Before I came out of the closet five years ago, and even for several months afterward, I didnâ€™t think I had an activist bone in my body. I was too emotionally repressed to really get angry, too ignorant of the issues, and anyways I just didnâ€™t know how to act.
After I came out, I gradually got more in touch with my anger: not just to feel it, but to accept it, make it a part of me, and act on it. In the spring of â€™93 I decided to volunteer for the AIDS Committee of Ottawa. It was a bit frustrating: I wanted to stretch myself, really expand my horizons all at once, but my activist muscles were too out of shape, and I wasnâ€™t sure how much responsibility I could handle. So I spent that spring and summer doing nothing more than getting my feet wet.
By the time classes reopened, Iâ€™d become more comfortable with my gayness, and was resolved to be more open about it (before then Iâ€™d only told my immediate family). I bought politically-minded buttons to put on my jacket and schoolbag, which started conversations with a couple of classmates and friends and, Iâ€™m sure, intrigued quite a few passersby.
Starting then I regularly made New Yearâ€™s resolutions to always be honest about my gayness. I havenâ€™t always succeeded, but with that resolution kicking me in the pants I came out to some people I otherwise wouldnâ€™t have come out to. (â€œSo what did you do this weekend?â€ Gay Pride parade. â€œGot anything planned for tonight?â€ A meeting of the campus LGB group.)
So things went on; I got active with Outlook (the Ottawa U queer group), participating in meetings, volunteering, etcâ€¦ In the meantime I read up on the issues: mostly queer stuff, but also feminism, and a bit on the environment. In September of â€™95 I put the first version on my home page online, starting a whole new era of openness. From now on it wasnâ€™t just a few relatives, friends and acquaintances, it was the whole world who would learn about me. I consider myself a fairly private person (though thatâ€™s changing a bit as time goes on), and coming out on the Internet wasnâ€™t particularly easy, but it had to be done. I had to stop giving in to fear, in a big way.
In the spring of 1996 I was ready to expand my activist horizons again, and started doing a bit of volunteering for OPIRG-Ottawa, then for an local organization called the Peace & Environment Resource Centre. Partly due to the nature of these places, but partly thanks to my growing courage, I had no trouble at all coming out to my co-volunteers, and everyone was extremely supportive. It was a good time: I was (all too briefly) a member of the PERCâ€™s editorial committee, helping to put together their quasi-monthly paper, the Peace & Environment News. I contributed a brief history of Ottawaâ€™s queer press before packing my bags and heading off to Vancouver for a Master’s degree. Once on the West Coast, I wasted no time in joining Out On Campus (SFU’s LGBT collective) and, when classes started, SFP!RG.
It was at Simon Fraser that I finally got to bloom as an activist. I became the maintainer of the OOC web page and maillist; joined the Zine collective, helping to crank out new issues of Antithesis every semester (and contributing my own articles); I wrote a couple of queer-themed pieces for The Peak (the student newspaper), including a feature on homophobia at SFU; in February I subscribed to, and soon became a regular on, the maillist of the SFU pro-life club. I took part in several arguments and discussions on that list, on the Internet, and in private email, and found I actually enjoyed it. It felt good to speak up, confront, take a stand for what I believed in. Good, but also difficult at times, and exhausting. Going up against homophobes and bigots takes energy, and it changes people. At least it changed me: a lot of my youthful optimist disappeared pretty quickly. Never having had to deal with these kinds of people before, I’d imagined that, if I could just talk to them, be openly and unashamedly gay, I could, if not change their minds, then at least make them think. But after seeing my words bounce off a couple of brick walls, I had to drop that fantasy. That, and reading homophobic right-wing literature and left-wing activist literature, showing me what a sorry state this society of ours is in, made me extremely angry and cynical. I’m still basically an optimist, deep down, but mostly in the long term.
Sometimes I wonder what my younger, just-uncloseted self would think of the self I am today. Probably, he/I would be totally intimidated and even a little scared. Frankly, I wouldn’t blame him/me. I’m not particularly fond of my angry activist side. I don’t like reading through right-wing propaganda to learn which arguments are used against us, and how to answer them. And I’m not particularly proud of the fact that part of me does get off on the conflict.
But I won’t stop. I can’t stop; I’ve seen too much, learned too much to turn back now. And it feels good to be part of a movement, to work for something that’s bigger than me. To have, in a word, a cause. And, like the bumper sticker says: Silence = Death, Action = Life.
I used to tell myself that I remembered what it was like for me in the closet, but I’m not sure it’s true anymore. That worries me. I don’t want to lose touch with who I used to be, and with all the other queers who, for whatever reasons, aren’t as out as I am. Another thing that worries me is that I may become even more cynical, lose whatever optimism I still have; or, start enjoying day-to-day conflicts too much, lose sight of my long-term vision.
This isn’t very likely to happen, though: I don’t have to look any further than my circle of activist friends to get a fresh burst of inspiration, of hope, and think
These are the seeds of the future.
So maybe that’s the image I should keep in mind: not of fighting, battles, enemies and allies, but of planting seedsâ€”seeds of choice, of honesty, of acceptance, of questioning, of new possibilities. Some (most?) of them might bounce off people’s heads and hearts, and die. But even if only a few take hold and bear fruit, then that’ll be enough to keep me going.