Wednesday, May 31, 2006

10 Years Ago: Crixivan & LA Times.

On May 21, 1996, I note that a new drug has suddenly arrived in the mail. An experimental drug called Crixivan. I note:
"I first shipment of Crixivan--the new, even more potent protease inhibitor. I was thrilled, but it does come with some tough rules. First of all, I have to take it on an empty stomach three times a day--every eight hours, and I can't eat for a full hour after taking it. But I also have to take Saquinavir three times a day on a full stomach.

"Now let's see... if I take the Crixivan at 6, 2, and 10, then I'd have to eat (and take the Saquinavir) at 7, 3 and 11. LUNCH AT 3? Dinner at 11? But I suppose I could eat lunch at 12, take a snack at 3 with the Saquinavir, dinner at 7, Crixivan at 10, and eat a snack with the Saquinavir at 11...

"The Pharmacy also included a little form to fill out to report to them if I'm late or if I miss a dose. This means I should carry around a couple of doses in the car with me just in case I get stranded somewhere.
Since I was already been taking a different experimental medication, Saquinavir, it's really interesting to me now to note, looking back, how unremarkable my diary entry is about this one. But of course! How could we know that this one was going to be any different from any of the others? None of them were helping me so far, so I made little note of it except to say that it arrived and that it was going to be a total pain in the ass to take.

A little background: Crixivan was the newest and most potent drug for AIDS. It was having remarkable success in the early testing. So much success that they decided--thanks to the pressure of groups like ACT-UP--to fast track it to the market and bypass the normal testing procedure. Until Crixivan came along, people were dying by the hundreds every week. The newspapers in the larger cities were filled DAILY with columns of obituaries of dead gay men like myself.

It was a Holocaust. An entire generation of gay men were literally wiped off the face of the earth, and I was next in line. Many straight people were still unaware of what it meant, but an individual could lose 30, 40, 50, 100 of their friends almost overnight. Reader, picture your circle of friends as you read this. See their faces. Now imagine all of them dying before your eyes. Imagine yourself attending funerals on a WEEKLY basis. That was the REALITY of AIDS in the United States 10, 15, 20, 25 years ago.

Now, imagine that all of this is happening around you and it's barely mentioned in the press or by the President. La di da. All your friends dying. La di da. This is the rage that powered ACT-UP and Mobilization Against AIDS; people like my friend Ken McPherson who, out of compassion and desperation to see something being done, dropped his entire life to move to San Francisco and stand on a street corner behind a folding table handing out literature, form candlelight marches and protest loudly to get someone, somewhere to NOTICE.

But you see, we were invisible. We were just faggots in San Francisco, LA and New York. The Jerry Falwells and the Pat Robertsons were telling their congregrations that we deserved this disease and that we should be left to die. They were using their political power to make sure the government paid as little attention to the problem as possible. From their lofty pulpits of power, they pronounced US immoral, forgetting that Jesus stayed down in the trenches with the sick, the dying, the lepers and the poor. (And they wonder why so many people see them as clowns and hypocrites.)

Looking back, though, 10 years ago, I was just trying to make it from one day to the next. Several other things happened on May 20. Al Martinez featured me and my music in the L.A. Times. It marked my first appearance in the press. A beautiful article called "Just One More Song." He wrote:
"I have Schalchlin's music playing in the background as a reminder of both the haunting quality of his melodies and the impact of his words. It plays upon a corner of the mind like a child's whisper...I heard about Schalchlin through a message on the Internet that described both the man's talent and his struggle with acquired immune deficiency syndrome. He was yet one more gifted artist spinning down into an abyss of choking darkness.
"It has been weeks since I interviewed Schalchlin. I didn't use his story immediately because I have written so much about AIDS and its victims that I wasn't sure I wanted to write another column so soon. There is much to observe and to chronicle in a county of 9 million, and the responsibility of my observations reaches beyond those with the terrible, killing malady.

"But in the interim I spent a few days in New York, during which I saw the Broadway performance of "Rent," a magnificent rock opera about youth and AIDS and living and dying...

"Later, walking through a light rain that fell over the city, I thought about Schalchlin, about the disease that eats like acid into our world family and about the need to employ whatever means available to remind everyone of its growing presence.

"It's the reason Jonathan Larson wrote "Rent" and the reason Steve Schalchlin wrote "The Last Session" and the reason I'm writing this. Further delay is simply not possible..."

10 years later, Steve Schalchlin is still alive, but the AIDS Holocaust lives on. Medications have changed our lives here in the First World, but in Africa and other countries where money is scarce, education is spare, and people are still being fed lies and myths about AIDS, death rages on. Al Martinez's beautiful article ends with this:

"We are, after all, a family in the broad sense of the similarities that unite us, and if it takes music to alert us to a plague that threatens our house, then let the band play on.

"And let the family, for the sake of us all, listen."


Anonymous said...

Steve, you said, "We were just faggots in San Francisco, LA and New York."

To use your term for us, I was a "faggot" in Nashville and Dallas in those early days. I remember weeping week after week after week. Carmella, a DJ friend and I would sit in the middle of this noisy bar we all hung out at and while people were dancing we were mourning. People just disappeared. When Ron died it was one of the most traumatic things I had experienced to that point.

I hated the church back then.

Today, every time I speak at a Christian policy group, church or whoever is interested in this issue, I remind them of the need to repent and ask forgiveness for those lies and that the modern culture wars bitterness has its roots down deep in cultural christianity's apathy and selfishness.

99% of the people I share this with agree. Every once in a while a viper will come up to me and say that I am a false prophet ... whatever. I watched too many people "disappear" and know too many people who are living with the virus.

I know better.

And yes, the evil virus is still evil and murdering millions. I like your reminder of that.

Steve Schalchlin said...

Today, every time I speak at a Christian policy group, church or whoever is interested in this issue, I remind them of the need to repent and ask forgiveness for those lies and that the modern culture wars bitterness has its roots down deep in cultural christianity's apathy and selfishness.

Randy, I appreciate this. I really do. I don't doubt that you are honestly seeking to do the right thing. But when the conservative Christian world continues its war against us as a people by seeking to turn the entire constitution against us, what kind of example of "repentance" is that?

First you tell them they should feel bad about ignoring AIDS and seeing us as less than human. And then you and your groups, such as Exodus, for whom you've worked, ask for money from them to work against our civil rights and equality before the law. In essence, you're giving them permission to continue the dehumanization and hate.

They get to feel good that they've paid lip service to feeling bad about not helping us during our time of greatest need, but then they send you to Washington so that you can deprive us of our basic civil rights as human beings. You are a warrior in the same fight. The only difference between then and now is the specific issue.

"Well, we're sorry we didn't help you when you were dying, but God help us if you think we're gonna let you get married or share insurance with your partner!" Sorry. I don't buy it, my friend. Actions speak louder than words.

I know your religion doesn't allow you to identify as gay anymore. That's your right as a person of conscience. But why continue and become a part of the war against us? Why give people tacit permission to continue hating us?

Think about this, Randy. You don't have to respond. Just think about it.

Steve Schalchlin said...

Just an addendum, why, if you are sincere in your desire to see the conservative Christian church repent in their attitudes toward us, do you continue to persecute us?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your feedback. I have considered all of that from your point of view and don't find having different opinions on different subjects to be in conflict.

You offend me on several very important and personal convictions quite regularly that I could draw all kinds of "persecution" from. I choose not too (whether its justified or not.)

That doesn't lead me to think you are consistently offensive, or hypocritical, even in areas where we do have common ground. I certainly would not condescend to say "I know you think you are doing the right thing ... but ..."

I never agree to disagree. That would be a false common ground. We disagree and that's cool.

I shared my heart and will leave it at that.

drpsduke said...

PBS FRONTLINE May 30 and 31 2006, The Age of AIDS.
Good history, reporting of politics and other issues surrounding HIV and AIDS.

Christine Bakke said...

Wow. Steve, I was so moved by this entry.

And then I come here and read the comments and it reminds me of what we are up against now. You're right. There's not a whole lot of difference.

Randy asks people to repent for lies, but doesn't like to be called on the lies that Exodus tells...(if you are telling the truth, why do you need to defend yourself--or denigrate "the enemy"--with lies?)

It's interesting that they point out and call on others to repent of their lies without seeing the three fingers pointing back at them.

Reminded me of this old post from Eugene (not sure if you read his blog, Steve, but it's good stuff).

As far as Randy's comment, " I certainly would not condescend to say "I know you think you are doing the right thing ... but ..." my thought is...but it's not condescending to say that those of us who haven't changed just haven't tried hard enough? That we shouldn't get the rights and priviledges that other citizens do? That it's OK to perpetuate lies that all gays are or have been (molested, abused, unable to have a committed relationship; insert gross generalization and lie of choice here)?

Nope, that doesn't seem condescending to me at all...but then, maybe he just sees that as "differing opinions on different subjects" and that covers a multitude of sins, doesn't it?

Steve Schalchlin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steve Schalchlin said...

Christine, thank you so much for the link to Eugene's post about the movie "Fish Can't Fly" your comments about the contant lies from Exodus--and their inability to acknowledge how much pain they inflict upon people who are no part of their "ministry."

One of the biggest lies they tell is that they "only" want to help people with "unwanted same sex attraction." And yet, instead, they turns their guns on those of us who are very happy, spiritually fulfilled and whole in our gay identity. They greet us as friends and then stab us in the back in the halls of congress by trying to turn the entire Consitutution against us. I once asked Randy why he did this and his response to me was, "You gays are so selfish. You think this is only about you."

Meanwhile, just YESTERDAY, James Dobson, who sponsors and controls the Exodus outreach program "Love Won Out" said that our seeking equal legal rights was the work of SATANIC FORCES and that if we gained marriage, IT WOULD BRING DOWN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY.

He actually said this. Where are the exgays who supposedly love us so much when Dobson says this kind of hate-filled rhetoric? Well, there was Alan Chambers sidling up next to him agreeing all the way.

This is the exact same message that Fred Phelps delivers. And yet, they decry Fred Phelps as being nothing like them. If so, why are they reading from the Fred Phelps playbook?

It demonstrates how they've been deceived and have allowed themselves to become a tool of deception and lies. Karen Armstrong said it best, talking about religionists like this, "people very often talk about him as a kind of acquaintance, whom they can second-guess. People will say God loves that, God wills that, and God despises the other. And very often, the opinions of the deity are made to coincide exactly with those of the speaker."

You're also right that I was NOT being condescending to Randy when I said that I believed him to be an honest person who wanted very badly to be doing and saying the right things. That's not condescension at all to acknowledge that someone has pure motives.

A lot of peple have written me privately asking about Randy because, for them, they've never met someone who has renounced their gay identity and then turned their backs on gay people to war against them.

I have met Randy and I know him personally. I honestly DO think that he believes what he says, and that he really does seek to do the right thing. But even someone seeking to do right can get lost in the power and influence and riches of the religious right.

The problem is that until the powerful elites of the Dobson/Robertson/Falwell empire discovered that they could use the exgays as political weapons during election campaigns, no one had ever heard of Exodus.

President Bush is going to stand in the Rose Garden this week, now that the election year has come around and is going to once again propose the Consitutional Amendment against us--and once again, Alan Chambers and Exodus will get their moment to be used once again by Dobson until the election is over. Money and influence will roll in. The seduction of fame will continue, and gay people will once again become walking targets.

The question is whether Randy, my friend whom I love very much, will get sucked right back into it--or whether he will stand up and call for repentance from the Christian community for allowing themselves to be used once again as instruments of hate.

Steve Schalchlin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steve Schalchlin said...

BTW, I'm meeting face to face this week. He's in LA performing his play "Doin' Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House." I'll be writing about him in my blog.

Christine Bakke said...

Steve, so glad you are meeting Peterson. He's an amazing person with a wonderful heart and he's talent on a stick, to boot! (Can you tell I'm in Kentucky right now?) You can't hear the accent I've acquired but it comes out in other ways...I'll be "all-ya'll"-in for days when I git back home. ;)