Finding Pride Through Art

Hi, my name is Mikey (he/him). For the past two years, I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with MAX Ottawa. I’ve always been interested in exploring creative art projects since childhood. As such, I have taught myself  a variety of arts and crafts that includes being a trained 2D animator, a published comic book artist and professional puppeteer. 

My journey at MAX Ottawa began when I met with Matthew Harding, Community Programs Manager, to discuss my proposed Community Maximizer project. The idea was to do a series of creative art workshops in order to allow guys into guys, particularly those who may be feeling isolated, an opportunity to socialize in a safe environment as an alternative to the bar scene. 

This led to a series of art workshops that have now become a regular part of MAX’s programming, MAXPress Yourself! 

MAXPress Yourself!

Most of my time with MAX is serving as the facilitator for MAXpress Yourself. At this free monthly art workshop for guys into guys, we’ve explored a wide range of art projects. These include drawing, puppet making, making leather-studded wristbands, cookie decorating, sculpting, choreographed dancing and customized superhero masks. Wowsers, we’ve had fun!

The art workshops led to the development of “The Two Dudes”, the MAXPress Yourself! mascots for the 2018 Pride Parade. What made it even more exciting was to showcase these puppets at my first Pride Parade! The blue guy is MAX, and the pink guy Eric, named after Eric Levitt, MAX Ottawa’s 2018 Pride Coordinator. We had an amazing group of MAX volunteers help with the construction and puppeteering!

For the 2019 Pride Parade I built what I can safely say is the biggest puppet that I’ve ever constructed: a thirty-meter long unicorn in the style of a parade dragon, which required five people to operate. Once again, MAX volunteers came through and helped with the finishing details.

Improving my own health and wellness

Over the last two years with MAX Ottawa, being involved and socializing with other guys into guys, I’ve been able to let go of a lot of the shame and self-hate that I grew up with. For most of my life I’ve averaged 150 lbs. During a major spell of depression, I rapidly gained a lot of weight to end up at 230 lbs.  Reconnecting with myself as openly gay has made me a happier person focused on being my own personal best. I’ve found the motivation to work on getting back into shape and am now 205 lbs, so I’m making progress!

I’m also a MAX Ottawa client and occasionally attend MAX events such as Now What, Behind the Scene, and Spill the Tea. I’m also an alumni of MAX’s free anxiety course, part of the MAX Groups program. As someone who has often experienced social anxiety in public spaces, I felt very safe and comfortable at those meetings and would highly recommend them. I’ve also learned how to take better care of my sexual health. Through MAX’s Equip Yourself campaign, I became aware of PrEP, which I’ve been taking for about a year now. 

Through my experiences as a facilitator for MAXpress Yourself, I’ve learned that despite my anxiety I can make change happen if I go outside of my comfort zone when I need to. Whether it’s facilitating a workshop or talking with someone new. It’s a huge change for me to know that I really am capable of doing these things and that I’m continually improving.

Being able to help others feels great! 

I’ve had great experiences volunteering for MAX Ottawa at various community events, including art workshops with kids for Ten Oaks and at a Catholic high school. Having grown up in the Catholic school system of the early 90s, this blew my mind! I’ve also participated in the 2018 Winter Pride Parade, Carleton Place Pride, Queer Expo, and at GayZone’s 10th Anniversary event held at Ottawa City Hall.

I’ve often welcomed guys at MAXPress Yourself! who’ve said it was their first time attending a MAX Ottawa event. The workshops are a safe way for guys to become familiar with MAX and see both how friendly everyone is and what other ways they can get involved. This has given me an opportunity to talk about the various services and support that MAX provides.  

Some guys come to a workshop once, and then I’ll only see them around at other events. This makes me happy as this is the real goal of MAXPress Yourself!… to make others feel more comfortable and less isolated within the community. I feel great for contributing in my own small way and helping change people’s lives for the better, just as they’re doing for me.

Friendship… A Great Gift!

What I’ll cherish the most from these last two years are the great relationships with new friends and colleagues. The guys in the office at MAX Ottawa are honestly some of the nicest I know. They’re always very welcoming and supportive.

I’ve also made new friends, like Stevie and Oliver, who I’ve had a blast with during this past summer. I love Stevie and Oliver with all my heart, we get along so well. I feel like I’ve known them forever! I’ve been able to be there for my new friends when they’re going through difficult times; likewise, they’ve been there to pick me up when I needed them. I now have a support system in place so we can all lean on each other. I feel very fortunate to have friends like that, now we can all continue the journey together!