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The bonds of battle

‘The AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival and Resilience’

By Perry N. Halkitis

Oxford University Press


249 pages

AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival and Resilience, Perry N. Halkitis, books, gay news, Washington Blade

AIDS Generation‘ by Perry N. Halkitis. (Book cover image courtesy of Oxford University Press)

Some of the best experiences you had last year were with your friends.

When you think back about the highlights, you remember dancing together, eating together, late-night bull sessions, parties, travels and idle man watching. Those shared experiences are the glue that forever hold your friendship together.

Or maybe, like the men in “The AIDS Generation” by Perry N. Halkitis, your bond is that you’re survivors.

The history of AIDS is vast and can’t be told without the stories of the people lost to the disease and the ones they left behind. Of the latter, Halkitis writes, “All the gay men of my generation, infected or not, are long-term survivors.”

Those are the men who came of age in the 1980s when “the promise for sexual freedom and sexual expression existed.” They are the men who, in the prime of their lives and when they should’ve been the picture of health, watched their friends and lovers die and who were told, upon their own AIDS diagnosis, that they, too, would probably be dead within two years.

But of course, that wasn’t necessarily true. This book, the culmination of a large-scale project on gay men who have lived with AIDS for decades, pulls together 15 survivors who were “still alive to tell their stories as middle-aged men.”

Some of them don’t remember when they learned of their diagnosis, while some remember the day clearly. Regardless, all exhibited “the pause,” as Halkitis calls the stress reaction to remembering that time.

Some of the 15 knew, deep-down, that they’d been infected; one said it would’ve been “a miracle … not to be positive.” For others, it came as a surprise. Some got sick, while others waited for illness that never really came. All are “resilient,” says Halkitis, and are now surprised and amazed to experience the kind of normal health issues that men in middle age endure.

“I’ve been at the worst of this virus,” one of the men told Halkitis, “and now I’m in the golden years of this virus. This virus has taken me halfway around the world and I’m still here.”

At first blush, “The AIDS Generation” may seem like it’s more academic than not. That assessment is true; there is plenty for academics in this book, but casual readers will find something here, too.

As one of the “AIDS Generation,” author Perry N. Halkitis knew which questions to ask of his subjects in order to get the memories and emotions he pulled from them. That questioning leads to a fresh sense of heartache in the telling of tales and a distant theme of horror that bubbles with anger and ends with a general awe for life and an appealing sense of triumph. Despite linguistic stumbles that might’ve been better off edited out, that makes them compellingly readable.

I believe there are two audiences for this book: long-term survivors who count themselves among the warriors, and younger men who need to learn. If you fall into either category, then reading “The AIDS Generation” will be a worthwhile experience.


Road to marriage

‘From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, Backlash, and the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage’
By Michael J. Klarman
Oxford University Press
276 pages

From the Closet to the Altar, books, gay news, Washington Blade

(Image courtesy of Oxford University Press)

It’s said that nothing worthwhile comes easily and that’s certainly the case with the twisted, winding road that we’re still on with same-sex marriage laws in the U.S.

In the new book “From the Closet to the Altar” by Michael J. Klarman, you’ll see why and how the advances and lost ground have occurred.

In the years after World War II, gay rights faced “daunting hurdles.”

Organized activism was rare then because homosexuality was basically illegal in every state. Homosexuals and those merely suspected of homosexuality were subject to police raids, surveillance, loss of jobs and worse. They were believed to be “possibly as dangerous as communists.”

By the early-to-mid 1960s, however, social mores had relaxed enough for major news outlets to gingerly cover homosexuality in their pages. The change, Klarman writes, was in part because the Supreme Court deregulated pornography, which opened the door for gay literature. By this time, gay rights organizations were also plentiful and more vocal.

Same-sex marriage at that time, however, was largely a non-issue. Monogamy was practiced, but family life was often sneered at by activists.

Still, the possibility of marriage was pretty enticing.

In Minnesota in 1971, two men were married in a church, though the state refused to recognize their marriage as valid. In 1975, two men in Phoenix applied for a marriage license; a local court voided the marriage. That same year, couples in Colorado found a “more obliging” court clerk and several were married before the state stopped her from issuing more licenses.

By 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected, the Moral Majority reigned and public sentiment was definitely against same-sex marriage. Still, anti-discrimination laws were widely passed across the nation, giving proponents hope, but then AIDS took the focus off the issue.

And then came Bill Clinton.

Author Michael J. Klarman begins his book by discussing how the Supreme Court has often followed social convention. That made me afraid I was getting myself into something dryly emotionless. I’m happy to say I was wrong.

“From the Closet to the Altar” is an interesting, lively look at the history of gay rights as well as that of same-sex marriage. Klarman sets the tone for every history-making milestone by explaining how it’s connected to the event that came before it, which makes it easy to understand how we got where we are now. In between, he makes some excellent, valid points as he looks at the future of the institution, including how and why it’s just a matter of time before there’s nation-wide acceptance.

Starry-eyed dreamers won’t find romance here, but historians and realists will love the facts that “From the Closet to the Altar” presents.