AIDS Without Its Metaphors

"The result is less an explanatory guide to the gay early ’90s than an experiential re-visitation. The nonlinear structure ambushes the reader with visceral recollections, replicating the uncertainty and confusion that swirled around those years when death was everywhere (and especially in our heads), when “the sick” were often indistinguishable from “the healthy,” and when our own status could be unknown and unknowable for weeks at a time."

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What an HIV Prevention Pill Means for the Future of Gay Sex

"We may be standing on the verge of a major drop in new HIV infections—the first since 1990. This begs the question: Who are we without the AIDS crisis? Even if all new infections stopped today, AIDS would be a constant throughout our lifetime. But the crisis—the cavalcade of deaths and new infections that has for so long seemed unstoppable—can be ended."

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What 'The Normal Heart' Means Today

I was interviewed for a US News & World Report article by Tierney Sneed about the new HBO production of The Normal Heart. Read the entire article here.

Tim Miller lived only a few blocks from the The Public Theater in New York City when it debuted “The Normal Heart,” Larry Kramer’s monumental play about the AIDS crisis, in 1985. He vividly remembers seeing it.

“I don’t think there’s any performance I’ve seen of any play, opera, dance, whatever, as intense as those performances at The Public Theater,” says Miller, a gay performance artist. “People were afraid to go to ‘The Normal Heart’ at the Public because they might get AIDS at the theater.”
The play, set between 1981 and 1984, was nearly contemporaneous to the place the New York gay community found itself in when it premiered: only beginning to understand the AIDS epidemic. It follows a reluctant gay activist named Ned Weeks, who served as a stand-in for the work and proselytizing Kramer was doing, which included founding the Gay Men’s Health Crisis advocacy group. The audience witnesses Weeks confront skeptics, not only in the political and medical communities but in the gay community as well, about what's necessary to curb a disease killing gay men in New York by the hundreds.

“Literally, the feeling of people being fearful of being in the audience and sharing air is testament to why the piece was so important,” Miller says.

His experience likely will be very different from that of a new audience soon to be introduced to “The Normal Heart” – perhaps from their couches during a long weekend – when HBO premieres its adaptation Sunday evening. The film is directed by Ryan Murphy of “Glee” and “American Horror Story” fame, who had Kramer's participation in writing the screenplay. Early reviews have praised the film for emulating the emotional power – much of it brute anger – of the stage original. But that hasn’t stopped some from asking, "Why now?"

It's taken 30 years for “The Normal Heart” to make it to the screen in part due to the legal wrangling over the play’s rights and the funding of the project, which included a notorious falling out between Barbra Streisand and Kramer. Murphy eventually bought the rights which, in his words, cost "a pretty penny."

“There's no part of this film that doesn't feel absolutely relevant to now,” says Plan B Entertainment president Dede Gardner, one of the film's executive producers. “Whether it has to do with the particularities of this disease, which I think remains relevant today as it was then, to discussion of complacency on our watch and what we do about that, to its examination of what protests really look like.”

When it opened onstage in 1985, “The Normal Heart” electrified New York audiences and became The Public Theater's longest-running production.

“It was an opportunity not only to educate the people at risk about what was going on – and we knew very, very little – but also it became an opportunity to educate audiences who were themselves afraid of the people most impacted by this terrible epidemic: gay men,” says Therese Jones, director of the Arts and Humanities in Healthcare Program at the University of Colorado's Center for Bioethics and Humanities. She also teaches a course on AIDS and American culture. “It really in many ways accelerated what we saw was a cultural trend towards humanizing these early individuals and groups most affected by this terrible disease.”

Within 10 years, Tom Hanks had earned an Academy Award for playing a gay lawyer with HIV in the 1993 film “Philadelphia.”

But while “The Normal Heart” and “As Is” – the AIDS play that shortly preceded it – opened the door for a discussion of the epidemic in theater and the arts world at large, that discussion was not without its backlash, much of it coming from places as high as the federal government. For instance, a group of artists known as the NEA Four – of which Miller was a member – saw their National Endowment for the Arts grants pulled because the George H.W. Bush administration and other lawmakers objected to the way it dealt with AIDS and gay themes.  A Supreme Court case eventually sided with the artists.

“Tom Hanks won an Oscar 20 years ago. It didn’t mean we weren’t in the absolute peak of arts censorship in this country coming from the Bush White House,” Miller says. “The culture war is really a war on AIDS culture."

Likewise, the play itself was not always warmly received in other areas of the country. A 1989 production of “The Normal Heart” by Southwest Missouri State University drew the condemnation of state legislators, and the home of the president of the student group advocating for its production was burned down during a candlelight vigil for AIDS victims held on the play’s opening night.

Despite the anti-gay backlash, examinations of the lives of HIV/AIDS sufferers became more prevalent in mainstream pop culture – but even those weren't without their flaws.

“Hollywood did what Hollywood does, and that is overly romanticize [the crisis], or to display people with AIDS as tragic victims in the most insulting way,” says Mark S. King, an activist who blogs about having HIV, which he was diagnosed with in 1985, at My Fabulous Disease. “Why that may have been well-intentioned – I am thinking of ‘Philadelphia’ – it didn’t necessarily reflect the actual lives of those of us living with HIV. It either made us pathetic victims or spiritual martyrs of some sort."

According to Jones, the periods of AIDS art are often divided by the first generation – which was marked by terror, loss and a need to educate (and to which "The Normal Heart" belongs) – and the second generation, which was more political, in your face, and unapologetic about one’s sexuality. After the mid-1990s, treatment for HIV/AIDS improved significantly, and there was a notable decrease in major works produced about the epidemic.

Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in the darkest days of the early crisis. “Dallas Buyers Club” – about a Texas man’s efforts to bring to fellow HIV sufferers drugs that were illegal in the U.S. – won Oscars this year for its lead and supporting actors, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. In 2013, the Academy nominated the film “How to Survive a Plague,” about AIDS advocacy groups in the early years of the crisis, for best documentary feature.

“It’s almost like we’re stripping away the AIDS narrative of its romanticism and replacing it with a more clear-eyed vision of what it was like for us,” King says.

The filmmakers behind HBO’s “The Normal Heart” believe the adaptation will introduce that narrative to a whole new generation unaware of the terror surrounding AIDS at the time. Gardner says she showed a cut of the film to some of her younger friends, who came away "genuinely stunned.”

Likewise, Jones says her young medical students are “flabbergasted” when they study the play and other works from the early years.

“They’re extremely curious about this period," says Miller, who has taken young people to recent stage productions of "The Normal Heart." "It’s mysterious to them.”

One thing about the storyline that's not so mysterious now as it was 30 years ago is Ned’s insistence that members of the gay community embrace monogamous, stable relationships like their heterosexual counterparts.

“The thing that really jumps out to me now is what a marriage play it is,” Miller says. The film version also plays up this aspect of the original work.

Kramer’s views that the gay community should curb its promiscuity drew criticism, even as within the play he included characters that disagreed with Ned's views on the matter. Some chastised "The Normal Heart" for promoting a message they said ran counter to the gay liberation movement.

Nevertheless, much of the activism surrounding AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s has since shifted its heat toward same-sex marriage, and Kramer eventually got to legally marry his partner in 2013. (In a life-imitating-art moment, it was a hospital bedside wedding, just like the one between Ned and his lover, Felix, in the play.) Just this week, Oregon and Pennsylvania became the latest states where gay marriage has been legalized, bringing the current total to 19 in addition to the District of Columbia.

Even outside the context of the gay community’s struggle, supporters of the film believe “The Normal Heart” has relevance, particularly as other recent attempts to study the period have been criticized for whitewashing the hurdles advocates like Kramer faced during those years.

“The great thing about ‘The Normal Heart’ is that it shows that at the time, even the people who cared about these issues were conflicted," says Hugh Ryan, founding director of the New York-based Pop-Up Museum of Queer History and a freelance writer.

While the decision to bring “The Normal Heart” to HBO and how well it was adapted have been widely praised, there is one troubling thing about what it represents in terms of the current interest in that period of the epidemic. Those who are currently most affected by the disease – particularly African-Americans, who per the CDC saw nearly double the AIDS diagnoses of their white counterparts in 2011 – are not having their stories told.

“For those of us most involved in that particular struggle of the time, we were talking white gay men and relatively speaking, yes, we were gay, but we were also relatively privileged,” King says, adding that activists eventually got many of the things they were asking for, like the Ryan White CARE Act and other forms of government response.

But the groups now being hit hardest by HIV have not been so lucky.

“One of my real worries is that by focusing on AIDS of the past versus AIDS of today, you sidestep a lot of issues of race and class,” Ryan says. "We don’t talk enough about AIDS in this country in communities that aren’t white gay men. And we don’t get enough stories from those perspectives. When we do talk about it, it’s statistics about black women. It’s not their lives.”

There are some arts projects – like the web documentary series “Dirty 30,” which focuses on how HIV/AIDS is now affecting black women – that attempt to correct that deficiency.

“As always in our beautiful, screwed up country, it’s these giant steps forward we make at the same time we are being dragged backwards,” Miller says. “And that's the tension that’s there in the play.”

“Dirty 30”: Talking AIDS To The Basketball Wives Set

First published on The Daily Beast, February 16, 2014. Read the original, with video, here.

The statistics are upsetting and well known. Despite an encouraging recent drop in transmission rates, black women still represent two-thirds of all new HIV infections among women. In fact, they are 20 times more likely to seroconvert than white women—a greater level of disparity than ever before. The cavalcade of AIDS anniversaries over the last few years has spawned a corresponding interest in producing museum exhibits, documentaries, and feature films about the early years of the crisis. But with a few notable exceptions (Frontline’s “Endgame: AIDS In Black America;” Precious; Tyler Perry’s despicable Temptation), there has been no similar rush to tell the stories of the (black, female) face of the modern epidemic.

Hannelore Williams, filmmaker, actor, and creator of the new docu-series “Dirty 30,” is hoping to change that.

“My target demographic are the people who watch ‘Basketball Wives’,” Williams says with a laugh, which I’ve learned means she’s about to say something darkly honest. “Or let’s just be real—people who don’t want to talk about HIV.”

Like the hundred or so people around the globe that Williams has interviewed, I find it easy to talk to her about HIV/AIDS. She’s relaxed, cool, confident, and quick to laugh about difficult things. Indeed, she ends every interview for “Dirty 30” by asking her subjects to “tell their favorite AIDS joke.”

As with many working on the epidemic, Williams has a personal connection to the crisis: her sister’s father passed away due to AIDS-related complications. But it wasn’t until years later, when she was preparing to volunteer at Nkosi’s Haven, a center for destitute HIV-positive mothers, children and AIDS orphans in Johannesburg, South Africa, that that connection hit home. “How am I flying across the globe,” she found herself wondering, “and I didn’t even go across the country to be with my sister” when her father died?

Williams was in South Africa to do arts education with children, but the women of Nkosi’s Haven were so similar to women she had known her whole life that she was drawn to work with them as well. She taught them to use her camera and let them turn the lens on their own lives. In so doing, she became hyperaware of all the ways in which black women—in the U.S. and around the world—were lacking opportunities to talk about AIDS. Quickly it became an obsession.

“It was a hurricane coming at me from the far west,” Williams says with a distant look in her eyes, discussing that feeling. “Once you start to look at this pandemic there's no way you would ever turn your back.”

There was just one problem: At the time, Williams didn’t know much about HIV. She realized, however, that the journey to knowledge was the story she had to tell. So she put her life on hold, borrowed two cameras, and spent six months traveling the world gathering footage. “I'm learning about this from the standpoint that most Americans are,” she says, “which is not knowing, or sort of knowing, but easily sweeping it under the rug.”

Far from being limiting, this acknowledgement allowed her to make a series that speaks directly to the epidemic as it is today. In “Dirty 30,” there are no ponderous attempts to chart the entire history of the crisis in order to set the scene. Instead, AIDS is treated simply as a fact of life—something we all know about, even if we don’t talk about it. And from New York to Baton Rouge, from Cape Town to Paris, Williams’ goal is to get people talking.

“It's not Hanne telling you jack shit about anything!” she laughs, when I ask if she’s worried about the responsibility that comes with approaching such a fraught issue from a place of relative ignorance. “I’m creating a platform for somebody else to talk.”

And that platform is, in a word, slick. Stylistically, “Dirty 30” feels more akin to a music video than a typical AIDS documentary, with beautiful shots of foreign cities, quick-cut motion graphics, and “featured artists” whose R&B tracks provide the backbeat to the show. Currently, Williams is meeting with commercial brands that might want to underwrite the series, and networks and other media platforms that might give it a home. She’s planned 16 episodes, with topics like “Monogamy & Sexual Healing,” and “Drugs & Escapism.”

“There are sexy issues tied to this pandemic,” she says unapologetically. By exploring them, she hopes to attract a young audience that doesn’t often tune in for stodgy healthcare PSAs—and therefore might need them most.

Williams acknowledges that aspects of the series might seem triggering at first, like using the word dirty in the title. But she says her choices have been informed by her subjects, and that she’s backed away from topics—like AIDS conspiracy theories—that her interviews led her to believe wouldn’t further a real conversation about the crisis. Still, she’s not afraid to talk about difficult issues. “If you try to talk about stigma and don’t actually put it out there,” she says, “what are we talking about? Bullshit. Lies.”

Although the show looks at the crisis through the lens of black womanhood, Williams is adamant about including diverse subjects and experiences in her frame. To her, it’s simple: “You can't talk about black women in the context of AIDS without talking about everybody else at the same time.” AIDS, which was once considered a niche disease, is now as much a part of the fabric of our lives as cotton.

At the moment, “Dirty 30” is in production, but even now Williams can’t stop. While I’m interviewing her, she’s setting up an additional shoot in Toronto. She doesn’t know yet where the show will end up, but she’s certain it will find a home, and she’s already begun planning more episodes.

“Not even one season of a show,” she says, shaking her head with a mixture of sadness and reflection, “could address all of the issues tied to this pandemic.”

We Can End AIDS Without a Cure

First published in Slate, November 29, 2013. Read the original here.

This Dec. 1, as we mark yet another World AIDS Day without a cure, a vaccine, or an intelligently interdependent global response to the crisis, I’d like to propose a thought experiment based on a radical—yet commonsense—proposition: We can end AIDS without a cure for AIDS.

After all, we have learned ways to prevent transmission between mother and child, discovered drugs that bring the viral load down to undetectable levels, and placed a critical understanding of sexual health in the hands of (some of) those who need it most. With proper funding and political will, these advantages can be replicated in every population, in every country, in every corner of the globe. Incurable is not unbeatable—as we already know from polio and smallpox.

So why haven’t we beaten AIDS? Clearly, it’s not because we don’t need to. In the United States alone, an estimated 1.2 million people are living with HIV. Globally, it’s around 35.3 million people. For one reason or another—because they are black or brown, gay or transgender, drug users or sex workers, and overwhelmingly because they are poor and disenfranchised—the life-or-death needs of these people do not dictate global policy or move world markets. Because AIDS has from its very beginning been a disease of the marginalized, we have allowed it to spread like a weed through the cracks in our society. Inaction, more than transmission, is at issue here. HIV causes AIDS, yes, but the AIDS crisis is caused by stigma, oppression, discrimination, and apathy. The virus is not our biggest enemy—we are.

And here, the thought experiment begins.

Currently, the popular understanding of HIV/AIDS is that it is a disease that affects certain “high-risk groups”: gay men, for instance, or black women. To be sure, rates of infection among these groups are disproportionately high, as any number of depressing statistics show. According to recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 30,000 men who have sex with men (MSMs) contracted HIV in 2010—up a significant 12 percent from 2008. While infection rates among black women seem to have fallen recently, they are still 20 times higher than those of white women. Such strong correlations between racial or sexual identities and infection rates suggest that this model is informative, that it is an accurate way to understand the AIDS crisis.

But these statistics conceal as much as they seem to reveal. In three distinct ways, the “risk group” approach to conceptualizing HIV actually impedes efforts to end the crisis. First, it pathologizes all people within a broad category, regardless of their actual sero-status or real likelihood of contracting HIV. Under this simplistic rubric, all gay men or black women or injection drug users are treated as likely sources of infection.

Second, this approach diminishes our ability to properly understand and target the real vectors for the disease by hiding them inside nearly useless categories. After all, there is nothing inherent to being a black woman that makes one more likely to contract HIV. It is the social position of black womanhood in our society that puts these women at risk, not their identities.

Third, by leading us to believe that these broad groupings have some causal relationship to HIV infection, this model limits our understanding of the crisis to our local context. Because we are actually dealing with correlation, not causation, these groupings do not have the same relationship to HIV in other places. Efforts to work globally—or even in different communities in America—will always be hampered by our own preconceived notions of who is and is not at risk.

But what if we flipped the lens? What if we focused more on marginalization (and its real-world effects) and less on identities? What if we understood AIDS not as a disease affecting certain types of people, but rather, as a disease that affects those living at the intersection of a constellation of conditions, such as poverty, lack of access to education, inadequate health care, stigmatized sexual practices, drug and alcohol abuse (legal or illegal), and political disenfranchisement?

This would not only reduce the stigmatization of identity groups with high rates of HIV infection, it would also allow us to tailor our health remedies to those who really are most at-risk. For example, in a further breakdown of that statistic regarding rates of infection among MSMs, the CDC notes that the numbers of new infections among white and black MSMs were almost identical—despite the fact that non-Latino whites represent 63 percent of the U.S. population and blacks only 12 percent. Additionally, the greatest number of infections was seen in the youngest age group. Again and again, it is those who sit at the intersection of marginalized identities—those with the least social capital and political agency—who are most at risk. We must discard generic categorical bromides in favor of health remedies targeted to their specific needs.

Further, this way of understanding the crisis would turn our attention away from prevention models based solely on behavioral change, which studies have shown are often difficult to enact in real life. Though it is tempting to isolate a single action or inaction that could stem the tide of infection, in truth, we are complex social animals whose behaviors arise from our specific circumstances and experiences. Thus, without broader contextual shifts, our actions tend to be change resistant.

For example, behavioral models routinely admonish young women with little education, no access to health care, and a cultural lack of sexual agency to make difficult decisions in highly sexual situations. In an (oversimplified) metaphor, it’s like telling someone to use a condom every time they have sex—without considering where they will get the condom, who their partners are, how they will negotiate safer sex acts, what the word sex means to them, and so on. A more successful (and, to be blunt, fair) approach would be to ensure that these women are empowered to enter these situations with adequate support, knowledge, and decision-making agency—things marginalized groups often lack. This requires HIV prevention efforts that also work to create political power for marginalized groups; address issues of poverty and social justice; help individuals find or prepare for meaningful employment, housing, and health care; address mental health issues—efforts, in effect, that address a client’s life circumstances as a whole. Many, many on-the-ground service providers already work in this kind of model. But this is a long and slow process, which requires support from an informed populace and a government that sees the vital connection between civil rights, community empowerment, and HIV/AIDS.

By focusing on marginalization, not identity or behavior, we could begin to address the root causes of inequality that leave certain members of our society more at risk for experiencing any negative life or health outcome, AIDS included.

If we can stop AIDS and have chosen not to, the hard truth is that it is because certain lives don’t seem worth saving: They would cost too much, or have brought it upon themselves, or aren’t our concern, or don’t even exist in our worldview. And this is what needs to change. Until we see every life as equal, we will never end AIDS.

Being a Queer Writer: Talking With Hugh Ryan

I was interviewed on October 22nd, 2013 by Edge, about being a queer writer. Read the original (with photos) here.

Nearly a decade ago, Hugh Ryan needed to make a career choice between artist or writer. Wisely he chose writing. Since then he’s become one of the most published LGBT (or ’queer,’ as he prefers) writers in print and the web. EDGE spoke to Ryan about his passion for writing (and being queer).

Back in 2004, while leisurely wandering the streets of Berlin, Hugh Ryan realized that he had a decision to make. He had been in the German capital three months, and had yet to settle on his next career move. Ryan refused to entertain the notion of a career that didn’t allow him to travel or work in his pyjamas - a resolve that permitted two, rather bohemian options: artist or writer. Fast forward nearly ten years, and with numerous writing and editing credits to his name, it is clear that Ryan made the right decision. After all, he is, by his own admission, "a terrible artist."
Indeed, Ryan’s resume boasts experience in a number of genres: from travel reporting, to entertainment journalism, to ghost writing children’s books - he is a versatile, concise and engaging writer. At the heart of his work, however, is a dedication to the issue of social justice for queer subjects. Edge caught up with Ryan to discuss his blossoming career, LGBT issues and writing for the New York Times.

 

Hugh Ryan

Being pigeonholed?

EDGE: So let’s start with some background - how did you get started? I know you completed a stint here at EDGE early in your career!

Hugh Ryan: Yeah, it feels kind of nice to be on the other side of an EDGE interview! (laughs) And well I’d always loved writing, but I never thought it would be a viable career option! Even as a kid I was very practical. I went to school originally for human development, and then I switched majors about 19 times and ended up as a feminist studies major. And it was only after a couple of years spent working as a youth worker and social worker that I decided that type of work wasn’t what I wanted to do, even though I thought it was very important work. So I took some time away from everything - I quit my job and moved to Berlin, Germany with my friend for four months. I spent all of my days walking around the city doing nothing, and by the third month I realized that I had to start doing something! (laughs) And I realized I wanted a job that enabled me to work in my pyjamas and explore the world, and that only really left two options: artist or writer. Of course I am a terrible artist, so the choice became easy - I settled on writer!

EDGE: You are an openly gay writer, and as with any "gay writer," there is the risk of becoming pigeonholed and restricted by that label. Is the term "gay writer" something you embrace, or do you find it limiting and frustrating?

Hugh Ryan: I embrace it 100 percent. I think there is the assumption that the mainstream media’s effort to ghettoize you or pigeonhole you is always necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t agree with that. I found very early on in my writing career that a lot of my stuff was very focused on the personal side of my life, and that necessitated being a ’gay’ writer (That said, I don’t love the label ’gay’. It isn’t a bad term, but I prefer to be known as a ’queer writer’) And then from there I always knew I had an interest in queer history and queer communities, and all of that led to me writing more and more about queer issues - issues which I felt I had a wealth of personal expertise and a wealth of personal knowledge that I had gained over the years.

 

Hugh Ryan

Not exclusive

EDGE: What are, arguably, the common themes in your work? I notice a focus on queer social justice, and social justice in general?

Hugh Ryan: Oh definitely- I think queer social justice is definitely at the heart of it, because that is the place where I know the most, and I have the most connections. I think it is a place where I can give the most back to the conversation. That said, I don’t write exclusively about queer issues. I am also a travel writer, restaurant critic and ghost writer etc. I have also written about social justice issues concerning other minorities. For example, I wrote recently about racism on reality television, but that is more from the perspective of a viewer. With queer social justice, well that is a topic I know intimately, so the criticism comes from a more personal place.

EDGE: You mentioned earlier that you write in other mediums - you are a travel writer and a copy editor for example. Is there a medium that you prefer working in? Or is there an equal balance?

Hugh Ryan: That is a tough call! I love the personal essays, and creative non-fiction. I love issues concerning poetics and the mechanisms of language, and I think the creative pieces are the areas where I really shine. I also really love writing kids’ books! I have worked as a ghost writer on a number of children’s books.

EDGE: Are you allowed to name those books?

Hugh Ryan: (laughs) No I am not unfortunately!! But I can tell you that they are well known and cherished books! I will admit that I wasn’t the originator of that series - I was extending someone else’s vision. That said, it was certainly exciting and rewarding.

 

Hugh Ryan

A queer context

EDGE: You recently penned an incisive critique for the New York Times about the "AIDS in New York: The First Five Years" exhibit that recently closed at the New-York Historical Society. And I certainly agreed with you when you posited that "bad history has consequences." Indeed, it is often the case that historical narratives work to uphold the values of the dominant culture, and are therefore less inclusive of marginalized voices. So I want to ask you, if you were given license to overhaul the exhibit, what changes would you implement to make it more balanced and inclusive?

Hugh Ryan: That’s a great question! I would start by working with people who know a lot about the subject. Because, for example, so much of my writing has been inspired, influenced and enriched by talking to lots of different people. So with queer issues, it is important to start by talking to the queer community, because there is so much knowledge there concerning our collective history. It has been kept and recorded by queer people, and I think that is something we shouldn’t forget in our rush to record and present our history for a mainstream audience. It is incredibly important that we do record and make note of our history, and that it features in mainstream venues, but I think it needs to start from a queer place.

For me, also, I think there was maybe too much of a focus on the medical response to AIDS in the exhibit, and less of a focus on the personal side of the epidemic. I would also critically revise the curatorial pose: the director said they were aiming for ’neutrality’, and ultimately I think ’neutrality’ is non-existent, and I think the idea that something can be ’neutral’ is dangerous and destructive. I think we need to acknowledge and embrace the fact that AIDS is situated within a queer context.

EDGE: You are fascinated with queer history, but what are your thoughts on the current state of the global LGBT rights movement? This past summer has witnessed some monumental gains and crippling setbacks - for example the attainment of marriage equality in the UK and France was overshadowed by the enactment of anti-LGBT legislation in Russia.

Hugh Ryan: I think that the longer queer issues are in the public realm, and are talked about, the more complicated they become. I am interested in the way that "queerness," as a lived identity, has changed over time in this world, for different types of people. I think progress is measured differently for certain groups within the LGBT community. So for example, take the issue of gay marriage, I support it 100 percent and I think it is important that people have access to that institution.

However, I certainly don’t think it is the most important or pressing issue, because there are transgendered people, for example, who face violence and work place discrimination on a daily basis just for being themselves. And there is still very little, if any, legal protection for them. So I certainly think there are more significant issues that I want to see the queer community as a whole rallying around. I do think worldwide the picture varies between different countries, and I wish I had more knowledge about that. In this country, though, I would argue that the general picture is improving, despite the fact that we still have a long way to go.

EDGE: And have you encountered any struggle or discrimination in your career due to your sexual orientation?

Hugh Ryan: I may have. I have definitely had moments where I pitched articles about LGBT issues, and I have had publishers refuse because their respective publications have never dealt with queer concerns. But I like writing for publications in this niche community, because we have our own stories. To offer an example, when the Chelsea Manning story came out, and it was revealed that she was in the process of transitioning, I had people in the mainstream media ask me "wow did you know?" And I was like "of course I knew", because it was a queer story, and I had already heard about it - it was a story pertinent to our community. So I guess in other words, being in a niche community can certainly help you in this business!

For more information on Hugh, visit visit his web page.