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A few weeks ago, I woke up to the deaths of two people who were dear to my heart. In the span of four days, actor Alan Rickman and rock icon David Bowie both passed away from their battles with cancer.
I was inexplicably upset. For several days, I found myself unable to shake off this feeling of unease. I watched any video that showed up on my newsfeed involving Professor Snape, the beloved and painfully misunderstood character played by Alan Rickman in the Harry Potter series. I put on all of the David Bowie records I had in my library on repeat, remembering the times my father and I would spend afternoons listening together on my bedroom floor. Grieving for these icons was a harrowing ordeal. At the same time, my distress was very confusing to me; why was I grieving for people I’d never even met?
In my father’s youth, his favourite artist was David Bowie. Considered one of the most influential musicians of our time, Bowie produced hits and entertained fans for over six decades. He transcended what it meant to be a star; not only did he influence music, but his gender-bending alter-egos also impacted art, fashion and the global LGBTQ+ community. When my father immigrated to Canada in his teens, he barely knew any English. Yet, it did not take him long to fall for Bowie’s infectious and innovative tunes. In fact, he told me he initially learned much of his English through singing along to many of Bowie’s songs. Through his years as a fan, he accumulated dozens of vinyl records that I now have the pleasure of inheriting. I remember few weekends in my childhood where we wouldn’t spend an hour or two listening to David Bowie, in silence and in each other’s company.
When I became a little older, some of the first novels I read were from the Harry Potter series. Like millions around the world, I became captivated. I was entranced by the complexity of the plot and the depth of all the characters. Although I dressed up as Hermoine for many Halloweens, my favourite character had always been Professor Snape. Unlike other “bad guys” I was accustomed to at the time, Snape taught me that things in life are never as black and white as they may seem. There is a vast grey area where tortured souls and tough decisions reside, a place where the line between villain and hero is hazy and unclear. Oftentimes, we fall so in love with characters in novels that the actor who portrays them in film inevitably falls short. Alan Rickman was an exception. He embodied everything that Snape was and, through his unassailable talent, made the character his own.
With the death of a popular public figure, such as the deaths of Alan Rickman and David Bowie, comes a strange and perplexing sense of grief. It’s an unusual feeling that accompanies the news that someone you sort of knew yet never really met is gone. It may seem petty to grieve the death of a celebrity. With everything else going on in your life and in the world around you, it seems unreasonable for such an inconsequential event to trigger even an ounce of feeling. But, whether it is a celebrity or the barista who served you at Starbucks every morning, there is no accurate way to react to death, especially the death of someone you never really knew. It will be confusing and elusive, but that does not make your sadness any less valid.
When the Olympic Rings are lit over Sochi on Friday, they are going to be missing a few colours.
A friend told me that while this may be the case, and while it is nonsense to have to argue for the defense of LGBTQ issues in places such as Canada, Russia was different.
“It’s a distinctive culture”, she told me as the Bachelor was screeching in the background. “And we have to respect that. You don’t” - Do you accept this rose – “Look at a culture through your own lens.” – Yes. Of course. I’ve always wanted this – “If not, then we have the choice to turn off the tube.” A commercial about a burger roars on.
Though I did not say anything at the time – a man can only give out a rose some thirty odd times in the show, so everyone is especially special – this perception of sanctity for sanctity’s sake is inherently false.
Forget all the piffle about leaving politics out of the Games. The Olympics are not some depraved politically neutral organization, though they may be presented as such. They are a charged statement with political clout, the true emblem of praising equality in all its fronts. Anyone of any race, religion, and gender is praised for their ability to engage and succeed in a particular sport. We celebrate their achievement, as much as we commemorate our coming together to witness the feat.
Sport is inherently political because it brings out in us what politics so often forgets in its divide – the idea that all have individual skills, all can enhance their talents, and all can take part in the collective celebration of an athlete’s hard work.
In fact, the Olympic Charter says, "The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play."
Despite what my friend said then, it’s not enough to boycott Sochi. To do so would be a failure to understand this mutual interdependence between sports and politics. Worse yet is that such an omission is a subtle form of commission. While indirect, it says, “We allow some places to be intolerant by pretending these are not places at all. They are too different, too unlike our own.”
But this is wrong. What of the gays, lesbians, and bisexuals currently living in Russia? What of those who have already undertaken the onslaught of torture and human rights injustices? What of those who will undergo it in the future?
By boycotting, one is arguing that their struggles are their own in a culture that isn’t ours. It is not intentional; instead it is being just being plain bothered, and hoping that being plain bothered is enough.
Unfortunately it isn’t, and what needs to occur is a challenge to the Games themselves. One must watch the events, note the athletes, and cry for a higher standard of ethical treatment by supporting LGBTQ activist organizations, emailing one's respective MPs, tweeting, writing, sharing, and participating in any medium where their voice can call out for a better world.
No one can be silent. In Russia, far too many are being silenced as it is.
So, do not boycott these games. Instead, disrupt. Contend. Call out that we can be better if we want to be.
And remember that as the snow melts and the sun shines in just the right way, a rainbow or two will form in the prism. It’s just the natural law of physics at work. All it takes is time and the right conditions, conditions we ourselves can help make.
By Edward Lovo
Funny story. I come home and my father is mowing the lawn. He stops to tell me that he'd like to speak with me. I start worrying. When my father needs to have a talk, something's up.
I'm waiting inside and he comes soon after, taking a seat next to me. He asks about school and how I'm doing. I answer him. But now I'm worried that something's up with school and somehow he knows something I don't. Change of topic.
My father mentions a couple of comments I made on Facebook to a dear friend of mine who left to Leicester to study law. One comment was “I miss you” on his wall. The other was on his profile picture, where he’s adorned in suit and tie, and I said, “Everything that I look for in a man. Dresses sharp and takes shit seriously.”
Immediately I knew. I begin laughing uncontrollably at the thought that my parents were worried that I was gay. My parents, my mother having just joined us, chuckle with relief and seek assurance from me that I'm not gay. I assure them. My parents are relieved and tell me that the each of them had sleepless night over the thought that I might be gay. My father goes so far as to say, “That would have been the worst thing that could have happened to me: to have of one of my sons turn out gay.” My father admonishes me for my Facebook comments, saying that people will misconstrue me as gay, carrying the obvious insinuation that that's bad.
Funny story? As you've gleaned from my anecdote, I'm a straight male; but I’m also an ally to the LGBTQ community. I found hilarity in my parents easily misconstruing my behaviour, but I also experienced deep disappointment in their reactions.
I wanted to get angry. I wanted to start an argument over how they neither should’ve been anxious nor relieved. I’ve already had so many arguments with my parents turn sour over similar issues. But I didn’t feel like taking up arms with my parents that day. “Save it for another day,” I thought. This ‘humorous’ incident was bound to turn into one for reflection.
I kept relating this anecdote to friends and many had a good laugh. But one friend expressed their preference for having a straight child over a gay child. My friend insisted that I’d also prefer to have a straight child, though I had to correct him and say that, for myself, it would not matter - I already have a daughter, the light of my world, whose very name is a flower and of peace: Violeta de la Paz, almost 4 years old. I said to him that if my daughter was to approach me for a talk, with an air of gravity, and if she was to then tell me she’s gay, I'd say to her, “Whew! And I thought you were going to tell me you're religious!”
The reason typically cited for those who claim to not be homophobic, yet still prefer that their child to be straight, is that it's easier for child-rearing. There's truth to that. Parents of gay children have to deal with their children facing hardships just because of their sexual orientation in addition to the regular hardships of parenting.
Parents may even face some of their own hardships in virtue of being parents of gay children by other parents or other adults. However - and this is what’s important - this is something that society needs to change, not the child. The hardships that parents of gay children and gay children themselves have to face is not of their own doing, but of society's.
In connection with this, there is a myth that Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium gives in praise of Love. There was a time when there were three kinds of humans: ones that were totally male, totally female, or the androgynous kind, half male and half female.
In these times the humans provoked the wrath of Zeus for having attacked the gods and were thus split in half to diminish them in their power by Zeus. Love, for Aristophanes, was the search for one's other half: “And so, when a person meets the half that is his very own, whatever his orientation, whether it's two young men or not, then something wonderful happens: the two are struck from their senses by love, by a sense of belonging to one another, and by desire, and they don't want to be separated from one another, not even for a moment.”
This reflected the Greek ethos of sexuality: it was taken for granted that one's 'other half' might as well be of the same sex. While we must acknowledge that Aristophanes' myth does not address the entire spectrum of sexual orientation - nor takes into account gender identity - it shows that society can be different because it has been different.
There was a time when society did not chastise persons for falling in love with one of the same sex; it was acknowledged as a possibility. Whereas in today's society, that one has a preference for straight over gay children is symptomatic of the homophobia with which society is diseased. I, for one, refuse to be diagnosed, and I acknowledge that society needs to be cured of this disease and that the child is healthy, regardless of society's ill condition. Society needs to change. Not the child. Let my daughter turn out to be gay and I'll express my fury at the adversity my daughter faces; at adversity, this disease, not my daughter. Let my child be. You change.