A Life in The Bar, 1969-2000
A mysterious disease
of unknown origin

Sexy scholars
And unsung heroes

Sex and the State Logo

Sex and the State photos, TBP #1

Sex and the State photos, TBP #2

"To me they're stars."
Some of the many faces of Sex & the State: Their Laws, Our Lives. Logo by Gram Campbell; photos by Lee Lyons, Alan O'Connor, & me, in TBP, Sept 1985.

Top panel: Magnus Hirschfeld looms over Jim Steakley; organizers Pamela Walker & Ed Jackson; Allan Bérubé; John D'Emilio, Jim Steakley & Jonathan Ned Katz; Sue Golding worships at the feet of Joan Nestle; Michael Lynch with Eric Garber of San Francisco.

Bottom: George Chauncey Jr; Jonathan Katz with Michael Schwarz; Jeffrey Weeks; Esther Newton; Theo van der Meer (organizer of the next fest in Amsterdam); Neil Bartlett. Finally, at the butch / fem panel, Sue Golding moderates, Joan Nestle does a turn, Madeline Davis gives her a hand.

Lesbian & gay history had at last found a toe hold in the academy, if still rooted in the turf of community.

But, as Edgar Friedenberg said: "Having struggled to disabuse psychologists of the notion that being gay is a phase people grow out of, we may have to concede that very point to sociology."

In time, gay studies would leave the grassroots behind.

July through December

At the beginning of July, finally off staff if not entirely unburdened, I got a wondrous reminder of what my work at The Body Politic, and James Fraser's work in the Archives, were really all about.

For eight days, hard on the city's Lesbian and Gay Pride fest, the University of Toronto campus hosted the seventh annual conference of the International Gay Association, and the world's third international gay / lesbian history confab: Sex and the State: Their Laws, Our Lives.

The first history yakfest, Wilde '82, had also been here. That these gatherings happened in Toronto -- not, say, New York or San Francisco (the second was in Amsterdam) -- was testament to the reputation this otherwise obscure town had gained among gay activists and scholars around the world.

The Body Politic had something to do with that, its eye so often on the rest of the world, many of its writers and a third of its circulation outside Canada. So had the 1981 bath raids and the great rising they sparked, widely reported by gay papers around the world.

There had been about 20 scholars (both academic and grassroots) in town for Wilde '82. At Sex and the State there were more than 60, some of my favourite people among them.

Thursday, July 4, 1985, to Jane:

On Tuesday I ended up at a Chinese dinner, nine of us around one of those big round tables with a lazy susan in the middle for passing dishes: Neil Bartlett, Alan Bérubé, George Chauncey, Jeffrey Weeks, Bob Gallagher, Tom Waugh, Sue Golding, John D'Emilio.

The next day I was taking pictures of some of the same people and more on the steps of the Medical Sciences Building [giving this lively confab the ironic perfume of formaldehyde]: Dennis Altman, Jim Steakley; Jonathan Katz -- truly the best and brightest of my generation. The next generation was there too in the (truly delicious) form of Michael Schwarz, 23 years old and about to start graduate work at Princeton.

Somebody I told all this said I must have felt like Hedda Hopper in the MGM canteen -- and indeed I did. It takes a conscious effort to remember that these are not household names. To me they're stars, the wonderful, warm human stars of my life as a gay man lucky enough to be alive now, in a position to know who they are.

Ah, but I've ironed shirts so I'll be presentable for the next two days of all this, and now it's time for bed. Tomorrow I get to introduce Neil's "one queen show" and I still haven't figured out what to say.

There were other stars too: Joan Nestle, Esther Newton, Scott Tucker, Madeline Davis, Liz Kennedy, Edgar Friedenberg, Michael Lynch. Many of them wrote for The Body Politic; for most who did I was their editor, as I was for Jane Rule and her lover Helen Sonthoff, painter and memoirist Mary Meigs, British film critic Richard Dyer.

People at the paper joked about my "famous writers' school." Michael Schwarz would later enroll: I once called him "the most delicious gay academic on two legs" -- and that in a letter to him. I edited by flirtation, even with women. I loved it. Dennis Altman thrilled me when, on those medical school steps, he introduced me to someone as "the best letter writer in the gay press."

Thursday, July 11, 1985, to Jane:
(the letter above, continued)

The date will tell you how busy it's been.

I did introduce Neil, serviceably if not really very well, and he did a wonderful job reading his paper on Boulton and Park -- two men picked up for being in drag in public in 1871 [Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park, aka "Stella Clinton, Star of the Strand" and "Mrs Fanny Graham," about whom Neil would later tell us more] -- transforming himself in the process, with subtle changes and a big piece of cloth, from a blue jeaned clone to a grande dame in pumps and a black ball gown.

Someone said his was the only performance at the conference. Neil countered: "My dear, they're all performances."

On Sunday a bunch of us went off to a restaurant where we found Edgar Friedenberg, who enjoyed himself immensely recommending various Latin American dishes on the menu. Edgar seemed in good spirits, which is a nice change from his last letter to me, when he seemed depressed about his impending retirement. He's spent his life finding pleasure in the company of smart young people.

There were lots of smart people around that week, nearly all of them young. I wrote on Sex and the State in TBP's September 1985 issue, having asked people there to send me recollections.

Edgar among others obliged. "But for two men and no women who appeared to belong to my generation," he wrote, "everybody was younger, which gave me all the more reason to feel useful at a conference on gay history, not merely as a contributor but as an exhibit."

If you suspect all this was far from The Bar (as earlier gay movement conferences so often had been), let me assure you it was not. People from all over the world were out all over town.

July 8, 1985, to Neil Bartlett:
(back in London)

No, sweetheart, I didn't get him. A very nice boy -- he giggled when I told him he was delicious -- but when you saw me leading him out of Cornelius on Saturday night, it was only for a walk and a bit of cuddling in a nice dark corner of a park. He said he had a cold.... But we do have a date for Wednesday at midnight, at Cornelius again, when he gets off work. If I'm being naive I'll at least have the company of other habitués.

It was very good to find you there dancing; heaven knows the conf hadn't been gay enough what with the hours, and I was glad to see you'd got out (and got in on other nights, from the way you were glowing every morning). Still, on the whole I liked the way it went. That really was a gathering of a lot of my cultural heroes in one place and, when the setting and structure allowed, I got to see again -- or in some cases see for the first time -- not only how smart and diligent they are, but what sweeties, too.

My dear, though, what a week. Every way I turned I found someone I wanted to spend lunch or dinner or the night with, and of course they were always headed off to something. So now I try to capture them all again in letters. Next week I start my other job, so I'm going to have to figure out when there'll be time even for notes.

But I will figure it out: funny little boys in bars notwithstanding, this is some of the best fun I have. I'm so glad you were here.

It was fun, invigorating, inspiring. Lesbian and gay history, born in grassroots projects and oral histories, had at last found a toe hold in the academy -- without leaving behind its activist heritage. "The academic feeds the popular," Jeffrey Weeks said, "and the popular feeds the academic. They're not really in tension at all."

That toe hold was still tenuous: George Chauncey, then at Yale, said: "It's still a huge professional risk. You cannot advance your academic career writing gay history." George would be wrong, his own career disproving his premise. His success and that of many other queer scholars, however, would also prove Jeffrey Weeks wrong: popular and academic work were in tension; in time they'd be entirely estranged, feeding each other nearly not at all.

In the recollections of Sex and the State Edgar Friedenberg sent me, he struck a note nearly elegiac:

"I wonder if we'll ever be able to do as well again. I think this conference caught us at our golden moment as a Gay and Lesbian Community, our Gemeinschaft and our Gesselschaft [terms in sociology: the first for organic cultures rooted in community, the second for more rationalist, corporate ones] in proper balance as yin and yang for once. As and if we become more successful we'll probably become a profession like any other."

"How strange that, having struggled to disabuse psychologists of the notion that being gay is a phase people grow out of, we may have to concede that very point to sociology."

Edgar was to be right. In time, Gesselschaft would prevail.


For years I'd been with people who cared passionately about their work. Now I faced too many design clients who made their way in the world, successfully, through posturing charlatanism.

When I'd decided to leave paid employ at The Body Politic in October 1984, I had to think about getting a real-world job. This was the time of my third résumé. Writing it I saw how little I had to offer. Att least on paper.

I had no degree; I'd made no "career" -- except in ways unlikely to impress many prospective employers. Cindy Patton of Gay Community News once said that working for a gay paper was a good way to ruin your résumé for life. In the end I didn't have to look, lucking out again. Merv Walker asked me to work with him. He had by this time come back to Toronto and started his own company, Walker Communications.

Merv didn't need my résumé. He knew it already. We'd had the same education (and the same teacher), working together side by side for years. Others we'd known would also end up working with him: Robyn Budd, and crack TBP typesetters John Allec and Victor Bardawill.

Leaving The Body Politic for Walker Communications I hardly left TBP at all, culturally or, as it happened, even physically. Merv's office was a room rented from the paper; his typesetting machine was the paper's machine, time leased on it for his work.

I had worried about that: I was gone from the paper's staff but still on site, to be picked at or -- maybe worse -- to haunt Robyn and Dale as they struggled to put their own stamp on things. I told Jane I was tempted to get a button that read: "I'm not here." In the end I didn't have to, people respecting my new role and I theirs.

So: there I was where I'd been for years, working much as I had for The Body Politic. Or so it might seem.

September 21, 1985, to Jane:

The new job keeps throwing a recurrent theme in front of me, one that threatens to make me into an old curmudgeon. Much of the work I get from clients is so badly done.

Many of the people producing this stuff seem to have all the signs of real grown ups in the real world: the apparent regard of their peers as people involved in "serious" work; the right cars; the right briefcases; an authoritative manner -- and salaries twice mine. Yet they produce dreck -- and what's more, it's clear they don't care.

Perhaps it's a sign of my naiveté that I'm only finding this out now. But I'm actually offended by it, morally offended at people not caring about the quality of what they do. I spent the past eight years of my life with people who were not well paid when paid at all; who were not taken by much of the world to be involved in "real" work -- and yet who cared passionately about doing a good job.

Now I see people making their way in the world -- successfully -- through no more than posturing charlatanism.

It wasn't always like that. Most of our clients were public institutions, not nasty capitalists: the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; community colleges; a big Jewish geriatric hospital. One of my favourites was the Children's Bookstore. Its staff, all women, were mostly librarians, teachers, some wrote books for kids themselves. They knew their stuff, caring passionately about their work and the people they did it for. That felt familiar.

We did their annual catalogue and I'd send it to Jane: she kept lots of children's books, pop ups especially, to read with kids when they weren't in her pool.


I could make the work I did fun, even sexy. But only in one area could I apply all I'd learned at TBP -- editorial, visual, political & erotic.

Ed & Kevin at ACT were not "clients." We were comrades, our work not our "jobs" but our lives.

At times I could bring to this work an eroticism also familiar from life at The Body Politic. At Humber College I worked with a tall geeky boy, the staff photographer. I thought he was gay at first; turned out he wasn't but we had fun anyway.

We once cruised the halls together -- giggling -- looking for a student to feature in an ad promoting Humber's new automated design lab. We found a sweet little guy who, as soon as he was in front of the camera, simply lit up, flirtatious, a natural. I was in love for 20 minutes and then for hours over pictures of him spread across the layout table.

We later did a promo booklet for the entire community college system. I got to roam with another photographer through training kitchens, computer labs and metal working shops. For one shot we asked a quiet kid to flip up his welding mask and smile. And what a smile. I asked him to do it again. And again -- his smile more engaging each time. I sent the booklet to Jane just to show her all those beautiful faces.

My most effective work at Humber was to get homeowners in its suburban environs to rent rooms to students -- always a struggle I was told, some strange kid in the spare room not an enticing prospect. I did a flyer that went out in the mail and matching ads in two local papers. They were graphically simple, with photos of four young faces, mixed race and gender of course, each wonderfully engaging.

I forget the exact tagline, something like "Make a friend for life." The subtext was unabashedly erotic -- if of a sort more parental than sexual. I knew what I was doing. I'm not sure anybody else did, but it worked: Humber got enough offers to provide students (even less engaging ones, I suppose) places to live for the next two years.

Still, none of this was like being at The Body Politic. I had no problem helping clients meet their aims -- but they weren't my aims, exactly, weren't my passion, couldn't give my work the kind of meaning it once had.

But with one client I could bring every lesson I learned at the paper -- editorial, visual, political, erotic -- passionately to the job. And work with old Beepers while I did: Kevin Orr, and Eddie Jackson, who had joined Kev in education work at the AIDS Committee of Toronto.

Reprising roles we'd known for years, Ed and Kevin writing, I doing design and production (though, as at TBP, we each had a hand in every stage), we produced some of the earliest AIDS education material in the country. (Merv, working with Hassle Free Clinic, had done some even earlier.) ACT would become my biggest client, in time my only one.

But I never thought of people doing AIDS work as "clients." They were my comrades, all of us working together as many of us had before, our work not our "jobs" but our lives.

My landlord / housemates (and good friends) Terry Farley and Ward Beattie had contracted endless renovation on their big Victorian pile, the prime contractor John Scythes.

John, with the paper in the early '70s, was renowned for his construction skills. He'd done substantial work on 139 Seaton Street, a gay group house where he lived with co- owner (and TBP founder) Jearld Moldenhauer and a revolving crew, Gordon Montador, Ward Beattie and The Body Politic once among them. Later John would redo Roger Spalding's grand new place on Palmerston Boulevard. We liked keeping things in the family.

My room tucked under the eaves got a new extension, becoming a real apartment. The process was messy but worth it for me in more than the prospect of my own bathroom and kitchen. One of the workmen, very cute, had asked me for a date and we had one: dinner, bed, the usual routine and not a great success.

But we soon found a pattern more enticing: catching me in the house he'd sidle up and say, "Wanna give me a BJ?" I wasn't crazy about his terminology: much as I've used the word "blowjob" I've never thought it quite right: one doesn't blow, and it's hardly a job. But I had no trouble with the concept. "No," I wanted to say to him, "but I'd love to suck your cock."

I did. Often.


I told Neil of a boy at Cornelius, "lusted after I'm sure but venerated too, loved in a way he returned with a soft smile. My, the things life gives us."

Any lessons we have to offer -- about sexuality, honest relationships, real love -- will be lost if we think salvation lies in giving up gay life's xenophilic splendour.

I was still being an editor, from home, which to my joy mostly meant correspondence. Neil Bartlett had written to tell me he was swept up in directing a production of The Magic Flute. (He'd later say that Mozart's was "the only music which is funny enough, realistic enough and shocking enough to be the music of our times.")

He also asked if he could review Edmund White's new novel, Caracole. He was a bit wary, Ed a friend of his. But he was the perfect person to talk about White's work -- and "objectivity," after all, is a crock.

November 3, 1985, to Neil:

Dearest, you sound so busy, so happily busy. Blessed state, no? Not always, I suppose, not when you're run off your feet keeping up with demands that have nothing to do with who you really are. But with The Magic Flute you seem to have something surprisingly your own. There's such joy in that kind of work.

I do miss that a little now. I like the work I do well enough, but what's missing is the connection of skills with inspiration, the sense not only of doing something well but something important, something that connects with what you care to make happen in the world. I had that with my work at TBP, and still have it with my volunteer role -- when I can find time to fulfill it.

Well, to that then: yes, yes, Caracole (or rather, Neil Bartlett on Ed White with Caracole as an excuse) as soon as you can given your schedule. Do I need to say anything more about that? I guess not -- only that I expect it to be wonderful.

I liked sending Neil wonders of my own. Earlier I'd told him about "a saintly vision at Cornelius." It was not that vision I've said stayed with me for the rest of my life: that was later on. I don't even recall exactly what this one looked like.

But he was, I wrote,"not simply beautiful, drenched in sweat, shirtless, but easy, generous, so clearly adored by friends who'd wipe the sweat off his chest, reach out and touch his face, stroke his black hair as they danced. Lusted after I'm sure but venerated too, loved -- yes, loved -- in a way he received and returned with a soft, unselfconscious smile, passing his poppers around. My, the things life gives us." In this latest letter, I gave Neil this:

Last night, coming home from Cornelius, I ended up talking with a dreamy 18 year old on the subway. I fell in love in a minute. Is he gay? Who knows, who cares. The buzz, the connection for all of 20 minutes, was wonderful.

Is this sex? I think it is. Or perhaps it's simply life sexed. Eroticized -- but "sexed" sounds so much more wonderfully dirty: direct, unredeemed by correct euphemism.

What I'm hoping for in the age of AIDS is the preservation of sexed life, not only in the face of right wing reaction in the wider world but, more importantly, in the face of respectable homosexual moralism about fucking around. Gay liberation is not about gaining acceptance by agreeing to act like ostensibly monogamous heterosexual couples. (This I hardly need tell you.)

Any lessons we have to offer the world -- about sexuality, about honest relationships, about real love -- will be sacrificed if we think the salvation of homosexuality lies in the abandonment of gay life in all its randomly affectionate, anti- xenophobic, deliciously erotic splendour.


Transit(ory) pleasures

TTC sign

The TTC: Toronto
Transcendent Commission?

Simple photosynthesis; swift encounters; surprising connections.

I went past my stop talking with a dreamy boy, fascinated by the '60s -- born the year I finished high school. Was he gay? Who cares? I was in love for 20 minutes.

I saved the full story of that boy for another letter. It was hardly my first or last adventure in the erotic pleasures of public transit.

In April I'd told Jane about a boy I'd met at 2 am, waiting for the Bloor Street bus. I'd ended up going past my stop just to be with him, standing and talking for half an hour on Ossington waiting for yet another bus that he would take but I not. Pete was a leggy blond colt, 21 and marvellously on. In the end I recruited him not for myself but, briefly, for the paper.

The later dreamy 18 year old would, I thought, be a particular pleasure for Edgar Friedenberg.

November 24, 1985, to Edgar:

I'm sorry I missed the chance to see you at the airport in Toronto. Even an hour would have been good -- though I'm sure you know we'd have found no decent place to eat. [Edgar, who famously relished good food, had called on a short stopover.]

I had a wonderful little interaction on the subway a week or so ago; the transit system of this city provides me with serendipitous contacts, as well as many opportunities for simple photosynthesis. In this case it was a boy who'd been out listening to a band that does cover tunes from The Grateful Dead; he said he was fascinated by the Sixties. He largely missed them, having been born the year I graduated from high school, 1967.

I went past my stop talking with him, though never did find out his name. I suspect nothing more would have come of it even if I had, but the few minutes of his big brown eyed interest in me as an exhibit of the Us / Them Decade was pleasure enough.

If we'd had more time I might have discovered that the reality of that time as I knew it and was shaped by it -- still am shaped by it, even if partly in resistance to its absolutism and naiveté -- isn't what he's after. But perhaps he's the wave of the future in some small way, and exhibits such as you and I have a future on the lecture circuit.

Now there's the answer to your retirement, Edgar; your credentials are impeccable, and the Age of Reagan can't last forever.

I never much like Christmas, my normal pace broken by the absence of urban amenities my public, not very domestic life depends on. In short: bars and restaurants are closed. Or were then, most of them.

(Later, many would open on Christmas Day: on Sunday hours.Sunday opening had been allowed only a few years before, with last call at 10 pm. Soon it would be 11:00. Now Sunday is a day like any other. From the mid 1990s, Ontario bars can serve until 2:00 am.)

This year, though, I wandered up a deserted Yonge Street to find Cornelius dark, Chaps locked up, the Café New Orleans' big windows, a favourite cruising spot, empty. People who worked in these places certainly deserved a break but, accustomed to their usual vitality, I could find the quiet unsettling.

Still, there were other pleasures.

The vision that stayed with me all my life? That was it: Kevin Bryson. Dancing.

But my awe was tinged by anxiety: for the fate of men like Kevin -- & the more likely fate of the fragile world they had made.

December 25, 1985, to Jane:

I was at Stephen MacDonald's on Sunday for a nice party to which everyone was asked to bring something original for the tree. Eddie's new lover Sam Carvelli brought silver whistles, Gerry Oxford got a big paper bumblebee at Balloon King, and I hung one of two tiny pairs of red shoes I'd bought.

The other pair was for a man I watch dance at Cornelius, a reference to The Red Shoes, a late '40s dance film [the very film that inspired Vincent Warren in his Florida youth; I'd forgotten] that we once watched part of at the bar, and a tribute to the wonderful way this man moves.

We've been going through a very slow and prolonged flirtation, one that has advanced only as far as a kiss goodnight and that only a few days ago. I'm dubious about what more I might want, if anything, partly because I don't know what he wants, nor whether I could deliver it.

In any case, what we have is a source of great pleasure.

I had first seen this young man, dancing, nearly two years before: at The Body Politic's closing party at 24 Duncan. Everyone there danced wildly, but none more wonderfully than he, in a tank top, his head shaved as I recall, a friend (a boyfriend?) of Roger Spalding's then and of other people I knew. In time I'd know his name: Kevin Bryson. I'd later see him at parties, fascinated by him.

But it was at Cornelius, leaning on that brass rail by the dance floor, watching him move, that my fascination became sheer awe. Kevin Bryson, dancing. That vision I've said has stayed with me all my life? That was it.

Kevin Bryson. Dancing.

But my awe was coloured by anxiety, in part for the potential fate of men like Kevin, but also for the more likely fate of the fragile world they had made. Jane, as usual, got to hear my quandaries.

Death, and fear of death, does not make for foresight, yet we confront much more than the possibility of individual deaths. I find happiness watching Kevin and other men dance, in buying a few of the records they dance to and playing them at home, drinking here as I might drink in a bar -- all to hold onto (perhaps escape into) what might be lost.

It's too easy to see all this as frivolity. We slip so easily into being tourists in our own lives, explaining what we see and feel only through the language of a Michelin Guide to gay life written for people who don't live it.

The notion that AIDS has "matured" an "adolescent" gay world, that it's made all us silly disco faggots "grow up" and start taking things seriously, is one of those insidious, tour guide ideas that self doubt has made too many gay people eager to borrow. It ignores not only the profound, hard working seriousness of many of the lesbians and gay men I know, but ignores too the explorations of energy, eroticism and aesthetics that all that "silliness" embodies.

We have been scared into a willingness to give up what are, in fact, our most distinct -- if flawed -- creations, to dismiss them as immature, to become "respectable" in ways that not only require dismissing our own vitality, but have little to do with preventing disease.



Safe S/M

ACT's (unofficial) advice:
Safer fisting, water sports, scat, sex toys, tit torture...

"We must reclaim our delicious obscenity ... the only language in which we can speak frankly of our sex & how to keep it safe."

Michael Lynch
in The Body Politic,
January 1986.

I'd gone on to Dennis Altman in much the same vein a few weeks before, about to read a review copy of his AIDS in the Mind of America (called that in America, and in Canada; elsewhere it was AIDS and the New Puritanism). I was hoping it might help me shape things I wanted to write on my own -- even though I wasn't yet sure what they might be.

I think I've given up on a big piece on AIDS. Maybe it was possible to wrap up everything in one huge piece in 1983; now I don't think that's the way to go. There's simply too much of it and it's too central now; it would be like trying to do one big article on sex.

We're doing some stuff in the next issue on the antibody test, for which I just helped produce a flyer for the AIDS Committee of Toronto, along with one on safe S/M sex. The latter is not to be an official AIDS Committee publication: it's written in the kind of sensible and effective street language that some of ACT's funders find nervous making. They've already been in trouble for talking about "fucking" and giving junkies advice on how not to get sick.

That's one of the things I'd like to see an article on: the effect of censorship, or simple prudery about dirty talk, on efforts to control the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. I'm told (though I haven't seen the issue) that Blueboy ran an article on safe sex that included a list of ten "don'ts" -- three of them censored by Canada Customs. All you get is the number, followed by a blank space.

Dennis knew the messes AIDS organizations, nearly all gay-run, could get into just by trying to speak to gay men in their own language. He was involved with the Victorian AIDS Council in Melbourne, later its vice chair.

That list from Blueboy (both censored and uncensored versions; Canada's moral gatekeepers hadn't liked "ass" or "piss") would show up in TBP, in a January 1986 piece where Michael Lynch said we must "reclaim our delicious obscenity" if we were to save our lives. He called it "Talking Dirty" -- "the only language in which we can speak frankly of our sex and how to keep it safe."

Clinically "correct" language not only had the odour of rubber gloves, disgust and shame, but could leave people in the dark, even surprisingly so. Randy Coates once discussing HIV transmission with a class of medical students used the term "passive anal intercourse." An air of incomprehension filled the room.

Then one student dared ask: "What's passive anal intercourse?" Randy answered: "Getting fucked in the bum." Light dawned.

Battles over safe sex dirty words would largely be won -- if not easily or forever. Australia led the way; Canada soon followed. The US, spooked by the Religious Right, would lag far behind.

Dennis also got to hear another theme, in fact one of his own. In an AIDS panel at Sex and the State, he had stressed a point already made but too often ignored: where a large percentage of the gay male population was infected with HIV, limiting the number of one's sex partners was no guarantee of safety.

The chances were great that it might take only one partner, perhaps even one's own lover: we already knew it could take years for HIV infection to make itself apparent. Yet, as I'd said to Dennis, "I know kids who feel that their serial fidelity is some kind of defence." In another letter to him on December 28 I said:

So many of us are still trying to "deal" with AIDS in a way that's entirely metaphorical, as a disease you get if you're naughty and you can avoid if you're good. This is not only bad science, but a threat to our culture of "naughtiness" -- to me a very distinctive and positive culture that I fear too many people, for a variety of deep seated reasons, are willing to sacrifice.

This was a rant Dennis didn't need -- if too many others did. (But then, rants would turn out not a very good form of safe sex education.) This theme too would become an article, one of my own, but I wouldn't get down to it for some months.

In this odd after Christmas moment I was happier to tell Dennis where, for me, these thoughts came from.

It all comes from standing in bars watching beautiful men dance (including at Cornelius the DJ, a sweetheart named Michael) knowing how profoundly wonderful I find all that, and asking myself not only how long some of those dancers might live but also how long the living will have a place to dance. Or will know they can and should.

But that's not my sole preoccupation in places like that. In fact I have a good half dozen preoccupations when I'm at Cornelius: Howard, Mark, Kevin, and a few more whose names I don't know but all of whose moves I do. Most of all right now, Kevin.

I told Dennis all about Kevin Bryson: his arms, his feet, his T shirt soaked with sweat; his bum in its 501s flying around the floor. And of course about the red shoes. I'd have got his actual size (it was 12) had I known it at the time; sneakers would have done, high tops very common then on dance floors.

But I hadn't. So they were baby shoes, kids' size 3. Years later I'd learn the choice had been a good one. I had wrapped them in tissue paper, put them in a shoebox and left them outside his apartment door.

I told everyone about those men at Cornelius -- boys really, most of them -- most often about Kevin: friends here; Edgar in another letter; Michael Schwarz too; and Neil Bartlett. Of course Neil.

Such wondrous visions, shared, were the stuff of our lives.

Go on to 1986: January through April

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