The AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival and Resilience by Perry Halkitis is an academic volume that was long awaited by some of us. The context was this sequence: How to Survive a Plague ☞ Spencer Cox dies ☞ ACT UP reunion ☞ ACT UP Alumni ☞ this coïncidentally-well-timed book.
The book was and is in no appreciable demand at the library and I got it immediately. The AIDS Generation reports on Halkitis’s interviews with 15 long-term gay-male HIV survivors. In general they were interviewed in two-hour-long conversations and in group settings. This is the strength of the book: Direct survivor testimony.
But the book is a mess. It’s badly typeset (a book set in Times Roman in 2014?), badly structured, and above all badly edited. I don’t just mean the endless typos, most of which any spellchecker could have caught. I refer especially to the intentional choice, much discussed in the front matter, to use what Halkitis does not even understand to be narrow phonetic transcription for interviews. Every goddamned um and ah and interjection is rendered on the page, sometimes incorrectly. This is not how you transcribe an interview! You use a reasonably broad phonetic transcription and include ums and ahs only when they are actually meaningful. Yes, you the transcriber are expected to know which ones are and are not meaningful. Narrow, direct transcription does not give you a flavour of the spoken word. A book does not contain the spoken word.
Hence the quotations are borderline incomprehensible, and the sequencing shows that nobody really knew how to edit this thing. I read the whole damned book and almost the only quotes of value came about in a few pages near the end, in which eldergays accurately describe their complete estrangement from gay culture, which they suspect no longer exists. (In fact, they don’t realize it’s been intentionally destroyed by queers and LGBTs.)
I had to severely copy-edit these excerpts just so you could actually read and understand them. The originals really were that bad.
I’m in a relationship with someone a little bit younger than I am. I really enjoy my apartment. I like being home. I come home from work and I enjoy being home…. I’ve done the gay-bar thing. I’ve done the circuit parties. I’ve done all that stuff….
“Come on. It’s good for you to go out!” So we went out a couple of weeks ago – we went out to a bar on 9th Ave. and said, you know, we did that a year ago and I hated it because… they’re all so young. I was bitter; I’m a bitter old queen. And I thought “This is terrible.” […]
There are some men that love to see the youth. That revives them. not so much. I like to be around people my own age… with similar experiences.
The younger ones, I think they’re not nice to the older gay men, but the older gay men are nice to the older gay ones. I see that a lot now, especially around the ages where I’m at. I guess maybe because we have a group, and we’re always talking about how gay people need to start being a little bit more concerned for each other, a little bit more caring, you know, and not trying to knock a girl down…. e’re always trying to do something, so the older ones do , but not the younger ones so much, and they seem like they’re hard to and teach now.
I think the gay community came together in a way in the ’80s like it never had before – but I see it as completely splintered now and I don’t see any focus on anything anymore. And that saddens me a little bit. Because there is no history anymore. All of our history died. […]
The loss and devastation were matched in slightly later years by the disbanding of the gay community. We got a pill. “Stay away from them and you’ll be fine.” We totally left lesbians in the dust – just turned on them after they held our hands while we died. I do yearn for the community of the past in the very worst way and hope in my lifetime to see it again under much happier circumstances. I feel that I don’t fit in anywhere in the gay community now. Then we were all one, accepting of each other, and that is no longer the case.
It seems there are plenty of single older gay men yearning for company and sitting lonely. We have the desire of sexual appetite but far fewer opportunities. Yearning becomes a way of life. It’s sad to see and sad to be.
Further, I was shocked to read Halkitis completely dismiss, and I do mean completely dismiss, the work of Walt Odets with HIV-negative gay males. Halkitis and his quoted subjects dismissed our lives completely. Shouldn’t they know how that feels?