Curious about what our bigger city cousins have stuffed in their health care package I walk into the HIM clinic, the Health Initiative for Men, off Davie and Burrard in Vancouver, B.C. .So convenient. I visit Vancouver a few times a year. I prefer the size and island flavor of Vic-town but am interested to see how fast Van is changing. HIM is a resilient example of those changes. This damn syphilis epidemic makes me nosy about what is being done in the big smoke. I wonder if Victoria, B.C. can safely piggy back on what they’re up to in terms of queer wellness.
I strut into the gay neighborhood health clinic and immediately see a friend. Gordon, a strappingly handsome 6’2” lad radiates a smile that is somehow both innocent and wise. He grew up just down the road from my husband Mark and I on Salt Spring Island. A few years back he and his mom stopped in to thank us. Gordon said seeing our rainbow flag flying each year gave him courage to come out. Four years later he’s pumped into the city scene, including volunteering on behalf of the health of queer men and allies. We’re proud Faery god-parents.
He shuffles me into the nurse’s office and instantly I fall into a crush. Nurse Irv has a big heart and doe-like eyes. I offer him my arm - but before he takes it we talk about the severity of this syphilis outbreak. Seeing I’m not shy, he dives into the stats. 50 positive results in Vancouver a month! While in the mid-teens in Victoria, he says, it’s spreading. I ask how the BC Centre for Disease is getting the word out to us? He says they have been very careful for fear of further stigmatizing gay and/or HIV-positive people. The hard truth is that the highest rate of infection is in our communities and HIV folks are particularly vulnerable.
I shudder to think that the other rapidly spreading epidemic of stigma has reached such a feverish pitch that our own health officials have to ponder how to get information out. In the past when there was a problem we rang the village bells. IMHO, it’s a dangerous precedent when fear impacts decision makers so blatantly. The news is finally out. We have a local Victoria campaign brewing, “Testing is a drag, do it anyway” to be led by a sassy bunch of performance artists. In the meantime I suggest talking it up amongst your networks. I recruit my lovers to tell their buddies to get tested. “Hey, have you heard…” works at generating conversation and most importantly action. Test, and test again.
That said, as a sex positive poz man I’m glad to sit with a gay nurse who makes me feel at home. We see each other as allies lovingly committed to our communities. The equation works when you work it: when I take care of my health I take care of my communities’ health. Simple.
Yet challenging when we still struggle as fags to find ourselves as and in a community. In the meantime, I am committed to test every two to three months. As I left Irv gave me a big hug. I felt summer erupt in my veins. Sexy.
I dished with Gordon a bit but the noon hour bustle of flirting gay men kept him busy. We kissed and said goodbye. I felt loved, cared for and delighted to be queer. As I turned to leave a man came into see a peer counselor. He had a smile on his face and walked into the adjoining office to greet the gay counselor. Here was a space for gay men to talk about our gay lives. Health care that puts the emphasis on care. Smart.
Showing each other we care. It starts with testing. When we do it our way, it ends with a hug.
Originally written for the newsletter "Men's Briefs."