MAY 1998
 
POZ’s commitment to a captive audience continues with this S.O.S.

Thereis a factory in Texas that manufactures vast amounts of multiple drugresistant (MDR) strains of HIV in a population at extraordinary risk oftransmitting these strains to others. The members of this group—andthose they infect—are the recipients of medical care that, to anyonewith basic HIV knowledge, is practically murderous.

This“factory” is the Texas Department of Corrections, and it’s hard toimagine how MDR HIV could be any more efficiently created and spread. Arecent nationwide POZ survey of prisoners with HIV got several hundredresponses. In a mountain of mostly bleak and desperate letters, thosefrom Texas stood out, both in volume (40 percent) and in the painfuldetail of what the writers endure.


Cliff Chase reveals how performance artist John Kelly works magic with “Just His Imagination.”

Summer’sover. It’s a rainy Labor Day in new York City, 1987: “And now, MissJoni Mitchell.” A figure in a long blond wig with bangs and a droopycalf-length “hippie” dress drifts onstage and begins to sing. Butunlike most of the drag queens at Wigstock, an annual all-day dragextravaganza, this diva isn’t lip-synching, and the voice soundsuncannily like Joni’s. It’s all there: the yodel-y breaks, Canadianaccent, fkips of the hair, stoop-shouldered awkwardness. Joni closeswith “Woodstock,” recast as “Wigstock,” the eevent’s theme song, andthe “hoodoo” part gets hoots from the well-tweaked crowd. But then sherenders the final verse startlingly current, and the mood turns on adime: “And I dreamed I saw the drag queens/And they were all dressed uplike maids/And they had found a cure for AIDS/Across every nation…” Ahush falls on Tompkins Park. Men in silver wigs tilt their heads andlisten. I notice the rain has stopped, as if this drag Joni hasconjured the afternoon light now piercing the clouds above the stage.And when she sings, “We are stardust, we are golden,” we believe her.We want to get back to the garden, too.


Award-winning lesbian playwright Paula Vogel remembers “My Brother, My Self.”

Iwrote my first breakthrough play, The Baltimore Waltz, in New York Cityin 1991. It was inspired by a trip Carl and I never took. He had askedme to accompany him to Europe, but I didn’t go, discouraged by thecost—and unaware that he was HIV positive—so he went without me. As Iwaited for Carl to die, I sat in the hallway of Johns HopkinsUniversity Hospital, imagining the trip we didn’t take and writing theplay in my head.

As soon as I named the central character in TheBaltimore Waltz after my brother, I realized that Carl would be in thepresent tense for as long as the play is read or performed. Inrehearsal halls, I have been able to say, “Carl is a librarian. Carl isthe older brother. Carl wants…Carl cares… Carl will go to Vienna.”


Italian stallion columnist Mike DeStefano reveals that “Even Tough Guys Get HIV.”

Pre-AIDS,my world was limited to a street corner in the Bronx. Me and my palscovered our shame with Italian suits and fancy shoes, and shoved ourfear in the trunk of a Lincoln Town Car (if there was room with thedead bodies). My heroes were bull-faced and unafraid; a gentle guy whotalked of love and making an honest living was a fool. I had lots ofconnections—I never waited in line or filled out a single jobapplication, because we had a “guy” who got things done. I was at thetop of the local social food chain. Nothing could touch me.

But whenI was diagnosed with the gay plague, my friends, the big shots, wentAWOL. I often wonder how supportive Frankie Fingers would have beenabout my HIV status. “Hey, Frankie, I got the AIDS virus.” He’dprobably offer to find the guy who put the AIDS in my coffee, break hislegs, then buy me a cannoli.


JULY 1998

Sean Strub’s “The Good Doctor” is a thank-you note to the man who helped him save his own life—and a how-to for others.

Soonafter AIDS hit, Dr. Joseph Sonnabend became known as an independentthinker. And from the beginning, this caused him trouble. When heinvented safe sex in 1983, gay leaders said he was homophobic and justtrying to get gay men to stop having sex. When he cautioned against AZTuse in 1986, fellow researchers and activists alike accused him ofbeing murderous, even crazy. He founded both the AIDS MedicalFoundation (later AmFAR) and Community Research Initiative (laterCRIA), and left each over a clash of principles. His idea that AIDS iscaused not by a single exposure to HIV but by many infectiouscofactors—his “multifactorial model’—has been alternately reviled andrevisited by scientists. His early and then-lonely conviction that AIDSisn’t 100 percent fatal gave hope to many PWAs when hope was scarce.

I’mone of the dying he has kept alive. Not through some magic combinationof pills he urged me to take, but through an intangible conveyance ofhope, respect, trust and—ironically—through urging me not to takecertain pills. Since my diagnosis, I’ve outlived three doctors I hadbefore Sonnabend, each of whom, while caring and compassionate, hadsought to prepare me for my eventual death from AIDS. Joe was the firstto prepare me for survival.


AUGUST 1998

Don’t ask fiction writer Emily Carter about life with AIDS—“Ask Amelio.”

Ameliocalled while my boyfriend was out. I was in a good mood, havingobtained what I needed to want to live on a little longer and injectedin into my wrists about 10 minutes earlier. “What are you doing injail?” “Well, you know. I was driving the wrong car at the wrong time.Listen,” he went on, “sometimes girls send us stuff in here. A pair ofpanties, a ribbon from your hair, whatever.” I told him I’d see what Icould do. I rarely wore underwear and my hair was short, so Iunderstood the depth of his aloneness. “Don’t call me again though,” Isaid. “My boyfriend gets angry.”

Things were getting desperate inmy corner. My boyfriend was going to kick me out any minute if Icouldn’t think of any more excuses about missing objects and pawntickets. The phone rang during one of our confrontations.

“It’s Amelio. Listen, sweetheart, I have to tell you something.”

“Amelio,”I said, with one eye on my boyfriend who was pointing to the door hewanted me to walk out of with a dollar fifteen in my pocket and aJanuary sleet-storm splattering the street. “I told you not to callme.”

“OK,” he said, with perfect equanimity, and hung up.

Doyou have to be a brilliant plot predictor to guess what it was Ameliohad to tell me? No you do not. He was trying to do the decent thing.Now, eight years later, where is Amelio? He may have died in prison, hemay still be alive, shuttling between methadone and medical clinics.


“Oh, Viagra!” cries Greg Lugliani when the new blue diamond makes him see stars.

Theindignities HIV inflicts seem limitless. Yet unlike protease paunch orbuffalo hump, the remedy for impotence—to my mind  the most humiliatingside effect of all—may have materialized: I am one who happily callsViagra the new crown jewel of my medicine cabinet.

Voila, Viagra!Suddenly, finally, my dick was rock hard. Not just swollen and spongyas it was wont, but—Mirabile dictu!—solid as steel. And it stayed atferocious attention for what seemed like eternity. When I came, my loadbolted out like mercury bursting from a thermometer on the floor a goodfour feet away, rather than oozing out as a sluggish curd. Was that theHallelujah chorus I heard? Even after falling asleep, I’d wake upintermittently and give myself a satisfying tug—it was still standing.


SEPTEMBER 1998

“Growing Up in Public” is the fate of 15-year-old Justin LeGreci, who just wants to have fun.

“Teenagersare going to have sex,” says Justin. “I want to have sex. Soon.” Justinis bound to enter the world of dating with an unusual awareness ofhimself as both stigmatized and potentially dangerous. The “innocentvictims” born with HIV are coming of age. How will America deal?

I’muneasy about making a teenager discuss sex at a table in front of hismother and his grandmother, let alone a reporter. But I ask anyway.

“I’llmeet some girl sooner or later, and I’ll want to have sex,” Justin sayswithout looking up. “If she wanted to, I’d say yes—if I had a condomwith me.”

Justin’s mother has grown still. “What about your being HIV infected?” she asks carefully.

Eyes averted, Justin says, “I’d tell them that before.”

Imention a girl he met in an Internet chat room: Will they see eachother? “We have it planned,” he says with enthusiasm. “When we get ourlicenses, we’re going to meet up.”


OCTOBER 1998

Sex radical Pat Califia swears by “The Necessity of Excess.”

Theepidemic will not end until there is a vaccine that prevents infectionand a treatment that eliminates the virus from the body. When thereis—please Goddess, both—some will return to pre-AIDS sexual behavior.And that’s as it should be. Because there was nothing wrong with thatbehavior. In fact, sexual excess has intrinsic value and a spiritualmeaning that makes it a vital part of the human experience.

Myfriend Skip Aiken, an Old Guard leatherman if there ever was one, usedto say, “Men ought to share cum with one another.” (Also: “I never knewwhat I wanted in bed until I had sex with 300 different people.”) Hisdoctor would claim that Skip died of a heart attack, not AIDS, but Ibelieve his heart broke from too much loss and grief. Yet he neveraltered his conviction that there was something important about thatexchange, beyond the climax it betokened.

Someday, a spatter of semen will be a kiss of benediction, not a curse. Let a thousand of those white flowers bloom.


DECEMBER 1998

With “A Bite of the Apple” and a sip of Norvir, Mark Schoofs is cast out of a fool’s paradise.

I’d figured that even though I’m HIV negative, I know what it’s like to be on HAART.

Wrong.This humbling truth hit home recently when I tried a nip of Norvir(ritonavir). I know, I know—why would anyone without HIV ever get nearthat drug, renowned for gastrointestinal disturbances such as, to usethe clinical term, explosive diarrhea?

But I do know that my tasteof ritonavir gave me a new appreciation of “the nightmare of life-longadherence.” And it gave me a new reason for staying uninfected. Yes,I’m still frightened of sickness and death. But I’m more frightened ofthe joy-sapping grind of doctor visits, blood tests and vile chemicals.Those medicines are rightly called miracle drugs for extending myfriends’ lives, but I still don’t ever want to take them.


JANUARY 1999

All Lisa Kennedy can do is applaud reverend “Rainey on Parade.”

“Ona January night a bit before midnight,” Cheeks begins, “I tell theattending nurse, ‘Don’t come back in here unless I say it’s OK. Thisnight is going to be a conversation between me and my God.’”

“Inthe beginning it was a pretty prayer,” Cheeks says in a rather ruefulaside: “Oh heavenly father, I humble myself. You are the creator andsustainer of life. I’m your child. Oh, hear my humble cry. But the painwas saying something else.”

“I’m giving you the sweet version. Thenurse came in the room and said, ‘Can I help you?’ I said, ‘Is yourname God?’ She said no, and I said, ‘Get the hell out of here—this is aprivate conversation.’ I am now sitting up in my bed, screaming, ‘Showup! Show up!’”

Five months later, Cheeks approached the doctor whotold him he would never walk again and said, “You were 50 percentright: You were wrong that I would never walk again. But you were rightthat I’ll be dead by Christmas. You just never said which Christmas.”This is the kind of moral punchline meant to transform doubt intooptimism. “And then,” Cheeks adds, “I gave him back every prescriptionhe’d ever given me.”


FEBRUARY 1999

Michael Scarce takes “A Ride on the Wild Side” sans saddle. POZ takes the heat.

Rareexceptions to the barebacking norm, these men prize not justunprotected anal sex or even semen but HIV itself as the ultimateintimacy. In a mind-boggling feat of symbolic reversal, they have takenthe dread and deadliness of the virus and transformed it into desireand regeneration. For them, sharing uninfected semen is insufficientbecause it provides only a temporary bond—the come dries up, leavingonly the memory of the experience. But “charged loads,” in theXtremeSex worldview, offer a kind of permanent partnership, aconnection outside of time. Once you’re infected, you’re infected forlife. Over and over on the XtremeSex website this fantasy plays itselfout, and XtremeSexers have used their considerable knowledge of HIVpathogenesis to elaborate it. From the science of how the virusinvades—and then is incorporated into—the host cell, combining the DNAof one organism with another to make a new form of life, these men havewoven a tale of romance. Some HIV negative bug chasers have gone so faras to attempt to consciously choose the individual gift-giver who will“father” their HIV infection. For these men, seroconversion has becomea rite of passage rather than a chance occurrence, couched in metaphorsof pregnancy.


HIGHLIGHTS

Louisiana’s one-woman ASO Monica Johnson brought an April ’98 issue for each attendee of her high-school class reunion as a way to disclose her status.

Performance artist John Kelly stole the show with a gorgeous “Am I Blue?” photo by pal John Dugdale. Look for Kelly’s upcoming album of ’60s standards and his west-coast show with Natalie Merchant.

Ms. June 1998 Rebekka Armstrong bared all as POZ broke the story on women with protease-related lipodystrophy. We mourned the death of POZ columnist Scott “Spunk” O’Hara.

World AIDS Conference goers woke to find the Global issue, starring doc Joe Sonnabend, slipped under their Geneva doors. We paid tribute to faraway HIVers with our International Dream Team.

Emily Carter was on her way up when she gave us the lowdown on falling out of the writing Roiphe family and into the pages of the New Yorker. Soon after our big-selling fiction issue hit, she won a spot in ’98’s Best American Short Stories.

Barnes & Noble pulled our Back-to-School issue (with coverboy Brett VanBenschoten) from its shelves because of the gratis condoms enclosed. This only proved our point: Prevention is under erasure in the blackboard jungle.

Zerit posterboy Michael Weathers posed as the new face of AIDS in Richard Goldstein’s look at how pharmaceutical ads glamorize AIDS.

POZ went behind bars to report on AIDS activism among prisoners. Our November ’98 cover made stars of Bedford Hills tenants Pearl Richardson and Mary Clark. When copies reached the prison, autographs were in order.

December ’98 found the face of AIDS in our grandparents. While ABC sniffed out “rest-home Romeos” spreading the virus, Jane Fowler gave us the real deal.

Rev. Rainey Cheeks and other black leaders talked turkey about AIDS in their community, and Martin Delaney launched our Y2K research series with a five-step plan for a cure.

Tony Valenzuela got on a high horse to tell all about barebacking. Check this month’s letter’s section.

A warm-and-fuzzy Greg Louganis (cuddling his Jack Russell terrier, Nipper) was just what we needed after the barebacking brouhaha.

In April ’99, adult-film star Tricia Devereaux gave face to get attention for the epidemic exploding in the straight porn industry.