Where do we go from here?
Wow…life! How wonderful. I feel this way sometimes, but I keep trying to move onward with dignity, why? I feel a connection to life, a purpose you might say…to prove to myself and others that it is beautiful. Music, arts, relationships…the list goes on and on and on. I do manage to still love life…through the pain, sorrow, losses, ignorance, devastation..the list goes on and on and on
A couple of other quotes from Dennis Shepard - “to show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy….”you robbed me of something very precious and I will never forgive you for that.”
I felt robbed the day I found out I was HIV+. I was extremely scared that I would be dead within a year. This news was delivered to me when I had to go alone for my appointment as my partner at the time was driving in the US on his job, and I broke the news that night over the phone. My partner was the one who suggested I get tested, as I was constantly battling chronic fatigue. Of course I figured it was due to having just recently retired from my career. I travelled extensively across Canada when I began performing professionally. When becoming partners we both had so many challenges facing us.’Where do we go from here?"
First off, I was told by my family physician that he would no longer be able to treat me as his patient. I have no knowledge of HIV, he states so he puts us in touch with the London health sciences centre, where we both had to receive counseling. Considering how many years HIV/AIDS had already been around, there were still very few places you could turn to.
A couple of years went by and we decided to move to Kitchener, where we both took on volunteering heavily with a local AIDS organization. My HIV doctor, Dr. Janet Gilmour at London health sciences centre, referred me to Dr. Gary Gibson in Cambridge. His HIV expertise eventually took him to British Columbia where he unfortunately passed away. Dr Gibson was not only my physician, but he and his partner became extremely close friends of ours.
I eventually began seeing another doctor briefly in Toronto, and then began receiving care in London again with Dr. Ralph. I decided to end my relationship with my partner 10 years later; however, we’re still roommates to this day. The HIV world was getting to me I guess, always being reminded daily by having to take medications, even my volunteer work suffered for awhile.
Over the next few years I began volunteering again, and got myself involved with the Ontario AIDS Network in Toronto, representing southwestern Ontario with respect to becoming a member of the PHA caucus. I eventually met a gentleman through this organization and we became partners. He was a wonderful person, who represented the eastern provinces of Ontario, and very committed to the AIDS movement in general. Our relationship eventually became one of long distance phone calls every night. My own health was deteriorating and when he eventually lost his battle and passed on, I was not able to attend his funeral. My former partner became very close friends with him and did however attend his funeral.
I eventually lost so much weight; I began collapsing, weighing only 90 lbs. I was transported to intensive care at university hospital in London, where I spent 2 weeks, having been diagnosed with a parasite. Of course I was constantly quarantined; however, family and friends still were able to visit. Upon first waking up, I believe my niece and her 2 children were there with several others. My great-niece was wearing these incredibly geeky glasses that made me laugh within. I was not able to even talk at this stage. Wow, am I ever glad they did not have to transport me to Thunder Bay; I’d probably not be here today to share my story. Those were my two choices ..hello? My potassium had dropped to severe levels, that I was informed my heart could stop by increasing my levels and did I want them to use the paddles if necessary.
Prior to and during the few months that I was continually losing weight, I had chosen to take a drug holiday, figuring it may be the medications I was becoming resistant to. I eventually was referred to Dr. Steingart in Waterloo as my health would not allow me to travel long distances. I had, however, just begun seeing Dr. Steingart when I had been admitted to the hospital. My immune system was so compromised that contacting the parasite nearly killed me.
I guess this is as good a time as ever, to indicate the impact that HIV/AIDS has had on the world at large, and multiply that by 10. I guess this is a strong indicator to signify the impact this disease can have on a single person living with it. I’ve said in my public speaks sometimes, that I feel there has been unjustifiable proportions of stigma attached to this disease as well. I state this because I feel I’ve been challenged at times throughout my life for being HIV+, and that this has caused me to become unworthy as a citizen. I know this all sounds extremely harsh, however, with being a homosexual, which simply means to me you have love for another person of the same sex…end of conversation. I often think about the loss of valuable time, waiting for our governments to decide if we're worthy of getting married, or adopting children, which god knows, there are plenty of children that need good homes and up-bringing. So what, if they have 2 mother’s or 2 father’s…wow!
This makes me feel as well, that my life was unworthy from the beginning, simply because I was put up for adoption. What a wonderful thing my biological parents did then, to put me up for adoption, so that I would have a fair chance in life.
Memorizing of the script is going alright I suppose. We have our first group rehearsal this next week, the prologue only, so we still have a long ways to go. Unfortunately, my friend decided not to partake in the play, however, the role has been filled and I wish us all luck in taking this on for ourselves.
Dennis Shepard – "Matt’s beating, hospitalization and funeral focused worldwide attention on hate. Good is coming out of evil. People have said enough is enough! I miss my son, but I am proud to be able to say that he is my son."
As I stated earlier – the choice of life or death for Mr. McKinney, is in the hands of Matthew’s father. The whole thing is ripping his family apart.
I’ve been sitting here for awhile now, trying to think of the biggest challenge I’ve had throughout my own life. If I had to say off the top of my head, it would be when I was fired from the Alberta Ballet Company, after a 2 ½ yr duration with them. Looking back at this moment, it really is hard to remain neutral in life sometimes. Everything I had worked for up to this point was ripped away right under my feet. I was numb from head to toe.
I was in a company rehearsal, and doing the lead role in Coppelia. I suddenly lashed out at one of the other dancers, and to this day, I’m not sure what I even said to him. All I know is that this person was the boyfriend of the girl I was doing the lead role with, and knew for sometime already that there was some jealousy on his part. I was always one to put 110% into the role I was playing, and the lead role as Franz is an obnoxious character. Looking back now, I’m certain that I was having a bit of a nervous breakdown. Anyhow, this just so happened to take place during the afternoon on the day we were to debut the performance that evening, at the jubilee auditorium in Edmonton.
The following day on the front page of the entertainment section in the Edmonton Sun it read I was fired from the Alberta Ballet Company due to obnoxious behaviour, and that I had been scheduled to perform last evening’s lead role as Franz, in their production of Coppelia. This article I also kept, as I did them all of course. I did however, go on to perform for Les Ballet Classique de Montreal for 1 year. Then I went onto Toronto to dance with the Ontario Ballet Theatre for 2 years, before I finally decided to retire. Ironically, the Ontario Ballet Theatre not only performed in the theatres, but we also travelled to local schools in the greater Toronto areas. Funny how this is the way it all began for me. I guess you could say I came full-circle with my career.
I purposely didn’t mention that my first professional contract was with the Atlantic ballet company in Halifax, NS. This of course was the company I thought I might even be having my entire career with, and set a course for me that I might not have chosen otherwise. I was so young, Matthew’s age to be exact----21 going on 22 yrs old. Having just realized this, it sent chills up my spine.
My eagerness to strive for perfection meant more hard work. I joined Gold’s Gym and started a program for myself. I eventually met someone that I became good friends with, and we’d schedule our times together to meet and workout. In time, we realized we were both gay, and started dating. This gentleman was not only a beautiful person that had come into my life, but he had set his own career to be a doctor (pathologist). Before things got too mushy, he had informed me that he was married with one child. He had for some time been aware of his attraction for men, and even had these conversations openly with his wife. In time I was brought into the picture, as this gentleman was realizing that I was the person he desired to be with. His ex-wife is also a wonderful, wonderful, person and did not want to hold her husband back. She did however, ask him to bear her one more child. He agreed, and they happily went on with their own lives. Unfortunately, the company I was with never got funding for their 2nd season.
As I mentioned, this was the beginning of my wanting to become a professional dancer. I had been training for this, since I was 10 years old. This tore us apart of course; he even made me my own music CD to listen to, while I travelled across the country to Alberta, for stage 2 of my professional career.
Laramie Project poster by Michelle Mantle of eMbox Design