It’s been quite the year for long-term HIV survivor and activist Mark S. King, who won the GLAAD Media Award for his blog, My Fabulous Disease, was named “LGBTQ Journalist of the Year” by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association, and was just included in OUT Magazine’s “OUT 100” list for 2020.
Topping off the year, King is celebrating his 60th birthday in style on December 16th, with a virtual birthday bash that will include appearances from iconic guests like Sir Elton John and Greg Louganis while raising funds for the work of The Reunion Project, a national network of long-term HIV survivors.
The event will stream live on Facebook and YouTube, so check out the event page for more info, to register free, or to make a donation.
We like to brag that King, author of the blog My Fabulous Disease, is a Queerty regular. But King’s writing doesn’t get our attention because he’s shy with an opinion. In fact, to commemorate his 60th, King counts down the six Queerty posts he has written that stirred up (or pissed off) our readers the most, and what in the world he was thinking when he wrote them.
Here they are those six posts, with King’s remarks about each following.
First, it was gratifying to know that so many Queerty readers remember, or knew of, the star Rock Hudson. There’s nothing more frustrating than a “brush with celebrity” story when the millennial you’re talking to doesn’t know the celebrity. I thought the piece reflected my youthful sell-centeredness at the time and the general sadness of the encounter. Well, and it was funny.
Many readers disagreed and called me out for sleeping with another man on the night of my anniversary. I get that. It was one of the takeaways of that experience for me and still is. Alas, I got skewered for the one-nighter, and for having the arrogance to brag about it.
Judging others for their risky behaviors is easy; what’s more difficult is coming to them “where they are” and starting a conversation. As a recovering meth addict myself, I see drug addiction and prevention very much like HIV risk: the only thing that benefits from judgment and shame is the virus. We can’t hope to change behaviors if we don’t try to understand them.
Queerty readers were mystified that I would appear to accept any level of meth use, and a few of them are totally over referring to drug use as “partying.”
I do wish our community recognized that escapist behaviors, such as drug use or sexual compulsion, are born from societal and cultural pressures — to be accepted, to self-medicate, to get out of our own skin and find relief — that were present long before we picked up a meth pipe. Addressing those things, and challenging our friends who are harming themselves, takes a fair amount of empathy and grace. I’ll leave the moral judgments to someone else, in this case.
I’m including this not because of the avalanche of comments posted on Queerty, but because of the deafening silence to the post, which didn’t earn a single posted comment.
Gay adult film model Jacen Zhu charmed and deeply impressed me with his takes on drugs, HIV, and what is (and is not) racist when it comes to gay sexual desire. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a frank conversation with a Black gay man about the objectification of Black men in our community. He handled every question with humility and a willingness to teach me, and he certainly succeeded.
In a year that Black Lives Matter and George Floyd’s death thrust racial equality once again into the spotlight, I hope we’ll revisit this interview and see how very much we have yet to learn.
It was thrilling to spend an afternoon with HIV negative gay men, giving them the space to open up about dating, sex, and their fears and apprehensions about becoming infected or hooking up with HIV positive guys. As a writer and activist, it doesn’t get better than drawing out truthful opinions. This post, and the accompanying video, let their opinions speak for themselves.
Queerty readers just didn’t like those opinions very much, or the attitudes they reflect on our gay community at large. They criticized the negative guy who fears sex with positive guys and thought he was ignorant and hateful. They questioned the validity of PrEP and the promiscuity of some of the negative men. They thought the video reflected poorly on our community and didn’t speak for everyone.
Of course. The video doesn’t include everyone. And even this collection of men isn’t exhaustive. But Queerty readers “doth protest too much, methinks,” to quote the Bard. Even a few years after this posting, the truth cuts deep.
Sean McKenna is a long-term survivor I deeply admire, even though our approach to our shared history is sometimes very different. He often bemoans the lack of respect (not to mention services and clinical assistance) that long-term survivors get (he isn’t thrilled that my blog is called My Fabulous Disease) while I do tend to focus on preserving our HIV/AIDS history without using it as a blunt instrument to bludgeon younger gay men.
Our divergent points of view were very much on display in this interview, as we challenged each other. I loved providing an opportunity for Sean to speak out in his own unapologetic way. We share a forthrightness that stimulates my views and my work.
Sean won the debate, as far as the posted comments were concerned (Queerty should “fire Mark and hire Sean,” one said). People were appalled at the appearance of my disrespecting any long-term survivor or minimizing our shared struggle. I thought our opinions both made some sense, and I also wonder how many of those commenters have spent even two minutes thinking of long-term survivors in the three years since this post appeared.
Boy, we sure do hate being lectured, and most especially if that lecture is directed at HIV negative gay men and, even worse, coming from an HIV positive man.
But hey, that’s why I’m here.
This post addressed common sources of stigma that gay men often employ toward guys living with HIV. I had hoped to clean up some common misconceptions along the way. But, well, people are touchy.
Many of the comments derided the post, and me personally, for precisely the kind of things the post calls out. There were too many judgments (“HIV is a choice. Make better choices.”) to enumerate here, so I’ll simply say that gay men have developed fairly lethal claws of our own, after childhoods spent in defense mode. It’s just a shame we point them at one another.
I also want to say what a pleasure it is to contribute to Queerty, and that this list doesn’t represent the many pieces that were received warmly and in the spirit they were intended. High on that list would be a tribute to mothers and an interview with a gay nurse living with HIV who is working like mad in a busy hospital during COVID.
Register for Mark S. King’s 60th Birthday Bash here