#WAD2014 – #Reagan, #AIDS, and ACT-UP

For those of you who don’t understand why I dislike Reagan so much, here’s a poster from 1987 protesting our president’s silence on the deadliest virus that America had seen.

AIDSGATE, 1987, posterThink about that for a minute. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were sick and dying, and the American president was silent!

Ronald Reagan’s silence led to the organizing of LGBT protest/action group, The AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, or “ACT-UP”. Their slogan, “Silence = Death” is based on Reagan’s silence.

AIDSIntroPicSilenceDeathSo the next time a conservative talks about how great a president Reagan was, ask them if they think it’s okay for an American president to ignore the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Ask them if they ever wonder how much closer we might be to finding a cure for HIV had Reagan actually done something.

If it sounds like I’m angry it’s because I AM angry. A whole generation of gay men from artists, writers, athletes, and teachers to doctors, lawyers, friends, lovers, and family, an entire generation was lost because of the callous attitude of Ronald Reagan and his successor, George HW Bush. Those of us who survived watched the ones we loved die all around us.

Gran Fury, The Government Has Blood On Its Hands, 1988, posterBoth Ronnie and Georgie Sr have blood on their hands.

I am dedicating World Aids Day 2014 to the fighters, the people who stand up for justice. From ACT-UP to protesters in Ferguson, we are all fighting for our lives. Never stop fighting. Sometimes shouting is the only way we’re heard.

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Seducing The Muse. …more like a desperate plea.

Did you miss me? Well I missed you too!

Sorry for my absence. I promise I have a good excuse though. Well, it’s mostly a good excuse. I’ve been fighting the forces of evil with a couple of groovy friends, a stoner, and a talking dog. What? What do you mean you don’t believe me? Yeah, well it sounded good in my head.

The truth is rather boring. I’ve been having technical difficulties.

The good news is that, after scrimping and saving, and doing more research than an undergrad studying for his finals, I bought a new laptop. Yay!

The bad news is that, a few hours after finishing the final draft of “What’s Going On“, my wandering rant about race in America, my two month old laptop got the dreaded ‘blue screen’.– NOOO! Not my baby! — Needless to say I was heartbroken. Fortunately, the remedy was relatively painless. Customer service could not have handled the situation better. The woman on the phone was able to remotely diagnose the trouble. I sent the laptop to the Texas care center on the Friday before Labor Day and received it back ten days later.

Yeah. I was surprised too.

The whole reason for the laptop was to encourage me to write more. I’m one of those people that have ideas flying through my head all day long but the moment I sit down in front of the computer… nothing. Then there’s the issue of my grammar, which needs improvement. I live in constant fear of the run-on sentence so I tend to drop commas every few words in the hope that a few land in their proper place.– Even a broken clock is correct twice a day. — The point is that I wanted to start putting thoughts to paper (screen?) and thought a laptop might make it a little easier.

In high school I loved creative writing. Of course, in high school, I had English teachers who gave us direction and deadlines and… Dickens! — Sorry. Then in tech school I got to let my imagination run free. Tech school was essentially an introduction to communications. We covered the basics of radio and television. The idea was to give you enough knowledge that upon graduation you could easily find an interning position or continue your education. My dream was editing for television so that’s where I focused my energy. My specialty was short subjects. I wrote a lot of commercials. My magnum opus was a hidden camera short where I pranked our instructor. The poor guy was the target of much of our humor. He was a good sport though. He never asked us to compromise our creativity, no matter how ill conceived our ideas. Our world would be a much better place if we had more teachers like Ed Gannon.

There’s truth to the old adage, “If you don’t use it you’ll lose it”.

It’s been a long while since I’ve had to engage my imagination on a regular basis. I’ve been so preoccupied with writing big and brilliant that I forgot a few basic rules. Write, write what you know, write some more and, for God’s sake, Keep It Simple Stupid! — KISS for short.

So, for me, the trick is to try to get in the habit of writing again. That’s what this meandering mess is: an exercise to get the juices flowing, an attempt to seduce my elusive muse, to just write whatever pops into my head at this particular moment. — Even if it means boring you all to death. 😉

James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley (1965)

“Historic debate between James Baldwin v. William F. Buckley Jr. at Cambridge University on the question: “Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?” – The Riverbends Channel

James Baldwin was one of the most brilliant minds of our time. He was unapologetic about his blackness and his sexuality. Rightfully so, as there was nothing he could (or should) have done to change either.

I’ve been thinking about writing a piece on racism for quite a while now. But so much has already been said on the subject by people far better qualified than myself. One of whom is the incredibly brilliant James Baldwin.

Note: This video runs about an hour. It’s worth your attention, if for no other reason than to get a glimpse of American history through the eyes of non-US citizens. So if you don’t have the time to watch it now please bookmark it and save it for a future time when you can.

Thanks.

A Word About Allies.

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, I thought I’d say a few words about allies.

According to Dictionary.com, an Ally isa person who associates or cooperates with another; a supporter.”

I can only speak from my own life experience. I am a gay, while male. That is the perspective from which I see the world. When it comes to *people of color, the best I can do is empathize and remember that it’s not always about me.

❇When I say “People of Color”, I’m referring to all ethnic and/or non-white people. Essentially, the majority of people on the planet.

As a gay man, I can easily empathize with any oppressed persons. There are laws prohibiting my very existence. Anti-gay violence is everywhere. It would be easy to compare it to the horrors inflicted upon African American families throughout the history of this great, yet flawed, country of ours. But I have the luxury of never having had my family torn apart and sold as chattel. No one in my family ever risked their lives just to sit at a lunch counter. No one in my family was strung up in a tree and left to die because (s)he misspoke. None of my family was burned out of their home because they moved into a neighborhood with better schools.

Allies don’t always get it right.

The job of an ally is to support and give voice to those whose voice cannot be heard. Unfortunately, we sometimes get so caught up in our own BS that we forget to step aside and give up the spotlight.

I’ve been fortunate to have had good friends and lovers who have had the patience and fortitude to put up with my BS, and show me when and where I was wrong. I didn’t always like it. At times I was downright insulted. How dare they say I’m just as racist as…? Live and learn, right?

The point I’m trying to make is this.

When you hear black folks expressing displeasure about white folks, for any reason, remember it’s not necessarily about you. It could be, but chances are they’re trying to tell you something. All you have to do is shut up and listen.

It’s not your job to say anything. Just listen.

World AIDS Day

“There will never be a cure! Big Pharma is making too much money stringing me along from one treatment to another.” – Sam W.

In order to help keep AIDS awareness in the minds of people around me, I thought I’d share some of my personal experiences, and how HIV/AIDS has affected people in my life. The following is pulled together from casual conversations with my friend Sam, whom I’ve known for almost two decades. I’ve entered direct quotes as I remember them. Everything you read here is fact.

Sam, quoted above, has been living with AIDS for a little over twenty years. He tested positive in 1991. His survival, he says, is a double edged sword. He feels fortunate to be alive but, like many LGBT folks our age, most of his close friends are gone. “There’s no one left!” he says. “In the early 90s my friends were dropping like flies, one after the other. I thought I was next. My doctor told my parents to make my final arrangements. I was prepared to die.” Sam told me that when he didn’t die, he went into a depression. Psychologists call it Survivor’s Guilt.

Though ten years younger than Sam, I can easily empathize. At the height of the pandemic, AIDS took most of my friends. But the friends that I lost were relatively new friendships. Sam had known most of his friends for ten, fifteen years. You’re not supposed to lose so many friends at such a young age.

Sam says his biggest lament is the cost of survival. He was fortunate enough to have had a decent enough employer who provided him with healthcare, and who was understanding enough to alter his work schedule as needed. He worked for as long as he could, but by the mid-nineties his health had so declined that he had no choice but to go on Social Security Disability and wait for death. Then Protease Inhibitors came along.

The new drugs that saved his life cost a small fortune. Sam takes three Anti-HIV pills which cost about $900 per bottle, and a handful of medications to handle side effects that cost between $20 and $150 per bottle. And that doesn’t include regular blood tests, doctor visits, and medical procedures.

“Remember the assisted suicide controversy in the 90s?” he asks. “All those conservatives wanted to hang Dr. Kevorkian! Now they want to cut my benefits! (Social Security, Food Stamps, Medicaid, Medicare) Where’s their compassion for the sick and dying, now?? If you don’t want to help me live, then allow me to die!”

Sam assures he doesn’t really want to die. He’s understandably frustrated by a system that has failed him. It would be difficult for him to go back to work. He couldn’t even afford a part time job. If he went back to work, he’d lose his healthcare. If he lost his healthcare, he’d get sick again and most likely die.

In a perfect world, Sam could rejoin the workforce, keep his healthcare, and maybe pay an affordable percentage of his salary back into Medicare. The trouble is the cost of prescriptions. As long as he has to take those expensive medications, he can never leave Social Security.

I reminded him of the recent advancements in developing a vaccine. “There will never be a cure!” he says ” Big Pharma is making too much money stringing me along from one treatment to another! It’s a scam, and the American people are too blind to see it!”

Though careful what I say to him, I can’t help but think perhaps he’s right. There’s no money in cures. The money is in treatment. If you cured cancer tomorrow, all those Cancer Treatment Centers would go bankrupt within months. Susan G Komen would cease to exist. I hate to sound pessimistic, but I have little faith in a system that values money over people.

ribbonflag

The best I can offer is try to educate people around me and hope that they pay attention.

AIDS (Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome) has been around for three decades. Some of the biggest myths about AIDS that still persist today include, “It’s a gay disease” “It can’t happen to me” and “There’s a cure”. AIDS is not a “Gay” disease. It CAN happen to you. There is NO cure.

Treatment has it’s own issues. Side effects of Anti HIV medication include, fatigue, neuropathy, fungal infections, liver damage, heart disease, kidney disease, body fat re-distribution (buffalo hump), chronic headaches, nausea, vomiting, vision loss, blindness, high cholesterol, diarrhea, constipation, dementia, calcium deficiency, loss of bone density, death and more.

  • Sounds fun, right? Especially when you consider prevention is as simple as proper condom use.
  • And ladies, because men are so reluctant to wrap it up, there’s a condom designed just for you. – Introducing… The Female Condom!

Knowing all of this, would you rather protect yourself and your loved ones, or spend the rest of your life at a doctor’s office?

To learn more about HIV/AIDS, check out the NIH AIDS info page.  http://www.aidsinfo.nih.gov/

Out Of The Closet, Into The Fire!

NCODI wanted to write something brilliant and inspiring for National Coming Out Day, something that would give future generations hope and pride. Then like most of my “inspiring ideas” I put it off until the last minute. So here I am at 12:15 AM with a head full of thoughts and nothing on paper … er, document file.

My earliest conversation about homosexuality was a curt one. I was maybe six years old. The idea of marrying a person of the opposite sex was alien to me. I knew that’s what people were supposed to do, but It wasn’t something I wanted to do. I didn’t think girls were yucky, or had cooties. It’s just that I knew I didn’t want to spend my life with a girl. So, one day, I casually asked my grandmother if two boys could get married. Well… I will never forget the look in her face. You would have thought I had grown another head. “NO!” she snapped. “It’s illegal.” And just like that, the conversation was over. But I held onto that thought. I filed it away for later use. The acrimony in her answer would become the foundation upon which my closet was built.

As I grew older, I discovered that people did not approve of gays. Many, like the men in my family were downright malicious. My grandfather made racial epithets part of his everyday vernacular and saved a few choice words for gay men. He said the word “faggot” with such vile hatred I used to cringe. My father might not have been as aggressive, but he was his father’s son. — Perhaps being on the receiving end of that hostility helped me to empathize with others.

By the time I was ten years old I was discovering sex. My best friend found discarded Playboy magazines and was eager to share with the gang. We gathered round, gawking and giggling. Everything is giggles with boys that age. — I tried so hard to be interested. I wanted so much to find something appealing in those images. I really did. I wasn’t put off. Women’s bodies don’t repulse me. I just wasn’t interested.

It was about this time that I happened upon a Playgirl magazine. It probably belonged to my stepsister. I took a look. This was the moment. This was the game changer. Suddenly, I knew. – And I was filled with a combination of relief, exhilaration, and dread. The fact that I had finally experienced sexual excitement was such a relief, but that relief was short lived. All of a sudden panic struck. No! This couldn’t possibly be happening! Why me?? Yes. The $64,000 question, “Why me?” I was so distressed by the thought that God felt it necessary to pile such a huge burden on my shoulders. It wasn’t enough that my parents divorced and I don’t know my mother, now God was against me too? My feeling of despair was made worse because I had no one to turn to. — A young person of color goes home to a family of people just like him or her. LGBT youth are most often alone in a family of heterosexuals. They lack representation in their own family, their own home.

I made it my mission to learn all I could about homosexuality. I was already spending lots of time in the library, so I started there. The resources were slim. I searched every dictionary, encyclopedia, and medical book I could find. I uncovered little more than clinical definitions and misguided assumptions, but I never stopped looking. —  To this day, I soak up every bit of LGBT history and culture I can find.

As puberty took hold, I learned to reinforce my closet door. Attitudes towards gays at school were negative at best. Kids can be so cruel. Anti-gay epithets could be heard from students and teachers alike. I was on constant guard. But I also kept an eye open for clues that there might be others just like me. I sought out allies, but was convinced I was the only gay person in my town. — Silly me.

By my fifteenth summer I was swimming at the nearest YMCA, conveniently located a mere ten miles away. After a swim I’d go to a nearby book and magazine shop to pick up something to read on the long trolley ride home. One day, while perusing the periodicals, the words “gay pride” caught my attention. Oh. My. God. Could it be? The clean cut moustachioed man on the cover smiled down at me. I was nervous. How was I going to ask the cashier to sell me this magazine? I looked for something else to buy. There was no way I’d have the nerve to buy this one gay themed magazine alone. Maybe if I asked for a bunch of titles the clerk wouldn’t notice the gay one. — Does that ever work?–  I continued scanning the rack, but my eyes kept returning to the smiling man. In a panic, I mispronounce the name of the magazine. I had to point it out to the clerk. I was nervous and somewhat embarrassed, but I managed to buy a cooking and a gossip magazine to go with that wonderful window into gay life, The Advocate. The minute I got home, I stashed the magazine where every teenage boy thinks no one will look. Say it with me… “under the mattress.”

My first job was at a local convenience store. I was friends with a few of my coworkers and got together with them after work on Saturday nights. It was nothing elaborate. We piled into a friend’s beat up old car and went to a movie, a diner or bowling. Sometimes we would just drive around, carrying on like teenagers do.  It was on one of those nights that everything changed.

My friends dropped me off at home so I could change out of my work clothes. My parents were quietly seated in the living room.  I said hello, and proceeded upstairs to get cleaned up. I was shocked by what greeted me. My bedroom was in shambles. More importantly, the mattress had been tossed aside. They knew! I was convinced my father was going to throw me out of the house. I was crushed.

I gathered all the courage I could and without looking at my folks, calmly left the house. My friends were waiting in the car for me. I must have looked pretty bad because one of my friends asked what was wrong. I told them I might need a place to stay for a while. When asked why, I skirted the issue. Eventually, the truth came out. Surprisingly, my small group of friends was supportive. We talked for more than an hour. The car never made it out of the parking spot. After encouragement from my friends, I reluctantly returned home to face my fate.

My parents were more upset that I didn’t feel comfortable enough to open up to them than they were about the magazines. My dad was disappointed, but not surprised that his son was gay. “Straight boys “ he said. “don’t usually hang around with girls.” The fact that there were boys in my group didn’t matter to him. There were more than three girls in the group, so I was gay. – Sounds logical to me.

My parent’s told me the reason they searched my room was because they suspected drug use. For the record, I was not using any kind of illegal substance. I didn’t even smoke. I was under the misconception that LGBT folks didn’t do drugs. Yes. I was that naive.

After graduating high school, I met my first love. We weren’t really a good match, first loves rarely are. He helped me through the death of my grandfather, but his habit of sending love notes outed me to my grandmother. She opened a birthday card that was addressed to me and didn’t like the romantic nature of the enclosed message. My grandmother took it as a personal affront, like in some bizarre act of rebellion I decided to be gay. She demanded that I find a nice girl and change my ways or she would disown me

Up until that moment, my grandmother and I had always been close. She took care of me for the three years between my father’s divorce and his marriage to my stepmother. I learned a lot about my Italian heritage through her. I learned how to cook from her. So it was especially painful to hear her say that my being gay made her “sick to her stomach”.

A friend of mine told me to have patience. He said that I had the advantage of time on my side. It was a few years between the moment I discovered I was gay to the time I accepted it as a fact of life. I was going to have to give my family the same about of time to get used to it. He was right. My parents came around within a few months of that awful Saturday night. My grandmother took a little longer, but she did manage to adjust to the idea in her own way. She preferred not to discuss it.

As I learned, while gawking over pictures of scantily clad women, I can’t be anything other than who or what I am. There’s no amount of praying that will change it. Once I accepted that simple fact, I was much happier.

New York AIDS March (1985)

New York AIDS March (1985)

By the end of the 1980s, I was living on my own. I was fortunate enough to have made friends with some truly remarkable people, most of whom are no longer with us. Those men took me under their wing and became my secondary family. Their struggles helped pave the way for my self acceptance in a way that I hope my generation might have done for the next. I know they would be extremely disappointed with me If I didn’t live life in my own truth, on my own terms. So I strive to make them proud.

In the words of *Polonius, “This above all – to thine own self be true,”  It wasn’t always easy, but it did get better.

*(Hamlet act 1, scene 3) William Shakespeare

Teachers and Education: A love story

“ALGEBRA”

I wasn’t an honor student, but I wasn’t a screw-up either. Like most kids, I had my favorite teachers. I had teachers I didn’t like.

…and then there was Ms. White.

Ms. White was my ninth grade Algebra teacher. I struggled in her class because she wasn’t very good at explaining how X = Y. I learn best with demonstration, but she couldn’t walk me through it.

Ms. White was good at one thing, though. She knew how to make us laugh.

On one November afternoon, I was so confused by her diagram that I asked her to explain the process in a way that I would understand. She turned around slowly and looked at me. A smile spread across her wide face, and with great triumph, she said…

“Frank. If we opened up your head, and poured the knowledge in, it would leak out your feet!”

This, of course, got a roar of laughter from the class; but did little to help me understand the algebraic formula she had drawn on the board.

Ms. White reused her clever little line on several other students that year. However, I hold the honor of being the first. My fellow classmates didn’t let me forget it, either. As a result, I was reluctant to raise my hand in her class for the rest of the year. Predictably, I did not do very well.

I wasn’t the only student who had to make up the credit. We were twenty in all, almost a full classroom, for that summer’s algebra course. (That was just the morning class. There was an afternoon class as well.)

Teachers like Ms. White make every teacher look bad. I still wonder how this woman was able to continue teaching, in spite of complaints by me, and several other students and parents.

When so many students struggle in one teacher’s class, that teacher is not doing his/her job!

Please don’t get me wrong. The majority of my teachers were good. Some of them were excellent. Good teachers deserve to be paid handsomely for their time and effort.

– Just sayin’

BTW – Ms. White was still teaching seven years later, when my younger sister entered ninth grade. Happily, she was assigned a different teacher.

This post was first published July 2011 on ADignorantium.tumblr