Hammer films, Fangoria magazine and the books of Stephen King…
Russell T Davies has provoked applause, discussion and grief with his new Channel 4 show, Its a Sin. These stories need to be told and taught to a new generation. Davies is a master of his craft, but it was a long, hard fight, says Stewart Who?
I’m writing this on a Sunday morning, with a grim hangover and a hazy memory of a party the night before. It was soirée where it’s statistically likely that HIV was a prominent guest.
However, among the glowing faces and fit bodies, there was no sign of this unwelcome visitor. HIV was a silent, invisible and civilised presence.
It’s a cheering indication of medical progress that the virus ain’t ruining parties any more. As a gay teen, I’ll be forever be haunted by the memory of a queer soiree in ’88. The polite chatter and champagne smiles were dramatically halted when a queen swished into the room, his face a swathe of KS lesions.
Fear and loathing
As an entrance, it was unbeatable, creating fear and admiration in equal measure. It deserved applause, but people were too busy picking up their jaws and gasping.
Yes, it was a defiant act of bravery, but one of necessity. Back then, with mortality looming over every diagnosis, you either went to parties with your AIDS face, embracing what’s left of life, or died quietly.
My boyfriend at that time, who took me to the high-end bash, was angry and unsympathetic towards the KS queen who silenced the gasping onlookers.
On reflection, his unsisterly stance makes sense. He was terrified of dying and losing his looks. More than that, he was worried about scaring his young lover.
He was nursing a secret, positive status. He the AIDS which was haunteing him. Then it killed him.
Steroids and strippers
I learned of his death, a few years later, while working at QX. Somebody came in to place an obituary. As I typed in details, the penny dropped.
The dead man was the ex-boyfriend who gave me LSD on Christmas Eve, sold steroids to strippers and denied being positive at every turn.
That man. That lover. Dead.
It’s a plot worthy of a soap opera. In those chaotic days, untimely deaths and dark coincidence were a daily grind. Did those experiences make me aware of the potential price of careless sex? For sure.
24-7? As if.
Times have changed
I’m glad the dark days are over. They didn’t half drag on and it was hideously draining. Four funerals in one week can put a woeful strain on one’s wardrobe, never mind the emotions.
So today, it’s goodbye to memorials, eulogies and condoms and hello to free porn, chemsex and teens with supergonorrhea and Grindr.
Gotta love the progress, but there’s a cost to evolution. As a community, we often ignore the one thing which truly united us- death and destruction.
I know, what an offensive statement, but it’s true.
For gay men, HIV was our consistent, coalescing nemesis. It’s depressing to admit and sounds vaguely homophobic.
We often look elsewhere. We forget and ignore our elders. It’s easier than looking in the mirror. We focus on hetero celebs, who get their tits out for gay media. We exist on sex apps and worship at the temple of porn. Nada wrong with any of that, but it helps to have perspective and read a book once in a while.
Meth heads and gym bunnies
Tories, teens, junkies, gym bunnies, immigrants, clones and drag queens; it was always an optimistic hope to expect a caring family to spring from such a mixed grill. Oddly enough, AIDS did just that.
It even achieved the unthinkable and brought the lesbians and queens together. Gay women remain in the lowest risk group, but they fought on the front lines with the activists. They nursed the dying army with Sapphic practicality.
Sisters to the end
The lesbian friends I have today were the women I met in the eye of the storm. Those relationships were deep and remain so. When we see each other in contemporary settings, unspoken sadness is hidden in knowing looks as we stagger into old age.
Nobody would wish for the horror of the virus at its peak, but it’s hard not to be wistful for the sense of community that came in its wake.
We were defiant, proud and alert. Now we’re often unconscious, slaves to the selfie and forgetful of our recent history.
The idea of ‘community’ might sound unfashionable and idealistic, but we shouldn’t dismiss it, nor forget the countries where being queer is potentially life threatening. We owe them our support before we drown in a veneer of apps and apathy.
First published QX Magazine