I’m Coping Very Well by Ignoring Reality

and I cannot stop touching my face

PART 1: Hurray! A Virus that’s not gay!

IN THIS BRAVE, NEW, NOVEL CORONAVIRUS world, I’m not afraid of what I might encounter on the streets, in the produce section of Loblaw’s or on a crowded streetcar. I’m afraid of what I’ll encounter at home. In what should be my eighth-floor isolation tank I’m under siege, for most of my visitors at least occasionally spend their nights in a homeless shelter, and though Public Health Toronto assures me that social distancing and hand-washing are being practised to a rigorous nicety in these minus-five-star hostels, I somehow don’t totally, one-hundred percent buy it.

But no one that I know has died, yet, not even someone that a friend knows, not even a friend’s friend’s friend. Only people on TV have died, statistic people, dots on a graph, pie-chart people. Meanwhile my privileged white brain insists that white guys just don’t get sick.

But do white gay guys get sick?

Hello, heterosexuals. How are you coping?

Those of you who aren’t ornery scofflaws— who defy instructions to practise preventive measures and tell Facebook groups that“more people die of the flu” (which you can’t possibly know, because this pandemic has just begun)—are all in a panic, confused by the conflicting directions—

about using or not using masks (there is little evidence that wearing a mask protects the wearer, unless you are wearing the medical-grade NIOSH-approved masks which are in desperately short supply—in which case you are depriving a healthcare worker of that one and putting her at risk; wearing a simple or home-made mask MAY marginally protect others from you, if you are infected. If you do wear a mask you MUST STILL practice social distancing and be rigorous about hand-washing and about how you touch and dispose of the mask. If your local public health agency has mandated wearing masks, of course you must do so);

about whether you can leave the house or go to the store (I can’t really tell you, it depends on where you live. Generally, yes you can, IF you are not under orders to stay at home or self-isolate, but stay two metres away from people and keep these excursions to the absolute minimum. Listen to, trust and follow the advice of doctors and scientists, NOT politicians.);

or what’s quarantine versus isolation (quarantine is what you do for two weeks when you have no symptoms, no known exposure to the virus, OR what you do if you have recently traveled; isolation is what you do when you’re ill and actively symptomatic, or have known contact with the infected; if this is the case, you are probably under orders to do so. I repeat: Listen to and trust and follow the advice of doctors and scientists, NOT politicians.).

As the days grind into weeks, you’re probably feeling increasingly haunted, like the spooked protagonist in a slasher movie. And you have no omnipotent narrator, you have to piece together what’s happening by yourself, bit by bit.

Your paranoia and anxiety are like a nagging pain that carves sharp outlines around the smallest movement, the most insignificant thought. Someone may be watching you, calling out, “NO! For the love of god, don’t put that fork in your mouth—!!” but they’re in the audience; you’re in the movie.

You’re suddenly realizing that this is serious shit, that the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV2, is lying in wait, everywhere.

Toxic droplets spritz out of the mouths of your co-workers, virus RNA is lurking on the loving hand you caress after dinner, orbiting your cutlery to the sound of the “Blue Danube” Waltz, sewn into your throw cushions and festering on the bathroom sink..

The virus can live, in the right conditions, for hours. Days. A touch, a breath, a few droplets of saliva in the air, and you’ll be infected. You may not know you’re infected, and there is substantial transmission from the estimated twenty-five percent of those infected who are asymptomatic. You could pass the virus on to your partner, your children. The grocery store clerk.

A woman in Vancouver sat on a church pew, contracted the virus, and died.

In fact, seventy per cent of us will contract the virus. But I promise you, we won’t call it the “Straight Disease,” or even the “Wuhan Virus,” because those terms would sound like accusations, as unwarranted and prejudicial as calling HIV a “gay virus” and AIDS the “gay disease.”

I WAS LIVING IN LONDON, ENGLAND, during the 1980s when AIDS invaded our bodies and our minds. I remember the party I attended—this must have been 1981 or early 1982—when we first started talking about the reports that were coming out about a cohort of gay men whose immune systems had broken down, a cluster of cases of rarely-seen opportunistic infections.

The three horsemen of this apocalypse were a horribly disfiguring cancer; a pneumonia so virulent that its victims turned cyanotic; dementia and blindness caused by cytomegalovirus.

The acronym AID had meant artificial insemination by donor: lesbians using turkey basters to beget children without the imposition of a dick. Now it was superseded by “AIDS,” “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.”

“Acquired.” In other words, “lifestyle;” fags behaving badly. The medical establishment thought it was, among other lifestyle choices, “poppers:” amyl nitrate, an inhalant used medically for emergency treatment of angina and recreationally for emergency treatment of inhibition. Its blood pressure-lowering vasodilation and its ability to break down sexual boundaries as you plummeted down its elevator shaft of lust made amyl nitrate, and its country cousin, butyl, the go-to trailer trash intoxicants of the disco era.

The cause of AIDS wasn’t poppers, of course. But the discovery of the Human Immunodeficiency virus, HIV, didn’t come out until many deaths later. AIDS, therefore, is a misnomer, a relic of the few years when no one had a clue, and when taking an interest in a disease that singled out gay men was political suicide. Researchers were desperately attempting to solve the puzzle even as the political establishment, overwhelmingly white, male and Christian, refused to engage—until the mysterious small cohort suddenly exploded into an epidemic too devastating and too ugly to be ignored any longer.

AIDS, with its dramatic fast-track aging, its ability to consume the flesh and leave sufferers emaciated as famine victims, cruelly outed those gay exiles who had hidden their orientation from judgmental family and friends, left home and boogie’d on down the road to whatever big-city paradise of freedom and anonymity shone its glittery light most enticingly.

Now families were finally reunited, but it was a reunion of ashes: fathers holding the skeletal corpses of sons in hospital rooms, bellowing with grief, realizing that their rejection, tacit or explicit, had made them the vector of transmission.

Doris Day, who in her light-hearted film roles was the epitome of the independent career gal brimming with wholesome yet subversive sexuality, is shown on television hugging the wasted frame of Rock Hudson. Rock, in real life her dear friend and a bona-fide queer, is A-list Hollywood royalty, her co-star in a delightful rom-com or two and, as far as the public is concerned, the last word in dreamy, suave, six-foot tall, broad-shouldered heterosexuality. Now the question is: Who will be next?

Not next to get AIDS. Who will be the next person you never thought would be gay, but is? Your son? Your friend? Your hairdresser? Your husband?

The hug is significant: because no one knows yet what causes the disease, no one wants to touch AIDS patients.

A ghastly round of funerals, memorials, cremations becomes social life. These strange things called condoms that no one wants to use. You call a friend you had dinner with two weeks ago, and a friend or family member answers: He’s dead. This gets really interesting when it’s a friend you had sex with two weeks ago.

The first experimental treatments are out: They’re as toxic as chemotherapy, approximately as subtle, and as predictable as snake oil. Gay men are, in effect, laboratory animals. The treatments cause lipodystrophy, a disfiguring rearrangement of fat cells of the body. (Always this savage irony of maiming, of mutilation, in a subculture viciously judgmental of non-ripped bodies, of not-beautiful faces, of un-fabulous, dull, quotidian anything.) You get a hump on your upper back, a real, honest-to-god horror-movie hump, or your face hollows out; you are unrecognizable except as an AIDS Victim.

Gay men, outcasts who’ve long ago accepted their banishment and done their fearful, defiant best to stay out of sight, for their safety and society’s comfort, are made aggressively, offensively visible, marked with the stigmata of shame. Victims, male damsels in distress.

HIV is transmitted through blood contact. For gay men, this means primarily through anal sex. Heterosexuals, of course, have never in the whole history of time, ever, for any reason, practiced anal sex, and, really, how could the sexual practice of disgusting homosexuals be anything but disgusting?

Those who’ve been infected via blood transfusions, in other words, those who are not gay, are referred to in the press as innocent victims, just in case pity or compassion might moisten an eye for queers. This is enthymeme in its most sinister finery: you call gay men architects of their own, deserved destruction, without even mentioning gay men, by calling everyone but gay men “innocent.”

The cloak of deception, once put on, burns through flesh. Already consumed with guilt after hearing ourselves called “queer,” “disgusting” and “pervert” from the time we were able to understand words, we endured the horror of believing, because we were told, that the phantom of our sin was walking amongst us, arm in arm with death as he gathered up his harvest.

It could not be happening, but it was happening. The swollen splotches of blood-colored sarcoma on the faces of cadaverous frontliners who just weeks ago had been beautiful men were the flowers of our evil. We’d murdered our loved ones and sexual partners; even our own bodies loathed us.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the most trusted physician in the US, a distinguished immunologist, and the chief medical advisor to the Trump administration on COVID-19, is a familiar face to me. He was very much present during the AIDS crisis and he speaks to me directly from that time. Frustrated about the direction of AIDS research, he accepted the post of director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in Bethesda, and made it into the world’s biggest source of funding for AIDS research.

Funds were scarce; AIDS research was far from a priority. Reagan had just been elected, and Jerry Falwell, co-founder of the Moral Majority, had said:

“AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals. It is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”

Now that a pandemic affects you, tell me how you feel. Scary, isn’t it? How are you coping? Are you afraid for your loved ones? For yourself?

Feeling a little depressed? Crying? Going stir-crazy? Are you feeling guilty about eating, hugging, shaking hands, going to church, seeing a movie, visiting your mom in the old folks’ home?

Are you having sex? Are you promiscuous?

Are you clean?

Continue to Part 2

Little brother is watching you, aghast, and also ever so slightly enviously.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

AS I STOOD NAKED IN MY KITCHEN THE OTHER MORNING, smoking my first Pall Mall Red of the day, desperate for a pee and staring with pink, watery rabbit eyes at the jars of Colombian Roast, Gold Espresso and Special Regular Blend flash-frozen crystals while debating my options—

—whether I should dredge up a greasy mug from the fetid swamp water of the sink, or boil the water on the stovetop (kettle died, see below), add the instant coffee to that and just drink it right out of the saucepan; what particular mutilations I should perform on the person who used up all the milk then replaced the empty bag, in its plastic jug, back in the fridge; and whether I should throw my last shred of self-esteem under the bus and order that penis-enlarging pump with the special rhino-horn cream from Grommet to counteract the gradual and undeniable process of age-related, disuse-related or indifference-related atrophy—

—I asked myself a question.

We’re all adults? I can talk freely?

Why is it, I wondered, that my default blog post, at least eight times out of ten, is a searing analysis of American, rather than Canadian, political shenanigans and social hooligan-ry?   

This is what being a merciless and unsparing Skewerer of Modern Times entails, and I’m not even mentioning the unrelenting stream of hate mail I receive, which basically consists of pink notices from Canada Revenue insisting that I file my taxes from 2012 onwards while simultaneously remitting forty-thousand dollars; and Bell Canada Fibe promotions addressed to “Occupant”.

Then I went for a pee, and at age sixty-odd and counting I damn well deserve to sit down for this one, at which point I dozed off again on the john.

I awakened with a little scream of confusion, which is how I regain consciousness during a Wagner opera, hoping to be well into the final act then realizing it’s only five minutes later; which is to say, in a state of desperate hope followed immediately by despair. Little by little, and with nominal assistance from Facebook and GPS, I managed to piece together my identify and location coordinates; at which point I felt confident enough to make the coffee, finish the pack of smokes and file for immediate attention that day’s final notices, a process that involves stuffing them into an old leather suitcase that I found on the side of the road four years ago.

My morning calisthenics complete, I felt really quite pulled together and ready to ignore my uncomfortable question and blast ahead into my day of doing the next, doh, obvious thing that doesn’t make any money.

Then I logged on.

The headline on Huffington Post Canada sent shivers down my spine, put my heart on the express elevator to the basement and stood on end the clumps of earlobe and nostril hair that I’d missed during my bi-yearly trim. Unmissable, unfathomable, and in what must have been at least a 24-point display font, probably Helvetica or Gill Sans, was the following, confirming that what I most feared had come to pass (and those of you who read standing up may wish to find a spot on the nearest ottoman post haste, lest you topple over in shock and crash into your vitrine filled with priceless Lalique statuettes):

New Brunswick Government Falls!

I did try to prepare you. Now to address a couple of points, while you let the full import of that headline sink in.

You may be wondering about the kettle thing (see above). Americans don’t drink tea and therefore tend not to have electric kettles, which I discovered during my frequent trips to New York City to stay at the homes of random psychotics that I’d naked-Skyped with. I’d be craving a cup of tea and after an hour or so rummaging around their tiny alcove-kitchen I’d finally shriek, “Where’s your friggin’ kettle, by the grace of Judy, Mother of Liza!?”

And the psychotic would stop for just a sec, stare at me blankly, then go back to boffing whatever trashed up, face-down, GHB’d-out piece of street twink they’d picked up online the previous night.

I hope that clarifies about the kettle thing, and always happy to be of service.

Then there’s the bags of milk. I know you’re all thinking, he means ‘breasts’, but, no, these are actual plastic bags of milk, containing about a quart each, that come packed in three’s inside another bag that’s sealed with a twist tie. You also need to buy a cheap jug that holds the bag of milk so you can pour it out, but first you must take the special miniature tool, containing a tiny razor blade set at an angle, that lives on the top of the handle of the jug, and with this special tool you perform a bris on the corner of the plastic bag of milk.

This requires holding the tip of the corner of the bag with one hand, and with a swift, confident gesture and an optional cry of mazel tov, slicing off that tip of the bag that G-D put there for whatever reason, but that you in your greater wisdom have since determined was a design flaw.

I’m goy, so I compromise by performing a bris that is so hideously botched that the bag of milk is whimpering and reproaching me with a look that cries, “Why you do this to me, bro? Why you spoil that beautiful bag/boy thing we had?” I pour milk into my coffee through the torn, ragged, gaping hole, and despite every effort not to, I imagine the torn udder of a dairy cow who saw the dish run away with the spoon, tried to jump over the moon, miscalculated and ripped herself to shreds on the barbed-wire fence.

This is me. This is Canada. We do things differently up here.

Exhibit A: Moment of truth

New Brunswick Progressive Conservative supporters watch early returns at leader Blaine Higgs’ campaign headquarters in Quispamsis, N.B. on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Read the caption carefully. This is the campaign headquarters of the Progressive Conservative candidate for Premier of New Brunswick, on election night, as the votes come in, and may I just say that provincial stores of Coumadin are surely depleted as these old white guys, median age 173, try to contain their excrement. Or did I mean excitement, I get them mixed up.

Try? Let us give this cartload of pink wrinkles its due: Succeed.

I’m not sure who the dewy young whippersnapper is in the second row, who would seem to be urging them to return to their Beginner Flamenco Class, but I have a hunch that, should they hesitate when presented with their voting card, he would guide their liver-spotted hands to—Brett Higgs? Heinous Bogg? Glans Bipp? At any rate, the other old guy—and help them plant their spidery “x” in the correct square, and no going over the edges.

Exhibit B: Identifying the Liberal

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant delivers the State of the Province address in Fredericton, N.B., on Thursday, January 25, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Stephen MacGillivray

This is Brian Gallant, Premier, or possibly fallen Premier, of New Brunswick. Pretty, yes? Are you kidding? I mean, this is entering serious babe-licious territory. Hunka hunka! Just look at those shoulders! The dimples! The rakish, slightly loosened tie! The sensual, pursed lips that all but scream, “No point in resisting! Run right up, tear open my shirt and suck those nipples! Did I say suck? No, TWIST!

This means he is a Liberal. Let’s try another example:

Just look at those shoulders! The dimples! The rakish, slightly loosened tie! The sensual, pursed lips that… etc, etc.

Are you getting the hang of this?

To sum up: If you look at a male Canadian politician and pop a woody (women and gays) or instantly resent and revile him (hetero white men) be confident that you’re looking at a member of the Liberal Party.

Brian Gallant, by the way, is celebrating after his victory, or is it his fall, I get them mixed up, by singing a bit of “Mon pays,” the celebrated Canadian anthem by Gilles-Antoine-Saint- Saveur-Tabernac-Marie-Joseph Succer-Le-Coq, to demonstrate that, unlike the liver-spotted Progressive Conservative, he is functionally bilingual.

Bigguns Hainely, or whatever, actually refused to debate with Brian Gallant because he doesn’t speak French. Just imagine! If the same standard applied in the U.S., you’d have had Hillary standing there, with Trump going, “I’m sorry, but I can’t speak English real good and I have no ideas because no one talked to me in the last thirty minutes, so go fry your huevos rancheros! I’m outta here!”

And he still would have won. Because speaking English real good is like. You know.


Snow. All Americans think Canada – up there – snow – socialists – mounties which is shallow but efficient, and leaves you more time to run out and lay waste to some black kids who were unwrapping their Mars bars, but you were absolutely convinced they were reaching for their assault weapons, and how could you be expected to think otherwise?

I get it.

Or shut down birth control and eradicate abortion (except the same number of abortions will take place, just with coat hangers and bowls of dishwashing liquid). You don’t trust killing anything that doesn’t look you right in the eye and scream before it starts bleeding, and you sure as fucktard-ery don’t trust anyone who bleeds for three days and doesn’t die!

I mean, women are all very well in their place, but seriously, what’s that my-little-visitor-got-the-curse icky nonsense all about? Even Ann Coulter, that embarrassing waste of non-aborted fetal personhood, thinks she’s got balls, but here’s the acid test: Can she write her name in the snow? We thought so! Out of our tree-house, girl-pundit! Your free man-pass is up!

Honestly, I get it.

You get to trill, as you pluck at the petals of a daisy, “Pull out of Syria… Bomb Syria… Russia’s the enemy…. Russia’s not the enemy …. He sucks my cock… He sucks my cock not…” and call that foreign policy because you’re The Man. You Are America and You Go Big and Never Go Home, and Nobody Pushes You Around.

I so very, very muchly get it. No, seriously, I do.

You don’t just reflexively dislike Nancy Pelosi then admit she’s a pretty admirable bit of high-class, high-functioning career politician, and, frankly, kinda hot, too, with her MILF-y, nay, GILF-Y, seen it all, done it all, one-of-the-boys redoubtable air. Oh, no. That’s the Canadian way.

You Hate Nancy Pelosi. Hate her beyond all reason and expression. Nancy Pelosi, despite having all the cred even a social conservative should want—devout Catholic, raised her kids then had her career—is, of course, a Grade A, grass-fed, hormone-free Bitch, and an ambitious, ball-breaking Commie Bitch to boot. And she is sparkly clean; you have nothing on her except the unfortunate accident of her sex, so you willfully set about activating every male brain stem, stirring up its ingrained, atavistic revulsion against any ambitious, powerful, rich, successful female.

She must be styled bitch, because she was apparently born to do what she is doing so well as the single most effective Speaker in living memory, male or female. Think of it: Whatever she has set out to do, she has accomplished. Everything.

She’s so effective at whipping the Dems, so brilliant at legislative strategy, compromising with the insubstantial (abortion amendment) to get the substantial (universal coverage), such a dogged, pragmatic, confident, take-no-prisoners, speaking-truth-to-power leader through—how many Presidents? That’s right, and now that she’s in a position to tell her underlings, which is everyone, what to do, they tremble in their conservatard boots and they quake in their rookie libtard pinafores and they do it.

Forget Joan Crawford: Don’t fuck with Nancy Pelosi, fellas. Whoever you are, she’s fought bigger sharks than you.

And that whispery, whooshy, crinkly sound, building in volume as it rumbles from Capitol Hill to Twin Peaks like a crescendo of ruched draperies being flung from the grimy, ante-bellum windows of Tara, is the sound of old white guy scrotums reflexively retracting, and I’m betting only Nancy knows when, if ever, those shriveled testes will ever descend again.

You Hated, still Hate, Hillary. Like the earth is flat, Hillary’s a child-molester; Hillary, who spent half a lifetime advocating for children’s rights and made some of the most important contributions to jurisprudence in that area of law. Like the moon landing didn’t happen, Hillary’s corrupt; Hillary, who took a deep breath and steered her family with whatever dignity was possible through a nightmare of scandal and bad publicity after her white-trash hubby thought assuming the Presidency was like driving a red convertible down Main Street on Saturday night: look at that great piece of tail hey girls wanna go for a spin on this?

Noam Chomsky, George Soros, those old Jews, had you manufacturing consent as they ruled the media and upped the stats from the greatly-exaggerated Holocaust, but you do them one better.

You manufactured the truth.

What’s up in Canadian politics? Trudeau, the Prime Pretty One, the Luscious Liberal-in-Chief, long on talk of reconciliation and global warming until the conversation turns to oil; the dreary, carping Andrew Scheer, sleazy snake-oil salesman of the Evangelical right; Andrea Horwath, whose droid, social democratic heart is in the right place, but who can’t yet pass the Turing test.

Same old, same old, in other words, which is to say same as you guys but with less conviction.

And our alt-right freaks? Thinkkk Faith Goldy, our very own Mädchen in uniform; and that’s a suspiciously Jew-y name for a white supremacette, but we have less people, we need to double up, sometimes.

Think Jordan Peterson, petulant man-boy, rather overly invested in the proper traditional gender-role training of young males, a training which clearly passed him by; a public embarrassment of tired misogyny and silly rants about “political correctness,” discussions that were passé thirty years ago. Mr Peterson holds prissy black-tie town halls—I’m sure he wears his best suits when he flies tourist class or shops the local mall—town halls at which he voices contempt, to his papered house and with a little too much drama, a few too many campy postures, for the liberal worldview that gave him the freedom to voice his contempt in the first place; he clutters up YouTube with solemn diatribes about “censorship” even as he reaches the eyeballs if not the hearts of worldwide audiences.

Oh, Jordan! You’re such a little kidder!

But we haven’t elected Jordan Peterson to anything, because he’s not a politician, yet, just another court jester; just a university professor, and considering what and how and to whom he professes we just can’t take him seriously; we sense the sociopath behind the smile.

See what I mean? Canadians just don’t have the Manifest Destiny mindset; we can’t help fumbling the pass. You set the agenda; we respond, but we’re just too progressive to keep daily tabs on who’s enraged, who’s the enemy and who’s supposed to be more equal than the others.

Celine Dion cries at a Paris fashion show! Now that’s news! Stop the presses! Even snow has us undone; after one January day of usual snowfall for a January day in Canada, it’s #snowmaggedon. We just can’t cope with the apocalyptic anymore.

And that fall of the New Brunswick government? My insomnia is out of control and, relapsed alcoholic that I am, I’m eyeing the bottles of Canadian Club rye, the cans of ginger ale, and I’m licking my lips. God help me if Fredericton ever reduces the opening hours at The Beaverbrook Gallery!

There’s only so much stress a boy can take.