I love this series called Passing on the Pen at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco, curated by mystery writer Michael Nava. The series consists of writers in conversation -- last week it was Trebor Healey and Karl Soehnlein. They both read excerpts from their novels-in-progress, and I thought it was interesting and exciting that they both took place at similar times -- Karl's in 1985 I think, Trebor's in 1991 -- and both centered around AIDS.
Sometimes at events I end up thinking of a question the whole time through, and then it just gets more and more layered and I'm about to explode but I don't feel like I've fully figured out what I want to say, but then it's the end and I better ask or else I'll implode.
So here's what I say: "I thought it was interesting that you were talking about the lack of 20-year-old readers, when actually I feel like in my audience there are a lot of 20-year-olds, and the lack is more among people over 45 or so (Trebor and Karl are both in their mid-40s), and I wonder if that's because of the anti-assimilationist politics -- so I kind of have the reverse situation from what you're talking about."
"But I thought it was really interesting that both of your novels center around AIDS, and I wonder if it's time for a new generation of writing about AIDS -- I went to that movie by Andre Techine, what was it called? Anyway, all the promotion described it as talking about AIDS activism in Paris in the '80s and I was really excited to see it, but actually it's just the same tired crap, I mean you watch this young guy die of AIDS and then at the end the enlightened straight people sail into the distance -- I almost couldn't believe it.
"And also you were talking about ACT UP and how it felt young and angry and punk, and I guess I had a different experience of ACT UP -- I was involved a bit later, and I was 19 in ACT UP San Francisco in 1992 and that was a bit after its trendy point, and ACT UP for me was actually about elders, all these brilliant activists who I met who were 10 or 20 or 30 years older than me and now so many of them are dead or are not interested in that kind of politic and what I'm wondering is about AIDS and intergenerational memory and loss."
Oh, no -- is that really what I said? Where's the question? No wonder they were confused! Anyway, what surprised me was that both of them talked about sexual safety and risk-taking among young fags, and the cluelessness of some of the 20-year-olds they've encountered, with regards to safer sex norms. Karl certainly expressed a sense of optimism for future queer generations, but what I meant to invoke was this sense of loss that we all share as fags, regardless of age, and I don't believe the mythologies that young people just don't know or don't care. I mean I haven't seen that at all, although Trebor brought up an interesting point that my audiences may be much more politicized than theirs.
What I meant to ask was: what do we do with that loss? How do we build intergenerational ties, a sense of communal care, a defiant challenge to our sense that early death is part of our destiny? It's true that I know more people, many of them in their 20s, who have seroconverted in the last seven years than I knew who seroconverted when I was in ACT UP in the early-'90s. I don't believe it's because of a lack of information, but rather the kinds of mistakes we all make, and also this collective sense of doom. How do we create something else?
Mattilda also blogs at nobodypasses.blogspot.com.