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October 25, 2007

Longtime Companion, Early AIDS Movies, and Mentorship
By Trevor

After a bit of channel surfing, I settled in tonight to watching the Molly Ringwald classic, Sixteen Candles. I was struck by how familiar the actor who played Jake looked, and so I hopped on IMDB to find out who played him. Apparently, it was Michael Shoeffling, who also co-starred in Longtime Companion, one of the first films to portray the way gay men were dealing with the epidemic.

Now, I'm not a sappy person. It's just not really in my nature. Anyone who knows me can attest to it. But damned if I don't start tearing up just seeing the title of that film. I can't explain my relationship to these early AIDS films (It's My Party and And the Band Played On also come to mind). I don't just cry - I bawl. I weep. What is it about these stories that makes me such a puddle of mess? Why do I connect to these stories of deep, painful loss - when I never experienced that kind of loss myself? I was born far too late to ever have friends die of AIDS in the way that these films depict - and the way that my older friends talk about. I came out in 1997, just a year after the introduction of protease inhibitors, and the beginning of the end of the AIDS crisis for urban gay men (for more on this deliniation, see my late mentor Eric Rofes' wonderful book, Dry Bones Breathe).

So what's up with my tears? I've been thinking about this a lot over the past three years --particularly after moving to San Francisco and having a dear friend test positive. In San Fran, the disease was much more tangible than it felt in North Carolina. I remember hearing people tell stories about the Castro being an amazing place to find bargains on art and antiques in the late 1980s and early 1990s because of all the garage sales that were constantly going on as more and more men died. I lived in the heart of that history: 17th Street and Noe. The middle of it all.

After having some time to reflect, I think I've narrowed it down to one key issue: I lament and resent the deaths of so many of the men who I wish were around today to mentor me. Where are the 40 to 50-something year old sex-positive gay men? All we seem to have left over are fucktards like Andrew Sullivan and Michelangelo Signorile. Eric was one of the few radicals who had survived and remained HIV-negative - which makes his death from a heart attack last year all the more tragic. In his book I mentioned above, he speculates that it was his distaste for anal sex that kept him alive. Another mentor of mine similarly speculated that, had he not been abroad researching for his dissertation when AIDS hit, he would probably not have survived either. Both were highly sexually active, after all, and in those crucial early years nobody knew how to protect themselves.

So my theory goes something like this. Eric once mentioned to me before he passed away that he thought about 30% of gay men in San Francisco died from AIDS complications in the "crisis years" (1983 - 1995). While that's a giant chunk of the population, it's not enough to explain the lack of mentorship I feel in my life. But who were the men who were dying? Were they the ones with the more sexually radical politics - who were regulars at the local bathhouses and sex clubs - were they the ones more likely to test positive? Perhaps its a naive way to think, but I can't help but think that, yes, the guys who had my kind of sex politics were almost certainly the guys in the highest risk categories - and thus the ones more likely to test positive.

So this is my question: Did AIDS kill off the most sex-radical elements of my community? Or did the epidemic just make gay men more conservative in general? Because, sometimes - actually, almost all of the time - I wish there were guys out there in their 40s and 50s fighting the good fight. But it seems all we get are Dan Savage, Larry Kramer, Michelangelo Signorile, and Andrew Sullivan. If that isn't depressing, I don't know what is.

I miss Eric. So, so much.

PERMALINK | Posted at 12:50 AM | Post a Comment (3)

3 Comments

You might also try a book, "Plays Well With Others" by Alan Gerganus. Had me bawling every night.

I think it affects us so hard because we know if we had simply been born in a different year, it would have been us and all of our friends.

Also congratulations on being out for 10 YEARS!!! You should have a party! (in NYC, at my apartment).

Drew Mc | October 25, 2007 11:21 AM

Dear Trevor,

I loved this post-- and relate to it so much. I also wonder whether HIV prevention's successes were in part due to the disappearance of many of the risk takers. But to your point about radical mentors-- let's talk about that-- I have some ideas... and have you seen "Parting Glances"-- that is one of my favorite AIDS films. Loving your blog, Chris

Chris Bartlett | October 25, 2007 12:20 PM

It seems to me that the x-tube and youporn phenomena are pretty sex radical. But perhaps I'm not understanding to what you refer. Could you elaborate on your notion of "sexually radical politics"?

And I really don't grok you when you write: "But it seems all we get are Dan Savage, Larry Kramer, Michelangelo Signorile, and Andrew Sullivan. If that isn't depressing, I don't know what is." Why is that depressing?

Isn't it true that sex radicals will, almost by definition, be few and far between? Such is the nature of being _radical_. Otherwise they would be the sex mainstream.

Adam Geffen | January 5, 2008 12:32 AM


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