I tell my story and I do not in any way mean to diminish the pain and hardship suffered by HIV survivors. It’s not a pretty picture for many survivors and I grieve for them as I grieve for the family that was at my side with sex dope and camping it up when I left my wife and son and came out in 1972. I tell my story so other survivors know surviving doesn’t have to be bleak.
Once I came out I was very public about it. I became an activist although a subtle one when Jim Foster invited me to attend an Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club dinner. I worked for mayors Alioto who knew I was gay, Moscone and Feinstein as her rep to the LGBT community. I was co-chair of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, now the Human Rights Campaign. When I heard early rumors of a deadly disease among gay men I figured I had it. I was sexually active (every night without fail) so if this strange disease was sexually transmitted I had it in my body just as I had had gonorrhea in it twice. I participated in a study at SF General around 1979 and was told I had an imbalance in my blood and despite the clinician’s patient explanation I didn’t know what that meant but I suspected something was up. I participated in a Hep C study and my blood was frozen. Once they had a way to detect the virus my partner checked on his frozen blood and he was positive. If Michael was positive I had to be positive because he and I enjoyed years of the most pleasurable unprotected sex any sane gay man could want. That meant I converted around 1978 and that was confirmed in 1981 when my Kaiser doc said I had two years, so I rearranged my finances accordingly. Two years later I was still alive, so I shifted back to my normal habits and remained sexually active because my sex was primarily fisting so the chances of bodily fluid transmission were limited. I was raised a Unitarian and that has spared me feelings of shame or guilt for being gay and then later for being positive. I don’t push being positive but being positive is part of my everyday conversations. When someone at an AIDS fundraiser asked me why I wasn’t wearing a red ribbon, I said, “I don’t need one I’m already positive.”
I helped a friend die early in the epidemic but I couldn’t do more of that and I avoided most memorial services because they were too painful. What I could do was raise money and I led the fundraising campaign for what is now the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library. In that campaign we were very clear we didn’t want a dime that would go to fight AIDS and in the end we raised $3.5 million. I retired and followed my passion and I went back to school and received an MFA in poetry. In 2006 Eric Rofes, an activist friend told me I had to record the blissful early days of the 70s in San Francisco when we changed the way gay men think about sex because our generation was dead or dying of AIDS. Eric died in 2006. I decided I could tell that story better in a novel than poetry and Don Weise recommended an editor. With Don as my editor my novel Our Time about those years in the 70s will be published in January.
Since I’ve been positive I survived a mugging that had me unconscious for four days and a broken leg the result of a motorcycle accident. I lost the dearest man in the world after 18 years to AIDS along with most of my friends. What’s kept me going? On the physical side I have good genes because when it could be tested I had a low vital load. On the emotional side my mother started every day fresh and there was no blame for what happened the day or the week before. That wore off on me because despite a seriously bad relationship that lasted too long something inside me says there will always be a better tomorrow and that’s kept me going. I’m happy to be alive at 72 with a life I share with my son granddaughter two dogs and a few close friends. I hope my story lifts a few spirits. To other survivors I say, never forget we have a history as a proud tribe of survivors!