As I grapple with writing my life's story, I have to ask myself, "Why am I doing this?"
In the Internet age there is almost no time lag between publication and response. With my column and book The New 60, I put select parts of my journey out there -- and I was quickly attacked. In fact, I was attacked by one of my heroes, Larry Kramer. Of course, getting Larry pissed off is hardly a difficult task, but it was indicative of what I had to be ready for. I was also supported by readers, known and unknown. Telling your story is exactly that: It's your experience, nothing more, nothing less. Larry and I are having very different experiences of aging with HIV, for example. I feel blessed and fortunate. He seems to be somewhat bitter. There's room for all of it.
The very day I wrote a column about my father, I received emails from two first cousins. One said, "It's so true. And funny. Keep telling it..." The other said, "I didn't know you had such issues with your father. How dare you write these things when he is not alive to defend himself." Hmm...
It's easier to write about one's family when many of them are no longer alive. My complicated and (I would say) very loving relationship with my parents would be difficult to plumb with them still on planet Earth. Given that they are not, I am free to tell it like I see it, without pretending to objectivity.
Publishing a memoir means I will have to deal with all kinds of reactions. For some I may say too much, whereas for others I will have said too little. So, again, why do it?
There are two basic things that people say when they encourage me to finish my memoir in progress, Outliving Myself:
- Your story is just so interesting and unique. I want to hear more!
- You can help people. Your journey is inspiring.
I have a tale to tell. I am a thriving survivor of the entire 30 years of HIV. Although I am not singular, there are not many of us left who went all the way to AIDS and came back whole. I am an AIDS elder. I hold my story and the story of a generation who lived and died in an unprecedented era of plague. I also worked and played in the downtown avant-garde art scene of the '70s, and again, not many of us are left. I was the muse of at least one great artist and had the privilege of working with more than one legend. If sharing this history can illuminate or inspire, I am grateful. If I can impart a view on resiliency and dealing with crisis that is useful, I am humbled.
The other piece of it is the fact that I have really enjoyed the surprise of my own life. Oddly, being happy seems to be unusual, and talking about it controversial. I am not living the life I was brought up to live. The realization that I was gay and an artist freed me to make it all up. Not having a picture allowed me to discover a world that surpassed my fantasies. I have had ridiculous luck and the sense to turn that luck into good fortune.
As a psychotherapist and workshop leader, I have been invited into the intimate stories of hundreds of extraordinary men and women. Their lives enrich my life and my story. I write for all of us.
Daring to write one's truth is exciting and terrifying. Some friends and colleagues have suggested that the whole truth will damage my reputation. Others have suggested that all-out honesty will attract the readers that I seek. We'll see.
I guess I've decided to give it a go! One more memoir...