** Reposted from 2011, and just as valid now as then - Steven **
I'm sure you're asking yourself "Is Steve A Real Model, or a Model Realtor?" Maybe both? Grin.
It isn't every day you find your face suspended on a seven storey city billboard, plastered in most every subway station, splayed in print ads across the nation or, as was the case a few years back when the ad first ran, flashing on the Dundas Square Jumbotron during CTV's national coverage of the tense public corralling during the G20 police fracas.
And yet. TaDa! Here I am.
How I came to be on TD Canada Trust's first Pride bank ad looking very much attached is a madcap tale worth repeating. Especially as I am, in fact, very much single.
But that's not what this blog is about.
It's about a matter of Pride.
A few weeks back I took a stroll on the boardwalk in The Beach with a date. It was a late afternoon on a Sunday. The sky was overcast. It was humid. A few raindrops splashed our faces. But we Torontonians were still out enjoying the fact we didn't need to be wrapped up in a parka as we were a few months ago.
My date had recently immigrated to Canada. Originally born and raised in Costa Rica, this cutie pie's life and career has been centred on social justice, fairness, and equal opportunity for all. This included his pursuit of a graduate degree in the States where, after ten years of living there and witnessing the 2008 repeal of gay marriage in California, he had to acknowledge the US of A simply wasn't truly the free country it promoted itself to be. Whereas its neighbour to the north, Canada, is held in high esteem for constitutionally offering these rights to every citizen.
So he immigrated here to live his truth.
Which, as it turned out, included holding my hand for the two hours we walked on the boardwalk that Sunday.
First, while I am extremely comfortable with who I am, my life of singledom does not provide many opportunities for public displays of affection. In fact, the whole experience is foreign to me. So when our hands became entwined during our walk and never let go, I was both delighted and disconcerted. Although the act of holding someone's hand might seem banal to those of you who are partnered, single people rarely experience these simple gestures. When they occur we find them surprisingly intimate. But despite being entranced, I also experienced some hesitation on how the public at large would react.
I am of a vintage that, in my youth, being identifiably gay invited public scorn, instant condemnation and a high risk of injury or harm. Imagine, after honouring your sexual identity as an essential part of your true self, and reconciling that many of the collective beliefs, values, and morals of the culture you were conscripted in were false, homophobic, and partly the source of your anguish, your reward for self-enlightenment is social ostracization and a broken rib!
Of course, a lot has changed since the 80s. Whereas in my youth Toronto's Gay Pride was a grass-roots rally bravely attended by a few hundred placard-carrying demonstrators marching for tolerance, acceptance and equality, it's now a week long celebration culminating in a massive Parade that attracts a crowd of one million people and generates $110 million in revenues for the City of Toronto. More to the point, we now have same-sex marriages, adoptions, surrogacy and, er, divorce. None of which I have done.
Although the tingly warmth of intertwining digits remained my motivation for holding hands, for my date I suspect it represented a gay litmus test of sorts. After residing in two countries gripped with homophobia, his motivation to immigrate to Canada included its commitment of equality for every citizen. In a small way, holding hands in public provided an opportunity to see how liberal and progressive Canadians are. We discovered not one single person we passed over the two hour journey reacted with negativity or reservation. In a moment of enlightenment, I released those fears in my past while making a commitment to fully celebrate the privilege of being Canadian.
We continued to dinner in a local cafe, had a bottle of wine, some dreadful pasta, and then left to escape the rolling black clouds which were threatening to unleash a torrent of rain.
As we crossed the street I pulled out my camera to take a couple of snaps of us walking arm in arm. As I was maneuvering my camera we realized we were being silently watched by a lone table of six, comprising four men and two women, perched under a patio umbrella in a redneck pub drinking beer, smoking, and looking every bit a rocker biker gang. My date and I bristled knowing we had caught their attention.
"Is it your first date?" growled a raspy baritone voice as the wind whipped and thunder clapped.
"No," I replied, "It's our second."
"Well gimme your camera and let me get a good snap of you!", he boomed.
The two woman squealed "You guys look so cute together!"
In shock we giggled, let him take our pic, thanked them for their time and walked back to the car.
Putting on our seatbelts we re-lived the moment. Both of us were dumb-founded.
"Welcome to Canada", I said.
I am so blessed to have Canada as my home. Those high school years of living a secret, being fearful, and filled with loathing are history. Now I know it's alright. That I can be one hundred percent entirely Me every waking moment. Whether I'm a billboard model seven storeys high smiling under the tag line "Loud and Proud", or holding my date's hand walking on the boardwalk, I am that guy next door called Steve.
My Pride is for Canada.
~ Steven and the urbaneer team
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