by Alfredo Trejo III
Synopsis: Five Years, an autofiction piece, is a coming-of-age story that follows Fredo, a young Mexican/Salvadoran American living in East Los Angeles. We follow Fredo as he navigates coming out to his parents, finding love, learning he is HIV positive, and the whirlwind of growing up poor in the second largest city in the US.
Fredo is reflecting how his father’s lectures change when Fredo comes out as gay. Later we learn that a major source of stress for Fredo when he finds out he is HIV-positive is feeling like he has failed his father. The following is an excerpt.
Ever since I can remember, my dad has always lectured me and my siblings about sex. He felt it was his duty to caution us, “Always use a condom when you have sex. You don’t want kids before you’re ready. And you don’t want a million of them.” My dad had his first child with his first wife at the age of 18. It was the 1970s and the norm was to have kids young, but that’s not what he had planned for himself. He was supposed to enjoy his youth, buy a home, and then start his family. But his whole life trajectory changed with the unexpected event. He ended up having seven kids from three different wives. He was proud that all were scheduled, except the first and the last. And like the broken record he is, we all got constant lectures about condoms to prevent unanticipated children. Always use a condom when you have sex.
Once I reached middle school, he showed where he kept his stash of condoms. In case I ever needed them, I knew where to find them in the top left corner drawer. It’s not that he encouraged me to have sex, but he knew that I would eventually. He wanted all his sons and daughters prepared to make different decisions than him. So, we always heard, “You don’t want kids before you’re ready. And you don’t want a million of them.” But the track changed for me the moment I came out to him when I was 15.
I set the date to tell my dad I was gay months in advance. I told myself, “I’m going to tell him when the perfect opportunity shows up, or on this date. Whichever comes first.” I waited till the last day possible because I wasn’t brave enough to take any of the openings. As my dad would say, “You have to keep your word. Especially to yourself.” I walked into the room and tapped his leg.
“Dad, can I talk to you outside?”
He sensed the gravity of the situation. He put on his slippers and coat without hesitation. But once outside his trailer house, I lost the words. I had written down a small speech about how I didn’t want to disappoint him. That this would not change the life he had built for me in his head. Once the ultrasound showed I had a penis, and he gave me my name, he started laying down the foundation for my future. But he detected the seismic shift that night.
“Mijo, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Dad, I’m gay.”
After a short interlude, the new track began.
“I love you mijo. That is never going to change. But I don’t want you to die because you had sex. You can’t trust gay men. They are…What’s that word again? Promiscuous. If I wanted to have sex with a woman right now, outside of this trailer, it would never happen. I need to take her out to dinner and say some romantic shit. But gay men, they can have sex anywhere. And they want to have sex everywhere. Please mijo, always wear a condom. I’ve told you this your whole life, you don’t want to die because you had sex.”
Alfredo Trejo III (he/him) is a queer scholar, artist, and activist born and raised in East and South East Los Angeles. He earned a BA from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), an MS from Carnegie Mellon University, and is currently working on his PhD at UCLA. His research examines the politics of development in Latin America. Alfredo is a storyteller whose work centers Latine people and HIV/AIDS. Alfredo lives in Boyle Heights, where he makes his own kombucha and sourdough bread.
Write It Out!
When we think of AIDS-themed plays, we may harken back to the 1980s and 1990s: The Normal Heart, by Larry Kramer, Love! Valour! Compassion!, by Terrence McNally, or Angels in America, by Tony Kushner, to name a few. But if you are interested in moving beyond the canonical, which tends to center white, gay and cisgender men in their narratives, there are many plays to check out. This 2002 anthology would be a great start: Positive/Negative: Women of Color and HIV/AIDS: A Collection of Plays, edited by Imani Harrington and Chyrell D. Bellamy. Or The Baltimore Waltz by Paula Vogel. Or Before It Hits Home by Cheryl West. Or one in two by Donja R. Love. And pay close attention to the pieces coming out of Write It Out!, the workshop series for people living with HIV created and taught by Love, with program manager (and fellow playwright) Timothy DuWhite. We are so glad the following writers (and others) are sharing their talent and insights with the world:
The Glorious Struggle of The Charismatic Hero by Ebony Payne-English, Write It Out! 2020 cohort
Blood Spill, by Lee Raines, Write It Out! 2020 cohort
Five Years by Alfredo Trejo III, Write It Out! 2021 cohort