I grew up in and around New York City in the 80’s and 90’s. Some of my mother’s closest friends were gay men. Most of them have died from AIDS. When, at 45 years old I found out I was HIV positive, regardless of what I knew intellectually, I felt the devastation of all those men my mother had loved who had died. I felt afraid, alone, suddenly cut off from the rest of my community.
Of course the truth was very different. I sero-converted in the age of PrEP and Treatment as Prevention, an age where more and more of my community understood what being positive meant, the age of the Undetectable Status.
But I was now a 45-year-old man. My age and my HIV Status, the way I felt about my body in a culture obsessed with body image: these things fuck with your self-worth. It is easy to feel undesirable, it is easy to begin to feel like life is coming to a close, to start looking back and saying: what the fuck have I even accomplished?
Who the fuck am I?
In May I turned 50.
For most of my life I never liked the way I looked. I was too short, too stocky, too fat, too skinny…always too something that amounted to never being quite enough.
We live in a world that tells us, through advertising and fake news and PR campaigns, that we aren’t pretty enough, happy enough, successful enough: that nothing will ever fix us until we buy or try or wear or eat or fuck this one thing. Our worth and our acceptance is contingent on this product, service, whatever.
Because, they tell us, we are broken.
On Saturday night I went to my favorite underground warehouse party in LA. Severino from Horse Meat Disco was DJing. We arrived at 1:30 in the morning to an old warehouse behind a large parking lot in downtown LA.
Ushered from the street inside, we stood in a large waiting area, kids in colorful outfits and masks, horror movie and glamor make-up, drag queens and muscle bears in leather and jocks, girls and boys, genderless and gender queer, the music could be heard from inside, people were already dancing as we waited to be allowed entry.
On the dance floor the music pounded: Disco mixed toward a darker edge, then flowing back into that ecstatic memory of my childhood when my mother and her friends would dance wildly in the living room to Parliament and Donna Summer, bottles of red wine and joints, laughing and howling at the possibility of a future. They would scream into the night, they would hold each other and cry, my mother would do Tarot Cards and channel alien entities, she would cast spells as she held court over these men, and I would hide, quietly under the table, allowed to watch as long as I stayed in my little hidden fort.
I remember my mother saying to a friend of hers who had lost so much weight he seemed to be disappearing,
“We are all beautiful. Every single one of us. We are like these great shining lights, gorgeous and magical and full of existence.”
Underneath the disco ball as it captured and sent transcended light back to us as we danced, I closed my eyes, feeling the heat of the room, my body drenched in sweat, the floor shaking underneath the weight of us, bodies pushing against me, touching me: fans clapping loudly, people cheering with each new shift of the music: lost for a moment in the infinite possibility of who we all might be.
In that room I took my shirt off, no longer trapped by all the hateful shit that swirled in my head, no longer caring: I was more than my body, more than my HIV status, more than my age or my gender or my sexual preferences: in that room, underneath that disco ball I was part of something that extended way beyond myself, way beyond any of us.
It is easy to feel scared. It is easy to look at someone who appears beautiful, or of a different race or gender, someone with more money, someone with more power, and to think they are not scared. It is easy to be divided from each other, to forget that we are all human, and that we are all scared.
Before leaving the party I wandered into the Dark Room. I watched as a muscle man in a jock strap was bent over a chair, men taking turns on him, a shaved headed boy covered in tattoos knelt sucking the dick of a short, slender, gorgeous person, their shimmering black dress pulled up, golden high heels reflecting what little light was in the room.
In the middle of it all stood a tall vision dressed in white-netted cloth that reached up over their neck, covering their face, obfuscating them. They stood silently watching: as all around us men took turns fucking and sucking, jerking off onto each other, making out and laughing, talking quietly, moving to the music.
As men moaned, as someone said, over and over, “Fuck me harder, please, fuck me harder,” the white dressed obfuscation raised their glass, as if in toast, as if in blessing, and then turned and walked out of the room.
I followed them out, but I lost them. I looked everywhere but they were just gone. Maybe they had changed clothes, now walking naked through the party, or maybe they had left, walking out onto the street, or maybe they had come, just for a few minutes, to celebrate with us, to dance and fuck and laugh with us: blessing us before fading back into whatever strange and beautiful existence they had appeared from.
It’s easy to take all the hate and shame and fear I have and turn it on someone else: to judge them, to categorize their flaws, to hate them: it is easy to forget that, like my mother said, we are all beautiful, and we are all afraid.
I don’t want to be afraid anymore, to judge myself as if I am somehow flawed, not worthy.
I like to think of that white clad creature extending their drink over all those fucking men as some kind of angel come to say, “You are beautiful, and we love you just as you are. You are absolutely fucking perfect just like this.”