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Autopornography, Scott O'Hara

No, sex is really not the all-important subject that my writing would seem to imply. (I’ll admit to having had a one-string harp for the past decade.) All I want is for sex and porn to take their proper places in life, alongside eating and writing letters – enjoyable activities, not for everyone perhaps, but normal, beneficial, and quite, quite harmless to children. Nothing to get excited about.

Remember, I appreciate some of the aspects of a well-tuned couple. Being double-fucked can be a real thrill.

Some months later, I was shocked to hear that Craig had gone back to Ohio – and killed himself. So far as I know, no one ever established a reason. I think everyone who ever met him was distraught. I don’t think he ever made a bad impression on anybody.
In my darker moments, it occurs to me that learning he had AIDS could have been the impetus for his suicide…and that, conceivably, I could have been the person who gave it to him. If…if…if. I don’t have answers, or solutions. I can agree that from a health maintenance viewpoint, what we were doing in those movies was not beneficial; I also know that in 1985, we did not have the option of wearing condoms in films. Video producers would not have allowed it, because “It’s not sexy. It reminds people too much of the epidemic.” We knew the realities of the situation; we knew the risks, and the rewards. I wanted to be in porno, more than anything else. I guess Craig did, too. I’m only sorry his career had to end so soon. There was a man who deserved to be a superstar.

Getting fucked is inherently pleasurable for anyone with a prostate; it’s only societal conditioning that makes us unable to appreciate it.

I’m sure I fucked him, but I wasn’t much into the scene; I never got a really convincing hard-on. I spent most of my time wishing that I was wearing a condom, but knowing that you have to have a real hard-on in order to put one on, and therefore I was in no position to make such a demand. I was very much into Joe, but the official scenario had no place in it for me to suck Joe’s dick. That’s the trouble with scripts: they don’t generally leave room for improvisation. Oh, eventually it all worked out: I came, I guess everyone else came, and the producer expressed satisfaction with the result. Then, with the whole affair safely out of the way, I finally summoned up courage enough to say to him, “Look, you know I like working for you, but I really wish you would let us use condoms.” I was ready for him to blow up in my face, to say, “Not on my sets you don’t,” or some such.
Instead, he looked me in the face, all wide-eyed innocence, and said, “Well, geez, guy, you should’ve said something! I had condoms and lube in the bag, right there!”
I’ve seldom felt so low as I did at that moment. My chance to make video history – the first Falcon video with condoms! – and I’d blown it, through lack of forcefulness.

It was sometime late in 1984 when I started using rubbers regularly in my personal life, on those rare occasions when I fucked; my affair with Bob lasted from August to mid-October, and I recorded in my sex journal an occasion on October fifth: “frustrated, ‘safe’ sex.” (An earlier entry records that he fucked me “dry,” and that it was a thoroughly ecstatic, if brutal, event. Had I persuaded him that it didn’t matter with us? I don’t know. Memory is not the perfect record keeper that I’d like it to be.)
Bob cut off contact with me in October, for reasons that even at the time were unclear to me; I kept trying to get together with him, but he never returned my calls. A year later, I heard that he was sick, and went over to visit him. He’d lost a lot of weight, and looked incredibly haggard; I’d begun to get used to seeing the PWA (People With AIDS) look around town, but this was the first time I’d seen it on someone I remembered as a vital, healthy person; I was shocked, and a little bit freaked. We did have some variety of sex, but it wasn’t quite up to our previous standard. We didn’t fuck. I kept meaning to get back over to see him again, but I never did. A few months later, I read his obituary.

I was thinking seriously about emigrating to Australia. Remember, if you will: the U.S. electorate had just reelected, the previous November, a beloved actor who couldn’t seem to say the word AIDS. I was thinking, quite seriously, “concentration camps.” It didn’t seem the least bit far-fetched to me. When the HIV test came out, I knew quite definitely that I didn’t want to be tested because I have never trusted the government about anything. Why should I trust them when they promise me, with that oh-so-sincere tone in their voice, “But of course it’s confidential! We would never, ever, release these results!”

In February of 1984, my journal reveals that I was fucked by someone who used a rubber; I described it as “kinky” and “hot.” By January of 1986, I thought it worth recording that someone tried to fuck me “bare,” and described him, furthermore, as a “lout” for doing so; a month later, when I met a Mexican man named Hector at the baths in L.A., who was only interested in fucking, I refused him, and would only jerk off. I don’t mention either of these incidents because I’m especially proud of them, merely as an indication of how quickly my rules were changing. (Today, of course, I would do just about anything to have another Hector, someone who would fuck me uninhibitedly.)

This was 1987, and I had a list of dead friends and boyfriends as long as my arm; the only unsafe sex I was having was on camera (and I was growing more and more concerned about that) and with Michael Pietri (as described in a later chapter).

Finally, in May of 1987, I used a condom for the first time in a video. It worked out okay; in fact, it seemed reasonably natural. Oh, I still don’t believe it’s possible to make a pornflick with condoms and make it look like the actors are enjoying themselves, but we at least made a decent simulation. Subsequent videos also used condoms; the industry standard seemed to have suddenly changed overnight. Prior to that, the prevailing wisdom had been “no one will buy a video with condoms.” Now, suddenly, producers had realized the disadvantages of producing a video and having the star drop dead before the product arrived in video stores. Maybe it was the death of J.W. King that made the difference. Economics of the marketplace, as usual, rule.

In 1987, I finally did make it to Australia for a month; the next year, I went back for five months. It was in the middle of that five-month stay that I noticed a purple spot on my calf. I went to a doctor, who looked at it and assured me it wasn’t melanoma – which, since I’d spent the last couple of months lying in the sun, was my primary concern. So I forgot about it (convincing myself that it was a scar from a motorcycle exhaust pipe burn, which had somehow gone unnoticed for three months), and it wasn’t until September of 1989 that it hit home, with the weight of a sledge hammer, that this was KS (Kaposi’s Sarcoma). I was modeling for the Gay Men’s Sketch Group, something I loved doing, and I’d struck a rather difficult pose in which I was sitting down with my left foot twisted up; so I spent the next twenty minutes starting at the sole of my foot as it went totally numb. Somewhere in there, I became aware of what I was staring at. Not just one purple spot: two. Three. Four. Five….I stopped counting. Plus the one on my calf, which had never gone away. By the time the pose was over, I had mentally accepted that this was undoubtedly KS, and so what? Things had changed significantly by now on the AIDS front. Michael Callen was talking, loudly (did he ever talk otherwise?) about the possibilities of living with AIDS. There were lots of long-term survivors. I didn’t much like the term “survivor,” but I also no longer freaked out at the thought of being one of them. It took me all of twenty minutes to realize what was next for me. Since my porn career – which I had, up to that point, regarded as my raison d’etre – was obviously over, and even my personal sex life seemed in doubt, I needed to go someplace quiet and isolated; I needed to find a rural retreat where I could write and garden, because writing and gardening were the two things that immediately came to mind when I asked myself that all-important question: “What do you want to do with the rest of your life, however long it might be?”

I hibernated in Wisconsin, writing, building rock walls, and gardening. Muscles sprouted in places where I’d never had muscles before; I got lean and tan and healthier than I’d ever been in my life. I had very little sex, but I produced quite a lot of writing. When Beowulf, editor of Diseased Pariah News, asked me to write something for him, I produced an eight-part serial called “How I Got AIDS,” about eight episodes from my life that might have had something to do with my getting the virus – all quite tongue-in-cheek, of course; DPN was not a victim-oriented magazine. All my friends wrote me worried letters, and many of them came to visit; they were all sure that I was holed up dying, and they were probably looking forward to giving me comfort and sustenance in my last days. I had the distinct pleasure of disappointing them.

In December of 1992, I recorded in my journal that I’d read about Lamar VanDyke, a tattoo artist in Seattle, tattooing “HIV+” on certain radical queers’ thighs. Wow! I was thrilled. The advantages were immediately apparent to me: I was, after all, the person who had so much difficulty raising the subject of AIDS with potential sex partners that I’d essentially given up sex rather than learn to discuss it. A tattoo would make it visible. Besides, it would be the ultimate out-of-the-closet gesture: I thought of showing it off to all my rural Wisconsin neighbors, people who probably thought they’d never met a PWA, and a thrill ran through my body. Maturity has diminished, but not entirely destroyed, my need to shock. So I said to myself, “Think about it. If you still want it in four months, then get it.”
But four months later, at the March on Washington, my health again became an issue.

Now, the fact is, lymphoma is not exclusive to HIVers. People have been getting it for years and continue to do so. But if you’re HIV positive, suddenly it becomes “an AIDS condition.” Humbug. One more way of classifying us: these are the ones who won’t survive anyway; we can do anything we want to them.

Once the lymphoma was behind me, thoughts of that HIV+ tattoo surfaced again (I’d kind of forgotten about it while I was busy dying). In April of 1994, on a trip to New York, I got it done – not on my thigh, where only sex partners would see it, but on my left bicep, visible to almost anyone. (I promptly started tearing the sleeves off all my T-shirts, and many of my long-sleeved shirts too.) I added a tasteful little circlet of swimming spermatozoa. As I phrased it to myself, these are the two most important things in my life: sperm and HIV. They’ve both changed my life. And no, the tattoo has not ended up doing all the things I’d hoped it would; it’s not nearly prominent enough, for one thing. I kind of wish I could have it emblazoned on my forehead in glow-in-the-dark letters. I want absolutely everyone to know. As I keep telling everyone: a closet, even the slightest of closets, is the most high-maintenance structure there is, and I just don’t have the energy for it anymore. I don’t want any secrets. I don’t have the patience to deal with AIDS-phobes. I’m not primarily an educator, but I think this tattoo might have opened a few people’s eyes.

I’ve become somewhat notorious, over the past year, for my positions on HIV. To put it as briefly as possible: I can’t quite believe it’s a curse. I’m not trying to out-Lousie Ms. Hay, but in my life, AIDS has been an undeniable blessing. It woke me up to what was important; it let me know that NOW was the time to do it. And – this is the part that upsets people – it also gives me the freedom to behave “irresponsibly.” I look at the HIV-negative people around me, and I pity them. They live their lives in constant fear of infection: mustn’t do this, mustn’t do that, mustn’t take risks. They can’t see past that simple “avoidance of infection,” which has come to be their ultimate goal. They believe that AIDS = death sentence. Well, I’m sorry, but I was quite possibly infected in 1981, and I’m in pretty good health fifteen years later. If that’s a death sentence, I guess life in a prison of negativity sounds a lot worse. My life is so much more carefree than theirs, so much more “considered,” that I shake my head and count myself lucky to have been infected. Risk taking is the essence of life, and people who spend their entire lives trying to eliminate risk from their lives are…well, they’re not my kind of people. I know a couple of people who have consciously made the decision to seroconvert; I admire them tremendously, because it takes a considerable amount of self-confidence and self-knowledge to make a decision that flies in the face of every medical and journalistic opinion the world. I applaud this sort of independence. These men are, I might add, some of the most inventive sex partners I’ve ever been with. No surprise.
I don’t necessarily think that everyone should rush out and get themselves their very own dose of HIV. It isn’t for everyone, obviously. But for those of us who are more interested in adventure than security…it’s the fashion accessory of the 1990s. I wouldn’t be caught dead without it.

Greg loved to get punch-fucked: he’d pull his ass off my fist and shove himself back down on it so fast and violently that I was actually freaked out, it seemed inevitable that something would tear. But at the same time, it was exciting. It’s always exciting when you’re aware that someone is this turned-on to you. I’d have my fist up Greg’s ass, he’d be riding it like a drugstore bucking bronco, that glassy-eyed stare plastered all over his face, his asshole wide open around my wrist, and Jerry would slather some more Crisco over my dick and back up against it, and I’d slide right in; then I’d start fingering his butt, shoving in a finger here, a finger there, alongside my dick – and before I knew it, I had one fist up each man’s ass and was going from one to the other with my dick, shoving it in alongside one wrist and jerking off a little bit, then jerking it out and shoving it into the other ass.

God it felt good to shoot inside an ass again…and then reach inside and feel my cum squishing around in an asshole made fiery hot by the friction of my dick.

This was the spring of 1985. We were all well-indoctrinated with the doctrines of safer sex by this time. I was using condoms regularly; I had them in my bag. But with Michael…well, I’ve always fumbled when trying to describe this to people. It just wasn’t possible. I was too heavily involved with him, too obsessed with him; it was too important to me that this relationship work. And, more particularly, that my dick get hard. Condoms don’t contribute to a hard dick. Asking him if he wants me to wear a condom doesn’t contribute to a romantic mood. I just couldn’t break the mood. I felt terribly guilty about it, then and later, but I just couldn’t do it. Not with Michael. Not with the most beautiful man I’d ever met. So for the next five years, whenever Michael and I fucked, it was without condoms. Having started that way, it seemed silly to “reform.” Silly, and impossible.

We had dinner together, and I’d carefully planned how to make it clear to him that I wasn’t available for further intimacy, a way that would surely scare him off immediately. “I’ve got AIDS,” I told him. “Oh – so have I,” he replied. Oh, fine. That response had just never occurred to me. Now what?
The “now what?” as it happened, was perfectly logical: I fell in love with him. This was the first I’d heard of HIV-positive romance; I found that just the knowledge that you don’t have to worry about infecting someone gives you a sense of relief from the epidemic. At the same time, the camaraderie that comes of having dealt with the same inhumane medical and insurance industries provides endless material for discussion. Maybe it’s a weird basis on which to build a relationship, but my relationships have often had shakier foundations.

Jon enjoyed taking risks. But once home, this changed: it was Rubbertime. I’m not sure, at this point, whether or not to be happy about this. He claimed, at the time, that he was still negative – despite having been fucked, condomless, by a lot of men over the years. Well…I gather that, sometime in the next nine years, his luck ran out. I could take satisfaction in knowing that it wasn’t me who infected him; or I could, wistfully, wish that we’d fucked unprotected, since in the long run, it wouldn’t have mattered. I guess I have a love/hate relationship with my virus; if someone like Jon King was determined to get himself infected, I kind of wish he’d chosen mine.

The population of the straight pool had diminished by the time I returned: just two rednecks remained, both drinking beers. The elder, in his sixties, was regaling the younger with tales of the times he’d visited the Mustang Ranch in Nevada. I asked, politely, if there was room for a third, and they moved over. The light wasn’t completely gone yet, but it was pretty dim; I don’t think either one could see the “HIV+” tattoo on my left bicep when I stripped.

Eventually, after small talk that grew progressively more intimate, I phrased it thus: “So, what about you – do you feel like getting’ off?” There was a long silence, during which I feared he was going to pretend he hadn’t heard. I mean, that’s the Straight Man’s Revenge: to know, but pretend not to know, to leave me twisting in the wind….and then he spoke up, very quietly: “It’s been a long time.” Naturally, I presumed he meant a long time away from the wife – then he went on to tell about how, ten years ago, before he got married, he was involved with a man…who died.
He didn’t fill in all the details, but he kept repeating, over and over, “It just doesn’t seem worth it anymore” – meaning the risk of AIDS.
“So,” I said, “Do you still jerk off?” He admitted that he did, now and then. “That’s completely safe, you know – and I’d really get off feeling your hand on my dick…”

We slimed together, and then sank back into the pool. I stroked his body, and hugged him – definitely my favorite part of sex, the after-climax meltdown, when intimacy becomes possible even with a straight man, because you’ve both shot your loads and he knows you’re not gonna try nothin’ funny with him – and reassured him, in all the ways I knew, that sex with men, whether or not it was worth it, was good, positive, and nothing to be ashamed of. He told me about his wife, the nice Catholic girl next door who he’d dated in high school and then gone back to after his big-city lifestyle went sour; he told me, over and over, that it was “good enough” for him – and that he was afraid for me.
You tell me: at that point should I have told him, “Don’t worry about me, I can’t get AIDS, I already have it.” – or should I have done exactly what I did, smile and say, “Don’t worry, I take good care of myself.” My goal at that point was to try to make Dan more comfortable with what sexuality he had left. Hell, that’s my raison d’etre in a nutshell! You only give people what they’re ready for. He wasn’t ready for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; I think the knowledge that he’d just jerked off with a PWA might have sent him over the edge. Okay, I’m rationalizing, huh? I know, but I think I did the better thing.

My Public Enemy number one is not HIV – but Erotophobia.

Nowadays, when I make an agreement with a man that we’ll fuck uncovered, it’s an extreme declaration of trust, knowing that there are potentially lethal diseases that we could be passing happened for me four times in the past six years (the time I’ve been actively, publicly aware of being a PWA); each time stands out, diamond-sharp, in my memory, more because of the trust shared than because the sex was extra special. In the past six months, however, I’ve begun to reactive my sex life: I’ve fucked at least a dozen men without a condom, and been fucked by probably twice that number. It feels good. As I write this, in fact, I’m still riding the endorphin high of having been well-fucked last night. There was a time, a few years ago, when I would feel depressed, guilty, angst-ridden, or just plain wretched in my postcoital phase. No matter how safe we’d been, there was always uncertainty: Have I just infected some innocent person? I’m happy to report that I’m over that, thank you. We don’t have innocent victims anymore. People know the risks. Those who are getting infected now have chosen to get infected; if I’m the avenue of transmission they’ve chosen, who am I to demur? My virus is at least as good as your virus.


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