Tuesday, December 8, 2015


"Don't stare." It's what parents tell their kids when caught looking at a woman in a wheelchair, a teen whose walk is impacted by cerebral palsy or a blind man who navigates with a cane. (Not that the blind man would notice but we're quick to correct.)

Children, of course, are naturally curious. Why is that woman in a wheelchair? Why does that boy walk like that? How does that stick help the blind man? Difference draws attention. It always has. As we get older, as we are properly socialized, we look away, we don't intrude with question. We're not necessarily more enlightened. We see through rather than see. In looking away, we eliminate the unnerving gaze but we also take away the opportunity for a smile. Guilt, self-consciousness and persistent training—"I said, 'Don't stare!'"—get in the way of a momentary connection...or something even greater. We settle for tolerance instead of understanding.

I heard my inner voice say, "Don't stare!" as I jogged along the seawall on Sunday. Yes, I suppose I was staring. I'd spotted a difference and I was both curious and awed. Sad that I should have either response. I should know better.

It was a cool day but there were throngs of people walking the seawall. We were experiencing a gap between the rains. And the forecast called for rain for as far as the forecasters dared to reach. I am rather certain I stared at no one else during my seventy-minute jog. I had Carly Rae Jepsen ditties and water views to hold my attention. People merely represented moving pylons I had to dodge.

But this man caught my eye. He hadn't adjusted to the chill. As he walked, he tucked his head into the body of his companion as if to block winds I couldn't detect. His arm locked with his partner's. Oh, yes, you guessed it. The arm of another man.

And I stared.

I'm gay and still I stared.

Just for a fraction of a second. I wasn’t gawking. It was more like, Did I just see that? Because in this day and age, in a country as progressive as Canada, in a city that is even more progressive than the national average, I still thought for a moment that my eyes were playing tricks on me.

Despite all our gains and all the talking about achieving equality, we're not there yet. It remains a sight to behold that two men should walk arm and arm far, far away from any Gay Pride Parade and on the other side of the water from Davie Village and Vancouver's West End. Maybe it was the cold that made them not give a crap over encountering a jogger who stares.

I have seen men hug and kiss thousands of times. At parades. In bars. On dance floors. We are comfortable in the Gay Zones, official and otherwise. Still, while we may be technically equal, we're not as free. Not yet. And so walking arm in arm in a random public space still seems different.

Shouldn't be. Shouldn't trigger a double-take. But it does.


Rick Modien said...
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Rick Modien said...

How shall I put this? I'm not sure you want to hear from me, but I still read your blog and enjoy it. And, in this case, I think I have something to contribute.

I returned from a trip to Disneyland yesterday evening, and I relate to what you wrote about here–seeing possibly the worst and the best, both of which I couldn't help look at.

Walking up to the Subway on Harbor, near Katella, I saw a street man like I've never seen before, rummaging through the garbage can outside the door. Of course, he wore the usual filthy clothes, far too heavy for the hot weather, and looked dreadful. But what separated him from all the other street people I've seen was his mouth–black, deformed in a way I can't describe, hanging open, with long strings of saliva dripping from it. I was both horrified and deeply-moved by what I saw.

On the flip side, I saw a handsome, well-dressed, young black man near the baggage carousel at LAX. Turns out he was waiting for his handsome, young, well-dressed white boyfriend. I admit I stared as they hugged and kissed, like they hadn't seen each other in a long time, not because I was shocked, but because I was deeply moved by their beauty, honesty, and courage–so much so, that a tear came to my eye. I smiled at them as they walked away.

We can't help look at people; it's what we do. It's also how we look at them that makes the difference. If we look at them with compassion, and understanding, and admiration, then how can we be criticized for doing something we were (perhaps wrongly) taught not to do?