Friday, July 12, 2024

Making Gay History podcast: “Coming of Age During the AIDS Crisis”

Season 9 launches Chapter One, “Buried Headline,” streaming on July 1.

It was exactly 40 years ago this month when news first broke into the mainstream of a deadly new disease that disproportionately affected gay men. First came a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on June 5, 1981, covered that same day by the Los Angeles Times, and on July 3, the New York Times ran its buried but now infamous headline, “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals,” on page 20 of the newspaper. Currently, more than 36.7 million people worldwide are living with HIV, and 35 million have died since 1981—100,000 have died in New York City alone. Eric witnessed that devastation up close as AIDS cut a wide swath through the city’s gay male community, before effective treatments arrived in the mid-1990s.

Check out the trailer here.

Although the audio memoir format of “Coming of Age During the AIDS Crisis” is a departure for Making Gay History, the podcast’s reliance on intimate conversation will remain, both in Eric’s own newly recorded oral history of the years from 1981 to 1988, and in taped interviews in which Eric reconnects with key people whose paths he crossed during that time:

Doug Aucoin, Eric’s Vassar classmate and post-college roommate: “In retrospect, I’d always admired the fact that you were so out and gay and you took a lot of crap for it.”

I have never been that frightened in my life … They would wake up on a Monday with symptoms that felt like a cold was coming on. By Monday night, they had a fever. By Tuesday morning, they couldn’t breathe. By Wednesday, they were dead. It was that quick.

Hal Moskowitz, a volunteer with the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC)

Sandi Feinblum, who managed the GMHC program Eric volunteered for: “You would get calls day and night that were referred from all over and often they were [calling] about funeral homes. People who had lost a child or a lover or a sibling, and they couldn’t find a funeral home to take them.”

The season will also include remembrances of friends who didn’t live to tell their stories, and people like Jimmy, the straight, twice-divorced father and drug addict dying of AIDS whom Eric met as a GMHC volunteer (and at whose funeral he delivered a eulogy).

The audio memoir is punctuated by Eric’s own oral history, conducted by Shane O’Neill, friend and New York Times video journalist. In response to Shane’s question as to why he decided in this new podcast season to “turn the tables” and step into the role of subject rather than interviewer, Eric says: “I was 30 when I started work on the Making Gay History book. I’m now 62, and some of the people I interviewed who I thought of as ‘old’ were younger than I am now. I find more and more that young people ask me questions about what it was like to live through the AIDS crisis. And I find myself in the role of an elder sharing stories about what it was like.”

In addition to capturing Eric’s experience of living through the early years of the AIDS epidemic, “Coming of Age During the AIDS Crisis” will also present the origin story of Eric’s landmark book Making Gay History and how the AIDS epidemic lent great urgency to that project. Eric had seen how fast AIDS could cut down a life, and he knew he had to work quickly to record the key stories of people who didn’t have long to live.

About Making Gay History 
The Making Gay History podcast features decades-old rare interviews drawn from Eric Marcus’s own archive of more than 100 interviews originally conducted for his award-winning oral history book of the LGBTQ civil rights movement as well as other archival sources. Using these recordings, he creates intimate, personal portraits of both known and long-forgotten champions, heroes, and witnesses to history. To learn more about Eric Marcus and Making Gay History, watch this NBC News video profile.

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