Frankie Says “Relax” – Some Thoughts on Pride and Progress

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I was at a BBQ recently, a classic Canadian Cottage weekend, and we were taking turns casting playlists to the Bluetooth speaker and reminiscing on the decades of music we’ve been through when someone put up the unforgettable song “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood from the early eighties. I think I owned it on cassette. If you follow my blog, you’ll know I’m a Generation X Retirement contrarian and I write about change and evolving cultural models and money and this twigged in me a gestalt of memories about the arc of progress we’ve undergone as a society around openly accepting and embracing those of us in our communities who are not the fifties model of the nuclear family.

Around the same time as “Relax” came out, which I learned about from a friend’s older sibling who was in university, we had George Michael and WHAM, Boy George, Freddie Mercury and Prince. They were chasing on the heels of the music of boundary-pushing 70’s acts like David Bowie and the Village People and were followed within a few years by a cohort of gender non-conforming glam-rockers.

It was only in the last decade that I learned that one of my favorite songs from the early eighties, “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, was about a highly charged relationship between two men. I’d never actually thought about it before. Full disclosure, I am a straight man who is a parental unit to four amazing young adults and if you’re like me, you’re grateful that our children don’t have to live in a world fearful of the kind of overt cultural hatred and ostracism that our peers, our neighbors, our friends had to endure when we were growing up. But back in those days, a gay underground was a necessity. Coded language and closeted pop stars singing hetero-normative love songs was the way it was. The dominant culture believed these songs were about romance and love and sex between girls and boys, because homophobia was deeply systemic, and discrimination was institutionally entrenched. Many of those things have been shaken lose from the way they once were, but still leave room for all of us to grow.

The arc and the scope of this change in views and behaviors is an important example for everyone in our society for many reasons. Often, we see current problems that affect us and the world around us and they can feel existentially overwhelming and immovable. When we combine our desire to see these things change immediately and our frustrations, we are prone to missing a very important phenomenon: that consistent action sustained over time can have big impacts over just a single generation.

As we reach last few days of Pride Month this year and approach Canada Day this year, we have all recently learned of the tragedies of another major historically oppressed group of people: The people of Turtle Island, whose children were institutionalized by previous governments with the complicity of the Roman Catholic and the Anglican churches. As painful as this is today, and as hard as it will be for us as a nation and members of this society to reconcile this, we know that forty years from now we will have made incredible strides in the healing process.

All this is important because as a financial planner my job is to help people look into the future and if we want to see the future we have to understand the past and GenXers understand the nature of change because in the arc of our lives, we straddle the old world and the information age. Of course there are many reasons to be concerned about the extraordinary pace of transformation our generation has experienced in many respects, we’re building machine intelligences and autonomous robots without having the moral frameworks to understand the long-term impacts and there are also so many reasons to celebrate how far we’ve come in so many areas, especially where we’re going in terms of acceptance and inclusion of the full spectrum of diversity and expression within our society.

By the early nineties Madonna had released the Vogue album and through her popularity brought intimations of the underground Vogue dance culture into the mainstream. The Freddie Mercury tribute concert for AIDS awareness in 1992 moved the public conversation even further, all the while, activists and allies had been moving policy makers to end the systemic and institutionalized discrimination against the LGBTQ people in our communities in its many forms.

In 2001 the Supreme Court Ruled that same-sex couples, living in common-law relationships, were entitled to survivor benefits for CPP and OAS. In 2005, we were the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriages, which on top of formalizing the love relationship between partners opened the full financial rights and entitlements that hetero couples has always enjoyed.

We’ve come a long way from it being necessary for artists and musicians to pretend to be straight or cis-gender while acting in straight roles and writing coded lyrics; a long way since Rock Hudson brought awareness of the AIDS epidemic to public consciousness; a long way since the Toronto Bathhouse raids and being barred from the military and from many professions. These are all things we remember from our lifetimes as GenXers and that we can be thankful for as we relax together at June cottage barbecues and reflect on the meanings of those songs; and on the progress we’ve made in the last forty years. It’s helpful to know this as we seek to right other wrongs in the world and as we work together towards a greater and greater future for the country we all live in.

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