All Other Video Postings
Sunday, March 24th, 2013
I have some amazing friends for you to meet.
Beginning two years ago, TheBody.com asked me to produce a series of videos (“A Day in the Life: Keeping Up With Your HIV Meds”) that would profile a person living with HIV, what their day looks like, and how their medication regimen fits into their daily routine. It was a great opportunity to highlight the everyday lives of people living with HIV, but also to let their spirit and passions come through, and show we are whole people — not simply the virus.
The profile subjects came from all walks of life, in various cities around the United States, and their personalities and interests — their families, their hobbies, and even how they became HIV positive — were all I needed for inspiration.
Below are the eleven videos that have been produced to date for the series (an ongoing feature on TheBody.com and they also have an entire resource center about keeping up with your meds). You can watch the videos here, or follow the link in the title to view the post as it appeared on TheBody. They are each less than ten minutes long; just scroll through them below and find a story that sounds like yours — or better yet, hear what the journey of someone completely different from you is like! Are you ready?
Damaries is from South Florida and could not have been more lovely; we laughed a lot during our day together. Her strength is what impressed me most: she did not come to the decision to start HIV medications lightly. She really did her research before she began a regimen. Filming her story was also a great excuse to hit the beach, since she loves to find her peace and tranquility on that gorgeous sand.
Well, first of all, Tree is adorable. So there’s that. He also has an equally adorable dog, who tried mightily to extend his few minutes of fame by sneaking into the camera shots and barking woefully from the other room. For his part, Tree does a great job explaining how he kept his medication regimen despite multiple moves and even being homeless for a brief period. I really like the Brooklyn montage of Tree’s neighborhood at the beginning of the video.
What an elegant woman Eva is. She was so gracious during our day together and had an almost regal sense of self. She really impressed me. Not only did she make peace with the man who infected her many years ago, she became an advocate for all women living with HIV and devoted quite a lot of time to volunteer work. She’s also an avid traveler — I’ve never seen so many magnets from exotic places on one fridge in my life.
What a hoot! Robert (Bobby) Darrow and I were childhood friends, when we both performed in community theater together in Shreveport, Louisiana (we were both newsboys in Gypsy, for all you musical theater queens). As we grew, he always got the good parts and I ended up working the spotlight — shining it on him — but I’m not bitter, I swear! Producing this video was a great chance to honor my lifelong friend for the activism he has done since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. And it also allowed me to honor theater itself, and how Bobby is now back in the very place he and I so loved when we were kids. This one is special to me.
You’re going to be blown away by the strength of this woman’s convictions — and the strength of her marriage. Brooke learned she was HIV positive during her pregnancy, and not only was her husband completely supportive, he stood by proudly as Brooke became a visible advocate for woman’s health, the importance of HIV testing, and their personal struggle to afford HIV medications so that their baby would have a better chance of being born without HIV. And speaking of babies, guess who steals the show in this video?
Khafre was one of the most immediately spiritual people I met during this series. He has a very strong sense of faith and a commitment to his own spiritual principles. He was also in the midst of organizing a fund raising bike ride across the country to benefit HIV/AIDS services for people of color, and I admired his dedication and pure energy. The time he devoted each day to prayer and meditation was really lovely to observe and capture in the video.
Petra & Efrain could give the other couples in the series a real run for their money for the title of Most Romantic. You can’t help but grin, watching Efrain describe seeing his future wife for the first time at an AIDS conference, where both were community advocates and both were living with HIV. They not only lift up one another during the frustrations of HIV life, they know how to take time to love and enjoy one another, as their salsa demonstration clearly shows.
Tales of triumph over adversity don’t come more dramatic than the story of Fortunata. Not only is she the single, proud parent of a gorgeous daughter (the apple doesn’t fall far from the beauty tree), she had a devastating accident when she was hit by a car walking across the street — and then had to manage her HIV meds along with a host of others while she recuperated. The fact that she relates all this with such grace was amazing to me. I had so much footage of her simply looking ethereal and lovely, the video could have been twice as long.
Anyone who follows my blog — or HIV/AIDS advocacy — knows what a gift Nelson is to our community. He’s been our own Jack LaLanne of HIV, teaching the importance of health, exercise and nutrition since the beginning of the epidemic — the video blogs he did with me on nutrition (where he cleans out my fridge) and exercise (where we hit the gym together) are hilarious and very informative. And, of course, he has a hot body. It might come as some surprise, then, that he’s very modest when it comes to showing it. I had all sorts of shots and angles I wanted to do that would have shown of his physique, and he politely demurred. He also was always focused in our interview on what would apply to regular folks living with HIV, rather than the more privileged among us. In other words, the man is a class act, with a humility that speaks volumes about his integrity and commitment.
I’ve been watching Robert grow as an HIV/AIDS advocate for several years now, since he began POZIAM social network and radio show while still in his twenties. I had fun doing the fast cuts that open his video because I thought it captured the sense of motion and vitality he has. When I become disheartened, wondering where are the next generation of activists on the scene, I remind myself there are people like Robert.
I’ve always been open on my blog about being in recovery from drug addiction, and George — who survived 27 years of street drugs — and I had an immediate connection. He devotes his life today to service for others, whether it is at an AIDS agency or through various addiction activities. In fact, something he said about his recovery during our interview really made sense to me, and I stopped the camera and shared some of my own story. For nearly thirty minutes he let me pour out some of my own fears and challenges, and listened with the attention of a man who has been there. I think his spirit is well-represented in this video.
To watch George’s video, just follow this link to TheBody. This video is so hot-off-the-presses that I’m not able to share it here yet. Follow the link and hear his story.
I learned a lot of each of these people, and I know they represent a tiny fraction of the courage and daily fortitude displayed by people living with HIV every single day. I really want to thank this group for taking me into their homes and lives and allowing me to share their stories with you.
Thanks for watching, and please be well.
Tags: aids, gay, help others, hiv, lipo, physician, recovery, research, Sexuality, testing
Posted in All Other Video Postings, Gay Life, Living with HIV/AIDS, Meth and Recovery, My Fabulous Disease, Prevention and Policy | 1 Comment »
Tuesday, July 31st, 2012
AIDS2012 was exactly as I had hoped: an enormous “summer camp” for advocates from around the globe, and I had a blast bringing their stories to you. Let others cover the medical updates and the big name speakers. I wanted to give you a sense of the people who are doing the work on the front lines – with a few bigwig interviews along the way.
Every day I sought out stories I thought would interest you and took a ton of footage (with the help of my talented camera person and schlepper Tina Robles). After a bite of free food from whatever reception was happening, I tried to make it to at least one evening event. And then back to my hotel, where I reviewed the footage, did my best to conceive a theme for the day, and then started editing. I’m quick at the editing part, but it still took 4-5 hours, into the wee hours of the morning. Then I’d sleep for a couple hours and start again. I’ll need the two years between now and AIDS2014 just to catch up!
Here are links and a review of each of the six video blogs I produced during the week. Simply click the title to see the posting and watch the video.
Since less than 5% of the programming for AIDS 2012 is targeting to MSMs (Men who have Sex with Men), a special one-day pre-conference is held the day AIDS 2012 convenes to address the needs and issues of this population.
My report includes a chat with United States Rep. Barbara Lee (right), who has just introduced comprehensive HIV prevention and anti-stigma legislation; the advocates fighting laws that criminalize people with HIV (like Sean Strub and Edwin Bernard), a little social research on Grindr (the gay man’s cruise phone app), a chat with Positive Frontiers editor Alex Garner about getting rejected (and rejected others) during the dating process, and a visit to an AIDS2012 Reunion poz social event.
In this brief video episode from the first official day of AIDS2012 the party is rolling, with an outdoor concert (steps away from the AIDS quilt) featuring Weyclef Sean and Cornel West (!), dancing dignitaries, and a somewhat surprise ending!
The fact is, Day One was a light day, the calm before the storm, as people poured into DC and braced themselves for the busy week ahead. And it was my last chance to get a decent night’s sleep.
I spent some time in the exhibit hall critiquing the fashions (and the issues) of various attendees with fashion maven Jack Mackenroth (poz and proud veteran of “Project Runway”), started a YouTube rivalry with inspirational singer Jamar Rogers (“The Voice,” right), and learned about HIV and aging from an expert with the Terrence Higgins Trust. I also had the chance to speak with the head of the CDC’s HIV/AIDS Division about their new “Let’s Stop HIV Together” campaign, in which Jamar and myself both participate.
And, with all the talk at the conference about the devastating effects of HIV stigma, I found validation of my own HIV status in the unlikeliest of places: the Gallery Place subway station.
Several contingents marched and protested separately throughout the city – marching for housing, and civil rights, and in protest of the pharmaceutical industry’s “intellectual property” policies – and then convened in front of the White House. Whereas the march and rally at AIDS2010 in Vienna was a peaceful affair, our proximity to the White House, the aggressive crowd and the police on horseback all lent an air of old time activism circa 1987.
The people included in the video can speak for themselves, and quite eloquently. Maybe it was the emotions of the event — anger, nervousness, pride — but it was an exhausting day. I felt the residue of grief for lost friends in a way I haven’t experienced in years.
This is my favorite, no doubt, and I’m proud of the visual and audio techniques I employed to give some historical context to the event.
It was time for a tour of the heart and soul of AIDS2012: The Global Village. This massive hall is the only part of the conference open to the public, and it has a grass-roots feel, crafted from the love and devotion of hundreds of community groups who are doing “the work on the ground” in cities and small towns throughout the world.
Thank God I’m a video blogger, because words escape me when trying to describe the colors and displays and most importantly, the committed people behind it all. You’re about to meet drag queens who make their living handing out condoms, sex workers demanding an end to criminalization, young prevention workers from far-flung corners of the planet, a stunning photo exhibit from the Ukraine… the list goes on.
Our little summer camp for global AIDS advocates (and physicians, and commercial interests) had come to a close, and there are images that will be knocking around in my head for weeks to come (and some, forever).
I begin this video with the astonishingly talented performance poet Mary Bowman, a young woman with HIV showing us her heart and soul on stage. It’s a jumping off point for this final, brief video, in which I pay tribute to the people on the front lines who are the very essence of this conference. They are the ones with the “star power.”
This opportunity to share my experiences at AIDS2012 was a distinct honor and privilege, my friends. My deepest thanks to you all for the many cross-postings and shares and tweets. This was a week I will never forget.
Enjoy the videos, and please be well.
Tags: Aging, aids, barebacking, criminalization, culture, drag, gay, gratitude, help others, hiv, physician, politics, recovery, Recreation, research, Sexuality, testing
Posted in All Other Video Postings, Books and Writings, Family and Friends, Gay Life, Living with HIV/AIDS, Meth and Recovery, My Fabulous Disease, News, Prevention and Policy | 5 Comments »
Thursday, June 21st, 2012
I took a shower this morning. I am clean. I might work out at the gym later, or maybe the trash bag will break on the way outside and I will scoop up coffee grounds and put them back into the bag. I will then be dirty. I will shower again. And I will be clean.
Anyone who questions whether or not HIV stigma is on the rise need look no further than online profiles and hookup sites, in which “Are you clean?” is asked with infuriating regularity. Or perhaps you have suffered the indignity of someone asking you “The Stupid Question” while negotiating a tryst. The sheer ignorance boggles the mind.
Implying that I am somehow “dirty” because I am HIV positive may not be the intention of the person asking the question. Perhaps they are sincerely trying to assess the level of risk they might be taking. But it also implies that they may raise their level of risk-taking should you answer “Yes, I am clean.” To place one’s trust in this answer, and to base your sexual behavior on it, is precisely how people become infected with HIV.
The person being asked may not have tested recently. Or has been infected since the last test. Or is lying because they’re afraid, or ashamed, or nervous, or don’t feel safe being honest because of ramifications about which you have no idea. So it’s ultimately a fairly useless exercise.
Thus, the ignorance and danger of The Stupid Question. And, because it is asked fairly exclusively by people who believe themselves to be HIV negative, it sets up an “Us vs. Them” mentality. Positive vs. Negative. Clean vs. Dirty.
“They don’t mean any harm,” you may be thinking. Well, words have meaning, my friend. The ignorance evident in The Stupid Question makes it no less offensive. While the intent may be harmless, is does do harm to people with HIV by increasing stigma and driving a further wedge between HIV positive and negative people. Like it or not, it is an assessment of the sexual viability of someone, and by extension, their “worthiness” as a human being.
In my more hedonistic days — which admittedly were not exactly long ago in a galaxy far, far away — I was dumbstruck by the conversations I would have in gay public sex venues, even the most anonymous ones. “Are you clean?” would come the question by the gentleman who was fully prepared to engage in unsafe sex should my answer please him. “Really?” I would answer, “I mean, are you serious? You’re going to take the word of someone in a dark room that you couldn’t pick out of a lineup?” I would then explain, spoken at times through a three-inch hole in the wall, that if this question was his sole criteria, then he really needed to leave this place and go directly to an HIV and STD testing center. Post haste.
Can we please remove this insulting, dangerous and unproductive question from our lexicon?
There is an alternative to The Stupid Question. You can simply offer your HIV status and see if your partner does the same. If he does not or you don’t like the answer, it is your right to decline having sex. It is not your right to berate them for their response. Whatever the case, if you are trying to remain negative then sex with someone you don’t know well should only include low-risk activities. If the relationship progresses, you can offer to get tested together and be present for the test results of one another. And that is the alternative to The Stupid Question.
An interesting social marketing campaign has been created by a new organization known as The Stigma Project, which aims to reduce stigma by calling out questions like “Are You Clean?” I appreciate its mission “…to lower the HIV infection rate by defeating the stigma that strengthens it.” If nothing else, it has instigated a dialogue by addressing some of the misconceptions and clumsy thinking that stigmatizes people with HIV.
The environment we have created with questions like this one has implications beyond mere social awkwardness. It has bled into our criminal justice system. Laws now on the books are being used against people with HIV who don’t disclose their status to sex partners – even when they engaged in safe sex, used a condom, and no transmission occurred. The prosecutions are being conducted in a world in which disclosing your status – admitting you are “not clean” – has become increasingly difficult to do because of the very stigma generated by things like The Stupid Question.
To learn more about how criminalization has become a Kafkaesque nightmare for many people, check out some new addictions to the video library for the new organization The SERO Project, the brainchild of activist Sean Strub that is directly addressing HIV criminalization.
If you really want to be heard and make a contribution to this dialogue, I strongly urge you to take a few minutes and answer The SERO Project’s new survey that gauges your attitudes about when and whether people should disclose their HIV status. Even (and perhaps especially) if your views run counter to mine, your input is most welcome and extremely valuable.
Finally, National HIV Testing Day is next week on June 27th. If you’re reading this after that day, please replace it with any date in the next month. Because the funny thing about HIV-negative test results is that they have a very short shelf life.
Last year I produced a short video, “In Praise of HIV Negative Gay Men,” because as an HIV positive man I feel more of a license to say things freely, such as what an accomplishment it is for a sexually active gay man to remain negative. And it was meant with all sincerity (as with all my videos, be my guest to re-post). Alas, it’s awfully tough to heap praise toward one side of the “viral divide” without offending the other, and the video was received with decidedly mixed reviews. Some people thought my delivery was deliberately sarcastic. Or demeaning to those who were positive.
While I admit my theatrical presentation could possibly be misconstrued, I do find it interesting how people project their own attitudes onto what they view, particularly when it comes to HIV status. People are touchy. You know, like when they get asked The Stupid Question. At any rate, check out the video, clear your mind, remember I’m actually a totally sweet guy, and see how the message strikes you.
“Are You Clean?” meanwhile, isn’t a message with value in any context. As a matter of fact, it’s downright filthy.
(Artwork credit: The Stigma Project)
Tuesday, June 28th, 2011
Storytelling is a crucial part of our culture, and not simply for entertainment value. Sharing our stories can heal our pain, educate others, and help us relive our happiest triumphs.
This video is quite simple, really. One man explains to you what happened to him, from becoming one of the first AIDS patients in San Francisco to his life today in the service of others with HIV. Dab Garner has clearly put things into perspective, and his calm manner shows a man at peace with his fate, his survival, and the ghosts around him.
It’s an amazing story, actually. And considering the importance of passing our history down to younger people, it might not be a bad idea to share this video with someone you know, maybe even someone under 35 years old.
But for now, let’s allow Dab Garner to simply speak for himself.
Thanks for watching, and please be well.
The latest volley in the debate among prevention advocates regarding “test and treat” is an interesting article by AIDS Healthcare Foundation consultant James Driscoll. His Washington Post piece, “HIV Treatment can be HIV prevention,” urges more access to medications and better funding for programs like the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. Driscoll is convinced that we can get a handle on the epidemic through increased testing and by treating those who test positive. As he writes: “Science has proven what many at the people doing primary care and others at the forefront of the epidemic have long suspected: HIV treatment is remarkably effective HIV prevention. A recent study from the National Institutes of Health has shown that treating HIV patients with antiviral drugs makes them 96 percent less likely to pass on the virus.”
Thursday, May 5th, 2011
God could not be everywhere, so he created mothers.
My mother raised six children, topping off this great achievement with yours truly. Yes, I’m the youngest, which explains a lot, but not all. To understand the rest, you’d have to know the woman. Or, perhaps, simply be a mother yourself.
Mom was there for her kids during the years my father spent in far flung corners of the world flying B-52′s as a pilot in the Air Force for more than thirty years. Mom had to be all things: nurturer, disciplinarian, confessor, judge and jury. She was the parental constant, and she performed it all admirably (and stylishly, if you ask me).
Once I was old enough to safely get home from school on my own, Mom went back to school herself. To everyone’s surprise but hers, she got a Master’s Degree — even spending a semester at Oxford — before starting a prestigious career as head of Louisiana State University’s library. She has since retired but could easily keep a smirk on her face for the rest of her life for all of those poor fools who, like me, thought her talents stretched as far as PTA meetings but not much further.
In 1985, she approached the news of my HIV status with the same pragmatic resolve as her career. She studied up, listened when I needed to talk about it, and traveled to Los Angeles to join me for a weekend educational retreat for people with HIV/AIDS and their allies. I’ll never forget her attending a breakout session on safer sex and then catching up with me to say, “Mark, explain rimming.”
Her life has been the kind of roller coaster you might expect for a woman who has raised six kids, seen a few wars, and watched two gay sons negotiate the AIDS epidemic.
There are questions I have always wanted to ask Mom about finding out about my HIV status during the darkest years of the pandemic, and how it felt for her to go through a family AIDS tragedy. In my video interview with her (above) from last year, she never flinches at the questions.
This Mother’s Day, I hope you are fortunate to have a supportive mother to call or remember fondly. Thank God, mine is not unique in her capacity to empathize or love unconditionally.
Exactly 21 years ago today, my friend Jonny Wood (right) tested HIV positive. Like many of us, he has channeled his gratitude for his good health by giving back to his community, and next weekend Jonny will participate in the grueling AIDS Ride to raise funds for the Emory Vaccine Center. You know I never hit you up for donations, but if you can afford even a modest contribution, his official web page for his AIDS Ride makes it really easy and secure to donate. No donation is too small, my friends. Isn’t it amazing that so many of us who lived through the dawn of this epidemic are not only still walking and talking, but riding their bikes for hundreds of miles in hopes of finding an effective vaccine? You go, Jonny.
Larry Kramer‘s searing indictment of society’s response to AIDS in its early years, The Normal Heart, is back on Broadway and just racked up five Tony Award nominations, including for Ellen Barkin (right). “Powerful” hardly describes this primal scream of a play, and its fitting that this 1985 masterpiece has been remounted as we commemorate 30 years of the epidemic and as our community commitment to AIDS continues to be diluted by time and treatment advances.
As always, my friends, please be well.
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011
“The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.”
– Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Ernest
How was this judged, exactly? I was afraid you might ask. Not on the number of hits or any formal voting procedure. I relied purely on feedback received through the year and from posted comments, but mostly, umm, I picked my favorites. So there.
presented in reverse order
#10. The Wisdom of Youth at AIDS2010. My skills (and physical stamina) were sorely tested when TheBody.com sent me to Vienna for the 2010 International AIDS Conference. Every day was a sprint around the massive conference center in search of stories that inspired or amused me. In this episode, I was blown away by a collection of teenage (!) activists from around the globe who gave a press conference and then chatted with me (try being nineteen and an HIV advocate in Afghanistan). Then I interviewed an actual muppet with No Strings, a program that uses puppetry to communicate with African children about AIDS, transmission, and grief. Awesome.
#9. The Real Poz Guys of Atlanta. Nothing has been more important to my long term sanity and well-being than the support of friends, so I decided to let you meet a few of them in this ongoing series of videos. In this, our second get together, my friends Craig, James, Antron and Eric and I (all of us are living with HIV) bake brownies — recipe included in the post! — and dish about our HIV, doctors, families and love lives. To top it off we all engage in some surprisingly moving “show ‘n tell,” by bringing things to our dinner that represent something about life with HIV. If you need to feel the love of friends right now, check this out.
#8. Locker 32, your room is ready… to be hosed and sanitized. Okay, so here’s my bawdy comedy side, in a farewell essay to the gay baths. In my former, youthful and/or drug fueled days, I was a staple in such establishments, and the value of how one looked sauntering about in a towel was a misguided priority that, frankly, I’m still working to shake from my world view. But there’s no such depth in this funny essay, just a final look at the baths on my very last visit, or as the piece begins, “the last time I went to the baths… I stepped in poop.” Hold your nose, and enjoy!
#7. The Price is Right, thirty years after coming on down. “When I was 19 years old, I vacationed to Los Angeles and won a car on The Price is Right.” So begins my book “A Place Like This,” my first-person account of my years in Hollywood in the 1980′s. I use the game show story to reflect on the young man I was and what dreams I had, while AIDS looms in the near distance ready to wreck the plans of a generation. I’ve always liked this as its own essay, though, and thought it would be fun to include the actual footage of my winning the car, so the reader can watch the little story come to life.
#6. My T-cells Could Use a Facelift. I’ve probably posted the heart and soul right out of this poor video, using it more than once this year, but it remains a favorite of mine because it strikes the heart of my issues as a gay man, a man with HIV, and an aging one at that. We’re the guys that can still remember being youthful but we just don’t quite hack it in the cruise clubs anymore. I know I shouldn’t miss it, and yet… The video also lets me show off my butt pads and discuss my not-so-subtle tactics to avoid growing up. Maturity is hard won in my household, my friends.
#5. A Facial Wasting Update. This is when I realized the real potential of my little digital camera: when Dr. Gerald Pierone agreed to let me film our consultation about my facial wasting (lipoatrophy), and the procedure to remedy it. This episode is actually our second video together, when I returned for a follow-up treatment — it reviews footage from the first visit but also gives a more accurate look at the treatment results. At the end of the first episode, I was so pleased with my new face that I shot my closing with such bright light I looked like I was voguing in a Madonna video. I don’t make that mistake again.
#4. I am the man my father built. Why are there passages in our life that we return to, again and again, those milestones that shape us and serve as references points our entire lives? Camping in the woods would seem an unmemorable scenario for a young gay boy like me (behold my pubescent self, right, in repose). Dad wasn’t trying to butch me up, he simply reveled in being different, like pitching a clear plastic tent when all the other fathers and sons on the campout had normal ones. But every time dad instilled in me the value of being different (“that’s the beauty of it,” was his most common exclamation), he was preparing his son for the world in a way he never imagined. A love letter to my dad, and I hope you’ll read it.
#3. Examining death, including the one I caused. To be honest, I thought I was doing my ex-partner Chris Glaser a favor by reviewing his most recent book. But that blithe arrogance evaporated when I read his elegant book about death, “The Final Deadline.” Chris devotes chapters to manners of death and their lessons for the living, and to my surprise includes one about the death of our relationship and there, suddenly and in black and white, was the wreckage of a romance, and the crushing hurt I had caused when I chose my escalating drug addiction over my partner. Reading this book would enlighten anyone, but no one more than me. Chris’ capacity for forgiveness and finding teachable moments is more beautifully rendered in his book than anything I might conjure.
#2. Once, When We Were Heroes. Another one I’ve posted to death — the video version has been on my main page for ages — but it’s as if I’m afraid I’ll never write something quite like it again. It sprang from my observations about so many of us that lived through the horror of the 1980′s and how mundane our lives are today. So many of us were called upon to do courageous things, or withstand terrible grief, and today we’re shopping at Macy’s and planning brunch. Which is a miracle and perfectly allowed, of course. It just makes me realize that you can never know what the man on the treadmill at the gym might have once withstood, or how resilient our own spirits are, when we once thought they might never survive.
#1. The Day Larry Kramer Dissed Me. Pure whimsy, no doubt about it, and the funniest part of this fictional account of a disastrous trip to the mall with Larry Kramer was how many people didn’t know I made the damn thing up. Not until they read the footnote. Reactions were all over the place: how dare I ridicule an icon, they wanted to know. I would be dead if it were not for him, they wailed. And “this is hilarious, please do HRC next!” I have not had the honor of meeting Larry Kramer but idolize him as an activist and as a writer. And if my “six degrees of Larry Kramer” friends are telling the truth, the man himself got the joke and liked it (and even left a posted comment for all to see).
Honorable mentions: My provocative chat with activist and POZ Magazine founder Sean Strub, “Five Things About HIV They’re Not Telling You,” had prevention advocates either impressed or aghast, and that’s a good thing. My favorite little video was the Gay Pride PSA That Will Never Air, which begins with funny stories before it punches you in the gut with a message about drug addiction. And speaking of addiction, there’s a precious vision of recovery is in the simple essay “A Dance to an Atlanta Night,” in which I enjoy some simple pleasures with friends who have seen me at my worst.
I feel like I’m hitting my stride. Thanks to all of you for your words of encouragement, and I mean that. This has been an awesome adventure because of you. As always, please be well.
I hope you will consider “sharing” this via the buttons below with anyone who might enjoy an introduction to the blog. I love reaching new readers. Thanks.
Tags: A Place Like This, acting, Aging, aids, barebacking, culture, drag, family, gay, help others, hiv, lipo, meth, physician, politics, recovery, Recreation, serosorting, Sexuality
Posted in All Other Video Postings, Books and Writings, Family and Friends, Gay Life, Living with HIV/AIDS, Meth and Recovery, My Fabulous Disease, News, Prevention and Policy | 2 Comments »
Tuesday, December 14th, 2010
“Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea. Joy to you and me.” ” Hoyt Axton
If you have spent any time wandering around this blog or watching my videos, you know I have an almost stubbornly positive view of things. I like to smile, I love to laugh, and if someone is rude to me I figure they must be having a bad day.
Kinda sickening, isn’t it? There’s nothing worse than someone like me standing around when you’re pissed off about something. And I realize that my insistence on being happy can be my own, clever sense of denial. It could actually prevent me from seeing things clearly in times of real trouble.
Life has a way of foiling attitudes like mine, of course. Between watching AIDS emerge twenty-five years ago and then my drug addiction during the last decade, I’ve known pain and hopelessness. So, when my first sponsor in recovery asked what I wanted for myself, I said “I want to have joy again.” It seemed like such a distant goal at the time.
Thank God for you ” yes you, sitting there reading this ” because this blog has helped me regain a sense of purpose that I never thought I would get back. Your support and comments since I launched this blog just ten months ago have encouraged me more than you will know. I feel like I have my voice again, that I am making a contribution. I am filled with joy today.
Let me share some of that joy with you. Above, you’ll find a special reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by my alter ego Anita Mann (her rendition takes you places you never thought this story could go, trust me).
The video was recorded at a fundraiser for GLBT folks recovering from addiction. It has a message that applies to us all, and it’s pretty funny. And come on, now… when was the last time someone read you this classic tale? Now is the time, so relax and enjoy.
As Anita says during her reading, “…we all have gifts in our bag.” Thanks for the gifts you have given me this year, my friends, and here’s to a wondrous, healthy year ahead.
Joy to you, to me, and to the world,
(I have added a new “share” feature” below, so you may now share this post with your friends via Facebook or Twitter, etc. with one click. I hope you will!)
Sunday, November 28th, 2010
My brother Richard smiles a lot. He has an easy laugh. But there was a time, years ago, when he held a poisonous drink in his hands and begged his dying lover not to swallow it. A time when Richard held the concoction they had prepared together and wept.
Emil couldn’t wait. He took the drink from Richard quickly, because the release it offered was something more rapturous than the appeals of his lover of thirteen years.
It was Emil’s wish to die on his own terms if living became unbearable, a promise made one to the other. When that time arrived, however, Richard wanted another moment, just a little more time to say, “I love you, Emil,” over and over again, before the drink would close Emil’s eyes and quietly kill him.
Richard has a charming store in my hometown today, where he sells collectibles and does theater in his free time. The drink was consumed over twenty years ago.
There were people who displayed remarkable courage then. People who lived and died by their promises and shared the intimacy of death, and then the world moved forward and grief subsided and lives moved on. But make no mistake, there are heroes among us right now.
There is a shy, friendly man at my gym. There was a time when his sick roommate deliberately overdosed after his father told him that people with unspeakable diseases will suffer in hell. My gym friend performed CPR for an hour before help arrived, but the body never heard a loving word again.
There is courage among us, astonishing courage, and we summoned it and survived. And then years passed. We got new jobs and changed gyms.
There was a time when old friends called to say goodbye, and by “goodbye” they meant forever. When all of us had a file folder marked “Memorial” that outlined how we wanted our service to be conducted. When people shot themselves and jumped off bridges after getting their test results.
There is profound, shocking sadness here, right here among us, but years went by and medicine got better and we found other lives to lead. Our sadness is a distant, dark dream.
My best friend Stephen just bought a new condo. He’s having a ball picking out furniture. But there was a time when he knew all the intensive care nurses by name. When a phone call late at night always meant someone had died. And just who, exactly, was anyone’s guess.
Stephen tested positive in the 1980s, shortly after I did. A few months after the devastating news, he agreed to facilitate a support group with me. We regularly saw men join the group, get sick and die, often within weeks.
Watching them disintegrate felt like a preview of coming attractions. But Stephen was remarkable, a reassuring presence to everyone, and worked with the group for more than a year despite the emotional toll and the high body count.
There is bravery here, still, living all around us. But the bravest time was many years ago, and times change and the yard needs landscaping and there’s a brunch tomorrow.
There was a time when I sat beside friends in their very last minutes of life, and I helped them relax, perhaps surrender, and told them comforting stories. And lied to them.
Jeremy lost his mind weeks before he died. Sometimes he had moments of sanity, when we could have a coherent conversation before his dementia engulfed him again. It was a time when you were given masks and gloves to visit friends in the hospital.
He was agitated with the business of dying, and told me he couldn’t bear to miss what might happen after he’d gone. I had an idea.
“I tell you what,” I offered, “I’m from the future, and I can tell you anything you would like to know.”
“OK then, what happens to my parents?” he asked. I thought it might be a distracting game, but Jeremy’s confused mind took it very seriously.
“They went to Hollywood and won big on a game show, so they never did need your support in their old age,” I answered. He barely took the time to enjoy this thought before his hand grabbed my wrist, tightly, almost frantically. He pulled me closer.
“When…” he began, and a mournful sob swelled inside him in an instant, his eyes begging for relief. “When does this end?” There was an awful, helpless silence. His eyes beckoned for a truth he could die believing.
“It does end,” I finally managed, although nothing suggested it would. “It ends, Jeremy, but not for a really long time.” He digested each word like a revelation, and slowly relaxed into sleep.
There is compassion here, enough for all the world’s deities and saints acting in concert. Infinite compassion for men who lived in fear and checked every spot when they showered for Kaposi sarcoma, and for disowned sons wasting away in the guest room of whoever had the space. But we get older, and friends don’t ask us to hold their hand when they stop breathing, and the fear fades and I bought new leather loafers and the White Party is coming.
The truth is simply this, and no one will convince me otherwise: My most courageous self, the best man that I’ll ever be, lived more than two decades ago during the first years of a horrific plague.
He worked relentlessly alongside a million others who had no choice but to act. He secretly prayed to survive, even above the lives of others, and his horrible prayer was answered with the death of nearly everyone close to him.
To say I miss that brutal decade would only be partially true. I miss the man I was forced to become, when an entire community abandoned tea dances for town hall meetings, when I learned to offer help to those facing what terrified me most.
Today, the lives of those of us who witnessed the horror have become relatively normal again, perhaps mundane. We prefer it. We have new lives in a world that isn’t choking on disease.
But once, there was a time when we were heroes.
(I was honored to receive an award from the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association for this piece in 2007, which has been revised to commemorate World AIDS Day. I produced the accompanying video a few days ago — think of it as a “DVD Extra.” Feel free to share this with friends (I’m trying to introduce my blog to new people, if you can help with that). Here’s to a joyous and healthy holiday season for us all. — Mark)
Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
This week I am honored to be a “guest host” for The Bilerico Project, the leading online blogging salon for GLBT commentary, politics and culture. My job is to contribute three times a day and get out of my HIV rut! I’m having fun with pop culture topics you don’t normally see around here (although my most discussed posting so far is about the tension between HIV positive and negative gay men, and it has managed to piss off both).
Here’s a collection of the postings so far for the week. You can always post a comment here, or feel free to leave one at the posts’ Bilerico location. Any friend of mine is a friend of theirs.
The Critic’s Foyer. When Gene Shalit announced he was leaving The Today Show after 40 years of reviewing movies, somebody had to take the job, right? With apologies to Mr. Shalit’s “The Critic’s Corner,” here is my gay, snarky, snappy review of recent movies. This was a fun video to produce!
Jocks are Sexy. Straps are Silly. Jockstraps are a costume, like wearing a harness to a leather bar. Right? I consider the topic oh-so-carefully and provide some history of the garment. At least finding the pictures to use with this post was fun.
Positive vs. Negative: The Truce is Broken. My post about “the tense truce between HIV positive and HIV negative gay men” got me in some hot water (wait until you read the passionate comments!). I wrote about the angry responses I received to my video that praised HIV negative gay men, saying that a nerve had been struck that dealt with buried resentments between positive and negative. Some readers, though, just thought I came across as sarcastic in the video, and it was my style that ruined the substance.
Dancing Away the Sins of the Mother. The series Dancing with the Stars has a way of showing you a celebrity as you’ve never seen them before or, as in the case of Bristol Palin, allowing us to see her humanity and gumption and forget for a moment who the hell her mother is. Bristol has grown on me, and challenged my tendency to demonize opponents — and even by extension, their kids. Bristol’s future on the show doesn’t matter. She’s already done something amazing.
The Top 5 Most Adorable Animal Videos. It’s shameful how spoiled my three dogs are. Thank God my partner is worse about it than I am. So you can imagine how much fun it was for me to research and then create this list. Warning to cat lovers: the list is dog heavy, but a few cute kitties make the grade.
The week is still unfolding; I’ll check back with more Bilerico posts later. Coming up next week: a great new video episode, wherein HIV exercise and nutrition expert Nelson Vergel takes me to the gym, cleans out my fridge, and lectures me about white bread.
Tags: Aging, aids, culture, family, gay, gratitude, hiv, lipo, meth, recovery, Recreation, serosorting, Sexuality
Posted in All Other Video Postings, Books and Writings, Family and Friends, Gay Life, Living with HIV/AIDS, My Fabulous Disease, News, Prevention and Policy | 3 Comments »
Monday, October 18th, 2010
When I was nineteen years old, I vacationed to Los Angeles and won a car on “The Price is Right.”
In the following years, if I really liked you and wanted to impress you — or give you a small, wacky glimpse of my life — then at some juncture I’d say “So hey, have you ever been to Los Angeles?” Or, “Did I ever tell you about the car?”
It was a long time ago. Thirty years. I have a videotape of the entire episode and it gets trotted out and viewed from time to time. Well, maybe not as much anymore.
Year after year I’ve seen that video and find myself pulling farther away from the image on my television screen — the oldest tape I have of myself on TV, although, make no mistake about it, I have many.
On the tape I’m impossibly cute, with a tall lean body and a freckled face straight out of Howdy Doody’s Peanut Gallery. There is bright orange hair on my head, blown dry to late-70′s perfection and parted in the middle between two feathered, astoundingly symmetrical sides.
Anyway, here’s the “Price is Right” story.
It’s Spring 1980. My lover Charley and I are visiting my old college friend Charles, who lives in Los Angeles. Charles takes us to CBS studios for a tour, but once there we find out they don’t give them anymore. But we can go wait in line for “The Price is Right” if we want to, the lady says. Why not? A live game show taping. Cool.
We stand in line and this producer comes by with an assistant in tow, and he’s chatting with everybody in the line. One by one. And the assistant is taking careful notes. Get it? They’re picking contestants. So the producer gets to me and whereas everybody’s been kind of shy and polite and maybe a little perky, I grab his hand and shake as hard as I can and just about bust a gut beaming, saying “Hi there, I’m Mark King and I drove all the way from New Orleans Louisiana just to be on this show!”
I watch TV. Everybody knows what they’re looking for.
Portions of The Price is Right Story are deeply ingrained, as frozen in my delivery as they are on that old Betamax video tape. Hearing Johnny Olsen shouting “Mark King! Come on down!” and galloping down the ramp to bidding stations in front of the stage, jumping up and down, my sprayed hair jolted above me in two feathered clumps, lazily floating back down to my head like snapping an orange sheet over a bed and watching it descend.
Or when I won the very first prize that came up for bids — an Amana Range. “And to the winner of that range goes,” I can hear Johnny Olsen saying, “Kentucky Fried Chicken in an insulated tote bag. It’s so nice to feel so good about a meal!”
“And the original retail price of that range is… six hundred and eighty nine dollars and Mark, you’ve won it! Come on up here!” Bob Barker declares, and I scramble up for a chat with Bob that holds no memory or recollection, just what I’ve seen on the tape, because I truly had no idea what the man was saying, such was my shock. But I nod and grin in the right places.
Bob asks me where I’m from and I tell him I’m a student at the University of New Orleans. Really? What year? he asks. I say I’m a senior — a lie, I was a sophomore, but couldn’t have told you my middle name at that point — and say that I’ll go “right on to graduate school to get a masters in Arts Management.”
Today when I see the tape, I want to wipe the idyllic grin off that skinny boy’s face and correct the error I made years ago. I had it all wrong. “Well Bob,” I would say instead, “I’ll finish college through the mail after I move here to Los Angeles and work for a heroin-addicted mail order sleaze bag. Then I hope to make it big as a sexual entrepreneur.” “That’s marvelous!” Bob would then reply, “A prostitute perhaps?”
The cameras would turn to the audience, all of them glued to the monitors and nodding expectantly. “Aw, you flatter me, Bob. Seriously, I was thinking I’d be good at getting people off over the phone.” Bob’s most winning game show host smile would appear. “What a talented young man!” he would say with fatherly pride. The APPLAUSE light would flash again and again. The audience would react like stadium fans witnessing a touchdown. “There’s even more, Bob. I’ll go on to watch some friends die horribly of a disease we haven’t even heard of yet, fight my drug addiction, and then spend years searching for life’s greater meaning. You have anything up for bids that might help me with that?”
But back to reality — or, at least, “The Price is Right.”
Bob stops talking for a second and Johnny Olsen announces what I just might win — a shiny new Pontiac Coupe! The audience absolutely screeches, and the camera flashes to my lover Charley whistling with his fingers in his mouth, wearing exactly the same jeans and red t-shirt as myself. We were in that early, wearing-matching-outfits stage of our relationship.
On stage, Bob inspected the car with me before the game began. “Just look at these wire wheel covers here, Mark. Say tell me,” he questioned as he put the microphone to my lips, “do you have a girlfriend back home?” No, Bob. But your camera man must adore my homosexual lover because he’s given him every reaction shot since I stepped up here.
“Aw, several!” I offered with a laugh and an adorable but practiced shrug. “Well, you’ll have several more if you win this one!” Bob said. The game was something called “Lucky Seven” and Charley screamed out every last thing for me to say and do, which was a great help since I didn’t understand what the hell was going on. After going step by step through the game, with tension building and Bob reminding me how close I was to winning every three seconds, I get to the last question. After Charley’s prompting I give the winning answer, the audience goes nuts, and the camera man goes to Charley for even more shots as he explodes from his chair and waves his hands and dances about. “You’ve won that car!” Bob shouts. If I had won a fur coat Charley would’ve jumped to the stage and thrown it on, so help me.
I furiously shake Bob Barker’s hand and notice how much make-up he has on. Thick, like a paste. And his hair dye has left a brown stain across his hairline. He introduces the first sponsor while the camera returns to me, beaming, all shocked and happy. I pick my teeth with my tongue and they break to a commercial. The show went on to other contestants of course, but I’ve never watched the tape that far. The beginning of the show has been played ragged, however. About six minutes of my life, run countless times on the TV in my living room, after some dinner with friends and maybe coffee and dessert.
I sold the car to my sister Nancy for what the income taxes cost me — I was in college and didn’t need one anyway. The Amana Range went to my brother David as a wedding present. I kept the insulated Kentucky Fried Chicken tote bag — my lone trophy from the event — and store it in the laundry room. It’s nearby if there’s a showing of the video and it makes a great prop during the viewing.
Within a few years of Coming On Down, there would be enormous differences between that video boy and myself, shaped by life events that would throw a wet blanket on my aw shucks optimism. I’ve tried to recover from them, to regain the hopeful, expectant glimmer found in the eyes of the kid from “The Price is Right,” with mixed success.
He was fearless, I have reservations. He believed, I suspect. A few years in the life of a gay man living at the dusk of the sexual revolution and during the dawn of a terrible disease does manage to bring about some striking changes.
I have a few stories about those times, too. Some of them aren’t very attractive, and I definitely haven’t shared them at parties. I wonder if they have any value, if they define something more than myself, if they sound familiar. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to decide if what I’ve been through has helped me, if it “made me a better person,” if it was, in fact, a gift.
And wondering, of course, if the price was right.
Just like the old video tape trotted out for the occasional viewing, I like sharing this (slightly revised) prologue from my book A Place Like This. It may have been thirty years ago, but winning the car remains one of my life’s milestones. Can I still approximate that young man’s happiness today, or reconcile him with the man I have become…? — Mark