I hadn’t even tested HIV positive when I wrote “intimacies,” a solo performance piece, that premiered at Highways Performance Space almost 30 years ago. The work exploded from a pen that overflowed with grief, fear, misunderstanding, rage, confusion, hurt and longing far more than it was written with any learned writerly skills.
It was over a year ago when I learned that “prostate cancer” would be added to my resume of diseases, not entirely unpredictable for a gay man who fits my profile—but nonetheless disconcerting for a father and an activist-artist whose political and personal stances are amalgamated in a way that I have chosen to keep solidly engaged no matter how challenging or heartbreaking the results might be.
Before “intimacies,” I was an actor with a sliver of wokeness about LGBT rights but my “life’s work” was not a consideration until a “blueprint” appeared, bloodied and soaking wet with tears. As I read between the besotted lines, I foresaw—as a gay man with a supple, burgeoning consciousness—a grand design afire that would heat my choices.
Almost overnight, the sex in our sexuality became the stuff of American headlines and I felt compelled to keep the fire in my bones alive; pages of plays and books of poetry, traversing centuries aflame would provide kindling to illuminate, not extinguish, our authentic artistic zeal. Scores of operas and choreographers’ notes became a bonfire of our future outpourings.
Today, no matter what comes my way—prostate cancer, anyone?—there is an immediate reaction to uncover the drama in it; excavate for a pulse.
Men who have sex with men respond differently to day-to-day life than men who identify as heterosexual—whether those aspects of their daily functionality are related to things sexual or not. While prostate cancer is not a sexually transmitted disease, it can be an embarrassing one, and potentially winds up in the same bed of avoidance or even denial as HIV/AIDS.
Both diseases are killers. Got that? Maybe? Maybe not so much?
Talking heads: “But I’ve had to deal with AIDS all these years.” “I can’t take any more medications.” “Huh? Lose my sex drive?” “I’m taking Prep and I have a healthy sex life—you think I’m gonna let a new disease fuck it up?”
The facts, man: Prostate cancer is a disease that usually occurs in men over 50 in which the prostate, a small walnut-shaped organ that contributes fluid to semen and helps expel semen during ejaculation, begins growing abnormally. In order to manage the unwanted growth (which causes a number of ailments, including frequent and/or unexpected urination), a variety of treatments are available based on (among other things) the aggressiveness of the disease. Left untreated, the cancer can insidiously move to the bones and then skies of blue turn unremittingly gray. Did I mention E.D.? Erectile dysfunction for those of you not needing little blue pills. With determination, you’ll ingest so much Viagra that a tour with the Blue Man Group will become inevitable.
If you are exhibiting any symptoms (difficulty with starting to pee, yo-yo urinating in the night, blood in semen or urine), go to your doctor for the defining finger-fucking action and take it from there.
I have not even played a medical doctor on TV but I understand the emotional currents of fear; the same fear that paralyzed much of our community in the nascent days of the AIDS crisis. If speaking to your doctor, your family, your partner(s), or your friends about what occurs Down There is shrouded in half-truths or blatant denials, you are endangering yourself. This is where the similarities between being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and prostate cancer collide.
If you have not accepted who you are as a gay man, including the unique sexual mysteries that your body reveals to you, you are putting yourself in jeopardy.
Silence still equals death, honey.
Compared to our het bros, the challenges presented by prostate cancer are heightened for gay men, yes, but do we cave into the victimization we’ve been fighting to vanquish since Stonewall? Or do we, collectively and individually, take each moment (whether its prostate cancer or another unexpected jolt that invades our expectations) to look hard at our lives?
Aside from the most obvious—loss of feeling as a receptive bottom–you may need to hire a choreographer to reconfigure the nuts-and-bolts (sorrrrrry) of your sexual gymnastics that had played like a Cirque de Soleil act. And if you’re not happy unless your virile jizz shoots and lands in a different zip code, serious adjustment is in order.
I was determined to create a new piece of theater starring prostate cancer that would give gay men and our allies an opportunity to eavesdrop on fleeting moments of my experiences thus far.
My mission (theatrical and political)—especially the writing—is virtually dictated by my libido and it always has been. But what identity will guide me now? Am I still gay if I’ve lost my libido? I’m sixty-eight years old and feel abandoned, not entirely myself.
But something (that same something that resulted in intimacies almost thirty years ago) is leading me to write: “MENoir, Has Anybody Seen My Libido?” premiers on Friday, May 19 at Highways, along with Dave Trudell’s “One Of These Daves,” under the umbrella title of “Two Pieces of Work.” The performance is repeated on Saturday, also at Highways, to celebrate their 29th birthday. Further info and tickets can be found here. Hope you can come.