Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Cows and their Wranglers.

He walked slowly, with that classic cowboy strut that you find so mesmerizing and masculine but is just awkward enough that you are certain it is the gait that develops from spending 20 years riding a horse and slowly twisting and turning the shape of your hip bones so that they can get a more secure grip on the quadruped’s back. It is just barely unattractive.

His shirt was striped. Opposing forces of deep purple and an ocean-spray of blue. A dress shirt that was sorely being misused as a work shirt. He rarely wears these shirts when he isn’t working – I could tell he was just coming into town quickly. In fact I’ve only ever seen him in t-shirts – the bane of the male body; they never display everything that is going on just quite as well as a dress shirt does.

The T-shirt is like the speaker at a protest that tells all the facts and nothing more. The Dress Shirt tells all the facts, makes you understand why their important, has a little bit of charm and a heavy dosage of sex, and makes you fall in love. (On a side note, I really should start wearing dress shirts more often).

His brow was still sweating. It’s been really hot outside for a couple of days.

The other nice thing about dress shirts is that they can be altered. Sometimes they can worn with a tie. Other times they can have the first button undone. Sometimes the second, or the third.

In this case, the third.

I saw hair on the chest of a man whom I only allowed myself to think of as a post-pubescent but hairless child. I judged him by his level of maturity – a poor standard as he is a stellar man, but the standard I have decided to use. Besides, he couldn’t grow facial hair if he really tried – how am I to imagine that he has hair on his chest? (How am I supposed to stop imagining where else he might have hair and the different mazes and shapes that the collected mass of each strand forms?)

He leaned in. I could feel my groin tingling with sensation. Stop.

“Hey. Is Carson in here?”

No, I haven’t seen him.

“Oh, that’s the truck that he usually drives out there.”

Oh, which one is that? – He pointed.

His name is Brock.

As he walked away his slightly deformed gait was all the more attractive – and yet, not free of criticism. (Besides, he could much more easily wrap his legs around me than he could around an 800 pound stallion.)

I need to find a man to dance with.

The Rural Municipality of Prison and other Townships

So Val Marie has put me in a position that I would wish upon nobody.

I love this town - I love my job. I love that every evening I get to see an incredible sunset, or I can go for a bike ride through a well-protected and advancing National Park. I can go for a hike through the park and discover new wildflowers, new terrain, and new wildlife. When you work for a park with over 15 endangered animal species and another 30 endangered plants, you always, always get the sense that you may just find something that has been seen for a very long time.

I've found cairns, arrowheads, dinosaur bones - things that have not been known of for many thousands or millions of years. This is just part of my job. A fantastical day at the office.

And yet...

I've not been able to sleep for the past couple of nights though. And there is no good reason to be offered except for an intense fear that has been a whispering memory for the past year but that choked the vitality out of my life in the twenty odd years that existed before that.

I am afraid of being myself in Val Marie. This stairway to heaven is creaking a bit too much - I'm uneasy here. I'm hiding in masks that I didn't know I had anymore.

The casual bigotry, homophobia, hatred that suffocates me is expressed in that most-vile of all weapons - humour. I am not the only victim; I should be thankful that I am not Metis or Indian. But it is very casual - just as I remember it being in high school.

De facto.

As though nothing else has ever existed, and nothing else has any reason to exist.

The place in which I find myself is a prison of open prairie. Its as though I was released from my fear, my hatred of the world, my refusal to be myself for a short period and then reminded of the reality of my environment. I've pushed myself back into my cell. Closed the door. Locked it - hidden the key in Regina.

I knew this was going to happen. I just had no idea it was going to hurt this much. I don't even remember what its like to talk about men. The vocabulary is lost.

Last night I texted a friend of mine in Halifax, asking her to remind me that it was ok to be gay. It surprised me that I was silently crying in my bed - courteous and selfish enough to not want to wake my ever-present roommates.

I am so alone.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Where the Iron Curtain Persists.

A European Union Human Rights Court that has been deliberating a case presented by a gay Austrian couple about the right to marriage being a fundamental right has presented its findings. And it isn't exactly looking all that good for European people who have a strange, though completely natural, attraction to people of the same sex.

Or, for simplicity's sake, people like myself.

The court decided that the right to marry is not a fundamental human right, and as a result, the refusal (I prefer the term failure, personally) to grant the right of marriage to same-sex couples is not recognized by the court as representative of a breach of equality rights legislation.

I'm sure that makes sense to somebody, somewhere. Apparently that somewhere being in Europe.

My immediate response to this is to consider how this is going to affect my own personal life. I do not hide my interest in living in Europe, including in those nations that refuse to grant same-sex unions any sort of official recognition. There is fascinating history there that should be read.

But instead I am going to look into how this may affect gay couples in Europe. In many parts of Europe (I believe six countries) same-sex couples can get married. In many other parts they can be granted a civil union recognized (seven other countries). Eleven member countries in the European Union refuse to offer any sort of recognition to them. For some reason, the same love is denied the same rights.

Europe is a fascinating continent though. There are parts of Europe that have been leaders in granting same-sex couples state recognition and state benefits. Other parts are still stuck in the past - caught in an era of pre-Stonewall Riot intensity in fighting the "maniacal spread of homosexuality" amongst the population.

This is most true in those nations that were once satellite states of the Soviet regime. Under the regime of most of the Soviet states (and the socialist in me is pained by this unfortunate reality), homosexuality was illegal. It never received the recognition of state officials, it was never given the chance for tolerance in society because people refused to come out of the closet - they refused to out themselves, to be shipped off, and to never be seen or heard from again.

It is no longer illegal to be homosexual in any of the European states. But, judging by the social reality, it might as well be.

I can recall the moment when I was granted the right to marry. As I've mentioned before, I walked around school with a silent and hidden grin inside - I was happy. Joyful even. For the first moment in my life, I saw the hint that I could have a future - there was hope. There was the acknowledgment that I could be myself, regardless of the hatred that I sensed in my environment - and that I could be myself for the rest of my life. Disregard the fact that I stayed in the closet for another 6 years. I was joyful for one day.

I must also note that society has responded to the granting of same-sex couples the right to marry very, very positively. There has been a shift - a tremor in the ground that has altered the foundation of society. Suddenly, after getting used to it a bit, after attending a ceremony or two celebrating the love shared between two men or two women, society accepts gay marriage - accepts homosexuality. Not totally. Maybe accept is even the wrong term - it is a helluva lot closer to tolerance. But it has been felt by myself and everybody else.

But the state took a step, with less than 50% of popular support, on my behalf - it took an enormous risk, and it changed Canada as a result. Thank God.

Perhaps Europe, and the European Union Human Rights Court would like to take a note about this. The fact is that consensus is not going to take place in my life - but by forcing society to change for the better of the minority, Canadians have learned to accept the gay community just that much more. I refuse to accept that Europe, even though the fight is harder, would be different.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Life's a Dance.

I wonder if they can feel it. That moment of hesitation just before you say yes. Can they sense the insincerity of the touch, the eyes - the words? Can they smell it in the air.

Is there something even more primitive than this that triggers the question?

Last night I went out for a night on the town. Not much of one, because Val Marie is a town of 100 people and because I worked this morning at 8 am and had to be ready to interact with really enthusiastic flower-lovers as we hiked through the park and I showed them the dozens of plants that are currently in bloom. But it was still a night on the town.

I drank two Coca- Colas. Which is a lot for me - and which is far better than two Pilsner - which is repeatedly the worst beer available in Saskatchewan. It really is an unfortunate drink - horse urine. Even worse when you watch people pay to consume it.

Anyways, there was a concert in Val Marie last night. An Irish Soul Singer named Stephen McGuire. It was relatively enjoyable - and there were certainly moments that hinted at a talent far greater than what he exhibited last night. He convinced me that owning a loop pedal is a good thing, and that minimalism can be infectious.

Last night involved dancing. Particularly the two step.

So I danced. The two step. With the only partner I have ever known - a woman. It was quite funny how it is that we danced; long story short, she was forced to ask me by means of humour and embarassment.

I had fun. We sang a long to My Girl by The Temptations together.

I enjoyed the irony.

And looked forward to the day when I would be two-stepping with a man instead.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Just add water.

Last night I went out fishing at the Val Marie Municipal Reservoir. Despite not catching anything than the occasional boulder with my hook, I had a blast. For four hours. Good fun with good people.

Tonight I went swimming at the same place – the Val Marie Municipal Reservoir. It was quite hot today, so a small group of young adults wanted to head down and cool off.

Now – anybody familiar with swimming at beaches (or in general) is familiar with the general routine. People meet, promenade to the beach, and then miraculously agree to take off almost all of their clothing in front of everybody else.

That happened tonight, and I happened to discover a God in Val Marie. His name is Jeff. His is a name that will likely be whispered in my dreams. The first thing in Val Marie that is in my age group and is worth looking at, and who, despite his country upbringing, is one helluva nice guy.

As one of the millions of people in the world inflicted with a challenge known to some as “four-eye-ism”, I had to take off my glasses and become essentially blind to objects more than 3 inches from my face. I still played the dangerous game of Frisbee in the lake with my friends – often taking peeks at this man and imagining just how the muscles on his body were twisted and warping as he maneuvered not-so-gracefully in the rock-laden shallow water.

After twenty three years of training, I have gotten to be quite adept not only at peeking at things that I likely shouldn’t be peeking at (in my sexual profession, you’ve got to take the chances you get), and even better at filling in the blurriness of my vision with incredible details.

Jeff was Adonis. The great Statue of David, prancing around with his shirt off only feet from me. Stunning.

My room-mate who came with me said that one of the girls who joined us (there was an even split of three and three), Danae, was an attractive woman. “Man, I just find Danae so hot!” I smiled and laughed. Honestly, I couldn’t deny it – Danae really is quite hot. I was wanting to say the same thing about Jeff.

But I’ll never get to be anything but straight in Val Marie. How boring.

He’s blonde. Has an incredible smile – has just enough attitude to be called personality.

And his hair is curly.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I promised myself I wouldn't think of you today. That I wouldn't be reminded of the way your pants wrap around your legs with the perfection of a painting; how your arms fill your sleeves. Your smile shines. I wasn't going to let myself remember your name. Or the way that the left edge of your upper lip curls into your mouth whenever you smile or say words from another language. How your nostrils flare when you laugh. You are a masterpiece.

I wasn't going to remember how you audibly grunt, lifting tool boxes into the truck's carriage - preparing to go and fix the fence.

I avoid making eye contact with you, even in these moments when all I have of your existence is the memory of your eyes. They are blue, or maybe a little green. They shine with a vitality that is completely enrapturing. I would hate to reveal my temptation that is aroused by your mere presence - I know people read my eyes really well.

I'd like you to know how to read my eyes.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

There is no experience quite as powerful as a Saskatchewan storm cloud unleashing all its voracious fury on your single head – alarming your nerves, alerting your sensations, triggering your fear and wonder. This is the sound of rain. This is the feeling of water. This is the power of God.

The darkness of my Val Marie home in the night, blanketed by the sound of water splashing against the water-logged bentonite clay outside my window. The splashes of light from outside and the pounding symphony of creation as it bangs against the door and the grassland hills in the distance. A crackle. A boom. Pitter patter. Its mourns for an Adagio and then, in an instant, accelerando.

What is the tempo marking of nature?

Is this a cry? Or a celebration?

How can I sleep with this noise? The sensation of energy in the air? Life is happening now. How do I sleep? This is the meeting of the skeleton of nature - the sky, the earth, the clouds in between. It is my delightful purgatory to be stuck here in Val Marie, happening now. How do I sleep?

Encountering God is worth it in Saskatchewan.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


You know, I’m learning stuff about myself in Val Marie that I didn’t expect to learn. First of all, the moment you hear that rattle somewhere around you and you haven’t got the slightest idea where that noise is coming from in the thick green net of grass that has caught you, there is an undeniable fear in your gut. You are certain that you will die. Until you see the perpetrator. That snake. The same one that has been draining the blood from your face whenever you wake up in the middle of the night and think that something is on your bedroom floor. That is something that I have learned.

Rattlesnakes are terrifying.

Even moreso when you have a group of people trusting you to be the expert on how to handle encounters with them. Am I really supposed to know? Stand still. Let it make the first move – it will always be in the opposite direction.

Make sure that you check your floors after you wake up. Even if you live two stories off the ground. Early in the morning or in the middle of the night, you are certain that those venomous monsters have wings and are looking for ways to cause your muscular tissue to collapse by merely sinking their teeth beyond the thin layers of protective flesh and injecting their venom into my tissue.

It is their single goal in life. I am their prey.

I have been bitten a couple of times this week by snakes. The teeth have not thus far sunk in, and I have not made noise revealing my pain yet, but I can feel the venom spreading. Soon it will reach my heart, and I will stop functioning.

I don’t know how it is that I have changed. There were times when I could let these things wash over me. When I identified and yet had no ounce of pride in who I was made to be and who I look forward to becoming.

I knew that it would be hard to be in Val Marie for the summer – that my growing desire to be a part of a relationship would feel even more stifled here than it would be in Regina. That is undeniable. And frustrating. But I fully underestimated how painful it is to be cursed, insulted, and broken by words thrown as spears by people who do not know that their victim is nearby.

The residents of Val Marie, particularly some of the young men, have adopted the attraction between men as the grandest of all insults. Everything that sucks is gay. The term cocksucker is used to describe those men who are not well liked. Things that are disagreeable are gay. For example, tonight at the village bar the Stanley Cup final was being played. After the Chicago win, one of the girlfriends of a Chicago player came from the stands, jumped onto her boyfriend and wrapped her legs around him while he circled the rink on his skates. This is gay. Why? Because it is a public display of affection.

As I mentioned above, I was once able to oversee these insults – being gay was just a part of me that I could overcome, so the insults they were tossing out inflicted very little pain. Nothing I couldn’t surmount. It was just a part of my society, I accepted it. I looked forward to having a wife, with children that were birthed from her loins and the product of a night of passionate sex, and being totally in love with my life. Happy.

Tonight I want to cry.

I feel alone. So thoroughly alone.

Because I am still proud of who I am. Not just what I am, but who I am.

I just have nobody to tell that to. In Val Marie, Saskatchewan. The coolest place on earth.

Prairie Rattlesnake, Crotalus viridis viridis. My enemy.

Residents of Val Marie, Homo sapiens. My neighbour.

I have been bitten a couple of times this week by snakes. The teeth have not thus far sunk in, and I have not made noise revealing my pain yet, but I can feel the venom spreading. Soon it will reach my heart, and I will stop functioning.

It is their single goal in life. I am their prey.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"

He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Home. Again.

So today was my first day off work in Val Marie, Saskatchewan. In this bustling town of 110 people, where every business except for my office closes on a Sunday, what is one to do for entertainment to last 24 hours?

Well, you'd be surprised how much is available. I've already found that two of my seven nights of freedom during the week are going to be routinely abducted by a movie being shown at the local community hall (this past Friday it was Clash of the Titans - which almost got me posting about Sam Worthington and how much I wish he would do just one scene without his shirt on), and another night devoted to an ongoing indoor soccer tournament between some of the local researchers (biologists and archaeologists).

Today though, I read. A lot. Finished off Nineteen Eighty-Four and am now moving on to A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood. When I wasn't reading, I walked around town and found a church with a piano that is open 24 hours a day. I quickly gathered my music from my home and practiced. For more than an hour and a half - it was so nice to return to an activity I was expecting to abandon for months. I also, almost, went to my first ever cow-branding - only missing my ride because of poor communication. When all that ended, I made myself a salad, packed it into some tupperware, walked to a local radio tower and climbed up to a platform, and watched the sun set. Sounds pretty much idyllic. If I ever figure out how to be gay in this town, I may just fall in love with it out here.

Interestingly enough, I was asked earlier today if I was gay. I think it was a passing question - perhaps even an attempt at a joke. I denied that I was - it wasn't exactly a safe sort of scenario. But this is the second or third time that I have done this since I have been 'out', and each time it makes me more and more retrospective about whether or not I am comfortable with who I am. And each time I ask this question, I get shoved between a rock (the reality that I may not be in a safe place) and a hard place (the principle that I should be proud of myself regardless of who and where I am).

But, once again I am spending too much time talking about myself when the point of this post is to develop the topic of Malawi and Africa and their ideals about homosexuality, because I have found an interesting article on BBC Newsworld that considers how Africans - at least those who have been informed - have perceived Malawi's defence of traditional sexual identities.

What I have found by doing some digging is an interesting story – a debate between the rich and poor, with Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza being used as pawns in the middle of an international storming of the bridgades. And many Africans being none-too-pleased with it.

You see, many people from countries that donate enormous amounts of aid to Malawi and other African countries that have laws against homosexuality have recently been thrown over the edge of tolerance for intolerable legal policy; the recent development of legislative documents in Uganda and the arrests of these two men have tossed them into the deep seas of international scrutiny. As such, many internationals (for lack of a better short-form term) have said that their governments should pull aid from countries that do not fully recognize the individual rights that many states in the West use as the compass for legislation. One person, writing under the name modernJan, wrote:

"Should we leave Africa to handle homosexuality at its own pace and in whichever way it sees fit?" Imagine it's the late 1930's and someone asks the question: "should we leave Nazi Germany to handle Jewry at its own pace and in whichever way it sees fit?" My answer: if Africa starts killing off homosexuals than the West should kill off the flow of aid money. How could anyone condone that gay people in the West pay taxes that are partly used to prop up regimes in Africa that persecute gays?

Her idea was mimicked by WilliamLondon1977:

Honestly, these backward little countries and their "we reject Western moral paradigms but we actually rely on their money and ongoing goodwill" - if they don't care about evolving towards globally accepted standards of human rights or how they are seen by more enlightened, developed countries, fine, we get it -- but they shouldn't expect any aid or anything. Try paying for your anti-retrovirals with a crate of chickens and see how far you get.

This is extremely sad indeed.


The response in Africa has been very different. Many Malawians have used this court ruling and their stand against international powers as a means of asserting their sovereignty as a state to create and impose their own laws. On a website called the BNL Times which acts as an online daily for Malawi, many blogs and features have offered their perspective on the events surrounding Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza’s arrests. What one finds is a high degree of pride.

In the view of Vales Machila, it is the right of the government of Malawi to enforce the laws that they have created within the confines of their constitution, even if they conflict with the ideals of the United Nations. This is the very definition of sovereignty; and, so long as the domestic population is in support of laws, they should not be repealed. It was the wheels of justice that turned and caught Chimbalanga and Monjeza underfoot, not hatred.

In order to defend his perspective, he references the Biblical ordinances against homosexuality – a source that is increasingly recognized as insufficient to defend legislation in the West. In Malawi, it would seem, that many of these laws are still valid. Machila also recognizes the role that power relationships between states has played in the development of international scrutiny:

Why should our laws be unimportant to anyone, just because we are a poor nation? This is abhorrent and grossly unfair. Malawi, by its own laws, committed no wrong in arresting and convicting the duo. It is most unfair for little Malawi to be threatened with aid suffocation for simply standing by its rights. Malawi, though tiny on the map, has rights too and her votes count on world forums. Where is respect for sovereignty of nations the world so much preaches about?

What I have found most interesting is that Africa has not always been a continent caught in homophobia. Like many ancient cultures that had limited communication with the Judeo-Christian world, homosexuality was once revered as a means of understanding the sacred. It was not uncommon for chiefs of African tribes to have, amongst their wives, boys and men with whom they would perform sexual acts. African homophobia is a product of colonialism – the laws upon which the modern African constitutions are based are European in origin. So, in a twisted way, the defense of Malawian laws against homosexuality is really a defense of the European influence in Malawi rather than a push against international pressures. What is being seen here is a complete acceptance of the immense changes that European colonization inflicted on the regions they took over, not a historically accurate reclamation of Africa – just a imagined sense of what Africa represents.

Daniel Nyirenda writes perhaps a more convincing tune, and also recognizes that steps are needed for Malawi to decrease their dependency on foreign aid so that they can stand up for their persecution of homosexuals in the future. He writes the following:

Some of the donors, in their argument, say Tiwonge Chimbalanga, a bride, and Steven Monjeza, groom, had not wronged anyone by holding an open gay wedding. This thinking is purely Western where they value personal freedoms ahead of societal freedoms. However, this argument is not a one-size-fits-all because here in Africa, we greatly respect societal values. It is against this philosophy that Monjeza and Aunt Tiwo, much as they did not hack anyone with a panga, they committed an offence by butchering the norms, cultures, the psyche and way of living of Malawian society. This line of thinking is one which Western people may find it hard to appreciate.

Once again, fascinating. What we see considered here is a conflict of worldview between the donors of the West and the people that are receiving the donations. According the Nyirenda, the open gay engagement that Chimbalanga and Monjeza used to celebrate their love for each other is an open defiance of the society that they live in and is, as a result, harmed the grander society. Interesting, as this same idea has been very strongly combated in the United States, where marriage equality still does not exist; what is argued south of the border is that gay marriage does not actually affect anybody outside of the couple. Nyirenda is attempting to argue otherwise as a cultural feature – though he provides no evidence, it is quite interesting.

I don’t want to paint all Africans, or all Malawians for that matter, with the same brush. There is a growing support, including some Anglican Clergy, that is pushing for greater levels of equality for homosexuals, starting by refusing to berate them as a people group in church.

Now here is the challenge for me as an individual that tries to have a more globalized perspective on the state of affairs, and attempts to imagine how powerlessness and powerfulness affect the ways in which individuals and states relate to each other. Here we’ve a situation in which the threat of removing International Aid has been applied to an issue that I find of great import – the propagation and development of international human rights.

And my response is this: What an easy way out.

In reality, international pressure very rarely alters how people view minorities. And it isn’t wrong for Vales to recognize that international pressures are likely being placed on Malawi because of their relative insignificance as an international power: similar international attacks are very rarely placed on China, Iran, or Saudi Arabia as they attack homosexual communities with equal and even greater vigor. Each of these nations is an economic and resource-rich powerhouse, capable of placing equal pressure on us as we can on them – and, it would seem, the individual human rights of homosexuals in Saudi Arabia are considerably less important than the West’s need to fill their car’s gas tanks.

And, in reality, Malawi does have the right to create its own legislation decreed by the ideals of Democracy and Self-Governance. Though both of these principles are somewhat fractured in modern international politics, it is not particularly naïve of the people of Malawi to want to maintain this ideal when they feel their rights for self-governance are being infringed upon. It is even a classic case.

In considering both of these realities, the only truly effective change can only come from within the state of Malawi – where the people of Malawi no longer feel as though the laws of the government reflect the realities of their life.

As an internationalist, even as a gay internationalist, I would find that the linking of foreign aid to gay rights is absurd, just as linking foreign aid to the refusal to sponsor abortion rights is absurd (thank you, Stephen Harper). In reality, foreign aid is about helping individuals and states create infrastructure and better the living standards of people around the world – providing necessary goods and services to people that otherwise wouldn’t have them. They are the closest thing that exist to international Equalization Payments and essentially a good thing in producing a more economically equal planet. Much as I like to think that my country has the right to impose their ideals (ideals I find generally much more agreeable than those found around the world) on nations when they are giving away my tax money, I would rather they put efforts into educating the population and providing the roots for the grass of change to grow out of. The more homegrown the legislation the more likely it is to last and change the society that it is meant to regulate. This is a good thing.

And, thanks to the efforts of Monjeza and Chimbalanga, some of these changes are starting to take place. A historic debate is starting in Malawi that may change the course of homosexual issues in Malawi and that region of Africa for the better. It seems that Harvey Milk may be living in Africa these days…

Anyways, I have to go out – Grasslands National Park was just designated as a Dark Sky Preserve and so we’ve got some programs coming up where we will be guiding visitors through constellations. Which means I have to know what they are and know how to operate a telescope. Which also means that I have the coolest job in the world – because the program also includes telling stories from many international cultures about the various constellations. This Wednesday I will be learning about some Cree stories from a Cree story-teller as he presents them to a class. I cannot wait.

Val Marie is the coolest place ever.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


So I just spent 20 minutes doing the dishes in my new home. I am currently living in the village of Val Marie, Saskatchewan; my new home is shared with 3 other twenty-somethings working in Grasslands National Park. Which is also where I am working. Which means that, in this paragraph, I have essentially shared the completion of two of my life goals. One, to work in a Canadian National Park, has been a lifelong dream that I recall setting for myself at a very young age. The second, to live in smalltown Saskatchewan and experience the Saskatchewan cultural environment in a completely new kind of way, has been a recent goal of mine. Sounds like a good summer, no?

The only thing that I miss is being gay. Having those rare opportunities to talk about my sexuality – talk about my arousal. Share my interests and desires with people. To laugh rather than to hide.

It makes me wish that I didn’t love every moment of what I am doing out here – how I could imagine a small community like this being so absolutely fantastic if I felt that there was a potential for one to be gay in it.

But there isn’t. Not only do I not recognize any other gay people in town, but even if I had there would be no opportunity to really discuss it. Life is an act here – one misstep and you fall off the stage. That said, falling off of a stage is a pretty fun event… and so I am resolving not to hide my sexuality here, but just recognize that it isn’t a topic of discussion or lifestyle meant to be on display.

Seriously, I feel like I have been transported to October of 2009.

But, just as I am being transported back into the closet, let us celebrate those events that are far more significant for the international gay community and socio-political change taking place. In one part of the world, two men have been released from their cages and in another dozens of men walked down a street declaring their pride for the first time. Once again, my own life is humbled by the events that are taking place around the world.

Regarding the latter – dozens of men walking a street and publicly declaring their pride for the first time. For the past couple months I have been considering moving to Russia to learn the language and do some historical studies into the Soviet Era. Somehow I managed to meet somebody online (I always feel foolish saying this, for some reason) who is from a region in Russia. He is gay, and so he has told me a great deal about the challenges of being gay in Russia. So, as a result of my academic interest and my personal connection with the Russian gay environment, I have been paying some degree of attention to what little news I can find from the country. And this time, it is rather good news.

For the first time ever, gay Russian men were able to avoid a police ban on their Pride Parade and secretly walk down a street for ten minutes before dispersing to avoid police raids on the event. The event took place in Moscow, the capital of the country, and the centre of the strongest pressures for and against the advancement of equality between the various sexualities of the Russian people. This pride, though short lived, is reason for celebration. Click here to see some images and read some testimonials from those involved in this event, and here to read an article written about this exciting event by the news agency Reuters.

Regarding the former – two men engaged to each other in Malawi who had been arrested in the December of 2009; Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, were arrested after celebrating their engagement ahead of a wedding planned for 2010. In Mid-May they were convicted of gross indecency and unnatural acts because of their attraction to and love for each other.

On May 31st a presidential pardon was granted largely as a result of international political pressures from governments of the west, including governments who have not thus far granted gay men and women the right to marry. It is no surprise to many that Africa remains one of the regions of the world where homophobia is found at its most extremes – for months now an international campaign has been fighting homophobic legislation in Uganda that would make it illegal both to perform homosexual acts as well as to fail to report homosexuality in friends, family and neighbours. It is exciting to see that international pressure is working in defending the rights of the people, even if many of these successes are accomplished as a result of power politics – where the powers of aid can be suspended if African governments refuse to cooperate with the wealthy nations of the West.

It must be noted that neither of these exciting events have been completely free of challenges, and, despite their successes, both also manage to highlight the challenges faced internationally by the homosexual community. For example, in Malawi, Patricia Kaliati, Malawi's Minister of Gender and Children, said Monjeza and Chimbalanga's release did not mean they could continue their relationship – and indeed, they have been forewarned that if they were to continue their “activities” it is possible that they will be rearrested and reconvicted, with the pardon no longer being an effective means of protection. Indeed, the President Mutharika of Malawi, who said he was pardoning the pair on humanitarian grounds, also mentioned that, "In all aspects of reasoning, in all aspects of human understanding, these two gay boys were wrong - totally wrong.”

In Moscow, the pride parade that took place at the end of May was successful only because it took place. It was not sanctioned by the government – in fact, the Mayor of Moscow, knowing that it was taking place, sent policemen out in advance to ensure that it didn’t take place. It was considered an illegal protest by all levels of government – a sentiment shared by an estimated 80% of the Russian people. It was only by misleading Moscow’s police with misinformation as to the location and providing some diversions that the group was able to converge, collect the media for coverage, march for 10 minutes with their home-made banner, and then disperse into the homes and businesses that dotted their route before the police arrived to violently break up the peaceful protest. The organizers have noted that it is unlikely that such tactics will work in the coming years, and that their only hope for continuing successful protests lies in the European Human Rights courts and their interest in supporting Gay Russians.

Russia, it seems, is lost in the 70s – in the pre-Stonewall era. Malawi stuck in an era long even longer forgotten.

These events also serve to act as a foil to the Canadian environment. In the town that I now live in, a village of a mere 110 people, it does not surprise me that I will find it difficult being completely comfortable in my sexuality. And yet, if I were to get engaged my greatest concern would be social chastisement – not imprisonment. Moreover, in mid-June, I can walk the streets of Regina proud of who I am, in a parade recognized by the government and sponsored by some of my elected ministers. Walking back into the closet, as painful and challenging as it may be, does not deny me the rights that I have become accustomed to feeling – rights that don’t exist elsewhere.

Once again, I am humbled and grateful for my Canadian life.