Me, Chaka Khan & Todrick Hall
HIV myths that say you are not beautiful are wrong
by Corey Saucier
I am half-naked, in pain, and bleeding. I’m being stabbed repeatedly, and though I am surrounded by gawking strangers, they are too distracted by White men with dreadlocks and muscle men eating churros to pay me any attention. I could die here, and if I didn’t post it on Facebook, no one would ever know. It’s Mother’s Day weekend, and the sun is setting on the famous Venice Beach Boardwalk; and rather than admit defeat, I am pushing against the blinding pain and talking to Jesus through gritted teeth, trying despite everything, to charm him into giving me wings at a half price discount.
I’m telling Jesus about the hanky code and how I only flag right back pocket.
I’m telling Jesus about the evils of capitalism and the perks of being poor.
I’m even telling Jesus the secret to being popular in high school, which he agreed, someone might someday use to conquer the world….
Jesus is five-foot-five and brown with that bad-boy attitude that makes tattoo artists so sexy. Before we began, I asked him what his art style was, and he scrunched his nose around the pungent smell of “Purple Magic Kush” and pointed to a framed sketch of a skull and roses on the wall above his head, as if that should explain to me everything I needed to know. I had purchased a Groupon for an hourlong session for only $30, a deal that I just couldn’t turn down! Most people would think that getting a life-long scar on discount is a bad idea. But I am not like most people! I’m the kind of person that runs towards the explosion! It takes me following the gingerbread crumbs halfway down a spiraling ravine, ignoring the signs that read: “Deadman’s Gulf,” before I realize that I have probably made a wrong turn. But I am very proud of my bad choices. Here is the thing: We all have scars! Deep, jagged, unseemly scars, both seen and unseen. Some that cost us very little, and some that have almost cost us our lives. But we all have them. And some people are crazy enough to mix that pain with words and color, and call it art. This is my second tattoo with them. The first was three months ago. I was reeling from the death of my mother, and using my body in ways that are unsustainable—like seeded soil harvested too soon; and because I was too distracted by death and sex (and the chemical imbalance in my brain) I was in a constant state of need. I was ravenous and insatiable—seeking in strangers on the Internet things I needed to foster in myself. I was unhappy, discontented, and unsatisfied. So like Romeo said to Tybalt (just before everything got out of control and Mercutio wound up dead), I had “Be Satisfied” tattooed across my back. Most of my tattoos are quotes. I’m a dork that way. Shakespeare, Mamet, and August Wilson speak my language. In college I studied theater arts and walked around campus with a gaggle of misfits who were brilliant and weird; who quoted obscure eighteenth-century poetry in casual conversation. They were glorious and buck-toothed and cross-eyed, and their hair was always the color of washed-out Manic Panic. And they were my tribe….
And then I contracted HIV.
I was twenty-one, wore a size 4, and thought that “Tiffany blue” was the only color worth coloring with. But doctors told me that I would die in ten years—and if I didn’t die, that I would have lipodystrophy and lipoatrophy: a “buffalo hump” and a “poz belly” that would delegate me to only having sex in dark rooms. They told me that I would be ostracized and stigmatized, and that, without celibacy, I would be cursed to only find connections with the dregs: The bug chasers, and the men with dead eyes in the last room, of the last dark hall, of the last living bathhouse in town. They told me that I would be the “old guy with AIDS.”
And I believed them for a while.
But they lied.
Last weekend I was wearing pink and pearls on the balcony at The Fonda Theatre. Chaka Khan was to the left of me with her hands in the air like she just didn’t care and her hair was a universe unto itself! Sheryl Lee Ralph and Jenifer Lewis were to my right, both on their feet, both in face-covering shades like the legendary divas that they are, and together their laughter was a force of nature, and behind me was this little girl who was scream-singing every single word to the back of my head at the top of her lungs in perfect pitch! And on the stage was Todrick Hall; and he was a burning bush, and we were moths to the flame. The audience was full of weirdos, and rejects, and thumbsuckers and bedwetters, and legends and superstars, and me. And we were all the same. And he told us that we were beautiful and perfect. And I believed him.
So this time I am being tattooed with “Peculiar People.”
And I love it.
Love and Light.
Corey Saucier is an artist and writer living in Los Angeles. He is a Lambda Literary Fellow in Fiction and Non-Fiction and is currently penning his first novel. His musings and wanderings on Love, Life, and Nonsense can be found at www.justwords.tumblr.com.