On Monday December 2nd, Eric Marcus, historian, author and podcaster spoke to the staff of God’s Love We Deliver to mark World AIDS Day. Marcus has made a career of asking questions and highlighting important LGBTQ voices, many of which are voices that would otherwise be lost to history or obscured by prejudice. His intimate interviews and research are thoughtful, iconic and highly recommended. This talk however, was uncharacteristically personal for Marcus. He didn’t begin by discussing others, rather he opened up about his own experience in NYC in the 80’s. Marcus told us that he doesn’t usually talk personally about the early days of the epidemic; he doesn’t like to remember. After a pause, he continued, “but I’m only doing what I ask others to do.”
Marcus started by projecting a picture of himself in 1981. He had a mustache that he laughed at upon seeing on the screen; “they were big back then.” 1981 is an important year; it’s the year The New York Times first published a short article about a rare cancer affecting gay men. There was no test until 1985. Marcus himself did not get tested until early November 1988, at which point he was already working on his Making Gay History book. He went in for his test at a public health clinic in Chelsea. It took three weeks back then to get the results, so just before Thanksgiving he returned to the clinic. Sitting with a social worker in a small room, he was told that he was HIV-negative. He said that he’d assumed he was positive and just about fainted from relief when he got the good news.
Despite his own negative results, Marcus’s world was being shaped and damaged by HIV. He witnessed and recorded the illness and the loss of a generation. On Monday he shared recordings from interviews with Vito Russo, Larry Kramer, Morty Manford, and Tom Cassidy. Marcus talked about what it meant to sit down with each of these men, some of them not yet sick at the time of their interviews. Morty Manford was worried he would be forgotten to history. Tom Cassidy, once a star business anchor at CNN is long forgotten, even at CNN.
Marcus reflected at the end of his talk that at this point in his life, he feels a drive to share his own story, even though he has avoided doing so for so long. “As much as I would like not to remember. I can’t forget.”
World AIDS Day at God’s Love is always solemn. We have lost so many of our friends, neighbors, clients, loves to this disease which continues to take lives, even as treatment, prevention, and diagnosis has become so much better. We will continue to be there for our clients living with HIV until we have finally ended the virus in America and around the world.