Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How is Samuel Galloway healthy?

Samuel is a featured panelist on our last gay men's health forum of they year - "We're Taking Pleasure Back" - November 11 at the Center on Halsted. Click here for more info and to RSVP for this free, fantastic forum.

I realized I am a healthy gay man when I realized there is a difference between gay concepts of health and straight concepts of gay health.

For my parents, for instance, living a "gay lifestyle" was tantamount to a death-sentence, whether because some homophobe thug would beat me to death (Matthew Shepard's murder had recently been seared into the collective unconscious) or because, quite simply, every sexual encounter with another gay man bore the seal of death. For my parents, health meant monogamy, and abstinence until then. It meant avoiding nightclubs and bars, and "passing" when on the streets. It meant, in other words, "health" meant living in constant fear of sickness or danger.

For a long time I allowed myself to be governed by this bizarre view of health, but increasingly it didn't match-up with the lives of my friends, the ways they lived and loved, and cared for themselves and one another. It became quite clear that "health" wasn't the absence of sickness, but rather an active practice of living.

I am very lucky to have such stellar exemplars of living a healthy life in my friends--some of whom are positive, but who refuse to see their status as a death-sentence. They gave me the courage to discover inventive ways of staying physically active, practicing safe-sex practices while also avoiding the almost endemic awkwardness that usually goes hand-in-hand it "the question," and to simply view my life through a different lens.

It wasn't easy--learning to live as a gay man without being haunted by the specters of standards past is a process that takes time and devotion. I had to "unlearn" the guilt that was so deeply ingrained in my mind and struck so pointedly whenever I went out to dance with friends, or would go on a date with a charming stranger. Yet, strange as it may sound, I don't blame my parents--quite the opposite! I can see their reactions as symptomatic of a general social understanding of gay culture.

And, as I've had to struggle against such views, I've become empowered. I trust my own judgments like never before, and I've learned to trust my friends and their judgments, too. Learning to think and judge for myself, ironically, put me in exactly the position my parents always wanted: healthy, affirmative, and proud. Over time, they've come to see this, too, and their own understanding of "health" has changed in the process.

There are real dangers out there--that is not in dispute. But, learning how to navigate those straits is intimately bound-up in claiming one's own healthy body anew, and to fashion practices that affirm, rather than repress, the life we want to live.

There is no "universal law" that governs and orders what health is or isn't; instead, health is a personal and communal process of life, and this means always committing ourselves to the ideals we cherish. As a community, we are well underway in this process, and so many young queers are able to look to us as exemplars of healthy gay life--a gift of a new tradition and culture of health we should happily embody.

-- Samuel Galloway

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