R.M. Vaughan is a Canadian writer and video artist based in Toronto
When you are a gay man in Canada, you can't speak certain uneasy truths to heterosexuals, even your liberal, educated straight friends – okay, especially to your liberal, educated straight friends. And No. 1 on that list is that homophobia, violent, ugly, good old-fashioned homophobia, is alive and thriving in our liberal, educated country.
Goodhearted straight people simply won't believe you. Everybody has gay friends now. Gays are on TV. We're so accepted, we're no longer an en vogue minority. What fortunate days! Gay men in Canada live in a time and place where our sexuality is of so little concern that it's actually boring. It's just dreamy, our little bubble – and a damned lie.
In the coming months and likely years, gay men in Canada will be asked to play along with this charade while the remains of more gay men turn up and the trial of their alleged serial killer is broadcast to a sympathetic, creepily overfascinated public.
The agony aunts and court lingerers who cover grisly murders for the papers will drool over their book deals as they shock straight people with lurid tales of S&M dating apps and grimy gay bathhouses, of rough sex enjoyed between semi-anonymous "sex buddies." The subtext will be unsubtle: Weren't we just asking for it?
Sad gay prayers will be prayed by sad gays in sad gay churches while straight "allies" light the candles.
And throughout this "healing process," living gay adult men will be hushed and patted on the head and will be told that these murders are not a gay issue, but a human issue. We'll be advised to carry on with our lives, forget what we know, to please not upset people with discussions of "systemic prejudice" or "ingrained homophobia." We will be erased from the dialogue while being advised – sometimes by other gay men, those polished and assimilated gay men who pass for straight – not to kick our cute little rainbow apple cart.
I can't stand it any more. But I can't pass for straight, so stand it I must.
The dialogue I need to have and to hear is a deeper and far less digestible one, a talk that has no simple starting point or end.
But let's at least begin with honesty: Gay men in Canada live with a level of daily violence that is unimaginable to straight people.
The psychological violence we face as children never leaves us, and too often is amplified by coming out to our families, or, conversely, the toxic burden of keeping secrets. As we grow into adulthood, we face economic violence from systems set up to empower straight men. AIDS and its costs hover over all of our lives (but if you attend an AIDS conference, nobody says the word "gay" any more). In social-work jargon, we are now called "men who have sex with men," a phrase that reduces our lives to a singularity based on sexual practice while at the same time negating an entire culture.
The mainstream gay media, most of which is not owned or operated by actual queer people, attacks us with images of Olympian god-like men, men we can never become. Every year, too many of us commit suicide and too many of us get beat up on the streets. We go missing, and nobody looks for our bodies.
If gay men have learned anything from Toronto's Gay Village serial killer story, it is that occasionally our suffering makes for good sensationalist copy, and that Canadians need to be shown the darkest hues of the anti-gay-violence spectrum before they will begin to talk about the messy and hurtful reality of gay life in Canada. If they can begin.
I try to talk to straight people about homophobia. I usually get a variation of the same response: You have gay marriage now, everything is fixed. Not hardly, not by half. Do you hear the undertone of resentment in that response? It's another way of saying shut up, stop complaining, we gave you what you want so be a "good gay" now. Be good, and we'll let you get by.
When you live as the other, you know that whatever bit of happiness you can carve out comes with a cost: your voice. And there is no way out of the othering paradigm – you are constantly read as not-alike, but when you dare speak against this reading of your very self, of your body and your brain and your soul, that is also exactly when you are most not-alike. And then the whole cycle starts up again. It's exhausting.
No, Canada, I'm not "shocked" by the possibility that a mad killer figured out how to prey on gay men for years before being detected. My community is not stunned by this news. That would be akin to being shocked to discover that wolves prey on smaller mammals.
All I have is sadness, and resignation, and knowledge – a knowing fuelled by long memory, buried wounds and the weary, tapped-out look on my friends' faces.
"That could have been me," gay men say, and mean so very much more.