Thursday, February 14, 2013

All About Michael

Regen Kreis Flag

Deep in the Bavarian Forest, the largest protected forest area in central Europe, where the Black Regen river flows together with the White Regen river, lies the town of Regen, capital of the Regen Region.  Just plain Regen.  Not black, not white, not Regensburg, which is a much bigger town about 100 km. to the West.  

Just Regen.  Which means Rain.  But doesn’t come from ‘regen/rain’ but from the Latin name for the river, the Regana.  When they thought she was feminine.  And Reganus, when they thought he was masculine.  And Reganum, when they thought it was neuter.  They had trouble deciding.  Regen now consists of a bundle of villages, including Rinchnachmündt, which was obviously never meant to be said aloud.   

Regen is a homophone with Reagan.   Which is not a gay telephone. 

So many coincidences.  So much distraction.  Perhaps I'll just get on with it.

I’ve wandered the Bavarian Forest in my day.  I love the villages of Bavaria, and one day I will go back and rent a car and and drive all around and see the changes since I lived in Munich in 1960 and 1961.

Once head of the Inquisition (the institution which now goes by the more euphonious name of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) Josef Ratzinger, soon to be known as Ex-Benedict – no relation to one of the more popular items on a gay brunch menu – calls this once über Catholic part of the world home.

But so does Michael Adam.

Tobias and Michael
Michael Adam made a name for himself by becoming the youngest mayor in Germany, at age 23, in the village of Bodenmais (ambiguously, "corn on the ground" or "corn in the attic,"  since we’re into translating names), in the Regen District.  Three years later he became district administrator for all of Regen.  No mean feat, since he represented not the Catholic ruling party, the Christian Social Union, which is not really socialist, but the Socialists, who really are - although less today then they once were.  And he beat his CSU opponent by 57 to 43% of the vote.  To put some extra Schlag on the Coffee, he’s also a gay man, who married his life partner, Tobias, last September.  In their wedding announcement they asked that their relationship be considered a private affair and urged folk in the nicest possible formal language  (“von diesbezüglichen Nachfragen abzusehen,” lit. “to refrain from inquiry on anything related to this”) to bug off - please!   Guess being a gay socialist in - did we say "once oh so Catholic" - Bavaria requires careful planning.  Oh, and by the way, he’s Protestant, to boot.

Like the also gay, also socialist, mayor Klaus Wowereit in Berlin, his country’s capital city, Michael Adam is not interested in becoming an icon of gay liberation.   He just wants to do his political job.  I take it as an extremely positive sign that in the commentary following reports of his success there is a lot of fury at the mention of his being gay.  "Why should it matter!!!  (Fill in  exclamation marks at will.)"   There is a good answer to that, unfortunately.  It is still news that a gay man should be making his way in the political world, particularly in a place which not so long ago had an intensely Catholic (did I mention that?), and therefore homophobic, culture.

I learned about Michael Adam in this morning’s paper, where it was reported he was trying to help out another gay man who was having some trouble.  Tobias G. (a different Tobias from Michael’s partner Tobias) was all set to open a restaurant when the bank found out he was HIV positive.  It’s not clear that’s why they turned down his loan, although it's highly suspicious, since things were going smoothly until that fact came out.  And now he’s getting threats and hate mail.

It doesn’t take a broad stretch of the imagination to follow the banker’s thinking.  A man who is HIV+ and he wants to open a restaurant?  Can’t exactly see that as a financial winner.

The problem with that, though, is that while gays have made great strides, and the good people of this Bavarian village and region of Regen are able to show they are a pretty open-minded lot, there is much to do to shake off some wretched ignorance in regard to AIDS – which, face it, is still associated in the minds of most people with gays.

Tobias G. has the benefit of modern medicine, and he lives in a country which takes good care of its people.  What that means is that his HIV status is now undetectable.  Only a decade ago, AIDS was a death sentence for most.  Nowadays, you can actually start with AIDS and work backwards to “No AIDS, only HIV.”  And you can then work even further back to “No more HIV.”

Tobias G. is a danger to nobody.  Not himself.  Not his partner.  And certainly not anybody who might want to eat at his restaurant.

But Tobias G. has given up the fight.   He once had a dream, after working in restaurants around the continent, of going home and opening one in his native Bavaria.  He has now set that dream aside.  Thanks, Michael, for offering to put in a good word with the bank, but no thanks.  I’ll find something else to do.  This is my home.  I’m not leaving.

It took me a moment to make sense of this article in today’s Süddeutsche Zeitung.  It looked like it was about Michael Adam.  Under the title of the article, “Gay, HIV-positive, Done in” it has a picture of Michael and not Tobias G.  And next to the picture is the blurb: “Regen District Head Michael Adam, also homosexual, offered to help the gastronome.  He refused.”

What’s that all about?  This is an article about an HIV-positive man in Bavaria, not about the district head!  "Also homosexual?"  

Were the commentators right who complained about the media’s making a big deal about homosexuality?  How the hell did they decide to put Michael Adam’s photo on this article*, when all he did was offer help to some guy – who it was actually about – and get turned down.

Was the SZ right in seeing a connection?

I really don’t have the answer to that one.

*update - February 15 - Apparently somebody on the Süddeutsche Zeitung editorial board asked the same question.  Just checked the links and I see they've taken the picture down.

Regen flag credit
Wedding photo credit

No comments: