How that simple phrase molded my young queer life back in the 1980s when we were quite literally fighting for our lives. The thing is, when I think upon it now, the phrase has lost none of its meaning. It is still relevant today as it was back then. Maybe even more so since the community has achieved so much from the time those signs first hit the pavement lo those forty years ago.
Recently, Levi Strauss introduced a line of clothing that carries that phrase and queer folks everywhere started doing the bash syndrome (something that really started to gain momentum when Roland Emmerich tried to create a movie about Stonewall). The same can be said for how we bashed the production of Looking on HBO. It’s far easier to bash what we fear is coming our way before we’ve even seen it or experienced it for ourselves.
So when Levi Strauss did the sneak peek reveal, peeps started chiming in and calling them out on the carpet for marketing a phrase that carries a ton of weight with the community. Yet not everyone back then agreed with Act Up! who created the campaign to have our voices heard when no one wanted to talk about the “gay cancer” scare going on.
Silence = Death.
But then I saw what Levi Strauss was doing. My queer granddaughter doesn’t have the context for what that phrase meant to the community. She’s grown up in a world where queerdom has its place in the mainstream conversation now. Sure, as her gay grandfather, I spend a great deal of time educating her on our past. We watch countless documentaries about what our community has gone through. At fourteen, she’s becoming quite the activist. I couldn’t be prouder of her if I tried. I sit in awe of how powerful a woman she’s becoming. My only fear with that? She’s extremely empathetic. She feels what others go through strongly. I know that under the wrong circumstances it can be used against her. So I educate her in how to detect that and how to channel that sort of negativity into something greater that accomplishes her goals. But there are times when things bother her and she’s been tight lipped about it.
Silence = Death.
I can’t have that. Not with her. And not with myself either. You see, recently I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Being over 50 I am one of the “lucky” ones in that most men who get it are between 18 and 35. Only 2% of the male population can get it at my age. Gee, thanks for that. Couldn’t I have been the 2% of the population that wins the lottery instead? No, my win had to come in the form of a cancer that within three weeks knocked me on my ass so hard that even after surgery I am still feeling its effects.
The thing is, I think I knew something was up but didn’t say anything to my husband.
Silence = Death.
At first it started out innocently enough. I went to the ER because I’ve had bouts with kidney stones and my lower right back was aching something fierce and I thought a stone was on the move. I didn’t want to miss work so I went to the ER with the thought that I’d get some pain meds to get me through the night so I could sleep and still get to work the next day. Well, I had the great fortune that I got the Asian equivalent of NPH’s Dougie Howser – the guy was YOUNG … like teenager looking young. But he was aggressive in that he wanted a CT scan to see if a stone was truly on the move. It was then that they discovered my lymph nodes in that area were inflamed – one so large that it was quite alarming. That was my first clue something bad was on the horizon. The cat was out of the bag, but for some stupid reason I didn’t give it a ton of thought about it. So shit is inflamed. What of it?
Silence = Death.
Yeah, that coulda been me. If it weren’t for my husband noticing that something was off in a moment of intimacy and (being the retired physician he is) made me book an appointment with my urologist to get that looked at. Unfortunately, I didn’t say the right thing when booking the appointment – ya know, the magic phrase that I guess I missed the memo on that all the other guys got – so my appointment was three weeks away from when I called. They must’ve thought it was routine or something. Well, in those three weeks I lost 45 lbs, my balance was way off – there’s video somewhere of me walking down a long hall at work where I was literally leaning against the wall for support but was so out of it that I didn’t realize I was doing it at all. Say nothing of the countless times during those three weeks where I’d get up to go to my car to buy something for lunch and nearly fainting in the parking lot (it was a far more regular occurrence than I want to admit even now).
So the appointment finally arrived. I was weak. I was a bone by comparison to how overweight I was before. Everything started to hurt. My blood tests were way off. My body was shutting down. I know that now. But then the operation came and removed the cancer – which appears from the pathology report was completely contained. So that’s a relief.
But now comes the part every cancer patient dreads … the chemo.
And here’s where it gets weird. They do these blood tests for cancer markers within the blood makeup. All of my numbers are within normal ranges, except for one. And it is slightly above the line in the sand they have for whether you can do outpatient chemo or you have to stay in the hospital on a drip for five days and then recuperate at home for 3 1/2 weeks. Guess which side of that little line I am on. Yeah – in-patient care. Needless to say I am fucking freaking out. My husband has been nothing but supportive as have the few friends and author pals I’ve told. For that I am extremely grateful.
But there are things in my life that I do to help others within the queer arts community. Chief amongst them is the Wrote Podcast. Y’all have no idea just how much time and effort it takes to put a podcast together and to keep it going. And it’s not like we’re getting paid for it. This is out of our love to promote others who write, sing, act, perform, sculpt, paint, etc about our queer lives. We want to champion them. But with my current state, I am having to pull back, leaving my co-host and co-producer Vance Bastian (who I can not ever come up with the words to describe what his involvement – both with the podcast and in my life – has meant to me. He is truly our superhero, our godsend and such a brilliant and caring man with a golden voice that could melt just about anything) to handle the podcast on his own. I’ll try to stay connected, but I’ve been told that energy will be a thing with me over the next four months while I go through the chemo.
Good news (if you can call anything remotely related to cancer – good) is that the success rate for my cancer is 97%. I’m clinging to that. That’s my light at the end of a very long and arduous tunnel I am facing now.
Silence = Death.
So while not totally the dramatic cause of the AIDS scare back in the 80s, I do see how that phrase means so much more to our community. It’s a bell-weather, a marker, a flare in the sky to remind us that we must be forever vigilant in keeping our voices out there. So while I step back, while I regroup and try to get better and hammer cancer back to the 9th level of hell where it came from, I call upon all of the authors, singers, queer content creators to step up and keep things rolling for Vance and Jayne while I find my way back to you all. Sign up for eps, encourage your author pals to do the same. Or if you know of singers, musicians, poets (GODS above, I would love to have a show on queer poetry), screenplay and playwrights – please get them to sign up for an episode.
With the current administration, we are at the precipice of our voices being silenced once more. And we can’t have that. We must not remain silent and think things will maintain the status quo. Because as I’ve learned from personal experience, you can’t remain silent. That silence might just very well spell death.
Until next time (and there WILL be one) …