I’m (re)reading And the Band Played On, which was a huge part of my undergrad thesis in media ethics (LOL undergrad, when intellectualism was so new and green and wonderful) because it’s important if not tedious and incorrect and also because this idiot Yale alumnus was talking about it when the NY Times did a piece on him because he discovered that people who went to Yale can also get AIDS, that it’s not just a quote-African-problem quote-little-bit-inner-city-American-promblem, but it should be noted that he didn’t realize this until AFTER he graduated from Yale. Ivy League-1, public health-0.
And if we’re going to circle takes the square over here, this is a fantastic example of what And the Band Plays On does well, which is argue that in the early days of the epidemic everyone was real eager to relegate the disease to America’s undesirables uh no duh doi—gays, IV drug users, prisoners, Haitians—but even within the gay community itself and the notion of “fast lane gays.” And it’s no big shocker that something addressing attitudes about AIDS in the 1980s is still so great at portraying the attitude of someone who READILY CITES IT AS A REVOLUTIONARY WORK because we clearly haven’t come as far as we think. Hey Yale, viruses don’t care about your pedigree, class or intellectual prowess, is what I would say if I was ever drunk at a bar with Yale.
In any case, it’s fortuitous that instead of working on my graduate school coursework, I was looking through my Photo Booth pictures (first of many times I will be typing that sentence in the next two years), which if anyone cares I mostly use to document great hair days and fantastically executed braids. But I came across these photos of some of the more amazing bits and pieces of Charles Shively’s, editor of Boston’s revolutionary Fag Rag, personal collection. And if there’s one thing I want it to say on my tombstone, it’s “Tatyana sure loved parallels and resonances RIP.”
I obviously took a photo of this headline because it is funny and empowering and amazing. I believe this article was from a mid-80s issue of Fag Rag, and it outlines the various ways that people can positively embrace their sexuality amidst the growing realization that AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease. In And the Band Played On there are constant discussions amongst health care professionals, gay leaders and governmental wellness organizations about how to delicately warn gay men of the potential threat of “insemination” and promiscuity in contracting AIDS. Prior to the AIDS crisis, (according to ATBPO) the SF bathhouse scene was viewed as an orgiastic expression of repressed sexuality that gay men experienced throughout the country and in pre-Harvey Milk San Francisco. To encourage gay men to reduce their number of sexual partners was seen by many as a way of shaming the nascent sexual positivity associated with the gay revolution back into the closet. On the other hand, you have homophobic biggots who equate gay lifestyles with promiscuity and disease and this would just equally fuel their fire and further relegate AIDS to the incorrect position of a “gay disease.”
Nonetheless people were contracting AIDS at exponential rates while government officials were arguing in air conditioned conference rooms. And when you consider the disease’s latency period (that is, before the language of HIV was invented), you have the AIDS patients of 1985-87 paving the road for the next 10 years of the epidemic. Meanwhile, Larry Kramer, who was apparently a prudish nana pariah in the early 1980s is screaming EVERYONE JUST STOP HAVING SEX PLEASE DON’T DIE and everyone is STFU Larry Kramer. Luv you, dude. When are people going to realize that the crankier you are the righter you are?
[Do you see this? This is me in like 5 years, because pairing a “where is the outrage” shirt with a FUCKING BLOSSOM HAT is Tatyana in nutshell. I luv you Larry Kramer.]
Anyway this piece is fucking great because it gets the message out, but it’s sex positive and it’s not pushing a monogamous lifestyle, the benefits of which were vetoed by gay-friendly Mayor Feinstein during the heart of the epidemic.
I’m going to take a stab at analysis of this book based solely on the title and my own interpretations of And the Band Played On. A large portion of the beginning of the book’s examination of pre-AIDS crisis gay culture, and not to go back to Larry Kramer but here we go, Larry Kramer’s inherent crankinessof the time was due to the floundering, carnivalesque semi-mainstreaming of queer radicalism and the celebratory revelry that left a strong late-70s movement floundering in bathhouses. This may be a homophobic narrative embellishment as Randy Shilts is wont to do, but before AIDS a lot of gay activists were wondering exactly what issue would galvanize the community again. Which first of all, YIIIKES a fatal disease and subsequent epidemic being seen as a political gamechanger, but also HMMM. But no seriously, mostly YIKES though.
Anyway, there is a dearth of information online about Charles Shively, which is a total fucking tragic shame. The academic, anarchist and gay libber has produced and curated some of the most prescient information about an incredibly interesting and important time period of American history which, when examined can support and reframe a more controversial, mainstream and heterosexual take on the AIDS epidemic, lookin at you Randy Shilts.