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This Be The Verse
Philip Larkin
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.


“You have shamed the family,” my father said to me at the funeral of my brother Michael who had killed himself in 1981.

“You are the black sheep of the family,” my parents had told him since he could toddle.

“Call him that he will become that,” I told them.

They said, “Mind your own business.”

As I looked at his body in its casket I thought of what might have been. His note said, “I’ve been bad.” He hadn’t. Like far too many he had not been any worse than the rest of us.

Then against my will my family had me placed in a psychiatric hospital where, on my 35th birthday one of my sisters brought in a cake.

As I sliced it the head psychiatrist walked over. He said, “Do you know what is wrong with you?”

I replied, “Nothing.”

Years before, the night I arrived in Toronto in the mid 1960s I met a man who became a friend and mentor. He told me one day, “You are going to celebrate your 35th birthday in a psychiatric hospital after you lose someone very close to you. Don’t worry about it. When you come out you will become the richest man on earth.”

I had thought of him as I cut the cake.

I was there for a couple of months. I was told that it could take up to seven years for the effect of the drugs I had been forced to take to wear off.

A friend from Toronto dropped by. He took me out for a ride. We got back late. Truth be told I did not want to return.

The man on the door said to me as I walked in, “You must really appreciate the treatment you are receiving here.”

I said, “Why do you say that?”

He said, “Because you did not have to return.”

In that instant I was glad I had come back.

Why? Because had I not I would have been running.

Now I knew that I could walk out.

I walked out.

I came to Toronto. For a time I was homeless.

I walked around the city like Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster. That was thanks to the drugs I had been given.

A friend gave me room to park my carcass.

I could not blame people for being frightened of me. The drugs had made me frightful.

Over time the effect of the drugs wore off.

I had a lot of anger. I had a helluva lot of anger. All of it was righteous. Nonetheless I knew that if I did not master it I would be eaten up by it.

How had I shamed my family at my brother’s funeral?

I had brought a young friend with me.

They thought he was my boyfriend.

He was a friend. He was not homosexual.

Had he been it should not have mattered.

My mother’s brother was sitting at the funeral playing guitar. He was homosexual. Like myself he had grown up in a time when being homosexual made a person a criminal in the eyes of the law. The law had exacted a high price on him as it had and has on too many to count.

Shortly before my brother’s suicide I saw an article in PSYCHOLOGY TODAY titled,”The value of The Homosexual Experience.” I read it.

The author over many pages stated that homosexual men do one of two things.

  1. We accept the world’s condemnation that we are mental criminals under the law and abominations in the eyes of the religious and we self destruct through alcohol, drugs, and sex.
  2. We center ourselves and learn to think for ourselves.

From that moment on I centred on centring myself.

My family for the most part remains ashamed of me.

Too many, far too many young men have come to me saying their family is ashamed of them.

A man said to Pope Francis, “I am so ashamed of myself.”

Pope Francis asked, “Why?”

The man said, “I am a homosexual.”

Pope Francis said, “But God made you a homosexual for his purpose. You should not be ashamed.”

We must never cease from loving our father, our mother, our brothers, our sisters and all our family.

But when your family tells you they are ashamed of you it is time to leave. You may, as I had, scarcely a nickel to your name. It does not matter. Leave.

We must become our own mother, our own father, our own brother, our own sister.

The psychiatric hospital I walked out of sent messages to people they thought could influence. Those messages all said I needed further help.

I did not.

What I needed was to trust myself. What I needed was time for the drugs I had been told would take up to seven years to wear off to wear off.

Why am I writing this?

I am writing this for the legions of young men and women gay and straight whose families have said and are saying to them, “You have shamed the family.”

I grew up in small town New Brunswick.

At six I saw older boys naked in the bush doing things I had no idea we could do.

I turned to my cousin who was five and said, “What are they doing?”

When he told me I asked,”What’s that?”

I said, “What is that?”

He said, “Let me show you.”

From that moment I became sexually active with both genders.

At 14 I had two girlfriends. A boy a year older moved to our town. I was a loner. He became my friend. One day we had sex. I thought nothing of it. It was fun.

Then I read in a newspaper that males who had sex with males were hated by God. I read that anyone who killed a man who had sex with other men was doing God a favour.

I have never forgotten that moment.

I fell into a bottomless pit of self contempt, self hatred, self loathing.

There was no one I could talk to. There was no one anyone could talk to at that time.

My day was filled with thoughts of suicide. Suicide was my companion at night. Self hatred walked beside me.

By chance I learned that the older boy who had once valued my company and now no longer did had told other boys what we had done. I began to be called fag and queer. I became an object of contempt. I became a target of hatred.

As deep as I had fallen into the pit of self despair I now learned it has no bottom.

When I walked out of high school and came to Toronto I was 18 going on 19.

I arrived to learn the friend I thought I had here wasn’t.

I made new friends. I made many new friends. At the invitation of an older queer man who ran a used bookstore I began showing my 8mm prints of important silent films.

Because I wanted people to know why the films they were seeing mattered I spoke before them.

My family had said I should not waste my money on movies no one but myself wanted to see.

Those movies gave me a life.

Through them I met and continue to meet many interesting people most of whom have become friends.

Being Queer gave me a life.

In 1970 a friend invited me out to Hollywood, California. It was the winter. I went by bus. I took with me only one book, THE NEW TESTAMENT. I did not want to read it to find God or Jesus. I read it to find out if it was true that God hated me and if someone was doing God a favour by killing me and others like me.

Reading THE NEW TESTAMENT for myself I learned that is not true. I learned that those who condemn will be condemned.

We are in an hour when men like Kanye West preach the lie that God hates homosexuals.

God does not hate homosexuals.

As Pope Francis said, “God made you a homosexual to suit his purpose.”

What is that purpose? I can’t say.

But I can say with the authority that came from that article I read in PSYCHOLOGY TODAY that the value of the homosexual experience is that homosexual  men have to centre themselves, have to learn to think for themselves.

This is something every person must learn to do.

It is something very few do.

According to the best research it is something only 2% of the world’s population does.

From the day my “friend” told other guys what we had done I have carried the yoke pf public humiliation, public shame.

When I came to Toronto in the mid 1960s it was illegal to be a homosexual. I met strong men who were out. The weak men who hid in their closets spoke ill of them.

Soon those weak men began to speak ill of me for I tore the door off my closet.

I began top receive anonymous letters and phone calls telling me I am hated by God, that if I just gave my life to Jesus I would be changed for the better, I would be saved.

Today I now value every moment of the fires I passed through, which I continue to pass through.

My father came to live with me for a time in the 1990s. He had worked construction. We had little time to get to know each other. One night when we were both drunk beyond drunk my dad said, “I have hated you from the moment you were born as in that second I realized I had to die.”

My father was 19 when I was born. That is a terrible thing to learn at 19. I loved him for daring to speak the truth.

The next day I was interviewed by Michael Valpy for THE GLOBE AND MAIL. I told him what my father had said. Michael said, “First born sons.”

In that instant I knew I was not unique. I knew that most fathers hate their first born sons as many mothers hate their first born daughters.

So many of us are flowers that have grown up in a garden of hate.

Answering hate with hate is throwing gasoline on a fire.

Again, why am I writing this?

Daily people around the city shower me with hate. For decades one man has done and continues to do everything he can to harm me. He tears down the flyers for my programs. Thursday I went around the city with flyers. By nightfall most of them had been torn down. Some were posted in clumps of confetti behind flyers he posted for his business.

I know what hate is. I know what hate is perhaps more thoroughly than anyone who has ever lived.

Do I want revenge? No. The desire for revenge rots the soul.

Do I want people to help? No. I know that when we ask for help the help we get is expensive and worthless.

I want those of you who have been told by your family, “We are ashamed of you,” to know that you are not alone.

I want those of you who are 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and older who find your dreams filled with images you have been told are wrong top know those images are right for you.

A few years ago a young man from India who came here asked, “Are you married? Do you have kids?”

I replied, “I’m as queer as a three dollar bill.”

He said, “Oh, I knew I was queer when I was 8 in Bombay. Can I live here?”

Aditya Shanker was the face of gay youth India. Adi came to my SEX & VIOLENCE CARTOON FEST. After it was over he asked if he could live with me. That was a wonderful year.The year religion in India fought homosexuals part of that battle was fought in my home. I am proud of Adi. He is everything so many men are not and everything a man should be.

Adi lived here. When the religious in India attacked India’s homosexual community part of the fight against them was fought in my house. Adi was the face of gay youth India.

My father and I grew to love each other deeply.

When he died it was clear I had nothing to say my family wanted to hear.

It did not matter. It does not matter.

Never stop loving your family. Never be ashamed of whom you are. As Pope Francis said, what we are is what God wants us to be.

As for the Kanye Wests and the others who preach a gospel of hatred, forgive them. Believe the hour is coming and is now when they shall know that they are wrong.

Your family may be ashamed of you. So long as you are not a liar and coward God is not.

Had I let myself be brought down by my family I would long ago have killed myself.

We the living are called to be stronger than we dreamed we can be.

Today I find myself numbered among the fifty greatest male speakers of all time. Had I listened to my family, had I listened to my teachers, had I listened to the doctors at the psychiatric hospital I would not be.

It takes great courage to be our self.

What is that? I don’t know. I am in the process of discovering.

Right now this moment I am fighting the battle of my life.

As always my family has turned its back.

That is their problem not mine for while they may be ashamed of me I have nothing to be ashamed of. Neither have you.

My native American friends whom I met when I lived with the wonderful Rene Highway (the only person who shoved his fist up my butt) tell me I am a Shaman.

Jerzy Zaborski, an archaeologist, Egyptologist, Sumerologist and high ranking Tibetan Lama who accompanied The Dali Lama on his first journey across Canada, said, “You are a Crazy-Wisdom-Yogin.”

I said, “I hear crazy often enough. What does the rest of that mean?”

Jerzy said, “It is the highest compliment I can pay. It means you are living absolutely the life you are teaching.”

I replied, “I would not say that as I know how far below the mark I fall. I am making the effort. Would you care for a beer?”

Luckily he did. We talked from 9pm until dawn about things most do not dream about.

In THE LAST JUDGMENT (MATTHEW 25) God does not damn anyone for being a homosexual.

God does damn people and rightly for passing by the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the sick, the stranger.

At my home in Toronto I have been welcoming the stranger for decades.

The world’s number one travel guide, THE LONELY PLANET, lists my home among the top places to see in Ontario and in Toronto.

Laura Lind writing in EYE WEEKLY during one of the many times the City Of Toronto has tried to force me to close my door said, “Reg Hartt is everything Jane Jacobs wrote about.”

My family has no reason to be ashamed of me. I, on the other hand, have learned that a family that is ashamed of us is not my family. Neither is it yours.

It takes immense courage to be Queer.  It takes no courage to be a coward. Join me. When you are in Toronto drop by THE CINEFORUM.–Reg Hartt









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