Reading is one of those warranted distractions that relieve us of our daily rituals, whether it’s fiction or fact. From the last book in an iconic soap operatic tale to the true struggles of one man’s fight for acceptance and another about a local community leader who changed the queerness of our city, these three works are worthy of a read.
BODY COUNTS: A MEMOIR OF POLITICS, SEX, AIDS AND SURVIVAL
Sean Strub’s Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS and Survival is, as the title suggests, part biography, factual anecdotes, historical content and advocacy awareness. Strub, founder and execu-tive editor of POZ magazine, has been
an HIV/AIDS activist since first being diagnosed at the height of the crisis in the 1980s. He recalls the early days of the PWA Coalition and ACT UP, and how the nonchalant attitude of today leaves him feeling somewhat conflicted on topics such as the recently introduced HIV preventative pill now on the market.
”It works when taken as directed,” says Strub, “and should be readily available to those who won’t or can’t use condoms, but it doesn’t protect against other STIs so the claim that it is better than condoms is somewhat misleading.”
Strub shares his personal journey from having to accept death being on his doorstep to overcoming that hurdle so that he could continue his fight for recognition and acceptance. He still feels there is a lot of discrimination today in terms of prejudgment, marginalization and the growth of self-stigmatization, even as the fear of casual contagion continues to decline.
“We carry legal obligations no one else in society carries,” says Strub. “We are banned from some occupations, schools and venues, face profound violence, including that inflicted by institutions, and we are increasingly subject to violations of our autonomy.” With regard to legislation to criminalize individuals for non-disclosure of HIV-positive status, he says,“This is a bad public health policy, because it discourages testing, it’s unjust to people with HIV, and a bit of a red herring as well because disclosure in and of itself does not prevent transmission.”
Scribner Book Company, $30
THE DAYS OF ANNA MADRIGAL
The much beloved Tales of the City series comes to a close with the release of Armistead Maupin’s The Days of Anna Madrigal. Fans can jump right in where it left off as this final narrative continues with its insightful look at the barrage of characters who have resided within the walls of San Francisco’s 28 Barbary Lane. Others will likely need somewhat of an introduction: Anna is the elderly eccentric transgendered landlady who keeps things straight… so to speak. It’s with her that we travel back in time to her teenage boy years in the Nevada desert, to recount a childhood raised by a mother who ran the Blue Moon brothel to support her family.
Her journey is orchestrated by her former tenant and ladies’ man Brian, as they embark on a road trip in his RV home on wheels. Some of her other “logical” family members are also headed in the same direction, but with the goal of participating in the hip festivities of Burning Man.
For a series of writings that began with a serial column in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976, this finale has a large span of time to reflect upon. Michael has survived living with AIDS and now lives with his younger lover, Ben; young trans-man Jake is Anna’s live-in homecare assistant who meets his boyfriend via a Buck Angel dating site; and Brian’s bisexual daughter is on a quest to have a baby. It’s a fitting closure to a chapter of life that Maupin brought to readers for nearly four decades.
Harper Collins Canada, $32
ARMY OF LOVERS
Army of Lovers is a book about the life of Toronto queer icon and trailblazer Will Munro, as documented by Sarah Liss. It reads much like a diary, with anecdotes from his childhood up to his last days in 2010 when cancer took him at the early age of 35. Friends, lovers, strangers and others were all affected by the loss of Munro who created an environment of inclusiveness within the sometimes fragmented queer community. His work as an artist, activist, promoter and DJ brought together a plethora of rainbow-coloured genders, sexualities, ethnicities, body compositions, musical tastes, fashions and discussions.
“My memories of my initial encounters with Will are somewhat blurry,” says Liss. “I remember him wearing a chicken suit and talking animatedly in a grimy corner of the El Mocambo. I wanted to write at least a piece or a version of Will’s story to ensure it would be accessible to people who didn’t experience that moment in Toronto, and who missed out on their chance to meet one of the most important sub-cultural civic forces this city has ever known.”
His vibrant spirit continues to rage on with a never-ending mix of outlandish parties held at the Beaver Café, the Queen West resto/bar that he co-owned. This is a part of Toronto’s queer history that shaped the city into where it is today. It will bring you closer to the heart of an ingenious outsider who left behind a legacy.
Coach House Books, $14.