Friday, July 19, 2024

Meet Mark S. King, ‘Mark Twain of the HIV epidemic’

Writer and activist Mark S. King is a powerhouse and his message is simple: “We have more to fight against today than during the worst of the AIDS epidemic.” 

Mark is an enormously influential LGBTQ activist and essayist, and his book My Fabulous Disease: Chronicles of a Gay Survivor, with a foreword by Greg Louganis, is out now.

Queer Forty: Your new book is getting kudos from iconic activists such as Cleve Jones, Peter Staley, and Sean Strub, who calls you the Mark Twain of the HIV epidemic.” Greg Louganis even wrote the foreword. 

Mark S. King: I used to be filled with false modesty and say I’m just “a guy with HIV and a keyboard.” But when I look at the totality of these essays, I do feel proud. I just have to watch my ego. It kills good writing. 

Are there misconceptions about long-term HIV survivors such as yourself?

Oh yes. Mostly, people define us by our Great Tragedy. We’re so much more, so much happier and engaged and complicated than the pitiful narrative assigned to us.

Your sense of humor comes through in nearly all your writing. Is it a defense mechanism?

It is a defense, a shield, a weapon, it is everything. I will invoke the Joan Rivers philosophy of comedy. Nothing we have to say about ourselves – speaking for ourselves being the key – should be off-limits. 

You give nearly equal time in your book to another epidemic in our community, addiction and alcoholism. 

I nearly died from meth addiction. HIV has never threatened me physically as much as my addiction to drugs and alcohol. 

What is the biggest challenge facing the LGBTQ community?

Oh, lord. Staying out of jail? Every aspect of our humanity is being criminalized. We have more to fight against today than during the worst of the AIDS epidemic. Nothing should be taken for granted. My marriage is on the line. My freedom to dress, figuratively and literally, as I choose. My access to healthcare and HIV prevention tools, who and how I fuck, all of it is on the line. 

What does your book have to say to younger LGBTQ people who may not relate to the times and issues you write about?

I feel really strongly about this. LGBTQ youth are part of a legacy that is ferocious and courageous and utterly remarkable. They can own that. It is part of them. We have, over decades and centuries, responded to awful oppression by living and loving and helping one another, the AIDS crisis being only one example. That is part of the DNA of LGBTQ people. I want younger folks to be incredibly proud of their lineage. 

Are you feeling your legacy, releasing a book of your work from decades of writing?

I’m feeling my age, for sure, just being asked that question.

You dont seem very interested in preserving your reputation, whatever it is.

There’s a saying, “You can’t save your face and your ass at the same time.” I don’t have much of an ass, but I want to save it. And I want to tell the truth about myself, and about what I observe among us all. I’ll let the chips fall where they may. 

For more information on Mark S. King and his work:

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