Playing isn't paying so work is what I'm saying
Working for the world go round
The battle cry don't mess with me
I've traveled the world for eternity
Warriors of the wasteland
Sailboats of ice on desert sands
Warriors of the wasteland
Frankie Goes To Hollywood, “Warriors of the Wasteland”, (Liverpool)
The year was 1984. Even as the great Death gained malignant steam from hundreds to thousands of dead towards numbers uncountable, grief beyond measure or understanding, some of us were nervously navigating the shoals of puberty – where exactly is the atlas to explain that too-close-for-comfort proximity between first pimples and that wet dream starring the sleekly muscled captain of the school football team?
Did I have AIDS? – and suddenly, out of nowhere, it hit. A minor earthquake, if anything is minor to a confused, somewhat effeminate teenager afflicted with a minor drama complex. “It” being the debut album of the UK’s Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Welcome To The Pleasure Dome. Quite the scandal, that, if more so in Europe where I was at the time.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, let me present Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Possibly the most important thing this side of the world.”
–– Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Two Tribes (For The Victims Of Ravishment) (Welcome to the Pleasuredome)
Taste is obviously arguable; I think it’s one of the greatest albums ever cut, thought so intuitively before I even understood what it was really about; to break the suspense, by and large sex.
Not hetero sex either, nope, hard man on man fucking with a healthy heaping of leather and BDSM right smack in the heart of it. High enough on the charts to safely possess no matter how deeply you were in the closet; so in your face that parental units simply didn’t believe what they were hearing. Not that mom or dad really ever took much of an interest in my vinyl, bless them.
Mix in class struggle, punk rock, Marxism, alienation, an unflinching look at the post-industrial wastelands of Northern England and the Cold War danger of instant mutual oblivion, and it’s small wonder that the powers that be on either side of the Atlantic were less than enthused about this particular work.
I wasn’t even legally able to buy the damned thing in Margaret Thatcher's Britain, not for years, let alone do what I’ve done many times since: have sex to that gorgeous flow of music (pro tip: orgasm somewhere around Krisco Kisses is comme il faut, repeat as needed). To my psychographic cohort, Generation X, blighted as we were with Reagan and Thatcher, the lingering death of disco here and that of the British Empire there, Frankie gave a voice to our teenage discontent – and to some of us, provided an aesthetic language to articulate our budding sexuality on terms entirely our own.
“Normal” (whatever the hell that means) was out of reach, ultimately undesirable and something we were too strong for, La Cage Aux Folles yesterday’s joke and profoundly unsexy at that, Oscar Wilde far beyond teen budgets, Broadway shopworn, and the tribal get-ups of our elders – hankie codes? Seriously? – belonged to a prior generation.
Frankie was doable. As Boy London, wearable and fucking sexy. Above all, Frankie was eminently, deliciously fuckable, on the dancefloor and off. This was a new thing under heaven even in the shadow of AIDS. I suppose every generation rediscovers love and sex as something fresh and unprecedented; lucky me, I got debauchery as the model to follow.
Live those dreams
Scheme those schemes
Got to hit me
Hit me with those laser beams
–– Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Relax,
(Welcome to the Pleasuredome)
More punk than pop or dance really, Frankie was – is – an aesthetic of rebellion. An expressly gay rebellion that is, gloriously sybaritic and excessive; an angry, lascivious and confident hedonism absent apologies, young men unwilling to be categorically feminized, equally unwilling to play the stereotypical male gender role, but very willing indeed to fuck or get fucked. I’m one of them, an admitted (if picky) manslut, and bless Europe every day for the privilege.
The BBC along with other warrior-arbiters of good taste – MTV, cough – banned the album’s first single, Relax – topically about what the English charmingly call shagging – and video, the latter ostensibly for obscenity (as in “visible dick and lots of BDSM”, faintly ridiculous in the age of Kim Whatsherface); but phrased more accurately, because the video worked. Young Holly Johnson, very tasty indeed, clearly having the time of his life and, horrors, performing a song entirely un-vague about men having sex with other men. Pretty hot sex, actually; take a look. Yeah, he’s licking that.
The sexuality of young LGBT people has continued to evolve, as it should. I’m not so presumptuous to expect a teenager today experience sequential orgasms over an album three decades old. Given informed consent by all parties involved, It’s not for me or anyone else to say what your sex life should look like – full stop. To be even more blunt: it is none of my fucking business how or whom you, gentle reader, fuck or get fucked by, or both, or neither, end of discussion. That story is yours to write, not mine or anyone else’s.
Passing judgment is another matter entirely, but in that instance we’re usually talking about your clothes. I mean, really.
Where I do have strong opinions, for reasons that should be obvious in this publication or for that matter the entire internet, is on the subject of preventing HIV infection. Take it from me – it ain’t a day at the beach. You can in my experience deal with it, live a rather full life, but just between you, me and the entire planet, HIV is a pain in the ass to have. Not the good kind of pain you get from Mister Twelve Inches either; just take my word for it, and save yourself a few days spent walking awkwardly trying to make sure.
I’m expected by some people, and they know who they are, to wage a jihad – charming choice of verbiage – against condoms. The truth is that I do not use them. I’m poz and undetectable, I couldn’t infect anyone even if I tried – which would require being either a monster or shitfaced beyond my capacities.
As regards the point of self-interest, dudes, I’m a bottom, and newsflash: those fuckers hurt. Tops aren’t the only creatures in greater Gaydom that pay a price in loss of awesome when latex wraps dick. Trust me: most of the poor simple darlings aren’t quite as accomplished as we lead them to believe, so it’s not as if the vast majority can compensate with technique; sorry, boys. True enough, I’ve had amazing safe sex; but that depends on the man, not the penile wardrobe.
A few years ago, this would have made me, no real argument there, a raging hypocrite (“barebacking whore” I can deal with by the way, thank you very much, that’ll be five hundred cash, it’s been a very long and tiresome hour). Except for the serosorting part, which in everyday English translates as “I will ask what your damned HIV status is and tell you mine”. Simple.
Today however we have something new, in the United States and soon in Canada, Great Britain and elsewhere, called ‘PrEP’ – Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. A friend calls it, elegantly simple, ‘safer-sex pills’. You can have safe sex without condoms. Period.
That’s a game-changer. So here’s the deal, young homosexual (or however you designate yourself; I don’t discriminate except to note that your hair is intolerable in polite society):
If you’re having sex without condoms, as the great majority of us seem to be doing, get your ass to your doctor and have her write that prescription. If you’re cute, you can thank me later, in cash or kind, but do it. Now.
If you’re using them, good for you, a round of applause please, there you go, stick with them. Fantastic, well done, but one proviso: you ain’t gonna be banging me. Sorry baby, but on the bright side, I suspect we’ll both manage to somehow go on.
So how did we get from Frankie’s Pleasuredome to rubbers? Easy: I’m an AIDS activist, rather a slacker if the full story be told (and distinctly lacking the bitter angry earnestness obtaining in some quarters, perhaps because I still believe sex is fun), but like all of us, my biography informs my actions as much as does science or medical research. I am not a doctor, I’m a writer and do stuff on Twitter – Caveat Emptor.
These safer sex pills are, how do I phrase this, a matter of notable contention in the activist community. Not because some people are evil or dumb and others are not, would it were that simple, but because every biography in the Age of AIDS, our age, is different. I missed the Great Death by sheer accident, being in Europe during the worst of it, didn’t experience these mass deaths; having seen September Eleventh and the miserable agony that followed is a pale shadow at best.
But many men and women, good men and women, have seen too much misery and death, both halted to some degree by the use for gay sex of what had once been birth control, to contemplate the simplicity of a daily pill, the absence of a physical barrier with equanimity. And the truth is that many hopes have failed – could this be another candidate for failure?
The evidence suggests not, in my considered opinion at least, and in that inter alia of the United States Centers for Disease Control. It would be smart to trust them over me.
I’ve had the conversation about these safer-sex pills with friends outside the HIV/AIDS ghetto. To a man and woman, they are incredulous that there is rancor on the subject. And that is their right, as it is mine to be somewhere between enraged and apoplectic at the circumstance. Or at hearing, from a so-called ‘medical authority’ who was anything but, that ‘a little fear is a good thing’. No, it is not, fear cripples souls, including quite obviously of the person who said that. Suffering seldom ennobles, often degrades. For every Elie Wiesel, how many Paul Celans? Are we so arrogant, so lacking in basic human decency as to impose our suffering on a new generation? Not me, sweetheart.
HIV or maybe – spit! – maturity has taught me a thing or two. One is that facts create their own reality, and so it shall be with this form of prevention. When you pit love even in possibility against fear, love will always win.
The other is more simple and more human: HIV and AIDS are, for gay men and those who love us, a catastrophe without parallel or precedent. Our Holocaust, if you will, not over yet and nowhere near the point where we can view it with dispassion. You cannot stand in the shadow of a mountain of corpses, dead bodies of friends, the memories of lost lovers, without suffering. Nobody can, not as individuals, not as a community. Nor can you see hope, believe in hope, with the ease granted to those that do not carry this burden or stand in that suffocating shadow.
The fight over prevention is in some key ways a definitional one; it need not be painful. If I owe anything at all to those uncounted dead, it is to extend those they left behind, to those that survived, some basic kindness; I suggest you do as well.
This is another legacy of AIDS; what it has done not just to our bodies, but to our souls. That is however a matter on which I will presume to offer some words, if only because they are not my own: “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”
Not Frankie Goes To Hollywood; His Holiness the Dalai Lama. You could do worse.