Sean Monahan and Jordan Richman present ‘How We Survive A Plague’, a celebration of their creative community, and a striking cultural analysis – where are we now, and where do we go from here?
“This report was born out of friends coming together, checking in with each other and sharing our inspirations, nightmares, thirst traps, and humour to get through this very challenging time,” says Jordan Richman. The ‘We’ in “How We Survive A Plague” is our creative community that collaborated with us on these images representing our surreal realities, fantasies, and isolation. Artists propose solutions to the problems that the government, media, and tech can’t solve. This project is about learning from these imaginative creators how to not only survive, but hopefully even thrive through the pandemic.”
Contributions: Mirko Borsche, Colin Dodgson, Talia Chetrit, Noen Eubanks, Sylvie Fleury, Andrea Ámez, Nicole Fitch, Grimes/War Nymph, Inge Grognard, Yola Jimenez, Emilie Kareh, Thomas Lohr, Glenn Martens, Bjarne Melgaard, Andy Morin, Sharna Osborne, Caroline Polachek, Puppies Puppies (Jade Kuriki Olivo), Torbjørn Rødland, Andre Walker, Kandis Williams, Niklas Bildstein Zaar and Slavoj Zizek.
Cover image: Jon Rafman
PART ONE: THE LOST WORLD
We don’t know. Or to be more precise, we don’t know quite how much we don’t know. We’re at Chateau Marmont. Coronavirus is a topic. But then again, I overhear people talking about drug dealers sold out of cocaine and Super Tuesday and too much painting at Frieze and how New Yorkers don’t get LA. It’s Andre’s party, he’s given the entire hotel to White Cube. The bar is open. People reach around you with greasy fingers to snatch yet another Impossible™ slider.
A friend, a curator, grabs me and shoves me in front of a billionaire insisting we’ve met before and she must remember me. She feigns recognition, but it’s clear she has no idea who I am. It’s not insulting. I remember walking around Manhattan years ago, some humid summer night, when he confided that securing an introduction to her had been more difficult than meeting the French culture minister.
My friend disappears into the churn around the bar and I am left dancing with the billionaire. I ask how she is doing. She’s polite, but disinterested. When she dances away to chat with an artist with severe plastic surgery, I am not offended. Friends lost in the crowd trickle down to the dancefloor, friends from London, Mexico City, Taipei.
One who only wears Hanes and archival Prada is grinding with another dressed like Heidi – the most hallowed Hollywood tradition has always been kitsch. Diplo is standing nearby staring at them, licking his lips. He doesn’t look like himself; no slick sharkskin suit, no clean cropped head. His hair is stringy and long and he has a beard. He’s wearing a ‘drug rug’ poncho. And like every other scumbro at the party, he’s wearing his sunglasses at night.
"FUCK THE PAIN AWAY”
Peaches comes on – “Fuck the Pain Away”. Everyone crowds the DJ booth. Cigarettes are lit. The pretence of the bathroom is dropped as keys pass through the dancefloor. Someone slips a wet finger up a friend’s ass. The hits keep coming: Felix Da Housecat, Alan Braxe, Fred Falke. Things we would’ve called French House circa 2005. It’s the sonic version of the lurking twenty-somethings I’d seen on Sunset earlier in the week outside the Jeffrey Deitch party at old Spago. All of them with a unisex fashion mullet and flared jeans tight on androgynous hips. Their style icon is seemingly Jesse Camp.
There’s something satisfying about finally being old enough for young people to mythologise your childhood. They lionise the past because the present is shit and to be honest, the future seems like it is going to be even shittier. I remember Y2K, 9/11, Iraq, Bush, Katrina, the Great Recession, so I sympathise. Their list of incantations is likely different: #OWS, #BLM, Trump, Paris, Parkland… looking around Chateau, I suspect the new teen rockers are shimmying nearby. When the world is burning, you dance.
At Chateau, we probably knew more about the encroaching pandemic than we were letting on, nervously chattering about cancelled fashion and art shows in Hong Kong and Shanghai. But we were high on more dangerous drugs: money, status, power. The things which are impolite to talk about, but are the deepest motivators of human behaviour. In the following weeks, shops would begin running out of hand sanitiser first, then masks, then toilet paper, and food. Those able to flee abroad to Canada, Australia, or Germany would. We would lock ourselves indoors. Schools, offices and factories would shutter. Screens would be our only window into the outside world.
And something terrifying would become apparent: everyone knew and nobody cared.
PART TWO: 45 DAYS LATER
There has been a torrent of Corona-content. So much dead on arrival, already behind the curve that we are having so much trouble flattening. All of it pointing out our cultural pathology to post first, think later. All of it attributable to an incentive structure where being first matters more than being right. The hot take, the clapback, and the virtue signal are all a question of timing. Sending the right tweet, sharing the right story, doing it at the exact right moment in the media cycle to maximise both impressions and engagement.
It’s a logic we’ve all internalised, but unfortunately, since the social concept of virality is so new, we haven’t had time to really assess its negative externalities. We live in a time where one day, our shoutiest friend is insisting “LISTEN TO EXPERTS!!! MASKS DON’T WORK!!!!!” and the next giving us a DIY tutorial for making one out of a jock strap. Being constantly concerned with striking while the iron is hot creates an odd social amnesia. Do these people even realise how absurd their self-confident pronouncements sound?
“Since the social concept of virality is so new, we haven’t had time to really assess its negative externalities”
There’s always a new party-line to parrot – just check the trending bar. Trump knows this. Reality has become episodic. Each day has a new set of scandals, each scandal more terrible than the last. Our leaders look like con-artists (see: WeWork), paedophiles and rapists (see: US presidential candidates), and incompetent imbeciles (see: literally every fucking one). And for so long, we could distract ourselves with our lives and our work. We could comfort ourselves with the convenient lie that we live in a meritocracy. So the monsters in our feeds must be doing something right? Well, if you still think that… I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.
“REDISCOVER THE DOMESTIC”
If there is one clear upside to all this madness, it is the death of the cult of busy. Rise and grind porn is entirely out of sync with our new daily rhythms, and working hard won’t keep you safe. Some people will insist that all the baking and pickling disproves my hypothesis. But I wonder if everyone sharing their sourdough bread attempts is something else: a rediscovery of the domestic. It’s like the tingle in your toes after your foot falls asleep. Painful at first, but necessary. The dumb old world of ‘the sharing economy’ and ‘the internet of things’ and ‘gig work’ had created a mass delusion that we could live in spaces and not care for them.
“The dumb old world of ‘the sharing economy’ and ‘the internet of things’ and ‘gig work’ had created a mass delusion that we could live in spaces and not care for them”
A 2016 essay, ‘Airspace’ by Kyle Chayka, explains how services like Airbnb and trendy behaviours like digital nomadism were slowly but surely homogenising our world. I spent a significant amount of the 2010s living that dream, bopping from one identical short-term rental with the same IKEA furniture and disposable yet photogenic knick-knacks to another. They were crash pads. I called them ‘efficiency Airbnbs’, only good for their price and convenience.
Now that we are all inside and forced to confront the spaces we inhabit, we have to think more critically about what they are and how we use them. We are forced to consider things we put out of our minds before. We make bread. We cook. Sure, I would like to get stoned late at night and UberEats McDonalds. In corona times, it’s hard to pretend laziness is ‘efficiency’. Without the whirl of busy, I can believe my lying eyes. I suspect other people can, too.
“SLAY THE ZOMBIE WORLD ORDER”
Last week, on the phone with my friend Jordan, I shared a tidbit that’s been making the rounds on my feed: “Apocalypse means revelation. This isn’t the end of the world. It’s just that the crisis has allowed us to see it more clearly.” Jordan retorted, “Everything was already dead. We just didn’t realise it. Like a chicken running around with its head cut off.” We were already living in a Zombie World Order, it just took a pandemic for us to realise it.
We worshipped at the altar of scale and growth. Viral wasn’t a term of opprobrium, it was the celebrated adjective of the age. We wanted one platform for everyone (Facebook), one mattress for everyone (Casper), one duvet for everyone (Buffy), one fucking toothbrush for EVERYONE (Quip). No one stopped to consider that monoculture is inherently fragile. Farmers know this, indigenous peoples know this, environmental activists know this, but when it comes to culture, we’ve all been lured into thinking big is better. That when it comes to culture, the only scale is the imperial scale. Our worlds have all shrunken, but maybe it’s not a bad thing.
The world is full of small wonders, and our collective boredom is leading us to discover them. Alone in our homes, we can’t maintain the fiction that we’re all starring in our own private movie: our morning commute was not a high speed chase, our hook-ups were not great romances, our enemies were not scheming sociopaths. We are people again, with no choice but to confront who we are and the choices we are making. Maybe it will make us stronger people. We can always hope.
PART THREE: BOTTOMLESS LOOKS
We are all making do with what we have, as humans have always done. Gruel is better than no food. Zoom is better than no socialising. But also like humans are wont to do, we are spicing things up. If all you have is cayenne pepper, spicy gruel it is! A few weeks ago, a music venue hosted a decentralised disco. They couriered the first 300 interested parties a lighting rig (and rumour has it, four hits of MDMA). It was billed as the largest lighting design ever created. I’m not sure the claim is true. Has there been the need to create such a thing before now? But I appreciated the effort they put into spicing things up.
“IMPLEMENT COCKTAIL HOUR”
In the same vein, my friends and I are inventing our own little rituals. It’s comforting to have cocktail hour at 4PM sharp, to watch Unorthodox synced through Netflix Party, to have long chatty phone calls about nothing. Stirring up a daily Quarantini makes me feel like a WASPish granny. Watching TV together over the phone reminds me of rushing home from school to watch TRL over the phone and gasp over the new rankings. The return of the phone call makes me feel like my mother, puttering around the kitchen with a Mr. Coffee sputtering in the background, dinner brewing.
We’re forced into other rituals from bygone eras, like neighbourly generosity. In a crisis, we suddenly feel we can reach out to those in physical proximity. When an upstairs neighbour needs cigarettes because the Nicorette is not cutting it, they text. We improvise with some rope and a grocery bag, and have a shouty chat from one floor to another.
“MAKE AMERICA HORNY AGAIN”
These little moments of promise are not nearly enough. Sex is a big problem. All my friends are horny and so is everyone in my feed. In typical ironic fashion, I predict it will be the quarantine that Makes America Horny Again. Like all dopamine fixes, the effect dulls over time. Maybe it was all the dating apps that made us a little bored with fucking. It used to be hard to see a dick – in the 2010s, they were ubiquitous. Maybe the druggy effect partially explains our pre-corona sex polarisation. It was either Truvada-fueled orgies or celibacy. App-enabled sluttiness made everyone an addict. Some were just sober.
“EMBRACE NEW BAROQUE SELF-CARE REGIMES”
Post-quarantine debauchery is being planned though. New baroque self-care regimes are part-boredom, part sex-prep. The trade-offs between complex morning routines and getting to work on time have been zapped. Sheet masks, hair masks, serums, vitamin C eye cream will surely beat my face beautiful before release. Home gym subscriptions and franken-exercise equipment like Tonal and Peloton now make tonal sense. Motivation is sparked by an impossibly fit spin instructor barking through a screen.
In our topsy-turvy world, the luxury of a one bedroom is now the misery of solitary confinement. Despite Apple’s best attempts to make our phone’s more haptic, they remain cold hard glass. I know others feel this way as well. My last Grindr hook-up pre-lockdown asked earnestly if he could be my quarantine boyfriend. In quarantine times, it’s not only lesbians that bring a U-Haul to a second date.
PART FOUR: THE HOT ZONE
Post-Trump and post-Brexit, borders were at the tip of everyone’s tongues. Where should they be? How porous should they be? Should they even be. Coronavirus was capricious with borders: hardening them with the vast reduction in international travel and softening them when it exposed their quasi-fictitious nature – diseases aren’t deterred by checkpoints. We find ourselves confronting an odd situation, where the world’s first truly globalised crisis has rendered borders simultaneously useless and essential. Everyone in the Los Angeles lockdown knows the real border isn’t 100 miles south between San Diego and Tijuana. It’s your front door.
“We find ourselves confronting an odd situation, where the world’s first truly globalised crisis has rendered borders simultaneously useless and essential”
An artist friend in New York informs me they are moving Upstate after all of this. Based on their personality – not to mention decent monetary success – I am surprised. But another friend insists I’ve been out of the city too long: “It’s not seen as giving up to leave New York anymore. It’s just a lifestyle upgrade.” Over the summer I had witnessed the beginnings of this trend. Even distant small towns like mine had already seen an influx of Bushwick drag queens and artisans. The possibility of life without roommates has begun to outweigh the provincialism of small town America. With coronavirus rendering the square footage of your apartment the effective scale of your existence, I wonder if the trickle will become a flood.
The upper-middle-class flee urban Red Zones for rural Green Zones, animals crop up in cities. It’s a taste of the post-apocalyptic picturesque. In Los Angeles, there’s birdsong in the mornings and crickets at night. The air has never been clearer. On a bright day from Elysian Heights, you can see the ocean.
“BUY FUZZY THROW PILLOWS”
Homewares sales surged as millennials transitioned from twentysomething to thirtysomething. Don’t express yourself through your fashion sense, express yourself through your home décor. It bleeds into the younger generations too – the Twitch streamers are broadcasting from their gaming rig in their refinished basement. The YouTubers are giving you storytime chat nuzzled between fuzzy throw pillows. On Instagram, the hallowed art of the bathroom selfie is playing into our ongoing early 00s revival, and the most major TikTokkers are all joining clouthouses like The Hype House. The home is the new hub for media production, and the fact that none of us can leave it to socialise anymore will accelerate this trend.
“Just like a home is a set to film TikTok challenges, a storefront has become a branded content studio. Direct-to-consumer brands were the first to realise this. Coronavirus has let everyone else in on the secret”
Retail and mailpeople join doctors as heroic frontline workers, braving the virus to make comfy domesticity viable. In Los Angeles, delivery of cocktails shipped in mason jars has become legal. Skin-contact wine is available for contactless pick-up from a porch in Los Feliz and boutique third wave coffee shops are launching subscription plans to stay afloat. In the end, it’s been revealed that only those with an invested audience will survive. Just like a home is a set to film TikTok challenges, a storefront has become a branded content studio. Direct-to-consumer brands were the first to realise this. Coronavirus has let everyone else in on the secret.
“ENNUI AND ALIENATION ARE YOUR BEST FRIENDS”
Before all this, California agoraphobia was already ascendant over New York oversocialisation. The 2010s were touted as a revival of American urbanism, and while there were pockets of density, the broad preference of the United States remained suburban. You can’t visit Dallas without noting its sprawling highway network, taking the logic of Los Angeles to new extremes. A French friend once complained that LA couldn’t even be called a city: it was just one giant suburb. Most US cities share the same fate. Americans voted with their feet to the suburbs. Post-coronavirus, this seems like a positive development.
Roomy suburbs have always struck an ambivalent chord. They are green and spacious and well kept. But they’re also the source of ennui and alienation; they isolate. Trading isolation for space no longer seems like such a trade off. With everyone in isolation, we all live in the spiritual suburbs now.
“ORDER A RAVE MASK FROM ETSY”
Masks and gloves are small weapons against our invisible plague, giving some semblance of control. Masks in particular (and their conspicuous shortage) have become a cultural touchstone. A rave mask from Etsy that reads ‘Ain’t no laws when you’re drinking Claws’ in iridescent type, another is constructed from running shoe materials fit for a hype beast – New Balance x N95? A wardrobe staple, for every wardrobe. At a recent press conference, the President of Slovakia wore a mauve mask constructed of the same fabric as her matching dress.
The unavailability of N95s – disposable face masks that are proven to filter the air to an industrial standard – and the need to reserve them for healthcare workers remains urgent. This has driven people to fetishise them even more. N95s represent the New Scarcity. The ability to get one is a considerable luxury even if in all likelihood you won’t fit it on your face properly. Interestingly, like all luxury items there is an off brand version from China that you can still order on Amazon. The KN95 has yet to be approved by the FDA, and therefore can’t be used in a hospital setting. The only difference between it and its N95 cousin is that its straps go behind your ears rather than behind your head. I wonder if the K stands for knock-off...
If masks massage our anxiety outdoors, chemicals give us reprieve when we arrive home from our weekly grocery haul. CBD, alcohol, weed, and Xanax massage our burned out brains.
PART FIVE: INTERNET GO BRR
The present is deeply surreal. CNN is taking a cinematic route. The music swells operatic, as Dr. Sanjay Gupta snaps into focus. He’s in scrubs inspecting a slide. SURGEON. He’s flying in a helicopter, high above the Freedom Tower, pondering the situation below. “Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN.”
“CHOOSE MEMES, NOT WAR”
It is difficult to watch news broadcasting. The formatting borrows heavily from movie trailers. But do we want news that feels like the movies right now? We’ve been slowed down, boxed in. If anything, people are restless. The speed of memes is the solution to this: memes give us things to do.
‘What’s your quarantine house?’ is a game that blew up on Instagram and Twitter. Joe Rogan and Alan Alda? Jordan Peterson and RuPaul? Grandmas learn TikTok dances while they self-isolate, while naughty alt teens are caught licking toilet seats and prosecuted for domestic terrorism.
Even if we consciously uncouple from cable news, the sense that we are living in a B-rate disaster movie is palpable, and our humour is reflecting it. We’re responding to a world that feels scripted by a talentless writer who sold a blockbuster about terrorism and forgot to invent a cheesy sleeper cell, so just said, ‘Fuck it, virus’.
“SKIP THE SEQUEL”
In some ways, it feels like our collective bungling of the response came down to a bad branding decision. I wonder if things might’ve been better if we named the pandemic SARS-2: the sequel nobody wanted. But Americans, diligent in their understanding of Hollywood tropes, know that in the sequel, the bad guy always comes back stronger than ever, with more diabolical plans.
Instead, its name recalls the popular beer. Viral videos of pretty young Chinese women eating bat soup circulated in tandem with low res memes of Corona Light, widely impacting the beer’s sales. Documentation of people collapsing in the street and authorities welding people into apartment buildings had the whiff of fake news. Post-Russiagate, it all felt a little like disinformation.
Media mocked Silicon Valley’s early adoption of the elbow bump greeting as paranoia. There was a grab bag of bad things around the early memes for everyone to explain away a percolating crisis. Suggestions of border closures or contact tracing felt like yet another play by xenophobes and authoritarians to fearmonger into getting their way. Lockdowns and their attendant economic consequences seemed like another ploy to crash Trump’s booming economy – and consequently, his re-election chances.
You’d think in the middle of the crisis, we’d stop playing language games. But with the internet an even more central cultural force, bickering about the virus’ name continues. Trump calls it the Chinese Virus and the CCP calls it the American Virus, both making unsubstantiated claims that the other released it as a bioweapon. Meanwhile, irony-poisoned posters started beta-testing their own pet names: Coronachan to incels, Miss Rona to white gays, and Boomer Remover to shitposters.
PART SIX: 40 YEARS BEFORE
Years ago, there was another plague. As a gay man, you grow up with intimate knowledge of it. That’s because AIDS is not over. Millions are living with HIV. Something I noticed long ago was that straight people oftentimes forget this. Gay men are a magnitude of order more likely to be affected by HIV than straight people, and therefore navigating your sex life is a healthcare intensive endeavour. The optics of the crisis have changed. To die of AIDS is mercifully a rare occurrence in the wealthy West. Young men in their prime are no longer emancipated by opportunistic diseases. Mass protests are no longer needed to force the federal government, pharmaceutical companies, and public hospitals to allocate resources and care.
“DON’T TRUST THE GOOP ‘TRUSTED’ EXPERT”
This wasn’t always the case. Many people have insisted we have never before encountered a global healthcare crisis of this magnitude and scale, but that’s only true if you ignore HIV/AIDS. 32 million people have died of AIDS. In the developing world, access to expensive pharmaceuticals like Truvada stymie efforts to once and for all stop the spread.
Since HIV/AIDs prevention and treatment medication Truvada’s introduction, gay culture in the US has seen a seachange. Sex parties and barebacking are, well, back. This creates other issues with the spread of STDs, but it has removed the overriding sense that gay sex might equal death. Truvada prescriptions that are given as a prophylactic require testing every three months, building on the sexual hygiene regimen created before we could effectively treat being HIV+ as an unfortunate yet manageable condition.
“MAINTAIN YOUR SANITY”
To be gay is to get used to blood tests. If you are positive, you do them to monitor. If you are negative and on PrEP, you do them to ensure it’s working. If you are negative and not on PrEP, you do them to maintain your sanity. Every gay has their own rhythm to testing defined by their relationship to HIV, their sexual practices, and their neuroses. No matter what your status, waiting for test results is never easy. You count the minutes until you hear via text, in person, over the phone, in app: your body is okay for now.
It won’t end until there is a cure. What we have right now is management. Since around 1980, when the first cases were identified in the United States, 700,000 people have died of AIDS. In my lifetime, it went from an epidemic with no cure to one that we have the tools to at least approximate herd immunity. People still die. There are no certainties. And the blood sacrifice we give at the clinic every few months reminds us of this.
“LEARN FROM GAY CULTURE”
We also remember not to blindly trust experts. Before writing this, I rewatched AIDS activism doc How to Survive a Plague by David France and Woody Richman (full disclosure: Jordan Richman, my collaborator, is Woody Richman’s cousin). It’s inspiring because a group of activists rejected the incompetence and ignorance of politicians and played a decisive role in forcing them to find treatment. ACT-UP, the HIV/AIDS activist group, was not always right, but neither were the experts. There was no time to wait for gay representation in the CDC, the FDA, Congress, or White House. They used the tools of self-education and critical engagement to ensure they understood the issues and were able to call bullshit on their credentialed betters when necessary.
We spoke to David France about his recollections from that moment: “There were 15 dreadful years of unmitigated death – 15 years! – before treatments finally became available to make an HIV infection survivable. I spent those years in brutal terror, flat out convinced I would be one of the dead. I have always thought that it was fear that saved my life. But 15 years after that, when I returned to the troves of archival videotape to make How to Survive a Plague, I was surprised to see how much joy there was among us. Some of the humour was dark, naturally, but all of it was affirming and forward-focused. Someone once said to me, “We had so much fun when everybody was dying,” which sounds awful, but what she meant was not that we didn’t grieve or weep; she meant that we didn’t give up on the vision of a life we so fiercely defended. I think now that the power to imagine, put to the test by a plague, is the strongest tool we can deploy.”
“I think now that the power to imagine, put to the test by a plague, is the strongest tool we can deploy” – David France
The movie was released in 2012, and I went to see it at the IFC Center in New York. What struck me then was that this was still necessary. I remember returning home after college, and feeling like I had gone too long without STD testing. I made an appointment with my GP, but got bumped to a physician’s assistant in his office. When I asked for screening, she replied incredulously: “Why do you want these tests? You think you have all the STDs?!” I remember my monotone and annoyed response: “I’m a gay man. I have multiple sexual partners. Men are oftentimes asymptomatic. I’m just here to get my periodic screening.” Sometimes you have to be the waiting room pamphlet you want to see in the world.
“BE THE WAITING ROOM PAMPHLET YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD”
Just because someone is a doctor doesn’t mean they’re not an idiot. I don’t mean that to demean healthcare workers, only to point out they are humans, too. So let’s keep our wits about us. Let’s evaluate people based on actions, not positions. Let’s not forget that sometimes we do know more than experts. If we don’t, they will never be able to refine and update their opinions. They will not see what they don’t see.
“KNOW YOUR STATUS”
Seeing a newsflash that passengers from a quarantined cruise ship were refusing to be tested, I reflexively cringed. It was so clear to me, someone who has nervously fidgeted in waiting rooms more times that I can count, that they were making a stupid choice. In gay parlance, to not ‘Know Your Status’ is to transform uncertainty into risk. Early detection and treatment is what would keep you healthy in the event you are seroconverted, and it is what keeps you secure in the knowledge you will not endanger the people you love. When I pointed it out to a straight friend, they were confused. “I dunno. I get it. Maybe better not to know.” They were dead ass fucking wrong.
Similarly, when talk of immunity passports popped up in Germany, the United Kingdom, Brazil, I noticed a sharp division between the analogies straight and gay friends used. Straight friends saw segregating people based on immunity as something with dark potential. Was it fascist? Nazi even? Gay friends had a different response: this was Truvada. This was the thing that could make the invisible visible.
With a critical mass of people positive and negative on Truvada, we can relax. Positive people more easily achieve undetectability – tests cannot find the HIV virus in their blood – and thus can’t pass the disease, while negative people virtually cannot contract it, even if a partner has not achieved undetectability. Immunity passports with a rapid testing regime might provide the possibility that we can organize our societies as if we had achieved herd immunity. Allowing those who are unable to contract the coronavirus the possibility of relaxing and those who have not yet contracted it to take proactive measures to avoid the virus.
The politics of disclosure are important to this. Straight people simply aren’t used to constantly disclosing very private health information to new friends, and sometimes, strangers. Of course, this can be avoided if you are celibate or in a long-term monogamous relationship, but honestly, who wants that? It’s not especially pleasant.
To be honest, though I’m negative, even I find it a bit awkward. Cum is a disease vector. Your responsibility to your community is to put: ‘What’s your status’ into your Saved Phrases on Grindr.
As we exit this crisis, these are the lessons everyone will have to learn. It will be important, for those schooled in the days when a new acquaintance asking about your medical health would be unthinkable, to not take offence. The question comes from care. In all likelihood, since treatment is far away and vaccines possibly further, a testing plus passport regime will allow us to slowly escape lockdown. The only way out of our houses will be for everyone to get out of their comfort zones.
My first editor at Dazed told me a quote a few weeks back: “Everyone’s forgotten how to be legendary.” He couldn’t remember the source, but it’s stuck with me. This may be our chance, each to our abilities, each in our own small way, to push ourselves to be legendary again.
Andre Walker (video by Phillipa Horan)