By Martin Belk
London calling… European epicentre of viral stupidity. This is not a love song. Tough love poem from an expat New Yorker-cum-rock ‘n’ roll queer—perhaps. Pandemics have historically handed power to grassroots—India, 1918; or right now, in Rome: the anti-right #6000SARDINE movement. Is this an opportunity?
COVID-19 rings eerily of AIDS. The villains have changed, the agenda hasn’t. Then: Get out! ActUp! Now: We can’t, yet. Time for introspection.
Goodbye Edwin Rose. Monday, April 4th: phone rings just before midnight. “Dr Kim, Beth Israel/Mt. Sinai…” Angel, “…I’m treating Edwin ‘Rose Royale’ Shostak.” I scramble, and within fifteen minutes I’d gathered many of Eddie-Rose’s friends on a conference call, to go “live” and say a hasty, final goodbye. Veteran New Yorker—active painter, first Warhol factory crowd. Exhibitions at MOMA. One of Andy’s first boyfriends. Recent years: Jackie 60 stalwart; host at Sweetie-B’s Cheez Whiz (a Scissor Sisters launchpad); host at Lucky Cheng’s. No hugs, no handholding, or kisses—no last looks. Dies alone. I thought we were done with this shit.
Into the Groove, 1987: I was adopted by the old Danceteria/Hurrah/Factory crowd. Haoui Montaug kidnapped me from Uncle Charlie’s, far from my Dad’s midtown world. I was tossed in the middle of namedrop, namedrop. With this crowd, Pride was ubiquitous—straight, gay, type, income, race, gender (or none of the above)—welcome. No size fits all.
They, and Eddie-Rose, accepted me before I could even consider what Pride really meant. Boy Bar to Wigstock. Dean Johnson’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Fag Bar to eye-opening Edelweiss. Deep in vogue uptown, deep in dick downtown. All in the face of a colossal die-off. Where’s Haoui, Marty, Billy, name, name? Still dead. Long live the names.
I relish the old days. When some freak got onstage and pushed the boundaries, for a brief moment you got to not be so freakish. This is why the corporatization, victimization and drugification of Pride is problematic.
Out of the Closet, into the Woodwork: In 1992, something changed. AIDS fatigue? Everyone fell into a GAP ad. The Calvin Klein Marky Mark thing—‘dunno. Suddenly, my community started to eat itself. White t-shirts, gyms, steroids, straight-acting, crystal meth, soulless music (thump-thump), whatever. Cloning went from anecdotal to abject. The great gay subdivision began. Pride became a for-profit circuit party. From New York to Tel Aviv: being gay is no longer unique, it’s legal. Just business. Hang the DJ?
By ‘95 or so, ActUP floundered: government infiltration and special-interest controversy. The younger AIDS-untouched trickled-down from Ohiolinasylvanniaconsin, and embraced Dorian Corey’s body-in-the-cupboard theory: “The old school is interested in what you can create, the new school is interested in what you can acquire.” Who failed whom?
These days, it seems keyboard warriors, rainbow flag revisionists and pronoun protagonists have chewed the flavor from a worn-out piece of gum. Who needs Westboro when you’ve got word police? Someone always gets punched.
The facts are: new HIV cases are still “a thing.” Queers are still being lynched; addiction and alcoholism are still rife. Queer kids still have the highest suicide & homelessness rates and need healthcare and employment. Queer people are being herded and killed by fascists—Hitler style—in Russia, Chechnya, and Uganda. Pride floats? Try trucks to concentration camps. They too, die alone.
Gay marriage hasn’t solved any of this. Nor did log cabins, chemsex, circuit parties, identity politics, new flags, baby adoptions, PrEP or pronouns. Nor have new episodes of Will & Grace, Pose, or RuPaul’s Drag Race. The revolution will not be televised, remember?
My take: at-all-costs, “visibility” is not progress. The media: just another business. Queers are the new black. Performing Minstrels. Want proof? Netflix’s “Hollywood” portrays Rock Hudson as a young sexual victim. The facts? He was a willing casting couch surfer. More tired old-gay predator tropes. Yay.
What’s good, you may ask? A lot. Very short list: Trevor Project (USA), CALM (UK), Beyond Blue (AU), Every Life Matters (Scotland) suicide prevention. God’s Love We Deliver (NYC), Food Chain (London) food. Pôle Jeunesse (Paris), Hetrick-Martin (NYC) young people. Aging in Place (L.A), SAGE (NYC) senior people. A personal favorite: Research Foundation to Cure AIDS. And all’s not rotten on TV. Big props to Bob, Eureka and Shangela in HBO’s “We’re Here” series. Takin’ it to the streets in six-inch heels, staring hate in the face and inviting it to a party.
I once met Clarence B. Jones, author of part one of MLK Jr.’s “Dream” speech. They protected Bayard Rustin, gay supermind of black civil rights. I asked, what’s their secret to success? “We realized, early on—in order to get those in power to cede any power, we had to first convince them that it is in their best interests.” Worked then…what might this look like now? First, bring the history: Pride began long before 1969. Use it for a new, deeper, more organized, formidable Pride.
Keep it simple. Catch bees with honey. Focus on the similarities. We all need healthcare, homes, food and employment. Start over, start there. Include Kalamazoo. Talk to people, take a pass on clickbait squabbles. Listen.
Put principles over personalities, dump identity politics, word police, and social media wars. It’s useless, just ask Lady Bunny. Pull a Bartleby: “I prefer not to.” Elect new champions. You. Yes, you. Run for an office—any office. Step up. Don’t blame, infiltrate. Face to face, not Facebook.
My dream? Locally grown, internationally active—but sensitive to other cultures. Create teachers, not targets. Something that sidesteps armchair narcissism and pop-shop celebrities and would make Larry Kramer or Audre Lorde proud.
That’s my two pennies. The astrology is Pluto in Capricorn. Last time this happened—so did the American and French Revolutions. Too far? FOMO, patron saint of millennials, help you. A reality TV show ‘star’ and Roy Cohn protégé is president now. Too much? Sue me. Gore Vidal taught me how to palimpsest. Silence (still) = Death.
It’s 3:00 a.m. I wish I could call Eddie-Rose.
Martin Belk is a writer/playwright, expat New Yorker, and former producer of “SqueezeBox!” living in London. His memoir, “Pretty Broken Punks: lipstick, leather jeans, a death of New York” was published in 2012. He currently hosts the “Late Supper with Martin Belk” podcast, latesupperpodcast.com.