With the re-release of my memoir, Gone Today, Here Tomorrow, I've decided to get into blogging and throw my two cents into cyberspace -- at the risk of having them fall back to earth and land on my head.
My book, which began as a short article in The Advocate, morphed into a memoir and was published in 2007. It got some good reviews, but what meant the most to me were the emails and letters that I received from readers. Men, women, young, old, gay, straight, some were HIV positive; others were battling cancer or some other health crisis, and to quote a teenager at a high school I spoke at, some thought it was "cool to read about two old dudes who have been together forever."
One of the reasons I wrote the book in the first place was to give readers a look inside a thirty-year marriage between two men and help answer the question: What really defines a marriage?
A lot of people seem to have some very strong opinions on the subject and are staunchly against marriage equality every time it comes up for a vote. Problem is, number one, I don't recall getting to vote on whether or not they could get married, and number two, I'd bet the farm that most of those folks have never gotten to know a gay or lesbian person, let alone a gay or lesbian couple, let alone a gay couple like us who has been together almost four times longer than the average straight marriage has lasted. (In 2009, first marriages between a man and a woman lasted a median of eight years before ending in divorce). So I decided to open up our lives on paper (and e-book) and give people an up close and personal look at what our marriage has been like.
Aside from the fact that Joe crawled to the front lines of the AIDS war and pulled me out of a foxhole and back from death, or that we managed to reinvent our lives after losing everything -- including my career, in all other respects, I think ours has had a lot in common with most marriages between two people, straight or gay.
People have managed to invent a whole host of reasons why two people of the same sex shouldn't have the right to marry. Most objections are based on religious grounds and what they have been told by their pastors or priests throughout their entire lives. Some claim biology and that Tab A fits into Slot B, so it must be what nature had in mind. Others are convinced that same-sex marriage would undermine the institution of marriage and somehow tarnish the holy union between a man and a woman -- like divorce hasn't already taken care of that. I could probably blog myself silly listing all of the reasons why some people still insist that marriage is between one man and one women. Period. End of discussion. But as the song from Porgy and Bess goes, "The things that you're liable to read in the Bible, it ain't necessarily so."
That's why I thought it was important to include in my book what the Bible really says about homosexuality. Turns out, not much. Just six short passages in all those books, chapters, and verses. Compare that to what the Bible has to say about judging and condemning others, and the score isn't even close. So how come it's such a hot-button issue with religious wingnuts? Here's a hint. Follow the money, and read what I discovered about it all in Chapter 17, which I entitled, "Dear Pat Robertson: My end is near. Kiss it!"
While I was writing Gone Today, Here Tomorrow, it was tempting to get on my soapbox and hammer home why my marriage to Joe is as real and meaningful as any other union between two people who commit their lives to each other. The only difference is that we've managed to stay true to that commitment, while the majority of marriages today have failed. The real irony is that many of those same people in failed marriages somehow think Joe and I are the real threat to the institution of marriage. See? There I go starting to get on my soapbox. My point is, while I'm not usually reserved in my opinions and speak my mind quite freely (which can be dangerous when you've also got a hot temper), in writing my memoir, I tried to just tell the story and let the reader decide in the end if our thirty years together fits the true meaning of what a marriage is all about in every way that really matters.
There was another reason that I decided to re-release my memoir. I left something out in the first edition that I think is important, and I wanted to clarify some realities about my life today. I think there's a myth out there, especially among young people, that getting exposed to HIV is not such a big deal anymore. Just pop some pills and everything will be fine. In my efforts to bring my story to a happy ending -- and it is -- I think that I glossed over the fact that my life is far from normal. While it's true that HIV is a chronically manageable disease with the right combination of medicines, it's also true that the drugs have their own set of not-so-pleasant side effects. Then there's the cost. For my meds, it's about $16,000 a year. Fortunately, I have insurance, but not everyone is that lucky. And not everyone responds to the medications. If they do work, the question in the back of your mind is always, for how long?
Trust me... getting exposed to HIV is still a very big deal despite the fact that it may not be the death sentence it once was.
I have had the opportunity to speak at a number of high schools and Gay-Straight Student Alliances, and I'm always stunned when I realize that most of these young people have only a vague idea or none at all of what the AIDS crisis was like in this country. The drugs came along at about the time they were being born, so they never experienced the horror of it all. I'm grateful their generation will never have to go through what mine did, but I'm also worried that it's not just the history of the pandemic that's lost on them, it's also the lessons we learned from it all that are not being passed on. That scares me because we all know what happens when people do not learn from history. Statistics don't lie, and the facts are that nearly 50,000 new infections of HIV are reported every year in the U.S., and 17,000 deaths still happen every year (the death toll worldwide is 8,000 people a day).
So those are a few of the reasons why I decided to write Gone Today, Here Tomorrow, and why I wanted to re-release an updated version. My friends who know me well, and of course, Joe, know that I view my survival mostly as a blessing with a huge disclaimer attached. I carry with me always a commitment to the memory of my friends who didn't make it through this war, and to pass along the lessons we learned to the next generation -- whether it's a cautionary tale or just a story about two old dudes who have been together forever.