October 3 would have been Buzz’s 50th birthday. Here David Phillips remembers his first relationship with another guy.
Having been totally out as a gay man since 1984 at age 19, one of the greatest honours I have experienced, particularly over the last fifteen years, has been having heterosexual co-workers, friends and family turn to me for advice about a child whom they believe is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or gender non-conforming. Initially, I wanted to scream “Am I *that* big a homo?” or “Am I the only queer in your lives?” Soon, I recognized the trust being extended to me in exchange for a heartfelt, unvarnished reply based on my experience, experience that those around me know includes living with HIV.
Invariably, each conversation gets to “when did I know?” I always talk about the cute blond boy in my first-grade class at an episcopal day school and how we totally crushed on one another. To heterosexuals were repulsed by the opposite sex until puberty arrived, five and six year-old boys holding hands, doting over one another, and stealing a peck on the cheek in the coat closet is charming-- after all, it just might be “a phase,” except that it wasn’t. Charlie’s father was transferred to a job 800 miles away in May; and I was left heartbroken and angry, outcast among my second-grade peers.
What I omitted from my personal narrative until very recently was that the summer after third grade (age 8) I began a six-year egalitarian, intimate relationship with Buzz, a neighborhood kid two years my senior whom I’ve often called my “gay-tway drug,” the first person in my life chronologically who would later die from HIV and the first with whom I had a coming-out conversation. We ran in different circles, making it easier to keep our relationship secret; yet, we both suffered from the labor of keeping our families clueless out of fear for our own well-being. When I decided in November of our junior year of high school to apply for college admission the following fall (stay with me, stop trying to do the math), our relationship crumbled over how we perceived our families would react to our respective comings-out.
On Valentine’s Day 1980 it ended under a cold twilight on the edge of the field between our homes, and two weeks later I was awaiting my first brain surgery. We had a fleeting chance meeting ten years later, and Buzz passed on March 7, 1993 at 29.
Buzz returned to my personal narrative over the last five years as I released the shame about being sexually active at an early age that was tied to my younger self having felt cursed with medical drama for daring to love another boy. To the contrary, my underlying brain tumor had hastened hormonal development, allowing me and Buzz to experience one another as equals and permitting me to blend in physically as a 15 year old college freshman. This summer, in conjunction with the display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in Washington, D.C., I had the opportunity to celebrate Buzz’s life and to acknowledge our history with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius and HHS staff, thanks to my work in one of her agencies. Two weeks before that celebration, I was overjoyed to help open the Quilt during the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and find one of Buzz’s three panels before me.
October 3, 2012 would be Buzz’s 50th birthday.