Dancing in the Dark
Maybe I should be writing this editorial next month (the June issue is all about LGBTQ Pride after all!). But importantly, May, as far as I’m concerned, is about memories…I’m filled with nostalgia as I am getting ready for my 35th Reunion (Brown University, Class of 1984). Just remembering the music from that year—Talking Heads, Human League, Eurythmics, even Madonna come to mind. Hip hop was barely a musical genre, MTV was a nascent TV network, Michael Jackson and Duran Duran were topping the charts, Steve Jobs was still in high school, and Basquiat was painting when he wasn’t dating the above-mentioned Material Girl…and AIDS in the U.S., according to reports, had claimed many thousands.
The disease wasn’t exactly a lyrical fixture in popular music. Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” TLC’s “Waterfalls” and Prince’s “Sign O’ The Times” had yet to be written, but musical pioneers Klaus Nomi, Sylvester, Patrick Cowley, the B-52s’ Ricky Wilson and Freddie Mercury had already died or were HIV-positive. HIV was definitely killing musical artists everywhere. As any young gun who put down the books at midnight to hit the dance floor at one of the hopping clubs in the seedy warehouse district near College Hill, I had heard of AIDS—it was on every young sexually active American’s mind, some more than others perhaps. But it couldn’t be in my bedroom. And yet it was. By my own recollection, my first boyfriend at Brown was positive…and hence the source of my own seroconversion.
Nowadays, in the age of U = U and PrEP, when these new prevention methods and treatment regimens are accessible (sometimes unevenly), the first thought is certainly no longer death, but, rather, life. It should be life. Younger artists and musicians are on board. Witness 2019’s twenty-fifth anniversary of M•A•C’s Viva Glam campaign featuring Troye Sivan and model Jacob Bixenman (Sivan’s boyfriend), RuPaul’s Drag Race season 10 winner Aquaria, rapper Princess Nokia, Mari Malek, Dara Allen, Eileen Kelly, Deja Foxx, Lea T, Alex Mugler, Parker Kit Hill, as well as M•A•C artists Bradley Miller, Nisha Sirpal, Kiekie Stanners, Daiana Gonzalez, Allen Li, Carlisha Gizelle, and Schuron Womack.
The fight against AIDS is a study in contrasts. And this is why it is important to keep comparing then and now, the early years and 2019. FX’s show Pose does this brilliantly. It takes place in the later half of the first decade of the AIDS epidemic, but it is written with the sensibility of what we know now. May’s cover story subject, Mj Rodriguez, lovingly interviewed and photographed by Sean Black, is one of the stars of the show about ball culture and is also bringing advocacy to fans today: “Regarding sexual intimacy I think that it is important to know your status and get tested. Be responsible. I think then you should also always share your status with your partner before you indulge in anything….”
Sharing what we know about our bodies before sharing our bodies is empowerment in action. Sharing knowledge about the realities of HIV/AIDS in the public square is also important. The artists, writers, and advocates we feature in this issue—photographer Sasja van Vechgel, writer Raymond Luczak, actor Adam B. Shapiro, activist Lillibeth Gonzalez, performer Dale Guy Madison, and therapist Scott Kramer—all have stepped forward to disseminate information that is vital to our health and to keep the conversation going.
May can be Pride Month, too. I am proud to offer the forum that is A&U. 2021 will be our thirtieth year of publication and, although we will be looking forward, we will never forget our past.
David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.