay and lesbian people may want role models, want our community to reflect our own vision of the world. But, for better or worse, our image lies in our own hands, not the hands of newspapers, magazines, politicians and activists.

Paul Gallant is Features Editor for Xtra.