I was working on the High School paper back in my senior year in 1986 when I first heard about “gay cancer.” This was just after I had gone to a retreat with some of my peers and had my first kiss with another guy after we’d walked off together into the heavily wooded snow covered landscape. We nearly froze to death for a moment of privacy. I think I played the Beatle’s “Norwegian Wood” for months after that.
Gay Cancer gave way to HIV/AIDS as I progressed through college joining groups like ACTUP! It was a time period dominated by death and fear. This fear put a chill on what should have been a freely open creative sexual explosion for all of us. Instead it chilled and dampened all that as we heard of our fathers generation being decimated in no short order and watched our peers contract the disease and wither away.
We were left with far too few guides as young men. But I was lucky to have two. One named Nick Felt and another named Tom Johnson. These guys were best friends having met in the early 70’s on the OSU campus. They’d gone through everything young men go experience together dreams, delusions, heartbreaks and adventures. When I met them at the age of 22 they were in their late 30’s. Together they helped me to navigate part of my young life as a gay man. Gave me comfort and guidance almost like older brothers if not parents in a way.
Tom ran ashore of his career and ended up underemployed for the latter part of his life while at the same time having been confirmed to have HIV. Without the benefit of today’s drugs, health insurance or a good job he began to steadily fold in on himself. It was heart breaking to watch and I’ll never forget the way that Nick struggled with him as a friend through all of this.
As a heart attack survivor myself my mantra for why I run is “I run because someday I won’t be able to… but today is not that day.”
I am running the 2017 Dr. Robert J. Fass Memorial AIDS Walk Central Ohio for Tom. I’m also running to support the idea that we should not be afraid to have sex. No one should be afraid to experience life in all sorts of infinite embraces. Believe me, life is short… make love and have fun together. Or as my old friend Rob Wagner, another buddy of mine who had HIV, said to me when I was struggling with depression in my early 30’s “go outside and look up at the sky and feel the sun beating down on your shoulders and know that everything will be OK.”