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Friday, June 27, 2008

Memory, Loss and Memory

The tragic suicide 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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That analogy of the generation after a war has a lot to reveal yet I feel: scarred parents, remote children...qkwx