Posts Tagged ‘Whitman Walker’

July 2012, Washington DC is hosting the International Conference on AIDS. The Names Project Foundation, which takes care of all the Quilt Panels is trying to ‘blanket DC’ with all the Quilt Panels. The Quilt has been to DC in 1987, 88, 89, 92 and 1996. Some of the Quilt were included in President Clinton’s Inauguration Parade. The Quilt was also nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. It is the single largest community project in the World to this day.

The Quilt continues to grow as HIV/AIDS takes more lives. The Quilt now has over 47,000+ panels, weighs over 54 tons and has over 92,000+ names listed. Some famous names include: Arthur Ashe, Eazy E (rapper), Perry Ellis, Rock Hudson, Richard Hunt (muppeteer), Liberace, Freddie Mercury, Tim Richmond (Nascar), Robert Reed (Brady Bunch), Anthony Perkins (Psycho), Max Robinson (ABC News anchor), Jerry Smith (Redskin Football player), Ricky Wilson (B-52 band), Ryan White, Rudolf Nureyev, just to name a few…

According to POZ magazine, the  AIDS Memorial Quilt will be displayed in its entirety for the first time since 1996 in multiple key locations on and around Capitol Hill and throughout metropolitan Washington, DC. from July 21-24.

Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt is a 1989 documentary film that tells the story of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Narrated by Dustin Hoffman with a musical score written and performed by Bobby McFerrin, the film focuses on several people who are represented by panels in the Quilt, combining personal reminiscences with archive footage of the subjects, along with footage of various politicians, health professionals and other people with AIDS.  One of those focused in the film was an ex of mine Tracy Torrey. Part of me want to go to DC to see the quilt, but after all this time and all those deaths and all those funerals, not sure I could handle it.  One of those focused in the film was an ex of mine Tracy Torrey. Part of me want to go to DC to see the quilt, but after all this time and all those deaths and all those funerals, not sure I could handle it.

When AIDS first attacked in the early 1980’s some of the very first organized response came from the Leather and the Drag community. The very simple reason for this was that they were the two main organized communities. Some of the major cities had political groups or “Pride organizations” but they did not seem to enter the fray as quickly as the leather and drag communities. Washington DC had MCC and political clubs. One of the reasons the Leather and Drag folk were quick to respond was, in my opinion, that they were more frequently in bar settings and the news traveled there faster.  It was not until July 1981 that the Washington Blade carried their first article on what became known as GRID and later as AIDS. The “Gay Cancer” had an article in December of that year.

In January 1982, after 1300 reported cases and 317 reported deaths, the Whitman Walker clinic in DC began organizing a response. They eventually incorporated and formalized the AIDS buddies program. This was a program that took what the leather club members were already doing on a less formal level of bringing food and home care to people with AIDS. Helping them shop and bath and do chores. The goal was to assign two buddies to each patient. When I got involved they were training people as quickly as possible and the reality was that many of us had two patients with no extra help. It was a surreal time.

The reason I bring this up is that it seems to me to be the last time the “leather community” really existed. Frankly the last time the gay community really existed. The leather community, in my opinion has basically become a network of people into different fetishes who cannot agree on an umbrella or even desire to. As past chair of St. Pete Pride, I see a similar thing.

 The women have splinter into factions and the drag community and the trans community all feel left out of the process yet they fail to come to the table to help produce the events. And the gay man have splinted into many factions too. The twinks hate the bears and the leather and, well, just about anything that isn’t cute and tweeking. I remember the gay community in DC when it became the “gay and lesbian community”. Then there was the ongoing war of calling it the “Gay and Lesbian” community or the “Lesbian and Gay” community. (See Why Lesbians Aren’t Gay a 1994 article in the National Review.) –  I also remember these very same women screaming because more money was spent on AIDS research and care for men then women. This despite that fact that lesbian HIV rate was one-tenth or one percent of the rate in men these women wanted equal funding! It just never ended and today we have the alpha-bit soup of names that I am not even sure of.

This to say, that once a community was created, it then began splintering and digressing. Having had a leather bar in Tampa in the 1990’s I have seen the changes in the leather community first had and up close.  Leather  was once a community with a proud heritage, first decimated by AIDS, and then destroyed by stereotypes. Today it is been become a network of people involved in kink.

Circuit boys looking pretty have usurped leather and safe SM is now learned by the J Crew set on the Internet. There is a leather contest this week in St. Pete. After a recent conversation with Race Bannon, I am anxious to see how often the word community is used and then test to see if it is ever defined.

I think the bigger question is whether we should be ok with this splintering. When it comes to the goals of the gay community, the larger the coalition the louder the voice. I think there is a need for real, grass roots leadership in America and the corporate fundraising machine that is the Human Rights Campaign is useless.

As to the leather community, I think it needs to adapt. What made it a community, actually, what makes any community is shared experiences. In this day of electronic communication and instant hook up, the leather club may be a relic. But I think a network, created of the like minded, should flourish. Occasional public meet-ups with the purpose of meeting new people, and private play parties are the way to go. Local, with  people you know and trust. Maybe the regional events and national events on like Chicago Hellfire and the ilk still provide a great service. But people need to ask, what purpose does a leather club serve today?

Just my thoughts on the demise of the community.

It is interesting how some events, some moments are crystal clear 25 years down the road. Yet events from just last week quickly faded and disappear. There is a sign at the gym that reminds us of Cesare Pavese’s quote. “We do not remember days, we remember moments. The richness of life lies in memories we have forgotten.”

In June of 1985, shortly after the test for what was called ARC was developed and available for widespread testing, I decided that I would have the test done.

It was a tough decision on many levels. I felt that if I knew as soon as possible I could start preparing for inevitable conclusion. That I would be able to cushion things for my family and make some preparations that others I knew had neither the time nor physical strength to do when they got sick. More importantly, I had heard that they had begun testing drugs at NIH to treat the disease.

I had the great good fortune to have been born and raised in Washington DC and attending school at the University of Maryland. During my years at UM, I was introduced to NIH by fraternity brothers who would go there during breaks to test whatever drugs they were testing. At one point during this time I was pictured in a Washingtonian Magazine article on How Washington Sleeps. We would be paid $100 a day, meals and bed. Unlimited “PONG” and Space Invaders. The drugs were being tested for side-effects before going to market. By 1985 NIH had blood samples from me dating back to 1978. I thought that maybe if I did have it, I could find a cure first and not have to go through the horrors of an AIDS death. (That is a posting for another time)

The downside to testing were immense. If the people found out you were positive you were an instant pariah. You could/would get kicked out of you house, lose your job, your family and your friends. The cause of the disease and more importantly, how it spread were a huge unknown. That year one of the gay magazines noted the strange illness but said not to worry because it was probably spread by the use of poppers.  The bottom line was that people did not know and the results were often tragic. Although the test were suppose to be anonymous, no one with half a brain ever believed that they would or could stay that way. There was very serious discussions about forced roundups and camps for those with the disease.

I finally opted to have the test. Going into the test I assumed that I was already infected. There was no way I could have avoided it. I was extremely sexually active. (Buy me a few beers one night and I might give up details) (This will be a follow up post sometime). I thought I was prepared for the worst.

The testing was done Tuesdays and Thursdays nights and you were given a number to use when you came back for your results. This was to perpetuate the illusion of anonymity. The reality was that you gave a name and phone number when you registered to get the anonymous number. Two weeks passed and the night I was to return for the results came and went. I could not go back for the results. I knew in my mind what the answer was but I thought not knowing officially know gave me plausible deniability. Two days later the call came. My counselor from WWC called to find out if I was ok and when I could come in to get the test results. I begged and plead for my results over the phone so I could process everything in the quiet of my head and bedroom but he would not give in. After giving every excuse I could think of to avoid scheduling it I conceded defeat and told them I could come back. He said that I must not take that as a sign that I was positive. They just need to counsel everyone. I did not buy it. I “knew” that they called because I flunked and they wanted to make sure I didn’t kill myself right away. I cried all night. Wailing at first, then, when no more tears would come just whimpering. Zack, my ever faithful Rottweiler cuddled me. Climbing on the bed he allowed me to grand hold of him and rock myself into short periods of sleep. Never before and not since has there ever been such an intuitive dog.

The next day I drove to Adams Morgan, to the office on 18th street. Again the memory of the day is etched in my mind. A bright, sunny, warm day with a strong breeze. I was angry at the gods. I wanted rain and gloom and misery. I felt if my my world was crumbling that the world shoud suffer with me. Apparently the gods do not take their cue from Woody Allen movies.

It was closed that day but the counselor came in just for me. My very limited schedule being one of my excuses. To this day I remember the office. Everything in shades of blue. The cushioned vinyl sofa and hard plastic chairs, the rugs and wall, all shades of blue. He bought me back into an exam room with thin shear blue curtain to the outside world. He gave me a little talk about the test and the history of the test and then, after a little more small talk, came the news I was was not prepared for. My results came back a strong positive.

I was sure that this was a scene that he had repeated time and again. Even still, he seemed genuinely concerned for and about me and started telling me the phases I would go through and some of the feelings I would experience. The one thing I had not though of was the feeling of always being dirty. Somehow I wished I could wash this thing away, but I would never feel clean. I asked a few questions about options and treatments and doctor recommendations and then the big question. What’s my time line. He told me that in their experience a healthy person usually has a year to 18 months before the illness first shows itself and another six months after that until it “completes its’ cycle”. For all his practice he still couldn’t say die.

After a little more small talk and assurances that I was not going to off myself that night I stood to leave and promptly passed out. I guess my poker face got trumped by reality. I remember walking past my car and around the corner to a little park and sat and stared. Not sure at what or for how long. I just remember deciding that tomorrow would be no different from yesterday. Nothing had changed in real terms. I went home and laid on my bed with zack and pondered what I would do with my last two years. Zack decided the best therapy was a walk. I grabbed his leash and we walked. We walked from Eastern Market to the Capitol to the Washington Monument and places I don’t recall. We came home and I slept.