Today is a very special anniversary for me. It was 13 years ago today that my life was turned upside down by what, in effect, became an unintentional date. That evening permanently reshaped my life, my perspective on the world, and my understanding of my sexuality. I crossed a threshold into a world of academic conversation, queer cultural history, and adult romance.

To sum up, I had agreed to house-sit for someone for the month of June, and he invited me over for dinner that night to look around his house, receive instructions, and see if I had any questions.

While he made dinner — Cornish game hens for the main course — we chatted and listened to some of cds. He introduced me to Michael Callen and the Flirtations, a campy gay a cappella group. Their music wasn’t great, but it meant so much to me to hear this sort of campy, queer fun. Here’s a Youtube clip of Michael Callen, who died of AIDS in 1993, singing “Where the Boys Are” (it’s not a great clip — the image and the audio are out of sync — but I think it gives a taste of what he and the Flirts were like):

My introduction to this queer fun was therefore “always already” affected by the AIDS crisis. Now I’m struck by how much we’ve lost because of AIDS. How much talent, music, and plain ol’ queer fun we’ve lost. So many men who loved and were loved. So many men that those of us who came after will never know (of course we’ll never know them — that sounds so stupid — but I hope you get what I mean).

Near the end of Larry Kramer’s Faggots, the protagonist, Fred Lemish, is walking on the beach looking at the other gay men assembled there. He thinks:

The beach is filled with all my friends. All dressed in white. A huge white billowing tent awaits us. Someone is giving a Dawn Party. A Welcome the New Day Party. Strawberries and white wine and chocolate-chip cookies. All my friends. All sitting on the sand. Arms around each other. Touching. Holding. … Sharing this moment. No one speaking.

Yes, all my friends are here. … All this beauty. Such narcotic beauty. (361).

Whenever I teach this passage, I’m reminded of the end of Longtime Companion when Campbell Scott and some of the other characters are walking on the beach and see a parade of men who have died as a result of the AIDS virus. Maybe because I don’t personally know anyone who’s HIV+ or who’s died of AIDS that I have this particular response. But in remembering my first introduction to Callen and the Flirtations I’m struck by how much beauty has been lost. Such narcotic beauty.

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