HIV named 30 years ago


Sunday was an important day, and I missed it. It was the 30th birthday of the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.

Not the virus itself, obviously, which had been around for decades. Just the name.

That chronology of thing-first/name-second reminds me of the history of homosexuality, which seems apropos. Same-sex attraction had been common since the dawn of time but was only given a name in the late 19th century. Then it became something that could be dissected, discussed, treated. It became a legitimate, identifiable threat to mainstream straight folks, not like the vague sin of “sodomy” that anyone was guilty of committing.

I digress.

On May 1, 1986, the journal Nature published a letter from a team of researchers struggling to come up with a name for the virus that causes AIDS (which went through its own nomenclature crisis and was once known by the charming acronym GRID, or Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Disease). The virus had been identified by researchers three years earlier, but it took them until 1986 to prove that it was the cause of AIDS. And thus, they needed a name.

The letter was entitled “What to call the AIDS virus?”, and it listed seven issues related to their decision to go with “HIV”. Among the more interesting was issue #2:

(2) Though the name should clearly link the viruses to the disease with which they are associated, it should not incorporate the term “AIDS”, which many clinicians urged us to avoid.

The scientists didn’t bother to explain why they were urged to avoid referencing AIDS in the virus’ name. Was there uncertainty in the scientific community about the link between HIV and AIDS? There still is today, though not among reputable scientists. Or were the clinicians trying to distinguish between AIDS-related opportunistic infections that already had perfectly good names like encephalopathy and Kaposi’s sarcoma and the virus that opened the door to those infections?

Maybe I’m being nice, maybe I’m being too naive about the heterosexism and homophobia that ran rampant in the medical community of the day, but I choose to believe the latter.

Anyway, happy birthday, HIV. Here’s hoping that you live to see very, very few more, you little, microscopic asshole.

An Open Letter To Bobby Jindal, David Vitter, Steve Scalise, Tony Perkins, Martin Feldman, And The Many Conservatives Of Louisiana


Dear Bobby Jindal, David Vitter, Steve Scalise, Tony Perkins, and most of all, Martin Feldman:

As a rule, I don’t like gloating. Like many Southerners, I was taught to be a good loser and an even better winner. So, the last thing I’d want to do is to kick someone when he’s down.

And boy, are you down right now. Marriage equality is now legal in all 50 states, including Louisiana. And you know what that means? It means that all your railing about Evil Gays (and very, very rarely, Evil Lesbians) has been for nothing. Waste of time.

You could’ve been filling the world with love and awesomeness and light, using your powers for good. But no, you chose the dark side. And now, you’ve lost. And from this point forward, until the last byte of data on the last sever is corrupted, until the last book is burned, until the last human stops studying the history of her race, everyone will know: you had a choice, and you blew it.

That’s gotta hurt.

So, let me be among the first to say: fuck you. Continue reading

47 Important Movies I Have Never Seen (But Occasionally Told People That I Have)


I am not a movie person. I know that such people exist — my husband is one — but I am not among them.

That’s not to say that I don’t watch movies. I do. Lots of them. But they are not always good. For every amazing Miyazaki film on my hard drive, there are two stinkers from Elizabeth Taylor’s “unfortunate period”. (I have watched The Driver’s Seat more times than I can count.)  I am also a sucker for completely forgettable foreign comedies. Heidi Klum would question my cinematic taste level.

But it’s worse, because I lie. I lie about having seen important films, popular films, the ones that everyone else knows. I’m secretly convinced that everyone else lies about having seen these movies, too, but I can only be certain of my own shame. Pity me.

Here is a list of 47 movies that I could’ve been watching instead of Return of the Killer Tomatoes. Although let the record show: I have no regrets.

  1. Annie Hall
  2. Beaches
  3. American Beauty
  4. Avatar
  5. Back to the Future
  6. Beetlejuice
  7. The Big Lebowski
  8. Braveheart
  9. Casablanca
  10. Chariots of Fire
  11. Chinatown
  12. Dirty Dancing
  13. E.T.
  14. Forrest Gump
  15. The Godfather: Part II (and honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever watched the first from start to finish)
  16. Goodfellas
  17. I Am Curious (Yellow)
  18. Iron Man (any of them)
  19. Jerry McGuire
  20. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
  21. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
  22. Nashville
  23. Persona
  24. The Pianist
  25. Pretty Woman
  26. Raging Bull
  27. Rain Man
  28. Reservoir Dogs
  29. Rocky (or the sequels, for that matter)
  30. Saving Private Ryan
  31. Scarface
  32. Seven Samurai
  33. The Shawshank Redemption
  34. Silkwood
  35. The Sixth Sense
  36. Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace
  37. Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones
  38. Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith
  39. Sunset Boulevard
  40. Taxi Driver
  41. Terms of Endearment
  42. Toy Story
  43. Tootsie
  44. V for Vendetta
  45. Vertigo
  46. X-Men (any of them)
  47. Zoolander

12 Drag Names I Will Never Use


bewbsI’ve done drag — real drag, with a bra and all — a handful of times. Generally speaking, it was awful.

Sure, I enjoyed the makeup and the false eyelashes and the heels — who wouldn’t? But the wigs were hugely uncomfortable. The wigs and the shaving. I really hate to shave.

Until recently, I thought I could overcome those hangups, and I stockpiled a stellar list of potential drag/stage names for my alter-ego.

Alas, it’s clear that I’m never going to have enough time/patience/Barbasol to use them, so I’m releasing them into the wild. Hopefully, someone with a lighter beard, a softer jawline, and a greater tolerance for polyester wiglets can use them. Maybe you?

As an added bonus, some of them will work as band names, too. You’re welcome.

  1. Nosegay Pantysniffer (Technically this one belongs to Jonno, but the copyright has probably run out.)
  2. Wendy 2000 (She’s dated, not expired.)
  3. Ovarian Thrombosis (This may be something horrible in real life, but the cadence is good.)
  4. Transvaginal Messiah (All those mesh commercials finally got to me.)
  5. Pussy Terwilliger (It’s like poetry.)
  6. Cookiepuss McGruff (If you choose this one, your signature song becomes the best Beastie Boys tune of all time. And you get a signature dessert, too.)
  7. Tundra Thundercunt (The loud, lewd lady from Lapland.)
  8. Estrogenia McGuyver (Oh, what she can do with two bottlecaps and a maxi pad.)
  9. Miss River Bridge (It’s funniest if you live along the Mississippi.)
  10. Maxine Poutine (Girl likes to eat.)
  11. Chanelvis (Which I stole from a co-worker at Lucky Cheng’s)
  12. Chainsaw Guevara (She’s never heard the term “bloodless revolution”.)

Paranoid Children Have More Fun


trees and cloudsI never played with action figures. I never saw the point. Acting out scenarios with tiny, plastic dolls? I preferred acting with my whole body. At recess, I recruited friends to become fellow jewel thieves or jungle explorers or doctors on desperate missions to halt raging epidemics of cooties.

I was even better at scenarios that played out in my head, scenarios I enacted alone, scenarios I never told anyone about. In one recurring fantasy, I was a cat burglar. (To younger readers: cat burglars were once a thing, though no one speaks of them anymore.) Every time I visited a mall or a department store, I’d note the location of the air vents, service doors, and other ways I could use to break in later — though sadly, later never came, because I was also a massive goody-goody.

In my other favorite scenario, I played a kidnapping victim. When my parents dragged my brothers and me on weekend errands, I’d lie face-up on the Naugahyde back seat of our hulking Oldsmobile station wagon, following the trees, trying to count blocks, and making note of telling scenery. I committed that information to memory so that when I picked the lock on my imaginary handcuffs and found my way to a phone in the kidnappers’ lair, I could tell the police where to find me.

Continue reading

For No Good Reason, A One Direction Fantasy


One Direction played the Super Dome last night — or as it’s now called, the Mercedes-Benz Super Dome, which makes it sound less like a stadium and more like one of those bubble-topped, science-fictiony concept cars of the 1950s, but that’s neither here nor there.

My seats were in the balcony. The top, top, top balcony. It was as close as I could get to the stage, considering that every seventh-grade girl from Lake Charles to Pascagoula began calling for tickets five days before they went on sale. And still, I paid twice the face value.

An hour into the show, the band performed a rousing mashup of Iron Butterfly’s psychedelic rock anthem “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and Yaz’s 1982 dance floor smash, “Don’t Go”. (I swear, in the right hands — or right throat — “Don’t Go” could give “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” a run for best Please-Don’t-Leave-Me Ballad of all time.) Despite having some decent pipes, One Direction didn’t imbue either tune with Doug Ingle’s throaty, pre-orgasmic churn or Alison Moyet’s throaty, Pall-Mall-tinged desperation, but it was still damn good.

Like the five young men on stage, One Direction’s core audience hadn’t been born when the original songs came out, so they assumed the band’s elegantly arranged, two-for-one cover was a completely new tune. But the handful of parents who’d managed to score tickets knew differently. People of my generation were on their feet, cheering.

And that’s when it happened. A hundred yards below me, at the downstage right corner of the hulking platform that some nameless production company had erected to support the designer sneakers and slim hips of Harry, Liam, Louis, Niall, and Zayn, a dozen bodies rushed the stage. I thought they might’ve been security personnel, but my lorgnette revealed otherwise. They weren’t in t-shirts or uniforms, they weren’t chunky, beefy bodyguards: they were doughy, white-haired men in off-the-rack suits from Joseph A. Bank.

Continue reading

10 Things I Am Not (And Am Thankful I Am Not)


blindersIt’s so, so easy to take things for granted when the going is good. I have a hunch that’s what keeps us going, us humans. There’s something deep in our DNA that wants us to wear blinders, wants us to chug along believing that since we’re not sick, not in pain, not desperately sad, not running for our lives, everyone else in the world is fine, too.

That makes sense, I guess. If we dwelled on that too much, we’d never get anything done. We’d die of worry and guilt.

(Side note: it may be part of our DNA, but it’s not innate. It’s something we learn as adults: worry about what’s in front of you, worry about the things you can change. Six-year-olds terrified of atomic bombs or bad guys in the night haven’t perfected this skill.)

So, it’s rare when everything’s going fine — so fine that you can’t imagine a time when things would ever not be fine — that you stop and think: “Now. Right now. I’m very lucky right now. I’m more fortunate than many people on this planet. Possibly most of them”

It happened to me this week, driving home after a long day of work and errands. For some reason — I still don’t know why — I took stock of my life. And I realized how very lucky I am to have a job and a husband and a boyfriend and loving hounds and loving friends. And it’s all because of an accident of birth: American, late 20th century, middle class, male, white.

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Breaking: Old White Guy From Louisiana Rules Against Marriage Equality (While Wearing A Dress)


Martin FeldmanIn Louisiana, Martin Feldman has become the first federal judge to rule against LGBT marriage equality since last year’s twin Supreme Court decisions overturning California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

You might’ve missed that, though, because when news outlets heard the details, most just shrugged.

That’s because an old, white, male, Reagan-appointee in the Deep South ruling in favor of bigotry is not news.

Despite the dozens of court victories we’ve had at the federal and state level since (and even before) Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor, Feldman chose to break ranks with his estimable, equality-minded peers. Not only that, he did it in the most bigoted way possible: in his decision, he called homosexuality a “lifestyle choice”; he compared same-sex marriage to incest; he insisted that marriage is all about procreation (thus assuming that gays and lesbians can’t procreate); and he said that states have the right to discriminate on the grounds of “any conceivable basis”.

Really, Mr. Feldman? Any basis?

What’s more, Feldman went over and above the call of duty.  The case before him only involved the recognition of same-sex marriages conducted outside Louisiana. But Feldman expanded his ruling to affirm Louisiana’s sovereign right to prevent same-sex marriages from happening on its own turf. You know, just for kicks.

My opinion? Look, I’ve said before that I’m not a perfectionist. I’m not a detail person. I prefer working with chainsaws, not mitre saws. To keep the construction metaphor going: I’m like the guy who gets all the right permits from the city and bulldozes the condemned house. I’ll let detail-oriented folks come in and put up the new building.

Which is to say: it would’ve been nice to have a perfect record for LGBT rights in federal court as marriage equality cases work their way through appeals, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. But even with Feldman’s misguided, off-tone, antiquated ruling, we’re still batting pretty near 1,000. I’m fine with that.

My only regret is that I’m not a fly. If I were — well, I probably wouldn’t live long enough to see the inevitable SCOTUS ruling, but on the off-chance I did, I’d love to perch on the wall of Feldman’s office as his decision is being overturned. I might even smile a fly smile as he sighs, realizing that times have changed, and he hasn’t adapted, and like a good loser in the Darwinian struggle to evolve, he should just give up. And then, he dies, with only his gay legal clerk for company.

P.S. I love the law, but I’m not trained in it. For a more detailed analysis of Feldman’s George Wallace-esque ruling, check out Ari Waldman’s take.

David Sedaris Confesses That He’s Sex-Phobic, Doesn’t Understand HIV Or AIDS


David SedarisI used to love David Sedaris. I mean that as literally as anyone who’s never met the man can mean it.

A decade ago, I even wrote an erotic short story about an orgy in which Sedaris played a central role. (Edmund White, Tony Kushner, and Langston Hughes were there, too. It was like the answer to a college admission essay question no college would ever ask: “If you could nail four gay authors from any time and place…?”)

Sadly, it’s now clear that Sedaris wasn’t suited for such fan fiction, because he recently told the world that he’s a bitter, jealous, sex-phobic prude.

In an article published by The Guardian, Sedaris recounts a recent conversation with his partner of 23 years, Hugh. He asks how many people Hugh had sex with before they were together.

Sedaris tops out around 28 or 30. Which I find a little surprising because even in Mississippi, I’d fooled around with that many people by the time I graduated college (if not before). Maybe Sedaris isn’t a very sexual person, but I’d think that he might’ve been a little more adventurous before he hit his mid-30s, met Hugh, and took himself off the market.

After Sedaris tallies the notches in his bedpost, he watches Hugh count higher and higher. As though that’s surprising. As though having sex is a bad thing. As though it’s a moral failing.

I know what you’re thinking: “Sedaris is a comic writer. It’s clearly meant to be humorous.” I agree, except the way it’s written, we’re meant to be on Sedaris’ side, not Hugh’s.

That’s driven home when he gets to the really offensive part, the part about HIV and AIDS.

Continue reading

Truvada: Another Pill For Sluts


Here’s a little something I wrote for the relaunched

It’s kind of weird to see today’s critics of Truvada making the same arguments as critics of The Pill in the 1960s. Or even foes of the more recent HPV vaccine. Then again, there’s something timeless about being a prudish, judgy, short-sighted asshole.

Some people hate Truvada. Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, famously dismissed it as “a party drug,” as if that’s inherently a bad thing. (Then again, I think of champagne as a party drug, so what do I know?) But neither Weinstein nor his fellow critics can deny the science behind Truvada, and that science now says that the drug is virtually 100 percent effective at stopping HIV.

Instead, Weinstein et al. make moral arguments against Truvada — the same moral arguments used 50 years ago to prevent women from taking control of their own bodies and sexual lives. Those arguments were wrong then, and they’re wrong now.

The truly moral thing to do is to remember the millions of people who would never have suffered, never have died, if they’d had the chance to take Truvada. The truly moral thing to do is to get the drug into the hands of the still-living and still-HIV-negative.

Let me repeat: Truvada is the most effective HIV-prevention tool on the planet. As with any other tool, users have to follow instructions, but if you’re able to do that, Truvada is Plan A for guarding against HIV. Condoms, serosorting, and all the other good and not-so-good strategies people use, those are Plan B….

[Continued at, which is far more safe-for-work than it used to be]