There have been nearly 20,000 AIDS deaths in San Francisco. Compare that to the estimated 3,000 who died in S.F.'s 1906 earthquake (or the 63 in 1989's Loma Prieta quake). Maybe that's why writer / organizer Kirk Read named this upcoming reading series about AIDS "The Biggest Quake."
The impact of the epidemic on S.F.—to say nothing of the national and global impact—has been larger than any natural or political disaster. But as a subject of public conversation, art and media, AIDS mostly vanished after new drugs turned it from a death sentence into condition managed with meds. With three documentaries released in the last year—We Were Here, How to Survive a Plague and United in Anger—the topic is back. It's about time. We need to understand and explore what we went through and where we are now.
For The Biggest Quake—in San Francisco, June 14, 15 & 16—eight of us* have been meeting to talk about AIDS and HIV—the history, the state of things, the future—exploring new ideas and trying to break free of the clichés of politics and public health campaigns. We're a varied group—by age, gender, sero-status and attitude. (See us on video.) Some remember a time before AIDS existed and others never knew life without it. I fall in the middle: I was in high school the first time I heard about "gay cancer"; just a few years later, I was certain it would kill me before I was thirty.
My own development as a writer began right after college when I got involved with the protest group ACT UP. I feel like I've been writing about AIDS my whole life, but mostly in the background: as a fear, a threat, something to avoid. I'm near completion now on a novel about my ACT UP years, writing at last directly into the experience. The Biggest Quake has given me a chance to explore this material more deeply, and to start a new essay about a sexual adulthood spent in relationship to AIDS—that ever-changing, inescapable reality.
If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, please come to one of these free readings. These three nights promise to be stirring and sad and funny and infuriating and nostalgic and conversation-starting.