Posts tagged “gay

Thanks to Top 2 Bottom Reviews for the Great Interview!

Ken HarrisonI really enjoyed reconnecting with publisher Ken Harrison, of Seventh Window Publications, whom I met at the 2012 Rainbow Book Fair in NYC. It was so nice of him to reach out to me about my new book, Gifts Not Yet Given, even though he didn’t release it himself!

Instead, we chatted about the book on Top 2 Bottom Reviews, and I hope you’ll visit their site for the full interview. Here is a brief snippet of our exchange:

“Edwards-Stout:  I wanted a book which conservative straight folks could read, and maybe have their eyes opened, while the LGBT community might read it and think, “At last, we’re included.”

Gifts Not Yet GivenHarrison:  What do you mean?

Edwards-Stout:  Well, the first story, The Nutcracker, is about a straight woman who has been career-obsessed her whole life, suddenly at a holiday office party finding herself wondering why.  And the next story, Festive Beaver, is about a young gay boy orchestrating his elementary school’s Mardi Gras celebration.  There’s something in it for everyone.”
Check out the rest at Top 2 Bottom Reviews!  Thanks, Ken!


Halloween Horrors: The Ghost of Prop 8 Returns…

Living in Southern California, where we don’t get a lot of seasonal variation, one of our treasured fall rituals is our annual family trek to Julian, CA.  Each year, Russ and I pile the boys into the car and head to the picturesque mining town just northeast of San Diego, where we indulge in all of the sights and senses of autumn, eating more than our share of apple pie.  It is a journey I cherish, but this year, instead of being festive and restorative, the visit brought to mind the more recent horrors of Halloweens past, as the ghost of Prop 8 unexpectedly came rushing back in the most unwelcome of places.

Privacy for all StudentsWe’d just arrived, stepping onto the charming main street, when I spotted it: a line of people standing, waiting.  At first I thought it was a backed-up line of customers pouring forth from one of the town’s many restaurants, but as we got closer, I was able to spot a card table, with two small, simple signs affixed, “Stop Co-Ed Showers in Schools” and “No Opposite Sex in School Bathrooms.”  It was then that I realized that the hordes of tourists were not waiting for pie, but for their chance to add signatures to the growing petition list hoping to topple California’s new transgender rights law.

As an LGBT advocate and gay dad, I was both sickened and saddened.  Not only was I immediately and emotionally transported back to those divisive fall days leading up to the November 2008 election, when front yards across the state were littered with both fake gravestones and political signs, but the thought of fighting yet another brutal battle, and one we’re likely to lose, put an abrupt end to my autumnal revelry.

For myself and many other LGBT people, the stigma of being thought of as “sick” and “abnormal” has shadowed me, making me work diligently to be viewed as good, “normal,” and a person of value.  I’ve been on the front-lines, time and again, battling for the rights that should, in America, be a given.  During the Prop 8 campaign, it was incredibly demoralizing to work planning our anti-Prop 8 rallies, only to drive through a sea of yellow pro-8 signs as we headed back home.  In conversations with voters, they would say, “Oh, we’re not voting against you; we’re voting to protect our children.”  Um, protect them from whom, exactly?  Me?  I’ve spent years fighting for basic treatment under the law, and being dismissed as less than can take a personal toll on one’s psyche.

Happily, for gays and lesbians nationwide, we’re finally seeing the political results of such efforts, as in both courts of law and public opinion we’re steadily being given the same rights and responsibilities as most everyone else, moving the “LGB” in our movement one step closer to actual equality.

In our various campaigns, we’ve been joined time and again by our transgender allies, yet I wonder if the “LGB” members of community will this time stand up for the “T.”  Too often, trans people and their concerns are largely relegated to the back of the bus.  Within the LGBTQIA community, there are divisions, particularly as while we share the common goal of equality, for some the root is sexual identity and for others it is gender identity.  For gays and lesbians, who perhaps have been told that the butch dyke “wants to be a man,” while the effeminate guy “really wants to be a girl,” joining forces with those who in fact may identify with a different gender can be confusing. Indeed, I’ve even heard some gays and lesbians refer to transgender people as “sick” and “abnormal”–using the very same arrows slung by others to demoralize and dehumanize gays.  This lack of compassion, as well as a general lack of curiosity as to who trans people are, makes me wonder who among us will stand alongside them when this battle comes…

Actually–correct that: the battle is here.  The anti-gay, anti-trans troops from NOM are on the ground, mobilized, and using many of the same strategies which proved effective for them on Prop 8.

This petition is being sold to the California public as a way to protect children, with the accessible and sensible title of “Privacy for All Students.”  Who, after all, can articulately argue against the right to privacy?  Respect for individual freedom and privacy seems inherently American, making the signing of a petition which says just that seem fairly reasonable.  Come to think of it, isn’t individual privacy an essential element of the LGBT equal rights movement???

“Stop Co-Ed Showers in Schools.”  Gosh, sounds like we need to stop some wild parties, huh? Check–petition signed!

“No Opposite Sex in School Bathrooms.”  Again, that seems like a sensible request–so why not sign the petition???

Unfortunately, the thousands of people who do sign these petitions will not explore the law in any further depth than just reading the poster taglines.  And when these petitioners gather the necessary 500,000 signatures, those same effective messages will be used to engage voters on the proposition’s behalf.  (While they have very few days remaining in which to gather the necessary signatures, if the enthusiasm I witnessed in Julian is any indication of momentum elsewhere, they’ll have no problem meeting their quota.)

Given all the similarities to Prop 8 messaging, it’s no surprise that the National Organization for Marriage is behind this petition drive, or that Prop 8’s chief strategist, Frank Schubert, works on this campaign as well.  As NOM has cleared demonstrated in each of their campaigns, being truthful in their quest is less important to them than winning.

The law as written was created to ensure that transgender students feel safe at school, and that the way in which they view themselves is in sync with how they live their lives, enabling them to dress and go about their day as they identify (including going to the bathroom or playing sports.)  You’d never know that, though, from the petition drive. Here, the majority of California’s “innocent children” are under attack from a vile, twisted bunch hoping to ogle the opposite sex in the bathroom. Just as in Prop 8, the LGBT community is being equated with pedophiles.  That tired old “abnormal” and “sick” paint brush is being used collectively on the trans community, as if simply being different makes one unworthy of equal treatment under the law.

Of course, the petition drive doesn’t mention that there are already laws in place to prevent bad behavior, violence, or voyeurism.  Instead, it creates the impression of a lawless land, a World War T where the only way to defeat the “trans zombies” is to build barriers, lest their “infections” spread to the general populace.

I’m curious to see what the LGBT organizations have up their sleeve in order to combat this eventual proposition; I hope it involves actual transgender people.  Real people with real stories make for compelling testimony, but my hunch is that, just as in the anti-Prop 8 commercials, we’ll instead be treated to our straight allies waxing obliquely about equality and respect, with trans people themselves deemed “too icky” and “risky” for public consumption.  But it is exactly the personal which helps open hearts and transform minds.

We’re friendly with one family at our church who has a transgender child who self-identified as a girl and has dressed as such since she was very young.  (I interviewed her mother here.)  In every move, gesture, as well as in appearance, she is indeed a girl.  If it were not for her activism and willingness to speak to the media, no one would ever think differently.

But imagine if this girl, wearing her pretty pink dress, were to enter a boys’ bathroom?  Or be forced to play on the boys’ team, in disregard to her preferred gender?  Wouldn’t, at the very least, questions be asked?  How could her privacy as a transgender person–let alone safety–be ensured?  This bill simply allows her to participate in sports as a girl, use facilities as a girl, and–in essence–live her life as she so chooses.

Critics point to the old California law as being “fair,” which provided trans students with the ability to use private facilities, but such attempts only furthers stigmatization and “outs” the trans person as such. (For a list of common misconceptions around this new legislation, visit American Progress.)

While it may be easy for NOM to make transgender people seem the boogeyman in this fight, there is something much scarier at work.  In this petition drive, there is dishonesty and misrepresentation of transgender people at the expense of their esteem and perhaps even their personal safety.  During the Prop 8 battle, some pointed to an increase in anti-gay violence as attributable to the bruising fight, which makes me wonder and fear for the safety involved in this battle as well.

Though this petition drive is occurring now, we’ll see the results of their labor next fall on the November 2014 ballot.  And once again, next Halloween will be an unsettling mix of both fake ghosts, hung from trees, and the very real ghosts of Prop 8, played out like a bad scary movie to which we already know the ending: ignorant masses will be riled up by fear and bias in order to pass a ballot measure at the expense of a largely-defenseless minority.

Happy Halloween.

Kergan Edwards-Stout can be found via his website, Facebook, and Twitter. His new book, Gifts Not Yet Given, can be found at Indie Bound (Independent Book Stores), Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or at your favorite book sellers.

Photo credit: Privacy for All Students


Monday 10/14: On Rated G Radio with Garrett Miller

Garrett MillerI’m looking forward to this Monday October 14th at 7PM PDT/10PM EDT when I’ll be live on Garrett Miller‘s Rated G Radio.  Garrett is not only a radio host but an entertainer as well, and–as you can see from his photo–very easy on the eyes.  It’s a good thing we’ll be chatting via phone, as it would be hard to focus with him face-to-face! #dreamy

To listen to the show, go to Garrett’s website and click the “Listen Here” icon Monday at 7PM Pacific/10PM Eastern.  His show runs Monday through Fridays at the same times and is always a lot of fun.  Check it out on Monday!  He can be found on Facebook and Twitter as well.  Thanks, Garrett!


To Celebrate the Release of Gifts Not Yet Given

…GoodReads is offering a giveaway of my first book, Songs for the New Depression, which recently garnered a starred review from Library Journal.  They’ve got five signed copies, so enter to win today!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Songs for the New Depression by Kergan Edwards-Stout

Songs for the New Depression

by Kergan Edwards-Stout

Giveaway ends October 31, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

 


Provincetown Magazine: Excerpt from “Gifts Not Yet Given”

For those in P-town this week, pick up the October 10, 2013, issue of Provincetown Magazine, which features an excerpt from one of the stories in Gifts Not Yet Given, “The Cape.” The tale takes place on Christmas in Provincetown, as a Boston native flees his city for solace in his seaside bungalow. It is one of my favorite stories in the book, and I’m appreciative to them for sharing it with their readers!

Provincetown Magazine Cover Cape Gifts Photo


Thanks, Gregory G. Allen, for interviewing me for Huffington Post!

Gregory G. AllenIt was great catching up with pal, author Gregory G. Allen, who interviewed me on my new book at The Huffington Post!  Greg is one of those rare multi-hyphenates–he writes, he acts, he directs–and does them all well.  As he is in the process of adapting Missing, by Drake Braxton, as a screenplay for a feature film, I am grateful he was able to take the time to chat.  Thanks, HuffPo, for sharing it!

Here are a few of his questions, but head over to Huffington Post for the full exchange!

Allen: What’s your favorite story in the book?

Edwards-Stout: It’s hard to choose, but I feel very connected to the title story, “Gifts Not Yet Given,” which is the last story in the book.

Allen: Why is that your favorite?

Edwards-Stout: I think it’s because, as a writer, I’m still surprised that those pages were written by me.

Allen: How so?

Edwards-Stout: Well, in this case, the title came to me before the story did. I was looking at the stories I’d written thus far, contemplating names for the collection, and this title just popped into my head. I knew that I needed a complementary story for it, and once I started writing, the story materialized very quickly. It’s about a woman struggling to deal with issues around her daughter, and I find it particularly touching. I still can’t believe it came out of me!

Photo credit of Gregory G. Allen: Tom Schopper


Robert Michael Morris on “Gifts Not Yet Given”

The ComebackRuss and I were first introduced to Robert Michael Morris, like most of America, through the hysterical (and too-short-lived) series, The Comeback.  On it, he played Mickey, Lisa Kudrow’s hairstylist, and he delivered lines and wonderful reactions like nobody’s business!

What most people don’t realize is that, in addition to being a sought-after actor, he is also an accomplished author and playwright.

He read my new book, Gifts Not Yet Given, and gave me a lovely quote:

“Kergan Edwards-Stout’s new book, a collection of thematic short stories, is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you are going to get. And that is delicious. The short story form is a delicate blend of trenchant dialogue, brisk character sketches and local color, and here they are all totally satisfying. What I love about short stories is that I always want a bit more, a tidier resolution, and I am a sucker for a happy ending. Mr. Edwards-Stout has mastered this form, titillating, plucking the heart strings and most often causing a smile of recognition. Some stories already portend a lengthier treatment, a novella perhaps. He touches our common humanity and amazes with his insight. The little collection is a Gift Already Given: a gift of delight and sweet humanity.” – Robert Michael Morris, actor – The Comeback, Running Wilde, and author – An American Scrapbook


First Review: “Gifts Not Yet Given”

Gifts Not Yet GivenMy sincere thanks to veteran reviewer Amos Lassen, who has been a wonderful supporter of the arts–particularly LGBT-related work–for his very kind review of my new book, Gifts Not Yet Given. He’d reviewed Songs for the New Depression and had liked it, but I was blown away, and so humbled to read in his new review, that Songs was “one of the highlights of my literary life.”  WOW.  He goes on to write:

“Kergan Edwards-Stout impressed me greatly with his first book, Songs for the New Depression and he gave himself quite a task for measuring his work that was yet to come. I am glad to say that this book not only lives up to my expectations, it surpasses them… What I found to be so amazing in this book is that the author’s personal stories became my personal stories as well and to me this attests to the universality of man. It is almost as if he wrote some of these stories directly to me. I knew from the moment that I read the preface that I would be in for a special treat reading these stories but I did not know that they would affect me the way that they did. To me, a sign of good, or even great, literature is when the writing speaks to you. This is what Edwards-Stout is so good at. He not only writes each story as if he is writing just to you, he has each story pull you into it. You are not just a reader—you are also a participant. Several times I had to stop reading to make sure that I was indeed reading something written on a page and not being acted out before my eyes.

There is something else this writer does that is stunning—he is able to mix love and compassion with anger and rage and he has us laughing and crying in the same story and sometimes in the same sentence. He writes of love in a way that is self-defining and makes you never again question what it is.”

Mr. Lassen goes on to write a generous review of Gifts Not Yet Given, which you can read in full here.  My heart is full.  Thank you!


Advance Praise from Two-Time Ferro-Grumley Fiction Award Winner Trebor Healey

Trebor HealeyOkay, I’m pulling out all the stops on this! I just got a lovely note from Trebor Healey, whose A Horse Named Sorrow was awarded the 2013 Ferro-Grumley Fiction Award, which he’d won previously for his Through It Came Bright Colors.  At the recent Lambda Literary Awards ceremony, Trebor was also awarded the 2013 Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize.

As the Ferro-Grumley is basically the Holy Grail of gay fiction writers and given that Trebor is so tremendously talented, I was thrilled when he read my new book, Gifts Not Yet Given, and gave me the following quote to use:

“The stories in Gifts Not Yet Given are vital, essential and remind us that much of human life is gained or lost through family. Edwards-Stout shines a light on contemporary life with skill and wit. A dynamic and engaging read.” – Trebor Healey, A Horse Named Sorrow and Through It Came Bright Colors.

Can’t wait to share this book with the world!  It’s up for a giveaway on Goodreads until October 14th!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Gifts Not Yet Given by Kergan Edwards-Stout

Gifts Not Yet Given

by Kergan Edwards-Stout

Giveaway ends October 15, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

 


Goodreads Giveaway: Gifts Not Yet Given – 10 Paperbacks!

My thanks to all for your support of my new book, Gifts Not Yet Given, which debuts next month!  For the next 30 days, enter at Goodreads to win one of 10 author-signed paperbacks.  This new title is perfect for holiday reading and giving, so enter today!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Gifts Not Yet Given by Kergan Edwards-Stout

Gifts Not Yet Given

by Kergan Edwards-Stout

Giveaway ends October 15, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

 


Thanks to the Old Town Orange Plaza Review!

Orange Plaza ReviewI really appreciated the opportunity to be interviewed and photographed by the nice folks at Old Town Orange Plaza Review about my new book, Gifts Not Yet Given, as well as my debut, Songs for the New Depression. It’s a fun local paper spotlighting those in our area, and it was great to have them include me!

Advance, author-signed copies of Gifts Not Yet Given will be available exclusively at Eikon Home & Gift in Orange starting September 10th. It’s a great shop filled with interesting objects for the home, and they’ll also be hosting a book signing in November, so stay tuned for details!


Wow! The Library Journal says that “Songs for the New Depression”…

LIbrary JournalI am so happy to find my debut novel, Songs for the New Depression, on this Library Journal list of 9 gay fiction reads, alongside one of my heroes, Trebor Healey and his A Horse Named Sorrow. Color me happy!

They write: “Edwards-Stout’s satiric wit belies a smoothly written, circumspect story.”

They also note a star next to the book, which is only on one other gay fiction book, John Boyne’s The Absolutist.  I have no idea what that star means, but I’ll take it!  🙂


Embracing Life Beyond 50: Begin with “Yes”

Paul BoyntonHow best to move forward through life is one of the questions author, life coach, and non-profit CEO Paul Boynton asks and attempts to answer on a daily basis.  As author of the inspirational Begin With Yes and the host of both its accompanying Facebook page as well as the Facebook page Being Gay, Becoming Gray, he helps others take big issues and distill them into manageable bites.  Unique to his beliefs is that while having a positive attitude is helpful in creating change, it isn’t an absolute necessity.

Boynton recently took the time to share with me more about his thoughts on initiating change, as well as on being gay, aging, and other aspects of negotiating life.

Kergan Edwards-Stout:  Paul, I’ve been looking forward to our chat!  Before we get into your book and Facebook pages, tell me a bit about your backstory…

Paul Boynton:  Well, my story is very similar to that of many other gay men of my era.  I was married for many years to a wonderful woman, with whom I had three amazing children—and now four grandchildren.  As I grew older, however, I realized that I needed to deal with myself in a more authentic and honest way.  Consequently, my wife Susan and I eventually separated almost 15 years ago.  Happily, we were able to maintain and even expand the best part of our relationship as dear friends and parents, and she and my partner Michael had a wonderful friendship too.  Sadly, she passed away 3 years ago.    

Edwards-Stout:  What led you to marry Susan? (more…)


Fame and Fortune

I gotta admit, I love being name-checked by people I respect!  Band of Thebes and Stephen Bottum gave me an unexpected shout-out in referencing the birthday of Fortune Feimster and my love for her character of Hooter’s waitress Darlene Witherspoon.  Yes, it is comedy of the lowest common denominator, but any excuse to share a funny video is good by me.  Enjoy!


The Gay Men Project: Contribute Your Stories

Kevin TruongThe Gay Men Project is an online attempt by photographer Kevin Truong to capture self-identified gay men in their environment to give viewers a sense of who they are and the life they lead.  Subtle and unshowy, the photographs provide glimpses into gay men’s ordinary and extraordinary lives.  Often, the portraits are accompanied by the subject’s personal story, which are just as interesting as the photographs.  Truong has photographed over two hundred men in four countries thus far, with plans for many more.

While initially the Gay Men Project began as a venue for his own photography, the series has since expanded and Truong is actively seeking photo contributions from anyone interested in being a part of the project, as well as participants for the photographs he himself shoots.  Truong recently shared with me his inspiration and goals for the Gay Men Project, and his reasons for expanding the project to include contributions from others.

Kergan Edwards-Stout:  Kevin, I’m so glad we’re able to talk further about your Gay Men Project.  A friend shared it with me, and I was really taken with both the photography and the stories.  I was also impressed with your goal of capturing the gay community in these slice-of-life moments. 

Kevin Truong:  Thank you! 

Edwards-Stout:  Tell me a bit about yourself and how you came to be a photographer.

Truong:  My mom is a Vietnamese immigrant and I was born in born in a refugee camp in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Later, we moved to Oregon, where I grew up.  I got my first degree in Economics and worked for nonprofits for a few years, which culminated with me going into the Peace Corps when I was twenty-six.  That experience led to my becoming interested in photography and coincided with my coming out.

Edwards-Stout:  How so?

Truong:  Through the Peace Corps, I was placed in Belize, a country where it is illegal to be gay.  When I found that out, I immediately contacted the Peace Corps to ask what I should do.  The Peace Corps is the holy grail of nonprofits, and they encouraged me to go ahead and go.  I hoped that they would be right and that it would be manageable, but as I had just come out as gay to my mom, going back into a situation where I was told to be “discrete” was easier said than done. (more…)


Kergan Edwards-Stout talks LGBT Parenting on “The Gay Love Coach”

Love CoachI recently had the pleasure of chatting with Brian Rzepczynski, MSW, a psychotherapist and life coach specializing in helping LGBT individuals and couples develop and maintain successfulBrian - The Gay Love Coach and fulfilling intimate relationships. He’s got a great podcast called “The Gay Love Coach,” where he and I talked all things LGBT parenting. Check out my interview with Brian on his new podcast!


AIDS @ 32: For Whom the Bell Tolls (32 Notables Share Their Stories)

Having lost friends, co-workers, and a lover, Shane Sawick, to AIDS, I am all too acutely aware of the personal impact the disease has had on my life. Coming of age during the height of the epidemic, my experiences in HIV education and activism fundamentally shaped me, forever altering my very core. However, in the years since, the media has largely ignored the disease, as have many in the LGBT community. This veil of silence is both odd and frightening, ignoring the impact the disease had on an entire generation and relegating gay and lesbian people, once again, to a place of shame.

As June 5, 2013, marks the 32nd year since the first report of the disease which would go on to be known as AIDS, I was curious as to the toll the disease has taken on others. I reached out to both those who directly faced the onslaught, as well as those younger who have never known a world without AIDS, to find out how 32 years of HIV/AIDS has impacted their lives. Here are 32 voices, on the 32nd year of AIDS.

Tuc Watkins“Becoming sexually active in the early ‘90s was a scary time. AIDS was widespread, but safe sex education was spreading too. I learned how to protect myself. And I did. I am concerned that today’s youth, especially gay youth, think that if they contract HIV/AIDS they can ‘just take some pills’ and everything will be okay. Safe sex education must continue and be more encompassing than billboards that oversimplify contracting HIV/AIDS by showing a bottle of pills as a ‘prescription’ to fighting the disease.“
Tuc Watkins, actor (Desperate Housewives, One Life to Live)

Greg Louganis“It has been almost 25 years since my diagnosis of being HIV positive. At the time, the only drug available was AZT, which was to be taken as 2 pills, every four hours, around the clock, which was not conducive to a good night’s rest when training for the Olympics! I survived another battle ten years later, when I thought I was saying good-bye to my friends and family. I was wasting away to almost nothing, boarding a plane to go thousands of miles from my home, checking into a hospital under an assumed name. I didn’t claim it on my insurance, as I was fearful of anyone knowing my diagnosis. Today, my life couldn’t be more exciting. HIV has given me perspective, pushing me to not put off my passions. Now, in my 50s, I’ve taken up trapeze, and look forward to both an incredible scuba diving trip next year and a sky dive this year. The fact is I live ‘with’ a virus called HIV; it is a part of me, at times challenging, but those questions of how or why are irrelevant. I have been incredibly blessed to have had such support after telling the world my status. Yes, I have my haters, but I give them as little energy as possible. No one truly knows how long we have, so I have chosen a joyous and happy life!”
Greg Louganis, author and four-time gold medal Olympian

Trebor Healey“Coming out into the AIDS epidemic made it all the harder to come to terms with one’s sexuality. To live in an embattled community facing oppression and discrimination as well as annihilation was overwhelming and often infuriating. I developed an enormous regard for my community through ACT UP, Queer Nation and the many service organizations that mushroomed up to deal heroically with the crisis. I worked at a hospice through many of those years and treasure the love, brotherhood, and community I saw there. We grew up politically, spiritually, socially, we found out who are friends were. AIDS was a teacher in many ways, and when I could stay in my heart, I’d find it could teach me. It was a hard teacher, a tough love thing, but it politicized me and woke me up in so many ways that I’ve done volunteer, community, and progressive political work ever since. Of course, oftentimes the loss was overwhelmingly sad, reminding us to live in the now, and love one another fiercely and fully. And to always remember those we lost, and to honor them by strengthening our community and keeping our hearts open and strong and just.”
Trebor Healey, two-time Ferro-Grumley award-winning author (A Horse Called Sorrow, Through It Came Bright Colors)

StevenFales“I never wanted to become positive and tried to avoid it. My father-in-law died of AIDS in 1984. I had a sister-in-law who was positive and who has since died. But a crystal meth binge got me one night. Thank goodness the meds today make it possible to one day see my grandchildren and to be undetectable for the right guy. We’re learning too slowly, but we are learning! One clean and sober day at a time.”
Steven Fales, actor and playwright (Confessions of a Mormon Boy)

Frank Bruni“I’m 48, have been ‘out’ since the age of 18, and had many acquaintances and friends who, in the mid-1980s and late 1980s and even early 1990s, got sick and died. Only a few were close friends, and it saddens and horrifies me that they’re no longer here. But what really saddens and horrifies me isn’t personal loss: it’s our country’s loss. Our world’s loss. So much talent, so much verve, so much humor, so much mischief, so much generosity: all gone. For me the legacy of AIDS—which, I hasten to point out, is still with us, not to be overlooked or belittled—is an awareness of how unpredictably and mercilessly the future can disappear, how randomly disease can strike, and also how dangerous and shortsighted it is for people themselves and for society in general not to confront public health threats immediately, vigorously, honestly and without denial or prejudice. The sadness that sticks with me is less about the friends gone than about the revelation of human and societal shortcomings.”
Frank Bruni, columnist, The New York Times

Jackie Beat“I cannot tell you how many tears I have cried with friends upon learning they had tested positive. Back then, we just assumed that HIV was a death sentence. For many it was, but for others, it was actually the start of a brand new—albeit challenging—life. I thank God for the progress we’ve made, but when I meet young people whose attitude is ‘I’ll just take a pill for the rest of my life,’ it scares me. It’s 2013 and I still have the same message I had 25 years ago: SAFE SEX.”
Jackie Beat, entertainer

RobertMichaelMorris“The disease began to touch those I knew and loved: a wonderful actor, a brilliant jack of all trades, a former student who was so handsome and full of life, a young dancer friend from A Chorus Line… Their commonality was not only the arts, it was youth. They were all too young with too much to live for and too much to share. Suddenly, because I knew these guys, every death after hammered my heart; hammered by complete strangers. I cursed God a little, but I became more open to everyone, not just my personal circle of friends. And I still think it is just so damned unfair.”
Robert Michael Morris, playwright, actor (Running Wilde, The Comeback)

Michael Musto“From the beginning, the community fielded the horror of AIDS with a mixture of shock, grief, denial, terror, and rage that not nearly enough was being done about it by the powers that be. As the community was devastated, many of the survivors became politicized and created a culture that by now has become legendary in its power and impact. Decades later, AIDS is still there and still devastating, and we’re going through all the same emotions about it, but we’ve learned through our battle scars and emerged with a lot of fight in us, which helps as we demand equal rights in marriage, the military, and everywhere else.”
Michael Musto, author, former columnist, Village Voice

MichaelVaccaro“In 2009, I lost my husband, Antonio Vaccaro. He was 38. He was the person I thought I’d be with for the rest of my life. I was shattered. It happened suddenly. It was unexpected. Nobody thought that anyone would die of AIDS in 2009. But he did. And people do. I thought I’d gotten used to loss, having lived through the ’80s and ’90s, and going to memorials and funerals every Saturday for years. Having seen my community destroyed and decimated. But you never get used to it. It’s never easy. Antonio was the hardest. He was my strength, and it was taken away, and I’ve had to learn how to survive and be strong on my own. I’ve been forced to find my strength again, but I will never again find my innocence, or ever really feel completely safe. And then there’s the underlying sadness continually shocking you, threatening the happiness.”
Michael Vaccaro, actor (Child of the ‘70s, Deleted Scenes, The Endless Possibility of Sky)

Greg Cason“I was listening to a portable radio as I strolled to my high school to pick up my diploma just two weeks after graduation in 1981. To me, the world was about to finally open up when I heard the announcement of a new disease that appeared to be affecting gay men. At that moment, I knew life ahead would be changed. I entered UCLA that fall and would soon find myself visiting friends between classes as they were hospitalized in the AIDS ward. Illness and funerals became commonplace. There seemed to be only three emotions: fear, compassion, and grief. And, it was like the majority of the outside world didn’t care. Those were my early adult years. I could say the toll was the loss of friends, devastation to my community, and the hopes for the future. But, this crisis didn’t defeat us; it made us (and me specifically) more determined. Those who suffered and passed experienced the biggest toll—as did the world that lost their talent and loving spirits.”
Dr. Greg Cason, psychologist, star of Bravo’s LA Shrinks

Del Shores“One of my greatest joys was rewriting the ‘Ty’ monologue when I adapted my stage play Sordid Lives to film. In the play, the character talked of a friend who died because of AIDS. In the movie, I added a line because of the new meds that gave hope to so many. As I’ve watched the evolution of the AIDS epidemic, I think of all the amazing plays, films and television shows which addressed and chronicled the evolution of this epidemic. I think of the groundbreaking television film An Early Frost and the education that art has given this epidemic. Later, we, the writers of Queer As Folk, were able to tell more stories that addressed those living with HIV and AIDS. I hope I live to see the film that chronicles the discovery of the cure—when the last chapter of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is written in life and in our art.”
Del Shores, playwright (Sordid Lives, Southern Baptist Sissies)

LadyBunny“Of course I’m delighted that new drugs have largely stopped making AIDS a death sentence. But to see young people who apparently think of these drugs as a cure is horrifying. HIV transmission is treated casually—or even as inevitable—and I don’t understand my friends who are getting tested every few months. Doesn’t that prove that they aren’t practicing safe sex? We do know how to prevent HIV transmission, so why aren’t we doing it? Are we even talking about AIDS enough? One young friend of mine didn’t even know that the disease can have a decade-long incubation period during which symptoms don’t show. The younger generation didn’t watch their friends waste away as my generation did, so they don’t know the horrors first hand. Infections are up among youth as they actively seek out barebacking. And it saddens me that looks-obsessed gay men may have come to the conclusion that there isn’t much point in living until you’re old and no longer desirable. I hope we are more than that and, as the great Larry Kramer points out, we should value each others humanity more. We aren’t just pieces of meat with an expiration date after which we become trolls. We’re supposed to be a community.”
Lady Bunny, DJ, entertainer, founder of Wigstock

James Duke Mason“As a young gay man, the history of the gay movement and the AIDS epidemic helped to make me who I am and create the identity that I live by today. Hearing the stories of friends who are HIV-positive, as well as reading the works of Paul Monette and Larry Kramer, who were pioneers in spreading the word about the crisis, inspired me to become an activist. I am so thankful to them for informing me and making me a better human being as a result. We should do everything we can to ensure that other gay youth are aware of our community’s history; we can never forget our brothers we lost.”
James Duke Mason, activist, actor (Disappear Here)

Patricia Nell Warren“What’s the toll? On a personal level, it’s the dear friends and associates lost to AIDS. I still miss them—Philip Labhart, Mike Ward, and others. There’s also the toll of seeing a tragic reversal of direction that healthcare policy has taken in our society. U.S. healthcare puts us 37th on the list, behind EU countries with universal healthcare. Indeed, the U.S. is taking better care of poverty-stricken PWAs in Africa than we are taking of our own poverty-stricken citizens who live with HIV/AIDS. That could be the final toll of AIDS—the people who die not because of the virus itself, but because they couldn’t afford or access the current treatment.”
Patricia Nell Warren, author (The Front Runner, My West), columnist (Bilerico Project, Arts & Understanding)

TylerCurry“As a gay man in his late 20’s, the AIDS epidemic has always been a sort of looming dark shadow over my life and the lives of my friends. We are the generation once removed from the initial horror of the epidemic. So, instead of taking charge, we have begun to avoid the topic all together. Now, it’s time to recommit to the conversation and stop being afraid of the dark.”
Tyler Curry, writer, activist

Mel White“AIDS destroyed the body of Thomas Montgomery, my very first lover. His ashes are scattered over Mt. Hood in Oregon. I still cry when I think of his untimely death. The real horror and heartbreak of AIDS can only be grasped one death at a time. I’m grateful for the meds that keep other close friends alive. I’m just hoping that those ‘miraculous’ meds won’t deceive any more of our bright and beautiful young men into taking unnecessary chances. I am too old to watch another generation grow sick and die…one good friend at a time.”
Reverend Mel White, author of Stranger at the Gate: to be Gay and Christian in America and the co-founder of Soulforce

Peter Staley“To be honest, fighting AIDS is often depressing and exhausting. Many of us walked away, or have taken long breaks from the work. When we talk of the glory and beauty in this fight, it’s the communal response that we’re talking about, not AIDS itself. AIDS is horrible, and relentless. In the same way HIV will kill you if you ignore your infection, HIV will damage a community’s health if the community ignores it. With over 30,000 new infections in gay men each year in this country, mostly in young gay men, where’s our communal response now? I feel blessed to have witnessed ACT UP’s glory years. With today’s assimilationist politics, I doubt I’ll ever witness that same sense of community again. But I hate sounding like some grumpy old activist. I’m not. Truth be told, there’s much to admire in today’s LGBT youth. I have no doubt they’ll make their mark.”
Peter Staley, activist (featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague); founder & advisory editor, AIDSmeds

Richard Kramer“The challenge for me has been to try to find a way to grieve for things that had still to happen, that were yet to come. I have a friend who, after a vivid dinner or conversation, says ‘Well, we just made a memory.’ How many memories were not made because the friends I was planning to make them with never got the chance to make them? Can you make a new memory around an absence? I think I’ve tried to do that, with many friends who are gone. They know who they are.”
Richard Kramer, novelist (These Things Happen)

Darryl Stephens“Having moved to the Bay Area for college in the 90s, when ACT UP’s ‘SILENCE = DEATH’ campaign was ubiquitous, much of my gay identity was forged in the Castro. By then, the gay community had already organized to fight AIDS, people knew how the disease was transmitted, and the focus had shifted from panic and death-sentences to prevention, education and early detection. But that didn’t change the fact that AIDS was inescapable if you were a man who slept with men. I knew to get tested every six months and I knew that blood and semen were to be avoided at all costs. I knew that condoms were nonnegotiable. I lived through being young and gay in the Castro in the 90s because others had dedicated their lives to finding out and then teaching me how to protect myself.”
Darryl Stephens, actor (Noah’s Arc), author, vocalist

Dana Miller“I have resisted this question for almost 30 years; just run from it, never really looking it square in the face. I have indeed let AIDS alter my life without debate. Seeing hundreds perish from a plague, then dealing with the bureaucracy that came with organization, has been close to defeating—though not quite. AIDS impacted my life in almost every way possible. How to live and love, without a doubt. I truly hate all that it has done, yet would not change a moment of my participation in the war.”
Dana Miller, AIDS activist, former board member AIDS Project Los Angeles & Elton John AIDS Foundation

Michael Nava“My most vivid memory of the beginning of the AIDS epidemic is of the level of ignorance about it among both gay and straight people. Two examples: my friend Luis arguing with me about safe sex, which he claimed was a conspiracy by heterosexuals to stop gay men from fucking. Luis later died. And at an early demonstration against the Reagan Administration, I was approached by a straight woman who wanted to know what the protest was about. ‘AIDS,’ I replied. She looked puzzled and asked, ‘The diet candy?’ (Ayds was an appetite suppressant candy popular in the ‘70s and early ‘80s.) This was in 1984. And then the real nightmare began.”
Michael Nava, five-time Lambda Literary award-winning author

Dean Pitchford“I didn’t realize how closely I had brushed up against the plague until we were well into it. While Gaetan Dugas was often referred to as Patient Zero, my wonderful Yale roommate Enno Poersch was designated Patient One years after his death, and his boyfriend, Nick Rock, Patient Two. By then, I had sat by numerous hospital beds, held dozens of hands gone cold, and attended too many memorials to count. The most searing memory, however, is of the day my dear friend Vito Russo called to tell me of his diagnosis. The news wrecked me. ‘Now I have a terrible favor to ask,’ he said. He couldn’t bear to tell our mutual friend, Craig Zadan, with whom he was extremely close; would I? Of course, I did. And Craig and I wept together–not just for Vito, but for all the loved ones who had gone before and those we had yet to lose. At the time, I couldn’t imagine I would ever be called upon again to deliver as devastating and heartbreaking a message. But, of course, I was. And I did.”
Dean Pitchford, Oscar-winning songwriter, screenwriter (Footloose), author

Sheryl Lee Ralph“I remember an ugly time in America when good people, kind people, people of all religions, faiths and beliefs turned their backs on their sick and dying children because they had ‘that’ disease. I remember going to the hospital to visit sick friends, but there was no hospital bed for them. You would often find them laid out on a gurney, pushed up against a wall out in some hallway, unattended and dying for help. But there was no help for them. Because I can never forget, I continue to do the divinely inspired victoriously aware DIVA work that I do. I founded the DIVA Foundation 23 years ago as a living breathing memorial to the many friends I lost to AIDS, and we have simply dared to care after all these years. Simply dared to raise our voices in song and commitment to fight the good fight against HIV/AIDS because I remember when the disease had no name.”
Sheryl Lee Ralph, Tony-nominated actress, founder of DIVAS Simply Singing and the DIVA Foundation

Ken Schneck“I exist at that weird nexus of being too young to have personally seen the devastation of the 1980s but too old to be ignorant how HIV/AIDS had decimated a huge part of the LGBT landscape. I remember being 15 years old and reading And the Band Played On, all the while thinking, ‘Why did this happen?!?’ Only after I came out did I realize that my real question was, ‘Why did this happen to my people?’ My personal goal is, as it has ever been, to remind people and myself that, in some ways, we’re still where we were and have an absurdly long way to go.”
Ken Schneck, producer/host, This Show Is So Gay

Charles Perez“I recently participated in AIDS Walk 2013. I first did the AIDS Walk in 1987. As I walked, I thought about all my friends, all my peers who didn’t get to be 30, or 40, or now 50. I felt the hole in my spirit that remains for each one of them even decades later. I thought about Scott, who built tree forts with me. I thought about the unspoken teenage attraction between us. I thought about our coming out to each other and his shortly-thereafter death. I thought about the life he might have had and the stories, dreams, disappointments and victories we may have shared. Instead, there’s a place-marker… and a deep gratitude for his having been here. In between – there is just space where our friendship may have been. That’s the biggest toll. Space, where there might have been more of what we were together.”
Charles Perez, speaker, writer, former ABC anchorman/reporter

Gregory G Allen“Moving to NYC in the late 80s, one of my first jobs was working for a cleaning service operated by a gay couple. I watched as the illness took over one of them until he was no longer able to perform his job. That was the start of attending funeral after funeral. Losing friends throughout the years was terrible in itself, but many gay men also spent those decades wondering ‘will it be me?’ or ‘why am I still here?’ Any survivor of a war, epidemic, or disaster has that guilt.”
Gregory G. Allen, author (Well With My Soul, Patchwork of Me, Cool Side of the Pillow)

Judith Light“It has made me even more passionate to educate our young and stand up for human rights.”
Judith Light, Emmy and Tony award-winning actress, activist

Tom Ammiano“It was the death of innocence in many ways. The toll it took was being stripped of your support system. I could look through my phone book and see 20, 30, 40 people dead within a year. My partner died after we had been together 17 years. He died just as I was elected to the Board of Supervisors. If losing people wasn’t bad enough, we were mistreated in death. EMTs would sometimes not pick up the body or treat it disrespectfully. It taught you to fight. It informs who you are for the rest of your life. Even now when someone dies, it brings it all back. You think of it all the time.”
California State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano

Glenn Gaylord“It would be so easy to list out the devastating losses I’ve experienced since the dawn of the AIDS epidemic, including, to a certain extent, the loss of my own youth. I could talk about the endless memorial services, the hands held in hospital rooms, the many ways people near and dear to me were stopped cold in their tracks. To do so, however, would be to give too much power to a teensy weensy virus and to play the victim card. Instead, I prefer to think about the toll I’ve taken on AIDS. I’ve kinda kicked its ass. I’ve thrived and have sent the message, ‘You do that to my friends and my family, and you’re gonna have to deal with me!’ I may lose this battle, but not without a knockdown, drag-out, Dynasty-level throw-down-in-the-fountain catfight!”
Glenn Gaylord, director (I Do, Eating Out 3: All You Can Eat), screenwriter/producer/lyricist (Leave It On the Floor)

Tyler St Mark“To comprehend the impact AIDS has had on my life you need only make a list of all of your friends, lovers, acquaintances, and coworkers. List them randomly as they come to mind until you reach 100. Then circle every third name. Imagine each of those circled, within a year or two, withering into an ancient, decaying, stinking bone heap. Not all of them at once but overlapping, several at a time, over a decade. Imagine the light leaving their eyes, the joy leaving their hearts, the music leaving their soul. Imagine which of them you would embrace as they took their last desperate breath. Imagine at what point on the list you could no longer do so. Imagine looking back twenty years later and wondering what life would have been like otherwise. Imagine wondering each day why you were not one of those names circled on the list.”
Tyler St. Mark, writer, publisher, a creator of one of the first AIDS awareness campaigns (Mother Cares, featuring Zelda Rubinstein)

John D'Amico“AIDS took away any excuse I might have had to live dishonestly. AIDS took away my fear of being found out, my fear of the critical eye and my fear of taking control of who I might become. AIDS will never return the stolen friends. AIDS will never return the stolen lovers. And AIDS will never allow us to think of our bodies as our own. AIDS took too much from too many and what it left was a version of me, and a version of us, and a version of our world that is better prepared. And yet, I wish it never existed at all.” Mayor Pro Tempore John D’Amico, City of West Hollywood

ShaneSawickShane Michael Sawick was an actor and coordinator of the Southern California AIDS Hotline, and the partner of this article’s author, novelist Kergan Edwards-Stout. Learn more about the life of Shane Sawick here (August 18, 1956-March 22, 1995)

Kergan Edwards-Stout’s debut novel about one man’s battle with AIDS, Songs for the New Depression, was winner of the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Award in the LGBTQ category, shortlisted for the Independent Literary Awards and named one of the Top Books of 2012 by Out in Print, among others.

Photo Credits: Tuc Watkins (Tuc Watkins), Greg Louganis (Bradford Rogne), Trebor Healey (Martin Cox), Steven Fales (Bryan Maynes), Frank Bruni (Soo-Jeong Kang), Jackie Beat (Austin Young), Robert Michael Morris (Robert Michael Morris), Michael Musto (Frankie C), Greg Cason (Bravo TV), Del Shores (Rosemary Alexander), Lady Bunny (Billy Erb), James Duke Mason (James Duke Mason), Patricia Nell Warren (John Selig), Tyler Curry (Tyler Curry), Mel White (Andrew Wilds), Peter Staley (Peter Staley), Richard Kramer (R. Avery), Darryl Stephens (Logan Alexander), Dana Miller (David Miller), Michael Nava (Michael Nava), Dean Pitchford (Peter Randolph), Sheryl Lee Ralph (Adam Bouska), Ken Schneck (This Show is So Gay), Charles Perez (Charles Perez), Gregory G. Allen (Tom Schopper), Judith Light (Walter McBride), Tom Ammiano (Tom Ammiano), Glenn Gaylord (David M. Gil), Tyler St. Mark (Greg Money), John D’Amico (City of West Hollywood), Shane Sawick (Ed Freeman)

Cross-posted on Huffington Post and LGBTQ Nation.


Author Spotlight: Brian Centrone

Brian Centrone I had the pleasure of first meeting Brian Centrone last year at the Rainbow Book Fair in New York. We’d become virtual friends via Twitter, connecting through a group of writers who support each others’ work. Friendly and witty, I was interested in learning more Brian, and the publication of his new novel, An Ordinary Boy, proved just the opportunity.

Kergan Edwards-Stout: Brian, it’s great to connect with you again, and congratulations on your new book! Your online bio is very charming and witty, but give me some of your back-story.

Thanks, Kergan. The bio on my website is an attempt to write about myself without having to write about myself in a formal manner. I grew up in the Bronx and attended Catholic school for 9 years. It was in the third grade that I caught the writing bug. The school was putting together their first ever creative writing journal and I was determined to get published in it. I told my teacher I wanted to write a novel and she corrected me by saying short story, but I was really talking about bigger dreams than just the school publication. My story did get published and I was over the moon. It wasn’t until years later that I realized they published every student who submitted work. My story was about three friends that received an apparition from the Virgin Mary and thus become priests and a nun. It’s God-awful, but it’s my very first publication, and it did fuel my desire to be a writer. I’ve been keeping that one a secret for years!

Aside from the nuns, what have been the most impactful moments in your own life, and how did those shape who you’ve become? (more…)


A Great Interview by Jim Duke, Guide for Gay Living

Jim DukeI recently had the pleasure of chatting with Jim Duke, whose Guide for Gay Living podcast helps gay men navigate this crazy thing called life.  Not only was Jim a joy to talk with, but I think it is the most incisive look yet at who I am, my inspirations, and my evolution as a being. Intriguing questions, far beyond the usual “book talk.”  I hope you’ll give it a listen!   Check out the interview here!

Follow Jim Duke on twitter and on facebook.


Sh*t My Kids Say, Part II

Mason Marcus 2012One of the great things about Facebook is the ability to reread posts made in the spur of the moment and quickly forgotten. I tend to forget some of the funny things our kids say, and it’s great to have the ability to look back and remember.  As two white gay dads raising two amazing African American boys, our house is always hopping.  Here are quotes from our 13-year-old, Mason, and our 10-year-old , Marcus, in another edition of Sh*t My Kids Say.

Me: “Marcus, it is 6AM. What are you doing up, trying to get in to that ice cream?!?”
Marcus: “I need energy.”

Marcus: “Do babies have balls when they’re born?”
Me: “Well, boy babies do.”
Marcus: “Yeah, I know… Girls have cracks.”

Me: “I sure hope I’m there to see you when you find someone you love and maybe have kids.”
Marcus: “But if you’re not, I’ll do the funeral and dig and put you in there.” (more…)


How I Survived a Plague

Kergan Edwards-StoutI survived a plague.

It once seemed unfathomable I’d ever write such words, let alone experience just such a cataclysmic event.  Growing up in a bland but largely protected Southern California suburb in the 60s and 70s, I had no clue what lie ahead.  Acquaintances, friends, co-workers, and lover, dead.  A myriad of others infected.  Who could have foreseen the years of public apathy, private sorrow?  Emerging decades later into a world where few seem to acknowledge the experience occurred, let alone the toll taken.  Somehow, though, I stand here today having survived the AIDS epidemic, and I still marvel at how.

In 1981, when what would eventually become known as AIDS peripherally entered our national consciousness, I was 16 years old.  I’d known I was attracted to other boys as far back as I could remember.  Hitting sixteen, I was able to put my driver’s license to good use, beginning weekly sojourns to a bookstore in neighboring Long Beach, CA, where I’d spend my allowance on LGBT fiction, The Advocate, and gay porn. This avid need to read and learn would serve me well, as I distinctly recall that moment when I first saw a headline about a gay cancer, attacking the New York community. KerganHawaiiIn July 1982, at virtually the same moment the disease was being renamed, from GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency) to the more accurate AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), I was experiencing my first sexual encounter, on a family vacation to Maui. Lying on a hill overlooking a beautiful, deserted beach cove, I finally gave myself over to the stirrings I’d long felt. Even as this older stranger initiated me into the ways of gay sex, I was cognizant of the disease attacking gay men, fully aware of the wolf at the door. Moments after finishing, I pulled on my bathing suit, quickly hurrying around the corner of the cove, only to bump into my sister, on her way to find me. The realization that mere seconds separated me from discovery introduced a gnawing element of fear to the moment. But that factor of fear may very well be the reason I’m still here.

How to Survive a PlagueWith the release of David France’s Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague, now on DVD, I was immediately reminded of those many years and how, for me, sex and fear became — for better or worse — inextricably intertwined. The film skillfully communicates the era’s panic and anger, as well as the resolute determination of the LGBT community to combat the virus. As I watched it, long-forgotten voices and faces materialized, transporting me to a time in which I often felt as if engaged in a secret war.

I was reminded of James, so closeted that even a meal in public was conducted in whispers. I remembered hushed conversations about who had “it;” the line between the “have” and “have not’s” never more apparent. I thought of those awkward dinners where my date would reveal his sero-status, and I would attempt to finish the meal pleasantly, as if that news hadn’t really mattered. And I remembered the first man I personally knew to die, always-smiling Jon, who went so quietly, few even registered that he was gone.

Today CondomsAs a youth, growing up, sex had been labeled both a sin and something to treasure, and these warring contradictions, added to the lessons learned from my dysfunctional family makeup, bore in me a sense of prudery. Mix that prudishness with a lurking transmittable disease, and my sexual awakening proved not the spree of abandon I’d long imagined, but instead a series of battles, each encounter fraught with the fear that HIV could enter my body at any time, at the slightest provocation. This led me to study everything I could about the virus, to fortify myself. This quest for knowledge, however, proved difficult, as each news account seemed to give varying and often conflicting instructions. It can be spread through saliva. No, it can’t. They’ve discovered a drug. But it doesn’t work. It can’t be spread through oral sex. No, wait–it can! No, it can’t! A cure is coming. No cure to be found.

Each sex act became a scientific experiment. If one condom was effective, would two be even better? Am I using the right lubricant? What is nonoxynol-9? Is microwavable plastic wrap the preferred barrier for rimming, or non-microwavable? Such questions made it difficult to lose myself in the moment, but they also allowed passion a momentary respite, providing a window in which to turn my hyper-vigilance into action.

Desperate at seeing my community under attack, I found myself at AIDS Project Los Angeles, first as volunteer and later as staff, where my efforts centered on HIV prevention. It was my goal to keep other gay men HIV negative, but even that was fraught with uncertainty. We acted as if shamans, sprinkling our mystical educational nuggets across the landscape, but we were more used car salesmen than anything, selling the masses education we didn’t really believe in, with few of us actually practicing what we preached. We advocated using dental dams or plastic wrap for rimming. Finger cots or latex gloves for ass play. We preached using condoms for oral sex, and pretended that the flavored lubricants we hawked actually enhanced the act, as if everyone wanted to taste synthetic strawberry instead of cock.

Sex EssentialsWe made every effort to keep our messages “sex positive,” to ensure we didn’t add to the years of shame gay men had suffered, being made to feel less-than. While fear had proven an effective deterrent for me, “scare tactics” were frowned upon. Marketing campaigns depicting those ill or dying was forbidden, so as not to offend those with HIV, or to imply that death was a foregone conclusion. Instead, we repeatedly insisted that not only was safer sex hot, but it could be even hotter than sex without condoms. As if anyone believed it.

To sell this vision, we created workshops around enhancing intimacy and building self-esteem, the theory being that by feeling better about oneself, more care would be taken around sexual health. If you care about yourself, you’ll use condoms. But that message was faulty, as the reverse would also be true: If you aren’t using condoms, you’re an unfeeling asshole who doesn’t about anyone, especially yourself.  Which led men to again feel shame. Guilt trips are rarely effective.

As months became years, what began as a quiet war eventually grew to a loud roar. Nights in West Hollywood were an endless cycle: handing out condoms at bars, engaging in street protests, attending meetings for QueerNation or ACT UP, and leading courses in safer sex. We screamed until hoarse and marched until we couldn’t stand, then went out dancing all night and had as much sex as possible. I recall seminars such as Marianne Williamson’s A Course in Miracles and Louise Hay’s Hay Rides; more than once wondering why I was there. Many of those attending were HIV-positive, searching for healing. I was there because… what? Was I seeking community? A sense of belonging? To cruise hot guys? Or was I searching for a cure for what ached in my soul?

Shane Michael SawickUltimately, however, why I was there wasn’t important. The important thing is that I was there.

Shane Sawick was HIV-positive when we met, with a t-cell count of less than 200, which technically meant that he had AIDS. As we began dating, technical became actual very quickly, and within two years, he was dead.

When I’d first heard through a friend that Shane was interested in me, I was flattered, but didn’t give it much thought. He was HIV-positive, after all, and while I acted like it didn’t matter, it did. There was little hope back then, and I knew what the road ahead held. I had no desire to go down that path; I was afraid. Not for my physical health, as by then I was as knowledgeable as most doctors, but I feared what such loss could do to my soul. How can one begin to indulge in loving fully, knowing there is an expiration date? Why experience what you know will be fleeting? And how can you ever move forward again, having loved and lost?

The idea of a relationship with Shane scared the shit out of me, but I knew I had to face that fear, however messy. I’d beaten my fear of infection through education, and thought I might beat my emotional fears by confronting them. I chose love, in all its complexity, and found myself rewarded. Connecting to another, giving fully, putting his needs ahead of my own — these molded me into the man I am today. Experiencing horrific pain and sadness through his death and that of my friends created shadings within, deep pockets of understanding, ultimately making me a better human being, partner, and father.

Russ, Kergan, Mason and MarcusThroughout the crisis, I met countless number doing everything possible to educate, empower, and eradicate a deadly disease, while a much larger number of people did nothing. Those of us engaged in the fight might not have done everything we should have, or could have, but the mere act of doing is what kept me sane, and maintaining a healthy respect for the disease kept me HIV-negative.

Love, mixed with more than a little bit of fear, is how I survived the plague.

Kergan Edwards-Stout’s debut novel about one man’s battle with AIDS, Songs for the New Depression, was winner of the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Award in the LGBTQ category, shortlisted for the Independent Literary Awards and named one of the Top Books of 2012 by Out in Print and others.

Photography: Kergan Edwards-Stout  as a child and in Hawaii (provided by author); Paul Staley (How to Survive a Plague); Kergan Edwards-Stout in a condom ad (Today Condoms) and performing in an AIDS Project Los Angeles safer sex education campaign as Biff Boffum, to Lawrence Jurado’s LaToya Latex (Ed Freeman); Shane Sawick (Ed Freeman); the author today with his family, Russ Noe, Mason and Marcus Edwards-Stout (Sara+Ryan Photography)

Cross-posted on Huffington Post and LGBTQ Nation.


Move Over, “Dear Abby.” “Ask Dr. Darcy” is Straight Talk for the Gay Community

Have you ever had a question on which you needed straight-shooting, professional advice?  Dr. Darcy Sterling, a licensed clinical social worker based in the SoHo section of New York City, dishes up just that on a regular basis through her blog, YouTube channel, and her work with her wife, Stephanie Sterling, at Alternatives Counseling.

As a writer for Psychology Today and as a columnist for GO Magazine (which profiled Darcy and Stephanie’s wedding in 2009), Dr. Darcy has increasingly been tapped by media for commentary, such as for E! Entertainment’s When Women Kill.  While certainly media-savvy, Darcy also has the credentials to back up her observations, having received a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Columbia University in 1996, and a Ph.D. from New York University in 2006. 

Her style is direct and focused, both with media and clients alike, and Dr. Darcy graciously recently took time to chat with me about her tell-it-like-it-is “straight talk” and issues she sees within the LGBT community.

Dr. Darcy SterlingKergan Edwards-Stout:  I’m so glad we’re finally able to talk!  I’ve been looking forward to this.

Dr. Darcy: Me too! 

Kergan:  I’m really curious about you and your approach to therapy.  First, though, tell me a bit about yourself.

Darcy:  I’m a Jersey girl! (laughing) I’m from Roseland, New Jersey, which is about 45 minutes from New York.  When you grow up just outside the city, you tend to think that you’re a New Yorker.  But once you’re here, living the life, you realize just how “off” you were!  When I was younger, I didn’t have to strap my day’s belongings to me, and take subways and cabs, through all kinds of weather…  It is a very different world than what I’d thought!

Kergan:  What made you decide to make the move into the city?

Darcy:  Both my graduate and post-graduate work was here, and I knew it was where I’d end up.  Before I moved to New York, I was married–to a man.  We were together over 13 years, but eventually we parted ways, and afterward, I knew I’d never date a man again. I’d always known I was bicurious, but hadn’t explored it until my 30s. So I moved to New York and started dating Steph.  Moving to New York was empowering in many ways.

Kergan:  How did you meet Stephanie? 

(more…)


Congratulations, Trebor Healey!

Trebor HealeyA big “congrats” to Trebor Healey, who was awarded his SECOND Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley award for gay fiction for A Horse Named Sorrow. I had the pleasure of meeting Trebor at Palm Springs Pride last year and enjoyed chatting with him.  I went on to name his book my favorite of the year for Band of Thebes author survey, and also interviewed Trebor for Huffington Post and LGBTQ Nation.

Horse Named SorrowMuch deserved win.

Courtesy of Band of Thebes, here are all the winners:

Lots of repeat winners last night as Trebor Healey took his second Ferro-Grumley Award and former lifetime achievement winners Bechdel (2012) and Bram (2003) both won their nonfiction categories.

Lifetime achievement: John D’Emilio, author/co-author of Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities, Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin, The World Turned: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and Culture, and Making Trouble: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and the University.

The Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction: A Horse Named Sorrow by Trebor Healey

Debut Fiction: Monstress: Stories by Lysley Tenorio

Lesbian Nonfiction: Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

Gay Nonfiction: Eminent Outlaws by Christopher Bram

Lesbian Poetry: Song and Spectacle by Rachel Rose

Gay Poetry: Looking for the Gulf Motel by Richard Blanco


Listen to Ramble Redhead on “Songs for the New Depression”!

Ramble RedheadI had the wonderful opportunity to be interviewed by Tom on Ramble Redhead.  Tom’s podcast hit over 500 episodes, which is a huge accomplishment, and I’m honored to be joining the long list of folks he’s interviewed.  We chatted about my novel, Songs for the New Depression, as well as a whole host of other topics, and I hope you’ll give it a listen here!

Ramble Redhead can also be followed on Twitter and Facebook!