by Ruby Comer
Next to Judge Marilyn Milian (from The People’s Court) and reruns of The Golden Girls, my fave program on the telly is CSI, the original one. I mean, c’mon, who’s more delicious than weapons expert, Bobby D? He’s dreeeeamy! For ten years I’ve watched his puss and every time he’s on-screen my hot flashes get hot flashes.
I nearly swooned when I learned that he was going to be at the AIDS Walk. Of course I’m speaking about actor Gerald McCullouch, who plays the gun dude. Oh, lawzy, he can stick his gun…oops, I’m getting carried away, my loves, but I don’t care if he is gay! (Last month he was an OUT 100 honoree.) This actor is multitalented—an accomplished standup, a filmmaker, and he even toured in Jesus Christ Superstar playing, who else?, Jesus. This month he stars in the West Coast preem of DADDY right here in Hollywood at the Hudson Mainstage after playing to packed houses in New York. Gerald has long been an AIDS activist: from dance-a-thons, to delivering food, and reading names (including Rock Hudson’s) at a NAMES Project/AIDS Memorial Quilt viewing. One time he was a poster boy and appeared in several ads simultaneously on both coasts! One billboard was in Times Square and the other was on Sunset Boulevard. He also appeared in an ad for an AIDS antiretroviral drug campaign.
At the AIDS Walk I hook up with him. We begin our journey at West Hollywood Park on Santa Monica Blvd.
Ruby Comer: What a bright, gorgeous day, huh? [I put on my wide brim hat to protect my peaches and cream complexion.] I have to ask, did you have any startling revelations while playing the son of God?!
Gerald McCullouch: I had a few that to this day challenge my willingness to support organized religion. I went through the fear of being totally alone and betrayed with each performance. “Jesus” revealed a commitment and a courage that I’ve yet to grasp.
Interesting. You know, I’m surprised we haven’t run into each other before at events like this. When did you begin volunteering, Gerald?
When I first moved to New York City in my early twenties, I volunteered for GMHC where I taught safe sex workshops. I was also involved in an outreach program where I would engage in one-on-one education sessions with hustlers and johns. And more recently, I volunteered at Sylvia’s Place in New York, a shelter for homeless GLBT youth. I’m also a mentor at the residence wing for sexually abused youth at Trinitas Regional Medical Center in New Jersey.
Thank you for all your generous work. [In appreciation, I detach the plastic ruby red rose on my hat and place it in his hand. He grins.] Do you have any heroes in this war on AIDS?
Larry Kramer and Tony Kushner come to mind initially. Also Ann Northrop and Andy Humm from Gay USA who have educated me and inspired the activist in me and to whom I am very thankful for their passion and commitment. But there have been so many heroes: from caregivers to doctors, to nurses, to brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and friends and lovers.
Ahh, most definitely. What impact has the AIDS epidemic had on you?
The gay community lost generations of people. Generations. So has the world. God knows how many Keith Harings, Michael Bennetts, Rock Hudsons we lost. And not only did the world lose the artistic and political influence of the gay community but the community itself lost generations of role models. That being said, the impact AIDS has had on me is incalculable.
Totally relate, my dear. Do you remember how you first heard about the epidemic?
In all honesty, I can’t. I know a lot of my initial education came from reading plays such as As Is and The Normal Heart while I was in the BFA musical theater program at Florida State University. However, one of my first professional jobs was starring in the Atlanta musical, Different, a very moving story culminating with the AIDS crisis. It gave me a visceral understanding of the crisis.
I remember it well. Have you lost anyone close to you from this disease?
I lost some really beautiful people from my life who I will always miss; one of my best friends, and many others. Witnessing their struggle was overwhelming. [He waves to a fan on the sideline.] I have countless friends who are living healthy and happy lives as either HIV-positive individuals or AIDS survivors. Each and every one of them
Indeed. [We pass the Blue Whale, as the Pacific Design Center is known.] When you were coming into adulthood, the AIDS epidemic was in full-swing. How did that affect you?
Well, it was still very new and somewhat of an enigma. On the one hand I want to say it was a horribly fearful thing to deal with as I was trying to accept myself and my sexuality. On the other hand it forced me and my peers to be more educated, conscious of our health, and more responsible for our actions.
Well said, Gerald. Are you a single man, my bubele?
Yes I am. I’ve been single for quite some time. I must say, I really enjoy the dating pool. And as I get more and more comfortable in my skin, my affinity for it grows. I have spent time with some amazing people and gone on quite a few unforgettable dates. However it’s also not an aspect of my life where I put much focus. I’ve never done a dating service, or hooked up on-line, or even been in a chat room. So my dating pool is old-school, based on people I meet or people I’m set up with.
Have you ever dated anyone who was HIV-positive?
Learning of someone’s status never affects my dating decisions. I know that revealing their status is a struggle for so many of my friends. I have complete respect for that moment when someone chooses to reveal their status. I’m proud to say that I am judgment-free. My friends have gone through so much turmoil over this and it’s not my place to tell anyone when they should reveal something so personal.
Do you get tested regularly, Gerald?
I have consistently been tested yearly for most of my sexually active life. It’s become my birthday present to myself—or at least one of my birthday presents to myself!
Good boy! As you know, the younger gays are being hard hit with HIV through their usual development of rebelliousness and feelings of immortality. Any idea how we can reach these guys to play safer?
Yeah, it’s disturbing, Ruby—as is the “gifting” phenomenon, which is beyond upsetting. Sadly, it sometimes takes a few hard blows from life to open your eyes about your own mortality. The invincible feeling of youth has always been part of humanity. I was there and acted carelessly and disrespectfully more times than I should have. I’ve come close to death more times than most, and luckily, I survived. And I learned. Many, many others are not
[Gerald takes a swig from his bottled water as we sally forth to the finish line.] I wish AIDS could be seen as an opportunity, Ruby, to live a healthier, happier life and to make wiser decisions.
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected]