As queer people, regardless of what makes us different from each other, we have unique challenges we all share in staying alive, ones that are not as easy to articulate in an era of rights and freedoms on paper and often token tolerance.by Ted Kerr
At times the noise recedes. And it is beautiful.
For the last 2 weeks I have taken up jogging. I like to say running but as my friend Marshall pointed out one has to be going a certain speed to be considered running, otherwise it is jogging.
On these jogs I plug in my ipod, cross the high level bridge, go down into the river valley then come back over on the LRT (subway) foot bridge, up the hill to Ezio Farone park and then make it home through back allies.
At first while jogging my mind was a wall of sound, all the voices of the day, emails not sent, gossip sites read and news of the world weighing on my head and so my shoulders, my body, my legs and seeping into the ground below. These early jogs were brutal.
Slowly, as I began to relax, the wall came down and my mind disappeared. I felt lighter. Sometimes it would be gone just for a moment, other times I would find myself on the final leg home and realize my mind had turned off, and I let my muscles do the work. Often times upon returning my mind would be singularly clear. One thought would be so sharp I would understand the totality of it.
The most reoccurring of thoughts when my mind would return was of death. One time specifically, then subsequently many times after, I thought about how of the 6 funerals I have attended in my adult life 3 have been for grown queer men who have taken their own lives.
How is this happening? I would think. Why are arguably the least oppressed and most supported group among the LGBT community the ones who are leaping to their death while others stay and solider on? What is missing in these men, in our communities and in our culture that these men, for whom life could be and should be easier than for most, cannot make it?
These thoughts and questions on death would follow me into my non-jogging day but not always cut through. Instead the memory of three men and the countless others like them, would simply become part of the noise-a frustrating fury echoing the state of things. In between cutting vegetables or while sitting on a bus, while reading a book or locking up my bike I would find myself getting upset at what I perceived to be the lack of coping skills of the 3 men and those like them born into relative privilege. I would think about how in the face of transphobia, racism and misogyny within the gay community, the growing number of queer homeless youth in Edmonton, and countless other issues, it was hard to focus on the needs or white middle class gay guys (my own needs included). Other times I would find myself getting mad at the world around that failed them and at my own assumptions that they should have been able to take care of themselves. I would wonder where my grace was.
And then from a pop symphony of discordant noises a clarifying beat took over, an aching yell called out, a chorus created a new unified wall of sound that cut through even the receding noise. Michael Jackson died and death was everywhere. His white, privileged, sexually ambiguous body was lifeless and I was beside myself. I was awash in possibly misplaced grief and the hypocrisy of my false hierarchy of needs. Not a week earlier I was trying to intellectualize the death of 3 men, while in the wake of Jackson’s death I was letting my emotions rule, mourning a man I never even knew. Again I had to ask- where was my grace?
As much as my simple mind would like to insert race, class and privilege in to the conversation around suicide and the needs of others, there is a time to look past these things. Living is a complex web of relations and reasons, desires and direction, hope and happenstance- all of which is often troubled by, among other factors, sexual orientation.
As queer people, regardless of what makes us different from each other, we have unique challenges we all share in staying alive, ones that are not as easy to articulate in an era of rights and freedoms on paper and often token tolerance. Regardless of the work we do, the communities we serve, the people we march for, the things we stand for, we need to look out for each other, put agendas aside and connect as people.
Maybe for people reading this column, this is stuff that they already knew, grace as something that comes second nature. For me as I continue my journey of letting the sun warm my face, my heart beat faster and my feet pound the pavement grace is something renewed inside of me, something I hope helps not only me but anyone else that needs it.
On both the north and south side of the High Level Bridge in Edmonton where I run, facing west someone has affixed a key lock. Sometimes when running my eye catches the gleam off the metal and I smile. I need to believe that the simple marker of a lock, something suppose to keep valuables safe, is a message to those who are feeling lost to hold on to not let go.
Cue Michael Jackson: You Are Not Alone.