Queer books you may not have read: Part Six

December 1, 2012 § 3 Comments

Today being World AIDS Day, I thought I would pick a book that I suspect  many older readers of this blog will have read – but I know too many my age or younger will not have. Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic –  one of the most extraordinary works of non-fiction I’ve ever encountered.


It’s been thirteen years since I started working in LGBTI activism, and it very often makes me feel older than I actually am. Between youth groups, conferences, London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, university politics, community outreach, fundraising, a person would think that they’d get used to the apathy and ignorance surrounding HIV, AIDS and safer sex on the queer scene – but I never have. It shocks me to the very core to hear so many young queer people believing and repeating sophistries such as ‘there’s no point in using a condom for oral’, ‘nobody uses dental dams for rimming – rimming’s safe’, ‘you can’t get STIs from women’, ‘you can tell by looking at someone’s cock, right?’. The only way to keep going, for me, is to trust in the importance of education – and knowledge of the beginnings of the epidemic, the criminal behaviour of governments in suppressing funding, information and care, the courage and tenacity of activists fighting for treatment and respect, and the details of the many beautiful, wonderful people lost is something that we all need.


and the band played on


When Larry Kramer checked his mail on one of his trips back from Cape Cod, he found five letters…The fifth letter was the announcement of a memorial service for a friend who had just died of AIDS. He was the thirty-second friend of Larry’s who had succumbed to the syndrome.

                GMHC was having a hard time selling tickets for its latest Madison Square Garden fund-raiser, so a private donor took out a full-page Village Voice ad and asked Larry to write a plea for support…After writing the appeal, Larry traveled to Little Washington, Virginia, where he was polishing his play, still not sure what he should call it. “City of Death,” his first idea, was too depressing, he decided. One night, perusing a book of W.H. Auden’s poetry, Larry found the perfect title in the classic poem “September, 1939.” He’d call his play “The Normal Heart”, he decided, from the verses:

What mad Nijinsky wrote 

About Diaghilev

Is true of the normal heart;

For the error bred in the bone

Of each woman and each man

Craves what it cannot have,

Not universal love

But to be loved alone…

And no one exists alone;

Hunger allows no choice

To the citizen or the police;

We must love one another or die.”


Good for: Everyone. Absolutely everyone. Get a copy and bother all your friends until they’ve read it too.


Bad for: See above.


Goes with: Knowing your status, stocking up on all the safer sex supplies (condoms, more condoms, dams, more dams, gloves, lubricant), and being the change you want to see in the world. Seriously.


§ 3 Responses to Queer books you may not have read: Part Six

  • I’m going to order a copy of this *right now*. Thank you!

  • Drew says:

    Glad to read your opening sentence, CN, as a near fity year old I raised an eyebrow at your title, thinking this to be perhaps the one queer book that many of my generation would have read.

    Less glad to read the remainder of course, it is chilling that young people are so much at risk from their own sense of immmortality, and media sexualisation of everything, apparently without any wager being called.

    Back in the scary days of 1986 we used to say the problem is you have to win every time, Aids only has to win once…

    Be safe and well.

  • Obviously I’m doing my bibliography. But I’m also stealing that poem.

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