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Wednesday 08 October 2008


The Gay Blade

27th June 2008

Memory, Loss, and Memory

Posted by: Michael Stevens

The tragic death of Dr Matt Wildbore last week as well as the imminent publication of Dr Chris Brickell’s new book “Mates and Lovers” made me think of a few things.

One thought that I keep returning to is the way our history, individual and collective, is so fragile.

For many younger men in Auckland, Matt Wildbore is not a name they’d know. For me, and I guess for my generation, he was a symbol of compassion, of care, of fun, of bravery and support through the worst days of the plague. He was vocal, he was courageous, he cared. The effort he put in, and also the efforts of many others, through those dark days when all you could expect after an HIV+ diagnosis was to get sicker and sicker and die, usually terribly, perhaps in your own shit, emaciated, blind, demented, unable to recognise those around your bed who loved you, it seems that history, that part of our culture, has been lost to some extent.

It’s as if the generation coming straight after a terrible war had no idea of the struggles their parents had been through. Tragedy is now ephemeral.

Before, the stories of a culture’s suffering and bravery, generosity and struggle, all formed part of the collective memory, something that could be referred to, something that was passed down from generation to generation. The essentially fragile, tenuous nature of gay culture and community makes this hard enough in the first place, but given that so many who did fight so bravely, who nursed, fed, wiped the arses of and cleaned up the vomit of their friends, lovers, or even strangers, or quietly looked after them as they descended into AIDS related dementia - these stories are now, it seems to me, largely gone, and certainly I think unknown by many younger gay men. They just don’t know what it was like. And that is maybe a good thing. But somehow it seems sad to me too that the struggles and amazing bravery displayed in the face of such terror and hostility are so quickly slipping from our collective consciousness.

But then the work of Dr Brickell gives me heart. He has undertaken meticulous scholarship to find out the hidden history of gay men in New Zealand from the 19th Century on. He has taken active steps to recover our past. If we are to ever really have a gay community, if it is possible, then understanding where we come from, our whakapapa, our heritage, our past, is essential. Knowing that men in the 1860s or 1920s looked to other men for love, for sex, for joy and for support, just as we do, is a tremendously important thing for us all to take on board.

The stoic in me remembers the words of Emperor Marcus Aurelius - “So many who were remembered already forgotten, and those who remembered them long gone” and it is true - the world is full of unsung or forgotten histories and biographies that are filled with acts of love, bravery, sacrfice, joy and tragedy that have been forgotten and blown as dust to the wind.

But I want to remember - and I want young gay men coming up to remember too. I want you to know where we came from, what we went through, because it matters, because without all this we wouldn’t be here today, and so you know a bit of what we had to do to get here, to this place where you are able to live in a level of social acceptance that seemed impossible to even imagine for me 30 years ago.

Remember. Remember all of it - the good and the bad, the extraordinary and the banal. It is part of us all, part of who we are and how we all got here.

Celebrate your life, love it, enjoy it, embrace it. But remember.

Tags: General

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mark A. Thomson // Jun 29, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    Why? Why? Why? Why should we remember when your generation of gay men could not be bothered to keep up the momentum? You had all the fun when you were coming out why can’t we?
    I have no doubt that this would be the view of the young generation of gay men, whose coming of age seemed to lead them onto an endless round of bacchanalian partying. All they have known about being gay and out is the bar and dance scene, and now we expect them to remember our own struggles for acceptance.
    The ignorance and disinterest of the younger generation of gay men is entirely our fault. We did not keep up the momentum, we failed to remain united as a vocal force and we have left them leaderless. To expect them to pay any attention now is a bit rich. Why should they, when there is another dance party to go to or another bar opening to attend. Being gay in the 2000s is about partying with whatever substances one can get one’s hands on.
    Those of us who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s witnessed a unity within the gay community determined to force society to change both politically and legally in its perception of us. The partying stopped for us as we watched close friends who had become part of our ‘family’ die shockingly and painfully. We won the battle, or so we think, and we shut up shop!
    All that now remains of our legacy is a grossly underfunded NZ Aids Foundation that barely has the funds to keep afloat and certainly not enough money to finance an ongoing in your face Safe Sex campaign to keep up the momentum. We no longer lobby the government for extra funding, and the government seems to think that a pitiful $24 million for AIDS research is sufficicent, yet provides so much more on a fight obseity campaign and women’s health issues. HIV and AIDS are not fashionable enough to warrant further attention. The perception among young people here is that AIDS can be contained and managed and the bigger problem is confined to the Third World.
    As for the younger generation of gay men, well they see themselves as little immortals, free to party, they don’t have people to look up to as role models as pioneers of gay rights, because they have gone to ground, and the only sense of community they recognise is the bar scene.
    Please don’t trot out the ‘rainbow caucus’ an irritating bunch of politicians. A self-serving bunch, who can be wheeled out on feel-good social occasions, but a group who have no genuine interest in gay issues, they are too much a part of the establishment now, and ambition means that they shouldn’t rock the boat. The only real leaders that the young look to, sadly, are the drag queens! Lord knows why, but just observe them when you are out. The young gay entourage fawning over them.
    As a group we seem to be content that all is well when it is far from well. A once a year Candle Light Service on international AIDS Day is all we are left with.
    Like it or not we are a fractured community and the only people who remember the struggles of the past are those of us too ill to campaign.

  • 2 strife182 // Jun 30, 2008 at 11:43 am

    And once again i am relegated to a vapid, party hard druggie.
    how can you expect the younger generation to pay attention when this is the amount of respect you give us. Remember back to your own days, maybe hanging out with your grandparents and them telling you how good you have it.
    How could you appreciate what they’re trying to pass onto you when they are speaking down to you, patronising you so much? same thing here. Give us some respect and we will listen. Suprisingly i have a life, a large life, outside of the clubs, they’re a weekend distraction.
    Don’t rope us all into a generation that do nothing but engage in hedonistic pursuits. Sure there are a few. But I’m going to guess that there’s plenty in your generation too. Probably more, given our aging population.
    And btw, just a lil anacdote from my own life. Stonewalls anniversary was on friday. All the older gay men that i know either didn’t know what it was, or didn’t care. The “younger generation” did. They all recognized the momentous occasion.
    We celebrated the turning point in gay rights with a party.

  • 3 Mark A. Thomson // Jul 3, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    It was not my intention to patronise and apologies if that is how my comments were interpreted. I was writing more out of frustration and a general observation about the current gay scene. I get tired of reading of another bar or club opening every few months. Where is the gay bookshop? The centre for gay studies? Where are the cafes? Of course there are young gay men making a valuable contribution in our community, but I am more saddened by a seeming lack of unity that exists. We seem to be a fractured group with no real leadership. We seem to let things ride. We are one of the few countries that doesn’t celebrate Gay Pride with a parade. I was one of only a handful of foreigners that took part in the first Gay Lesbian Parade in Tokyo in the early 1990s, and believe me, back then you could not get a more conservative society than the Japanese. From a few hundred souls the parade has grown over the years and is a visible reminder that we exist!
    You mentioned the Stonewall Anniversary that passed unnoticed and you would think that it would have a position within our community. Something that we should be proud of.

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