Back to the Future Day
October 21, 2015
So today is the day- the infamous day of the future highlighted in Back to the Future. October 21, 2015. I saw the movie in the theater, and just rewatched the film last month. It still holds water!
Now, we don’t have flying cars as predicted by the franchise, but technology has moved at an incredible clip. In ’85, when the movie debuted, I was most certainly living with HIV though I was two years shy of the official test result. Back then, there wasn’t much hope. But these days there are incredible medications and people working hard to get them to the people who don’t have easy access. (That’s when a flying car delivery service would really come in handy…)
While treatment options have advanced, on some basic educational levels there are still some incredible parallels to 1985. We must continue to educate about the basics of HIV transmission, as well as the importance of testing and healthy living. And put it in a way that even a young, awkward George McFly can understand.
Here’s to hoping that, thirty years from now on October 21, 2045, HIV will be a thing of the past.
A Month of Superheroes: Charles Sanchez and Team Merce
September 4, 2015
This week saw the big finale of the 8 episode original HIV comedic web series, Merce. I was so intrigued when I first heard about Merce last year, via an Indiegogo campaign – could a comedic story centered around a guy living in NYC work? I believed. I donated. I blogged about it.
And Charles Sanchez and the incredibly talented team at Merce delivered. Big time.
I sat down with Charles Sanchez, he at his computer in New York and me at mine in Virginia, to see how he was feeling after accomplishing such a lofty goal with style.
Are you happy with the response to Merce? Any surprising reactions (good, bad, indifferent)?
For the most part, we’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback. Even
people that were apprehensive at the idea of an HIV+ musical comedy,
once they watched an episode or two, were hooked, and find the show
charming and hilarious and wonderful.
have only been two negative comments on our videos, and to both of them
I responded as Merce would and just said, “Thanks for watching and have
a super day!”
would love if every episode had a famous HIV+ person in it, like you,
Mark S. King, Peter Staley, Greg Louganis, Mondo Guerro, Jack
Mackenroth, dreamy Andrew Sullivan and the like. And I’m not sure what
I’d have those people do, but I’d hope that they’d be willing to have a
ball and dance sparkly dances with us! I wonder if Magic Johnson can sing?
We’re still reeling from season 1! But my producing partner Tyne Firmin
and I have talked about what season 2 might look like, and it’s a
definite possibility, perhaps next year. Merce‘s message of
living life with joy and humor and love is and important one, and the
more we can get his silliness out into the world, the better. Soon after
my HIV diagnosis almost 12 years ago, I was told that stress and worry
are some of the worst things for the health of us pozzers, as you call
us (I adore that, by the way). The opposite of stress and worry is joy
and lightness, and that’s what I try to convey with Merce. It’s also how I try to live my life, by choosing joy.
Judd Winick: The Hero Who Crashed The Real World
August 31, 2015
I’ve written extensively about how much The Real World San Francisco influenced me- you know, the season of MTV’s reality show that featured Pedro Zamora and his life with HIV. I wasn’t talking about HIV openly when that aired in 1994. I loved seeing Pedro meet new friends and speak so openly about his experiences.
One of those new friends was aspiring cartoonist, Judd Winick. When he defended the comedic merits of The Three Stooges, I took notice. He seemed like a nice, thoughtful, guy. Back then, The Real World would cast people like Judd, who was hustling to get gigs and find love, which he did with housemate Pam. How Judd reacted to Pedro’s HIV status, with warmness, care and gentle curiosity, really made an impression. When I finally opened up and talked to my friends about HIV, they supported me in the same way.
After Pedro’s passing, Judd dedicated his time to step in and fill Pedro’s speaking engagements, educating about HIV and talking about his friendship with Pedro. One of my favorite books is his graphic novel, Pedro and Me- it really showed me what the experience of The Real World was like, behind the scenes. The book brought me to tears.
Judd has used his platform to explore themes that are of interest to the LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities. His graphic novel, Hilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth is out now. Seth Meyers says Hilo is “a perfect book for any kid who ever needed a friend and then had one with superpowers fall from space.” Big thanks and gratitude to Judd for showing me that friends would be there to support me when I was ready to let them in.
A Month of Superheroes: Georgia Arnold/MTV Staying Alive
August 25, 2015
Georgia, Gwenn and me in 2010
Georgia Arnold is the Executive Director of the MTV Staying Alive Foundation, which fights HIV globally by funding youth-led programs. Over the last few years I’ve been fortunate to see what they can accomplish firsthand, since I’m on the SAF Board. (Full disclosure- I help good people help good people!)
Now, Georgia would be quick to say the grantees who put in the grassroots work in their communities are the heroes. And, well, who could argue with her? Meet the heroes of Staying Alive that protect their communities with innovative HIV education efforts tailored to their own communities needs.
The team that keeps things moving at Staying Alive are incredible. And the tireless efforts of Georgia are an integral part of what makes the foundation so effective. I’m proud to call Georgia a hero in the fight against HIV, but most importantly I’m honored to call her a friend, too.
Keep up with Georgia’s travels and MTV Staying Alive by joining their email list. (They won’t bombard you, about one email a month)
A Month of Superheroes: Ryan White
August 18, 2015
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Ryan White CARE Act. This federal program has provided so many services to the HIV/AIDS community. Much thanks goes to Ryan White, who passed to spirit in 1990, and his mother Jeanne for their role in changing the way people viewed HIV.
Ryan White’s legacy lives on to this day. I still remember the days when I was a scared kid with HIV, intensely secretive about my status. Ryan’s journey was quite public from the beginning of his diagnosis, and my mother had every magazine that interviewed him and would watch his TV appearances, where he did his best to disarm fears of HIV transmission.
Here are some videos I’ve made about Ryan. And a POZ article I wrote a five years ago about the CARE Act.
Ryan White’s bedroom is on display at the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis. Here’s a brief tour, a video by me followed by a video by Andrea, curator of the Museum:
I animated this video for AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which explains The Ryan White CARE Act and a little bit of Ryan’s history:
A Month of Superheroes: John Oliver
August 17, 2015
The new issue of POZ is out, entitled “Suppression Superheroes”. You can check it out by clicking here.
Inspired by this issue, I want to spend the next month highlighting some folks who I deem to be superheroes among us. They’ll range from people I’ve met in flesh in blood, to people who I’ve merely observed in the stars from my lowly terrestrial perch.
First up is John Oliver. I’ve been a fan of his since his first appearances as a correspondent on The Daily Show. But my appreciation for John grew beyond his talents as a comedian when he donated his talents to an HIV/AIDS fundraiser (AIDS Walk NY) that my friends and I were participating in 2007 and 2008.
Here’s Gwenn fanning out as she introduces John in 2007:
On his HBO show, “Last Week with John Oliver”, John has incorporated the issue of clean needles into a children’s song, and also tackled the issue of sex education in America’s public schools. Check out his take on sex ed below:
What makes John Oliver a superhero to me is his common sense, the uncommon ability to use his comedic skills to open hearts to difficult topics and his empathy for man and womankind.
Merce- Original HIV Comedy Series!
July 28, 2015
Now that 40 has sunk in, and I have recovered from my birthday festivities, I wanted to post an entry about one of my favorite new things: Merce! It’s so over-the-top campy and kind-hearted, with a story that is centered around the middle-aged Merce, an HIV positive man living in New York City.
The episodes are short, funny and inspired. And I’m so happy to see a web series focused on a lead character living in today’s American world with HIV. Well done, Team Merce!
For those of you who haven’t checked it out yet, here’s the first two episodes below.
The first episode debuted two weeks ago, and in it the title character, Merce, who is living with HIV in New York City, goes on a date…
In episode two, Merce has a doctor’s appointment. Harboring a not-so-subtle crush on his own personal McDreamy, Merce is disappointed when his doctor suggests that he start working out.
Looking forward to seeing what adventures lie ahead for wide-eyed Merce!
Stephen Gendin, 15 Years Later
July 19, 2015
(This blog post was originally published on August 1, 2010. Today marks 15 years since Stephen passed. – SD)
Ten years ago I was getting a few emails from a friend about a special party for a positoid pal who “wasn’t doing too well”. But I couldn’t imagine the Stephen I knew- blue, red, green hair and all- as anything less than vibrant, and at the time, I was wiped out from my own failing health and starting on HIV meds. A trip to NYC just seemed exhausting, I was in no mood to party so I didn’t go…
Six months later, Stephen was dead. And I was in NYC for a funeral. I was heartbroken.
One of the first openly HIV positive people I met, Stephen Gendin offered me a job at his HIV prescription mail order service, prompting a short-lived (uh, 3 weeks I believe) move to NYC that made me realize for the first time in my life that I was operating on very low levels of energy thanks to HIV. It was a tough pill to swallow. One night, as I told my boss and friend that I was packing my bags and heading back to Virginia to focus on my blog and sleeping schedule, he told me there was another way.
He asked if I ever thought about starting on HIV medications.
Stephen’s hope for survival rested in the advent of new medications. He was a longtime activist, the get-in-the-street and get arrested kind, the kind that are embedded in the AIDS community’s history and identity as being responsible letting drug companies and the feds know that people were dying. He’d signed up for drug trials, used his own body to further research, and was always looking for the next miracle drug.
As we sat on the steps of the old Poz office in the West Village that night in 1996 one of us was hopeful, the other scared shitless about all these new medications. In the field of hemophilia treatment, miracle drugs were the reason why I had hep B, C and HIV. The reason why I was tucking tail as the going got tough. I didn’t make a big deal about how I became infected, and looking back I don’t think I could articulate my fears about the HIV medications even as I was showing the first signs that I needed them.
To his credit, Stephen kindly accepted my resignation and refusal to give the pills a try. He was deeply confused why a 21-year old would choose to return to small town Virginia when he could start meds, get some energy, and pursue a new life in the city. But he was a friend, he said his peace and let me go in peace- it was a beautiful moment I’ll never forget, probably the defining moment of our friendship.
Most of my memories of Stephen are at Poz, which he helped found, or at his former company Community Prescription Service- the entire staff comprised of people living with HIV. I recall tooling around together at a few Poz Life Expos (where the picture above was taken) and I’m glad I kept in touch with him after I left NYC, embarrassed by my lack of staying power at the job he’d so kindly presented to me.
In 1999 when I decided to start medications after my failing health left me with no alternative, I let Stephen know, and he never said or implied that he told me so. He just told me how happy he was for me on all fronts, most excited of which was the fact that my new girlfriend, Gwenn, had recently moved in with me.
Looking back, I envied Stephen’s easy style, and was honored by his friendship and how he showed me that HIV–and people living with it–could be cool as hell. I miss ya buddy, a few years was not enough to know you, but I’m glad I got them. You were, and will always be, a huge influence on this little positoid’s life.
To learn more about Stephen Gendin, check out Poz Magazine’s October 2000 memorial issue of the magazine in Stephen’s honor.
Also, check out photos from the 10-year memorial gathering in his honor.