Born in in Ontario, Michael moved with his mother to Manitoba at the age of 2. Here his childhood was split into 2 totally separate worlds - living with him mum in Winnepeg as basically a latch-key kid and living with his grandparents on the Fisher River First Nation Reservation where he spent his time roaming fields, making forts in the bushes and catching fish in the rapids. When with his mother, life was uneventful. She was in the nursing program at the University of Manitoba, so he spent a lot of time alone hanging out with friends. When with his grandparents, he lived in the biggest house on the reserve on a tract of land along the Fisher River. It had 2 floors, a basement and running water while some homes still caught rain water in big barrels for inside use. He remembers, "It was a simple life. All the kids would be let out to play during the day and then as supper time approached, you could hear all the Grandmothers yelling up and down the river for the kids to come home and eat." Christmas memories here involved lots of his grandmother's baking (stored on the veranda because it wasn't insulated and would keep frozen) and a house bursting with relatives.
While much of his childhood was what dreams were made of, there were dark moments. When he was only 4 or 5, Micheal was sexually molested by a teenage boy of perhaps 16 or 17. "That encounter awakened my 'gayness' for lack of a better word. After that I knew I was different... I remember feeling ashamed, alone and somehow wrong. I felt I had to live a secret life and was terrified that other people would find out. I wished I was a girl so that my feelings would match my gender. I ignored it, didn't talk about it and hid it as best I could." There are memories of asking to play with a Barbie instead of a GI Joe, having the friend's mother look at him oddly and never being invited back. In grade 2 he drew a picture of a boy he liked and put, "I love you" on it. The boy never spoke to him again. By the time he entered grade 10 he had learned to "butch up" to be accepted. Through high school and university he had girlfriends to make the picture complete, but there was never a doubt in his mind about who he was or what he wanted. "I remember telling myself that I didn't want a wife or kids because I wasn't 'normal' and didn't want to mess up other people's lives."
At age 26, Michael finally accepted his orientation and began to frequent gay bars. While a few of his old friends supported him, he found a whole new set among the gay community. But there was a price - addiction. "Drinking and drugging to excess made me feel cute, confident and like I belonged. " One weekend his mother was there for a visit. After he came home extremely drunk, she heard him crying in the bathroom. When his mother asked why he was crying, he realized the moment had come. "I told her I was into guys and she told me to go to bed and we would talk about it in the morning." The next morning there was a phone call about his aunt and uncle dying in a car accident and, as they left for his cousin's house to offer support, he realized, "tomorrow never came." They never talked about his being gay again.
On coming out, Michael's sister gave nothing but love, acknowledging she had always known. His aunts and uncles also proved to be very supportive. "I was really lucky. I spent so much time being afraid of what people would think and no one said anything negative - EVER!" From this he found the courage to face his addictions by entering AA. Now an addict/alcoholic in recovery, there are still the consequences from his past to deal with. "My excessive partying led me to some risky sex practices and in 2007 I tested HIV positive. It was like coming out all over again. I told my family and friends, contacted HIV support and tried to educate myself on the virus I was carrying. People have been really accepting of my HIV status." Despite this acceptance, Michael was sure that being positive would mean the end of any serious relationships. When he felt a strong connection to someone last year, he openly share his positive status right at the beginning sure that it would go no where. He was wrong. "This man is now my boyfriend and accepts me for who I am. That is a real gift."
In closing are Michael's answers to a couple of questions.
1. What has it been like since coming out? - "It feels like I have lived so many lives already - from sexually confused country bumpkin, to angry club kid, to messy older bar star, to the slightly older and responsible gay man I'm evolving into. I spent my entire life afraid of what others thought and not believing in myself. That is no way to live. Dragging my secret out into the light and embracing it has given me true freedom. I still get called a FAG from time to time, but so what. I spent too much time living in my own fear, why would I want to worry about the fear others carry around? Life it too short!"
2. Any advice for those still struggling in secrecy? - "Find a healthy support group, being out alone can be hard. Come out sooner rather than later because secrets make you sick. It does get better, so hold on."
For anyone who would like to be a part of this series, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Links for support groups -
LGBT - www.qmunity.ca
Out in Schools - www.outinschools.com
PFLAG Canada - www.pflagcanada.ca
Check Him Out - www.checkhimout.ca