Why I Don’t Have Dallas Buyers Remorse
March 3, 2014
This year, The Academy Awards were once again touched by the hand of the AIDS epidemic. In 2013, AIDS activists rejoiced when How To Survive a Plague was nominated for Best Documentary. A decade before, Nicole Kidman won for Best Actress in 2003′s The Hours… and a decade before that, Tom Hanks got the nod for Best Actor in Philadelphia in what was, before this past weekend, AIDS’ greatest triumph at Hollywood’s biggest night of the year.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Oscar night…
When both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto won Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes two months ago, each actors’ acceptance speech failed to mention AIDS. Much like the trailer for the movie, there wasn’t mention of the medical condition that figures so prominently in the movie’s plot. And, as an AIDS educator, I get it- the word “AIDS” scares a lot of people. Get them in the theater and entertain/enlighten them by any means necessary.
In regard to the AIDS community’s outrage over the Golden Globes speeches and the omission of our struggle… I really didn’t get it. I don’t expect actors to be activists. They play roles, do the job and get in and out of character and on to the next role.
I saw Dallas Buyers Club in a theater, which was more than I expected after hearing about the movie months before its release. I figured it would be an indie flick that wouldn’t find its way to my hometown theater and that I’d catch it half-a-year later on Netflix. The fact that it got so much buzz after its release made me happy- friends of mine were going to see it on their own without me (the “friend with AIDS”) nudging them.
So last night, both actors won again on Oscar night.
Jared Leto mentioned the millions of people who died from AIDS at the tale-end of his acceptance speech, certainly making amends with a portion of the AIDS community… but Matthew McConaughey, the biggest winner, remained mum on HIV/AIDS. He also failed to mention the name of the man whose life he interpreted for the film. Matthew did mention God, and a vision of his father doing a little victory dance in Heaven for him. Which made me wonder: if pressed, could Matthew picture Ron Woodroof in that vision of Heaven, sharing that tender moment of glory with dad?
Who knows. I don’t know Matthew personally. Perhaps he does think Ron is up there, too. And perhaps he didn’t mention AIDS in his speeches for fear of offending anyone with a clumsy comment about HIV/AIDS? He has a famously loose style- so maybe we should be thanking him instead of ridiculing him for his choice of words…
I, for one, am not mad at McConaughey. He rescued a dead script from obscurity and breathed life into the performance. An actor mentioning AIDS out of obligation at an award’s ceremony might give us, those living with the virus, a good feeling inside. But I believe it does very little to educate those in the dark or get them truly interested in the cause. Where an actor has true strength is in the artistry of their craft- and in choosing the role of someone living with AIDS, McConaughey took a risk and it paid off for him professionally. He did his job.
So kudos to Matthew and Jared for going out on a limb and attaching themselves to Dallas Buyers Club. Just because they portrayed people living with AIDS, I don’t expected either of them to emerge from their roles as, say, an activist like Peter Staley of How To Survive a Plague. In fact, after the Golden Globes speech fiasco, Peter himself said: “I’m just happy Hollywood has made an AIDS film again. The crisis is far from over, so we still need reminding. And I hope Matthew McConaughey wins an Oscar.”
Labtest Contest X: Win Body Counts By Sean Strub
February 21, 2014
The Labtest Contest is back! And the grand prize has never been better- guess closest to my t-cell count and win a signed copy of Sean Strub’s incredible new book, Body Counts! The rules are posted below… be sure to follow them and good luck!
Shawn’s Guess: 422
Shawn’s Doctor’s Guess: 670
March-July 2010: Charles Oliff (guess: 567 actual count: 565)
July-December 2010: Aimee Lee (guess: 516 actual: 511)
December 2010- March 2011: “Satan” (guess: 666 actual: 662)
March-July 2011: Sharon Paul (guess:
520 actual: 508)
August-January 2012: Justin Starkenburg (guess: 570 actual count: 579)
February- June: Bob Geise (guess: 595 actual count: 590)
July-September: Sahara Frog (guess: 515 actual count: 512)
September-January 2014: Scott Anderson (guess: 620 actual count: 620)
February-October: Mary (guess: actual count:585 actual count: 583)
NOVEMBER RESULTS: 538 (No Contest)
1. You have to post your guess (between 400 and 700 t-cells) on my Poz blog Comments section
2. Relatives are allowed to guess! Bribes accepted!
3. Closest guess wins- if it’s a tie, the closest guess that DID NOT go over the actual count wins.
4. One vote/guess per person. Must have a valid email address.
5. Deadline is Friday, February 28, 2014 12:01 am EST
Body Counts by Sean Strub
January 14, 2014
Sean Strub’s memoir, Body Counts, hit stores yesterday, and Gwenn and I were fortunate enough to get to our local bookstore just in time to nab the last three copies: one for us, one for my mom (who is a huge fan) and one for a future Labtest Contest prize.
But, don’t wait around for me to get labwork done in March for a chance to win this book, if you have any interest in the history of the gay community, the politics of sex and the realities of living with HIV- you’ve gotta get this book. Click on Sean’s face to read an excerpt of Body Counts in the latest issue of Poz.
Sean has been one of the most influential people in my life as a positoid. Without him, I really have no idea what I’d be doing right now. In 1996, after nearly a decade of living with HIV, I decided to speak out about being positive for the first time; I was 20, still living with my parents in Waynesboro, Virginia, and had just put up a website chronicling my thoughts on living with HIV. My doctor fed me a few issues of Poz Magazine and I was stunned that a magazine solely about HIV existed. I poured through its pages and loved what I read. I sent a fan letter to the editor-in-chief, Sean, and shared where I was at in my own journey with HIV.
A month or so later, I was watching wrestling and the phone rang. “Shawn, telephone!” My dad/secretary called out through my bedroom door. My beloved Ric Flair had just lost his World Title; I was bummed but took the call anyway. It was Sean. He invited me to NYC to be interviewed for the magazine and shortly thereafter I started writing my Positoid column.
When I learned that my original godparents had broken ties with my family in the 1980s after my diagnosis because their church said AIDS was God’s punishment against gay people, I asked Sean and Steve Schalchlin (another beloved mentor) to be my surrogate Godparents. They both readily accepted.
All of that personal history and admiration aside, it was hard to tear myself from Body Counts to post this blog- it really is an incredible book and an honest, forthcoming account from someone who has a truly unique set of experiences to draw from.
False HIV Rumors About Miley Cyrus
October 4, 2013
Wednesday night a group of bottomfeeders from 4chan launched a cowardly, anonymous online campaign entitled “Cure For Miley”. The goal? Presumably it’s either to trick people into thinking the singer is HIV positive- Oh my God, how awful for her reputation, what an insult (dripping sarcasm)- or to shame her overtly sexual public performances.
Now, I’m no Miley fan. And yes, I could stand to see a little less of her tongue. Though, if someone had to be forced to never reveal their mouthsnake again, I’d banish Gene Simmons before I’d exile Miley’s flavor saver. Still, that’s not the story here- what pisses me off most about this campaign is that it’s underlying theme is: what could be more embarrassing and shameful than HIV?
Well, I don’t think HIV is embarrassing- or shameful. I’ve been living with it for most of my life. It’s a virus. A pesky one that can make life harder than it needs to be sometimes. But I do my best to stay healthy while dealing with the distraction of having to educate and enlighten people to the facts about HIV, while dispelling the rumors.
What is shameful and embarrassing? Posting anonymously online in an attempt to discredit, embarrass or shame someone else. Any jackass with no dignity or grace can do this. Look at YouTube Comments, do you think those people are happy with their lives? The loathsome losers who started “Cure For Miley” think they’ve done something great- all they’ve done is make stupid people laugh, and make some people with HIV roll their eyes and hang their heads.
Like Miley? Hate Miley? It doesn’t matter. At least she’s out there, doing her thing, taking all of the criticism that comes when you reach the top of that chosen profession. Maybe actual names and faces will be attributed to this lame campaign, maybe not. Either way, I for one am not letting these idiots off the hook.My message to them and the rest of the ever-growing population of cowards who hide behind their screen names is very simple.
Die soon and make the world a better place.
Tommy Morrison and HIV Denialism
September 3, 2013
Last Sunday, Tommy Morrison passed to spirit. I don’t have firsthand information on the whys and hows, but I did read an article that said the cause was an infection that occurred when he had pectoral implants removed last year. His promoter, wife and even he himself continued to deny he had HIV until the very end.
I first became aware of Tommy Morrison in the early 1990s, when his boxing career was beginning to explode. He had unnatural power- and made for exciting fights because of his desire to trade bombs with opponents. Sometimes he detonated on them, other times he was rendered semi-conscious as a man counted to 10 in front of him…
In 1996, he tested positive for HIV. In 1997, he was interviewed by Poz Magazine, and he claimed that HIV was a harmless virus and the medications were the poison to be concerned about. I didn’t know his stance at the time, and in that same issue I wrote a column about Tommy. As a boxing fan, I was hoping he’d be joining my ranks as someone trying to shed light on the fact that you can have HIV and still have a normal life.
Instead, Tommy Morrison went all-in on conspiracy theories. After he was stripped of his boxing license and his HIV status was revealed to the world, he dealt with what many of us fear most: rejection. Professionally and personally he likely felt pain that even the confines of a boxing ring couldn’t match. He turned to the internet to research HIV, and that’s where he probably first heard of false positive HIV test results…
And that- after everything he’d already been through- sounded pretty damn good.
Tommy also tested positive right around the time that combination therapy was introduced. It’s now widely understood that AZT monotherapy, the standard course for treating HIV before “the cocktail” was pretty harsh. So, instead of heeding the advice of his doctor, Time Magazine’s 1996 “Man of the Year”, Tommy fired him. And started taking vitamins as he attempted to put to rest the hard living that had derailed his career long before he tested positive for HIV.
But with each appearance in public over the last several years, he began to look weaker as he entered his 40s. And as late as February of 2011, he continued to claim that he wasn’t HIV positive.
In the end HIV denialism played as big of a role- if not bigger- in his decline than HIV itself.
I wish Tommy had chosen to fight HIV head-on, the same way that he fought opponents in the ring. Instead, he was charmed by the idea that he was living with a harmless virus- and then further charmed by the idea that he didn’t have a virus in his body at all. And now, at the young age of 44, Tommy Morrison is gone.
And that is very sad.
Never Forgetting Sean Sasser, 1968-2013
August 8, 2013
Sean Sasser, whom many of us were introduced to through our televisions in 1994 via The Real World, has passed to spirit at the age of 44. My heart goes out to his friends, family and partner, Michael Kaplan.
Sean was one of my heroes. When The Real World: San Francisco aired on MTV in 1994, I had a year’s worth of high school diploma under my belt but no real plan about what I wanted to do with my life, which made me not too much different from most 18-year olds. I was a fan of the reality show, The Real World, and loved the previous season set in Los Angeles. When episode one of San Francisco came on, I quickly realized that I was in for an entirely different experience…
Pedro Zamora, one of the housemates, was HIV positive. He began dating Sean Sasser, who was also HIV positive. Pedro was an activist and educator, and Sean had a quiet, calm demeanor. I fell in love with both of them. They offered a glimpse into a future I desperately wanted- the ability to talk to friends about HIV (something I had not yet done at age 18) and finding a partner that I could share my life with.
That season of the show was a game changer for me. But before I could even process how the show had impacted me, Pedro Zamora passed to spirit. I was devastated. Just as I’d learned about a life that could be possible with HIV, I was also reminded of something that I feared…
When Sean Sasser was introduced to us, there weren’t any truly effective combos. As people with HIV, there was a sense that we were ticking timebombs. Yet, there was Sean Sasser, a year later at a televised Real World Reunion, calmly discussing he dearly departed partner. Stupid producers cut short Sean’s speaking time- hey, he wasn’t a roommate!- but once again I was moved by him. Judd Winick, one of Pedro’s friends and roommates, called for people to do something about HIV…
I sat on my bed, but I wanted to jump out of my skin and do something about HIV- not as me, though, as someone else. A few months later, I finally opened up. The impact of Sean Sasser and his Real World alum has never been lost on me. Before any of us could crack a laptop or iPhone and search “living with HIV”, there was that group of young people dealing with HIV, conveniently bringing the topic into our living rooms.
I needed that. And so did a lot of other people.
So thank you, Sean, for giving me hope that “poz Seans” can find love and comfort in their own skin.
In 2009, I shared a personal story on this blog about meeting Sean Sasser. You can read it here.
Paris Hilton Has AIDS (Problem)
September 23, 2012
Can you tell which quote above was secretly recorded and which one was not?
Mostly everyone has heard Paris Hilton’s controversial comments by now. If you haven’t, here’s the scoop. She was riding in a cab with a gay friend (his orientation matters here) talking about the hook-up site, Grindr. That’s when Paris went on a little rant about gay men and her thoughts on their sexual appetites. Her opinion on the matter was capped with, “Dude, most of them probably have AIDS … I would be so scared if I was a gay guy. You’ll like, die of AIDS.”
You may remember a few years ago Paris stepped in a puddle of water and said she was worried she’d gotten AIDS from it. She wasn’t being serious, it was a brain fart but it did provide some fodder for me and countless others. In some ways, we should thank Paris for sparking conversations that reach people who may not otherwise know that you can’t get AIDS from a puddle, or that all gay men are not at risk of dying from AIDS. In some ways, she’s kind of an accidental Ambassador for AIDS Discourse in America.
What Paris Hilton said was wrong-headed. Make no mistake about it. I hope her friend attempted to correct her thinking, even at the risk of being snubbed for a while and missing out on cool parties and shopping expenditures, or whatever it is that Paris occupies her time with. I also wish the cab driver had challenged her, if he were offended by her remarks… did he start recording her for a reason? Had she said ridiculous things before that? Was he offended, or just trying to make money off of her fame?
Either way, her comments brings to light a very real problem because many people feel the same way she does. Whether or not they think gay men are disgusting, lots of folks still think AIDS is problem that is only faced by the gay community. Lots of young men in the gay community practice unsafe sex, because they think AIDS is a problem faced only by old men- men in their 40s. It’s all about perspective, and Paris Hilton’s skewed perspective on this isn’t a rare or novel concept.
So when you hear this story don’t focus your anger on Paris Hilton unless you expected more from her. Also, if this really caught you off guard then- please- find new people to look up to.
Mars Landing… Curiosity Did What? (Comic)
August 10, 2012
That’s a funny drawing that my friend and Synthetic Division co-conspirator Josh D’Elia did in honor of the Mars rover landing. Hope everyone has a nice weekend. If you’re a cat and you’re on your ninth life, look both ways wherever you may be roaming.