It felt presumptuous of me to believe I have much in common with historic Olympian Greg Louganis. His level of fame, his record-shattering sports career, and the worldwide scrutiny he faced when he went public with his HIV status in 1995 are all beyond anything I could imagine.
And yet, I also knew Greg to be achingly human in his vulnerability and his desire to be heard and understood. I can relate to those traits.
Greg and I met at the home of a mutual friend in 2018. He was genuine, kind, and eager to talk about anything but himself. We’ve kept in touch via the social media ritual of likes and cross-posting, but we haven’t seen each other since.
And then I had the audacity to ask him to write the foreword for my new book of essays, My Fabulous Disease: Chronicles of a Gay Survivor. He said yes. Just like that. It turns out Greg has been reading and appreciating my stories through the years.
I hope you’ll buy the book. It represents a lifetime of trying my best to tell the truth about HIV, survival, love, sex, family, addiction and recovery, and navigating a changing world during tumultuous times.
And it has the Greg Louganis seal of approval, as it turns out. I could not be more grateful.
Here is Greg’s foreword. Thanks for reading, my friends.
Foreword to My Fabulous Disease: Chronicles of a Gay Survivor
When Mark reached out to ask if I’d consider writing the foreword for this book, I was deeply touched. He has been writing honestly and in real time about living with HIV over the span of four decades, beginning not long after he was diagnosed in 1985. As long-term HIV survivors we share so much, including gratitude and resilience. Also, there’s a joy for the life we’re able to live now and a reverence for our ability to survive the trauma of the darkest days.
When I first was diagnosed, I felt I had to hide it from the world, aside from my closest friends and family. There was so much we didn’t know about the disease and a plethora of disinformation. It was a difficult time to not feel judged. Stigma surrounding the disease was hard to endure, and we questioned if we would ever find happiness or love. Thankfully, so much has changed, but we still have a way to go.
I applaud Mark’s courage in making such a bold contribution to our history. Mark’s writing presents people living with HIV as the multidimensional people we are, who fall in love, crack jokes, have sexual misadventures, and be funny and thoughtful—and sometimes not so thoughtful. Because, after all, we are human.
This is what I love about Mark’s writing: We see a complete, authentic perspective on both the mundane and the ridiculous moments that make up a life. HIV is only part of our lives and Mark knows this and shares it, moving beyond HIV to include essays about gay life, his recovery from addiction and more.
Sharing stories helps you heal and helps the people you share them with. Having been in my own downward spiral due to depression, I understand the struggles with this deeply. So many LGBTQ people are affected by alcohol and drug misuse, addiction and other mental health issues. In the most challenging moments it always helps to know you are not alone. Mark’s writing reminds the reader of this simple but important fact. We are definitely not alone.
In my Samoan heritage we have “Talk Story” as a way for elders to share wisdom with younger generations. Mark’s willingness to be bold and speak his truth reminds me of this, as well as my own journey. HIV disclosure is a challenge for anyone, so it’s inspiring for people living with HIV to recognize themselves in the stories and transparency of others.
I think our real legacy is about inspiring people. When our time here ends, none of us ever really know all the lives we’ve touched. My mother always told me, and I live by this: “Make everywhere you go better because you were there.” That’s just one of the many pieces of wisdom I carry with me from her. Mark’s legacy will include this book and all of the writing he has yet to do. By sharing his thoughts and stories he is preserving history and inspiring other people to embrace life—the mundane and the ridiculous.
Mark’s book is as likely to make you laugh as it is to make you cry, sometimes in the same essay. Just like life itself.
Actor, Author and Olympic Gold Medalist