F*CK W/OUT FEAR.
I couldn’t believe my eyes! Josh and I were cruising down Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood in “Mother,” my ’69 Lincoln, when we spotted this message on a billboard. I knew the LGBT Center had a new campaign brewing about PrEP, but this is so bold and so raw—just my style.
My buddy, Joshua Castille, and I just attended a Deaf West Theatre production of Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. This was my second sign language production. (Theater for the deaf is an awesome new entertainment experience for the hearing!)
My first exposure was last year on Broadway in Deaf West Theatre’s production of Spring Awakening. Joshua, who is deaf, was one of the leads and we met backstage. He delivered a helluva performance playing Ernest, and it was a stunning production from director Michael Arden. Josh shared the stage with Marlee Matlin [A&U, December/January 1996] and Camryn Manheim.
I remember that in response to my inquiry about his age, Josh instantly retorted, “I’m twenty-one, born January 14th the-same-day-Velma-Kelly-killed-her-husband!” He said it like it was one word. The lad is obviously a devotee of musicals!
While in the Big Apple, Josh helped raise funds for Broadway Cares. Now living in Los
Angeles, he wants to continue his efforts. He’s currently assistant director of production at Tru Biz Entertainment here in La La Land. Over the past several months, Josh finished two productions of Tribes, one at the Barrington Stage Company in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, and the other at the ACT Theatre in Seattle.
A native of Lafayette, Louisiana, and the eldest of three, Josh is founder of The Deaf Gang, a company that produces projects, which extends the boundaries of signed theatre. His boyfriend of a year and a half is not hearing impaired.
In my glorious youth, I dated a deaf man for a time. He certainly was a romantic and a daring lover…er, well, let’s save that story for another issue.
Today, Josh and I zoom into Out of the Closet thrift store, whose profits go directly toward AIDS Heathcare Foundation. Since we both are shopaholics, we separate, each of us pawing through copious amounts of clothing and other paraphernalia. He found a great pair of aquamarine-colored pants. I come out with an autographed photograph of my teenage crush, David Cassidy.
Josh and I sit side-by-side on the back steps of the storefront by the parking lot. (Yes, I know sign language, thanks to my pal Jennifer who taught me.)
Ruby Comer: You’ve been deaf since birth, correct?
Joshua Castille: I’ve been deaf since I was very young. I got sick and took antibiotics that caused a build-up in my ears.
Wow. So seeing this new billboard about PrEP…are you taking it?
Yes, I’m currently on PrEP. It’s an extra layer of protection—PERIOD. Why not?!
Josh, what do you think of when HIV is mentioned?
The musical Rent—and how much the characters suffered because of it. But I also think of the smiling posters of people on the [Los Angeles] metro, “ I have AIDS but life isn’t over for me.”
Oh indeed. When did you first hear about the AIDS epidemic?
When I was eleven and first saw Rent. It had just been released on DVD. I was curious about what “AZT break” meant, which was in the song, “La Vie Boheme.” I looked it up and then understood.
What was it like coming of age during the AIDS epidemic?
I never thought I could get HIV [he takes a deep swallow]…until a friend was diagnosed. I was completely terrified and wondered if I had it. I mean, I never considered using a condom because I figured I couldn’t get pregnant.
[I grin.] You mean you didn’t use a….
Yes, I had unprotected sex, Ruby. [A person lugging a microwave whisks by us, dropping it off at the thrift store.]
[When I was younger] I had sex with two guys in their twenties who were a couple, both of whom I later found out were HIV-positive. I freaked out and called a friend, who helped pay for my first test. I got the results [he looks upward, his acorn-brown eyes rolling up toward the blue-beaming skies] and…was…negative. I continue to take the test.
That’a boy! Were you taught HIV prevention in school?
In the seventh grade I had sex ed. I have to say this was pretty progressive, because they showed a video of a straight couple discussing it. [I realized] this was not just a gay disease.
So you are not on the dating scene now, but when you were dating, how did you bring up the subject of STIs?
Usually I’m very honest. I’ll joke and say I’m from Louisiana, the gonorrhea capital of the country. [He kicks his legs up and down, like a kid splashing in a swimming pool.] I suppose I use humor as a way to break the ice. It’s a very important conversation to have. The less shame we feel [about the disease] the more honest we can be.
Ohhhhh [nodding my head in accord]. You told me you enjoyed working with Broadway Cares….
[His body trembles with enthusiasm.] Yes, and I hope to do [its annual fundraiser] Broadway Bares! Oh my God, that would be fun.
You exhibitionist you. When you do, tell me, Josh, and I’ll be in the front row! Why do you think gay guys of your gen are being hit with high rates of HIV infection?
You know, I’m not really sure. Maybe the stigma of being gay motivates them to seek out sexual experiences more often than straight kids. Perhaps the more open and accepting we become of one another, the easier it will be to discuss topics like this with each other.
Grand statement. Like it.
My dad would answer any question I had about sex. I came out to him when I was twelve or thirteen and he was accepting. I know that most parents aren’t like that….
Lucky you. [A car swooshes by in the alley.] What are your hopes for the epidemic?
That we can get rid of the stigma, and also find a cure. Let’s think about how we can better embrace people with the infection and not shame them for it.
Divinely put. Have you ever been starstruck?
When I met Cheri Oteri! She came to see [Spring Awakening] and is friends with Camryn Manheim. Camryn saw me eyeing Cheri from across the stage and waved, “Oh Josh come over here.” I blushed and was like…Hmmm… Then Camryn made me take a picture with her. Cheri and I went to kiss each other’s cheek and ended up pecking! Best moment ever.
Fun! Say, I know you battle ignorance not only about being gay, especially coming from the Deep South, but for being deaf, as well. What one thing would you like for hearing people to know about deaf people?
We need to learn that the underprivileged and the disabled are human assets, not burdens. Everyone has value. That’s the key.
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].