WE WERE HERE, a David Weissman documentary
This afternoon I saw a special screening of this film about my generation in my city as we dealt with AIDS. I saw friends Daniel Goldstein and Paul Boneberg, and I saw men I’d had sex with and men I saw everyday. Watching it I remembered the fear of a strange disease doctors couldn’t identify and knowing only that Kaposi Sarcoma lesions signaled certain death. In 1981 I would see men one day on the street and a week later they were gone. After a while I didn’t want to ask about someone because I didn’t want to find out a friend had died. I stopped going to memorial services to stave off the sadness and built a shell. I saw the eyes of men in the film looking at their world and saw their determination to face it. Seeing a close up of a man’s eyes who would soon die got me in the heart. In those days pock marked bodies and shrunken men with canes and wheelchairs were everywhere. Walking down Castro Street was like being at a wake and reading a BAR and seeing only ten obituaries was a good week.
Yesterday as I was walking through the Castro I saw men the same age I was when I came out in San Francisco. Their eyes were wide open, expectant and uncertain. When I saw the movie I saw the smiling eyes of men that age in 1976 doing what we had never been allowed to do: have sex with another man. With Americans already caught up in free love and movies like Easy Rider filling movie houses, we jumped in and did it our way with the energy of a colt broken free from the corral. Being gay meant having sex with men and the boundaries were gone so we were free to try anything and do what felt good as often as we wanted.
Blood is shed by every minority struggling for equal rights. We had no lynchings, race riots or witch burnings, but our blood was shed in hospitals and homeless shelters and on fence posts by Mathew Shepherd. Churches and family traditions were against us from the start. Not only did society consider us the work of the Devil we grew up believing it, and we had to trust ourselves and say Fuck You to what we’d been taught before we could demand our rights. Much of that started in California, and 1981 San Francisco was becoming the Gay Mecca. It was a community we’d built on love and freedom and that work gave us the skills we needed to respond to the epidemic when no one would help us. Seeing the eyes of a patient in the film I knew his vision of the world would die and how I feared our vision of a loving gay community might die as well.
I spent last night with one of my special work out partners. I prefer that term to trick that sounds commercial and fuckbuddy that’s just sex because we work out physically, we work out what desserts we’re making for our partners, and we work out how we live in the world. Last night as we rested after a round of mind altering sex I put the palm of my hand on his chest. Feeling his skin and heartbeat reminded me of what we lost and how our simple presence nourishes us.
AIDS defines our history, and some of us will live with HIV for the rest of our lives. I have been blessed with a strong constitution and my hope is to keep alive the love and joy we knew before the epidemic. This movie tells our story. Anyone with an ounce of humanity has to see this movie. See it twice.