10/04/2013 11:15 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Surviving a Death Sentence

We went in for our test results together. It was May 1985. Still, after three years of reluctant monogamy enforced by the dread of a sex-borne plague stalking San Francisco, I feared for my lover of seven years. Christopher was younger and had been far wilder.

And my fears proved justified.

"Adrian, you don't have HIV," said the doctor. "Christopher, I'm afraid that you are infected."

"That's what I expected," he sighed.

Outside, I felt so sorry and suddenly protective, even though we'd been drifting apart. "What would you like to do?" I asked.

He thought for a moment. "I want some champagne."

At home we lit candles and listened to jazz. I wanted to make love with him to show him I wasn't afraid of him. But he didn't want that.

"I'll never leave you, ever," I promised.

"I know."

"I wish it could have been me, since I'm older."

"Well, it isn't."

"How do you feel?" I asked, stroking his hair.

"A little sad. I'd always thought about having children. And now I won't."

We spent the next day in Golden Gate Park and at a double feature, so it was late when we got in and saw the red light blinking on the answering machine. It was the doctor from the clinic.

"Adrian, Adrian!" he said in the voice message, sounding frantic. "Call me the moment you get in, no matter how late!" I dialed, and he picked up immediately. "Thank God you called!" he said. "I'm sorry to tell you we got the results backwards. The files were mixed up because you live together. It's you who have the virus!"

"Are you sure?" I asked. "I mean, yesterday it was one thing, and now--."

"Yes, yes, I'm sure," he blurted. "But are you all right?"

"I'm fine," I said. "But may I suggest you get your files in better order?" He promised, and I hung up and glanced at Christopher. "Guess what? I'm the one who is positive. You're negative."


"Cross my heart."

As crazy as it sounds now, despite the odds, I sensed that I could handle this thing and remained completely calm. But then again, I didn't exactly have a choice.

If you want to survive, you have to be willing to give up everything. If not, you'll die of this thing. So choose.

They say there are no second acts in American lives. But none of us who'd come to San Francisco and gone out as far as we'd gone during the '70s had followed any rules. Still, what had nurtured us might very well destroy us. Who could possibly have predicted it when we were fucking our way into self-esteem and liberation?

Now we had to fly or crash. Behind us, all those we'd left or had had to quit along the way. And who knows? Maybe they were luckier? But we were so far past that point that no one could even see that far back, because this had never been a game. No, this process didn't come equipped with guarantees, or tried-and-true markers.

And yet, isn't this what I'd actually wanted? To be so carried along by a genuine life that I wouldn't be in control of? Yes. So I had to accept zero again. And I did.

I went to India and lived a spiritual life. In time, not all at once, I saw that the kind of love I'd sought through a dependency on sex and adventure was a distraction. Even my idea of being gay or being a man had to mature if I was ever to grow up. And growing up meant giving up a pursuit of pleasure, which was my original understanding of being gay, or being sexually free, during the wild '60s and '70s.

Gay liberation hadn't been about the parade but a huge force for life. And by giving up the hope of some rescue through pleasure, I came to fathom the true strength of LGBT people: our flexibility, our ability to survive and endure and grow from our own disasters to develop as adults, sensate and capable. It was a hard way to learn, but hey, who ever said life would be easy? But avoidance wasn't why we chose authenticity, and it isn't why we can ever be defeated or stymied in our progress toward full equality.

And so I arrived at liberty, even if I carried in my blood a lurid afterglow of a young man who'd hit San Francisco in 1973. As was the case then, all I had was my willingness to dance with the wild god.

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