Saturday, April 18, 2009
A Gift or A Burden?
About 70 people got an education at the Mickee Faust Clubhouse last night. I was one of them.
An FSU graduate student in Performance Studies, Josh Potter, enlisted the talents of some of Faust's male actors, as well as two women, and me on the technical elements to stage his one act thesis play, "A Little Death". The script is based on interviews Josh has done with men in the gay culture known as "bug chasers". These are men who intentionally seek out sex with men who they know are HIV-positive. Within this society, there are men known as "gift givers". These are the ones who willing, knowingly, and happily have unprotected sex with men who are HIV-negative. The "gift" is to give the man the virus. Needless to say, this is one risky bit of business!
Josh's play, I think, does a service in not only bringing this behavior out of the shadows, but also doing it in a way where he, as the playwright, has carefully crafted the interactions between the interviewer and an AIDS nurse, serving as the medical expert on the project, as they "talk" to these men. Any judgement is left to the audience... and the audience is left to consider this subculture, and even the culture at large that is layered on top of this subculture.
There were a couple of lines that stood out to me in the play. One was the AIDS nurse, pleading to one of the characters who seems to derive sexual pleasure from playing this risky game of Russian roulette with his body that this "gift" he thinks he's receiving isn't a gift, but a burden. Those who have known friends or family members with HIV/AIDS are aware of that! The struggle to get food down just so they could take the medication and hope it wouldn't make them sick. The once handsome men now gaunt and frail. And the dead. Lots and lots of deaths, essentially a generation laid to waste at the feet of the much-celebrated celebrity President Ronald Reagan.
Another line that caught my attention was "Being gay isn't for sissies." Oh, yeah! That's true! Gays and lesbians, as a group, have to be tough as nails. And yet, we are also caring, compassionate, feeling people. Not all of us, but many of us are. Which is probably why Josh, who is gay, could write a play like this as a point of dialogue within the LGBT community without it being preachy, but provocative.
Where this play left me was thinking about where did the train veer off the tracks? How has it become in this culture that choosing death seems, for some gay men, to be the inevitable choice in order to enjoy a sex life? I count myself so fortunate that I am in one of the lowest risk groups for HIV. Knowing that some guys believe it to be their destiny just makes me sad.