HOW AIDS CHANGED GAY LIFE IN AMERICA
Reading a passage from Victory Deferred
I began reporting on HIV-AIDS while I was working on a master’s degree in journalism at Northwestern University in 1986. By then two of my friends, both in their twenties like me, had already died from AIDS. Hysteria about the growing epidemic threatened to boil over as headlines like Life magazine’s screamed, “Now No One Is Safe From AIDS” when actor Rock Hudson in July 1985 announced his own AIDS diagnosis.
I committed myself then to using my skills as a journalist to document and report the terror that stalked gay men—and the extraordinary heroism I witnessed in the gay community. After more than three decades, that commitment remains strong—reinforced by my own HIV diagnosis in 2005. After 20 years of reporting on the epidemic as an HIV-negative gay man, the stories I wrote about others living with HIV suddenly became my story. My writing on the subject has taken a more personal turn as I myself have had to deal firsthand with the impact of managing a chronic medical condition. Like the many people living with HIV I wrote about, I know firsthand now what it means to live with the stigma still unfortunately attached to having HIV, the financial challenges, and the dread that failing to afford or take my medications properly would have catastrophic consequences.
My experience of living with HIV, in addition to the loss of my father and so many close friends in my young years, was the biggest of the many traumas I have experienced in my life. But it has also helped me to understand my strong resilience. Gay America's experience with HIV-AIDS taught so many of us individually, and as a political movement, about our own power to frame our stories as tales of heroism and survival--rather than of rejection and victimization. My newest book (2017) Stonewall Strong: Gay Men's Heroic Fight for Resilience, Good Health, and a Strong Community examines and celebrates gay men's amazing resilience: where we get it and how it supports our good health and helps us build a strong community. Looking at our experiences with HIV-AIDS as testaments of our resilience offers powerful and inspiring stories of courage and strength.
Besides reporting on HIV-AIDS in America, my work has taken me to some of the global pandemic’s hardest-hit areas in Africa and the Caribbean. Over the years I have expanded my reporting focus to include writing on other health and medical subjects. I have written for many print and web-based publication, including The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Men's Fitness, and the Washington Post.
I followed up the original Victory Deferred in 2001 with a book on 1970s disco music (and why dance music is still so popular) called Hot Stuff: A Brief History of Disco/Dance Music. Like so many gay men, dance clubbing and music were a regular and uplifting part of my life and helped me pull through the dark years of AIDS. In 2014 I added to my "hats" the title of "children's author" with the publication of Wilhelmina Goes Wandering, based on the true story of a runaway cow in my home state of Connecticut. Nothing has been more unexpected or given me more joy than reading Wilhelmina Goes Wandering to audiences of elementary school children and their teachers. I call it a "fable for kids ages 5 to 105" because of the tremendous response I've had from people of all ages.
Besides writing, I enjoy speaking with university and other audiences about what I have observed in my reporting and learned from life. As an extension of my writing career, my aim as a speaker is to enrich their knowledge with fact-based information and inspiring true stories to support their efforts to live as authentic, compassionate, healthy men and women.