In Conversation with Aidan Flynn

Edited By: Joy Jiang

 

Some students are funny, others are smart but Aidan Flynn is easily the most intriguing, insightful, and intelligent person I have met. His interview was, unsurprisingly, the most fun I have had since the few months of being a student journalist. A charming fourth-year student, studying my favourite period in history, the Renaissance.

To begin, what on-campus student associations are you a part in?

I’m the president of the ARS (Association of Renaissance Students), I was on CLASSU as a senatore for a year.

Did you know about the Renaissance Studies program?

Yes, I actually had a professor. I was in Vic One in the Pearson stream for history and political science. Professor Urbancic saw that I loved history and historical philosophers from the Renaissance and she told me to check out the renaissance program. I read about it, talked to some students and I fell in love with the idea of it.

I literally declared it as my Subject Post before actually taking any Renaissance courses, but I had been taking the first-year intro to art history where we looked at Renaissance art.

How long were you in the ARS and were a part of it before you became president?

A year and a half. No—what happened was that the people who were the executives on it graduated and didn’t pass it down to anyone. So, a couple students and I were interested in reviving it.

Last year we had our third annual conference. We took on the role of planning the conference, organizing it and there were four of us but none of us had official titles before coming into this year, 2017-2017.

What are your plans after you graduate?

Work at Starbucks for the rest of my life—I don’t know.

I hate that question because I don’t know yet. I’m doing a fifth year and then I want to go to grad school. I don’t know if I want to go to grad school for history or art history but one of the two.

Everyone needs to chill and not worry about not finishing in four years. It’s really important for people’s physical health, mental health to take their time. Also, some of us have to work. I work three jobs and so I’m only in three courses, that’s just the cross I have to bear.

Why do you have three jobs?

I’m fully a workaholic with school and work. When I’m not doing anything, I feel very disoriented. But it’s not a good thing. Everyone thinks that’s a good thing: “Oh my god, congrats, you work so much, you work so hard.”

No. It drives me into the ground and then I have a massive mental breakdown.

What’s your background?

I use male pronouns, but I’m also happy with gender non-conforming pronouns like they/them. I’m Jewish, my name is extremely not Jewish—Aidan Flynn. Aidan is Irish-Catholic and so is Flynn.

My grandparents were Holocaust survivors. My grandfather was a survivor of Auschwitz and he came over to Canada after the War, after he was liberated by the Americans, and he went to Vancouver.

His last name was Friedman, but he couldn’t get any work with a Jewish last name because everyone was anti-Semitic and racist, so he changed it to Flynn legally which is Irish-Catholic, so that someone would hire him. So that he could live.

We never changed it back.

I’m gay—super gay.

When you say you’re Jewish, do you practice Judaism? Just to make the differentiation clear.

I think I’m more of a cultural Jew. I’m not religious, I don’t keep the Sabbath. But I do feel very strong roots, especially because my grandparents are Holocaust survivors, so it’s always been a part of my life. They were very religious—my mom and I are not but it’s definitely a big part of my identity.

Wow, I had no idea.

There are two different images that people have. There’s the image they want to present to people that’s on the surface, and then there’s the true image that’s underneath which is really the image that people talk about behind your back. People are going to talk about you behind your back, so own whatever and whoever you are.

To quote my favourite girl, Azealia Banks: “Your problems with me are not my problems. Those are your problems.”

Do you think that your interest in history has been influenced by your own family background?

Absolutely. My grandfather loved history, and it was therapeutic for him to talk about his experiences in the Holocaust. It was the opposite for my grandmother, she never wanted to talk about it.

For him, it was good—he would give lectures and talks to university students when I was younger. That’s how I came to love it [history].

In terms of the Renaissance, I’m interested in social histories of minorities and marginalized people, whether that’s Jews or Muslims.

I’m going to change my questions now to some provocative ones.

Let’s do it.

What are your thoughts on hook-up culture?

Wow. Loaded question.

Is it?

Um. In first year, I was living on residence and I was pretty promiscuous. I had come out a year before—I came out in grade 11. I was living away from home for the first time.

I think it was a necessary part in my journey into life.

What you mean hook-up culture? I feel like I’m so departed from everything that goes on here.

U of T is known for being an isolated school but then, there’s a deeper layer where a lot of us are going to parties and hooking up with people. Yet, we’re still complaining about not having a deep meaningful relationship. There’s this contrast between what we’re doing and what we actually want. So, how have your own experiences influenced the way you deal with relationships or exploring adult romance?

I hate hook-ups and I hate dating. It’s the worst thing ever because I—I’m going to get really real with you for a second. I’m perpetually terrified of STIs and HIV. I am aware of how difficult it is to actually contract HIV. Believe me, I’ve done all my research, but I don’t trust people easily.

I used to hook-up with people but I don’t do that anymore. It causes more anxiety for me than anything else. I suffer from anxiety and depression, so it makes it worse.

I have a boyfriend right now. We’re exclusive and we both want the same things. I’m very traditionalist from what I want from a relationship and I find specifically in gay culture, for people around my age, not many people want to be in a committed, monogamous relationship. It’s very polyamorous, sleeping around, and I don’t like that. I’m very lucky that I found someone that does not want to do that.

But then again, I was meeting people on hook-up apps and then in bars where people are there because they want sex. So, I was really fishing in Lake Ontario, expecting to get a shark to love and be with, and everyone else was like, “You have to go to the ocean.”

You said you’re more of a traditionalist. What does that mean?

I want to be with one person, I want to be monogamous. I don’t want to be in an open relationship, I want kids. I want to build a life with someone. I’m a hopeless romantic.

How did you meet your partner?

I actually met him on this gay dating app. It’s not Grindr. It’s not just for sex. It’s called Chappy.

What’s different about Chappy?

You can choose a setting: Mr. Right Now, or Mr. Right. Wow, now that I say that out loud, I sound crazy. But it works out. I chose my setting as Mr. Right and then you can filter people out.

Why don’t we have that for straight people?

You guys have Bumble and Tinder.

Bumble doesn’t work very well.

You know what? They’re all horrible and I wouldn’t recommend to the reader to go on Chappy if you’re gay. Honestly, I had just given up and I was bored one night. I downloaded it, and I swiped right and he started talking to me.

You weren’t even looking. That’s such a cliché.

I know. I mean, I guess a part of me was looking if I was bored.

How do you define self-love for yourself?

Self-love is something that’s really, really hard. It’s a lot easier said than done. I think it looks different for everyone but—you know what, I’m going to get serious and honest for a second.

As I mentioned, I struggle with anxiety and depression, and I also struggle with PTSD. What has happened in my past has made it very difficult for me to achieve self-love. I think it’s a daily battle that people have to face, maybe not everyone but that’s what it is in my experience.

This is my favourite affirmation for self-love and it has to do with just being in the moment and not worrying about what happened in the past: “Today I forgive my entire past, I see myself with compassion.”

That’s really all it is. Just seeing yourself as another human being. There’s always going to be someone better than you, there’s always going to be someone worse off than you.

You said, “daily battle.” What would an example of you on a daily basis trying to achieve self-love?

Sometimes it can be really big, and sometimes it can be really small. I’m incredibly insecure. I’m a very insecure person. If I’m having a really bad day, I’ll ruminate over everything that I perceive as negative in my life. I’ll stick with that and not look at the positives.

Comparing myself to other people. Sometimes, I can be walking down Church street or any street, and see a hot, beautiful man that works out 6 days a week, and never eats a cheesecake. I’ll be like, “Wow, I will never look like him.” So, that’s a daily thing. That thought will pop into my head. You just have to be like, “You don’t look like him but does it matter?”

This is a really hard thing to say and I don’t know how honest this is but I think I’d rather be a person with integrity and someone people want to be around, who people like because I’m kind as opposed to someone that looks good, superficially. But that’s so hard because our world is all about looks and appearances.

 

Image Courtesy of Aidan Flynn