During. Before. After.

Let me tell you of a time, of a deadly decade in the city known as San Francisco.

It was a time that already cannot be imagined, even though we lived through it. It was, here in the village-like Castro, a time when hope was hidden away so it would not die.

Let me open up a story that still rests on the shoulder of any person who lived among these foggy hills between 1981 and 1997. If you lived in San Francisco you were living with AIDS; you were living with death.

AIDS arrived among us like a barbarous bird of prey.

The first official death was recorded in 1981. A frightening curiosity. In 1983, 137 men dissolved in ways that were quick, mean and indescribable. The scent of fear rode every bus. Dread flavored every meal. The number of deaths doubled the next year. Then doubled again. And then tripled. By 1986, there were 907 deaths in San Francisco. Each of the following years, until 1997, the mortality count hovered between 1000 and 2000.

Four gay men died in San Francisco each and every day between my 30th and 40th birthdays.

Almost all these men lived within a one-mile radius of Castro and 18th Street.

But numbers cannot tell a story. Nor is the story over. It continues to echo in the lives of the survivors—and in the life of anyone living in San Francisco today.



Is this the story I want to tell? The story of a virus, of the collapse of an immune system, of the wasting of a human body, of terrified eyes looking out from an unrecognizable face? It is a story that I know well. Too well. Does anyone really want to talk about this? Do I want to tell these stories? Does anyone want to hear them? Do words release or erase?

We shall see.

…..from Journals. Vol. 52, 2008. Treviso, IT


So let me step back a bit further.

Let me tell you of a time before AIDS.

I can’t say that I remember it terribly well. I was young and much too busy to be paying close attention.

It was the gay community’s Golden Age of liberation. It was a time of deliverance, impunity, sovereignty and immunity.

Each day held the promise of self-determination, ascendancy, enlightenment and cultural revision. Each night offered Bacchanalian delights.

The hippies, the faeries, the activists, the clones, the leather-men, the A-gays, the feminist dykes, the New Left, the artists, the sweater crowd, the separatists of both genders—I played in every camp. Being different was a condition to be treasured. We wanted to be “the people that our parents had warned us about.”

We lived wildly. We took on the patriarchy. We took on new names. We took drugs. We dressed to shock—in gender-fuck or leather. We ate brunch. We didn’t just build bodies, we used them. Sex wasn’t just fun, it was one of many ways to stimulate the imagination, to create instant family and build community.

In the chilly post-modern “critique” of today, our promiscuity was “maximized

social contact and consolidated our drugs was “stretched human powers and consciousness,” and our dancing was “an effervescent release of compression.

But, damn, it was fun.

…..from Journals. Vol. 54, 2010. San Francisco, CA


In the countryside of southern Tuscany rest the ruins of a 13th century abbey.

It was to be built next to the site of a medieval miracle to take advantage of pilgrims en route to Rome. Cared for by a community of monks, glorious gothic windows would vault to the sky liberating the spirit from this earth.

Before the Church of San Galgano was completed, the Black Death froze

the hunger for commerce and the tradition of pilgrimage. When the practice resumed, the primary route to Rome had shifted to pass a different miracle site.

And so, the unfinished church sits as a shell. Thick stone walls stand against the wind, but hold no windows. There is no roof other than the azure Tuscan sky. Instead of benches and altar, grasses and wildflowers cover the floor.

There are no moldings, no icons, no tapestries. Only the cool pure lines of stone adorn the space. The morning field mist wanders through the gaping doors.

I imagine the Castro as that Church of San Galgano.

After the plague years, it lives abandoned at the end of a dirt road. The monks have moved away.

Without a community to celebrate its miracle, it has become a tourist destination, a photo opportunity, a not-so-sacred ruin.

We dare not touch this historical site out of respect for the dead. If we build a new roof and put glass into the windows will we forget?  Will we dishonor our proud past? Will the ghosts flee?

Or will the warmth of sun and new rituals burn away the mists and allow new memories to be built upon the old?

…..from Journals. Vol. 51, 2007. Florence, IT