Every once in a while you read something and think “Fuck me, why didn’t I write that?”
Well, at least I do. There’s no shame in that, though some professional writers would disagree – we are after all, most of us and at least in our own minds, the most brilliant Tamer of Words to tread an unworthy earth since Homer sang the Iliad. Texts flow from our fingers shining with all the lustre of diamonds, gleaming tapestries of art destined for slabs of marble.
Maybe sometimes. That said, I’d like to offer this as a reflection on the mercurial, sometimes brilliant and always iconoclastic Mark S. King.
"Plenty of us are more than happy to rob graves, however, in an attempt to frighten gay men into acceptable behaviors. This kind of horror-by-proxy happens all the time. Concerned but misguided gay men of a certain age hear whatever the latest HIV infection rates are, and they pull the AIDS Crisis Card.
“If their friends all died like mine did, maybe they would think twice before having sex without a condom,” goes a typical remark, drenched in self pity and tenuous logic."
We all know the type; the one so enamoured of their own peerless tragedy, unsurpassed in the entire wretched span of human existence, that they seek to chisel said tragedy firmly into the keystone of gay life as it is lived today. That tragedy, all those squalid deaths, are why we can’t have PrEP, or sex for fun, or love without fear, let alone a life uncoloured by the funereal shadow, inescapable, of AIDS.
Yes we arraign her but she
The weary Titan with deaf
Ears and labour dimm’d eyes
Regarding neither to right
Nor left goes passively by
Staggering on to her goal;
Bearing on shoulders immense
Atlantean the load
Wellnigh not to be borne
Of the too vast orb of her fate
-- Matthew Arnold, ‘Heine’s Grave’, 1867
I wasn’t in North America for the Great Death, not in New York when Chelsea and the West Village became ghost towns, ghettos of the walking dead. I didn’t see it with my own eyes in my own neighborhood, all that wanton death. That’s just my dumb luck. As a friend recently said, “Michael, you’re the happiest homo I know”. That’s not just personality or luck, it’s a function of not having my soul crippled by pervasive death.
I got involved in HIV activism when I got tired of young men sobbing on my shoulder. Not because I’d deny them or anyone whatever comfort I could give, but because the movie running in their minds was one I’d seen myself, as you likely have as well, and it sucked. “Tainted. Damaged goods. Unclean. Film at eleven.”
Yeah? Fuck that idea.
The odd thing is that this particular screen epic seems to be playing mainly in Cinéma Gay. It underlies the Weltanschauung of a significant part of the leadership class of Gay, Inc., flows through the veins of the despairing failure, the absurd laughingstock we call ‘HIV prevention’. It’s ludicrous, a cruel joke. At the risk of committing heresy against the memory of all our dead, might I suggest it’s time to stream a different movie?
I don’t know about you, but I’m opting out. HIV can be put into perspective. Or more accurately, in its place. It needs to be. How To Survive A Plague is a documentary, not the evening news. It and others like it need to be seen, today, in context; as documentaries, with an arresting power to move no doubt, but they are not current, not anymore. In our culture of instant gratification, this limitless stretch of the here and now we live in, this shouldn’t be difficult. But by all accounts, it is. For some, it is still 1984, the calendar frozen at the high point of the catastrophe; as if Titanic sank again and again into the icy waters of the Atlantic.
Fuck that idea too. I refuse. It’s enough.
Maybe we’re not supposed to say this, cloaked as we’re expected to be in the black shroud of mourning; but life is so worth living.
An HIV diagnosis will not take away your ability to find love. Or love’s first cousin, lust. The sun will rise in the east tomorrow as it did yesterday and will do tomorrow. Above you is still unchanging, immortal, the gleaming firmament of stars. We live in a world of wonders filled with art, music and beauty, the laughter of God made visible shining all around us.
If you’re in that dark place where you can’t see this, take heart: we’ve all been there. It took me five years to swim to the far shore, to see dawn blazing again over an infinite horizon.
We’ve never met, it doesn’t matter, know this: this is our journey together, and whatever else may be true, I love you. And I’ll wait for you here on the far side of Armageddon.