"How many sexual partners have you had?" I asked the 20-something male patient who was seeing me in clinic for oral syphilis.
"This week? This month? This year?" he replied.
When I said "this year" -- since I had to pick something -- he gave me a relatively large number.
"Are you jealous?" were the next words out of his mouth.
Clearly, I was ill equipped for this exchange which left me a little puzzled. A new book, however, provides some important context that I did not yet have a full grasp of when the above encounter (now 5+ years old) occurred.
Dale Peck's Visions and Revisions: Coming of Age in the Age of AIDS provides a vivid whirlwind 1st person tour of the early HIV years from the perspective of someone immersed in the culture of bath houses, sex clubs, and navigating a world in which a killer the virus was lurking everywhere. As Scott Kramer's review in Metrosource noted, the book is akin to reading Peck's diary -- with all the lurid details no one ever found in their older sister's version.
Peck, as a journalist in the early 1990s also reporting on serial killings of gays, freely switches contexts from a killer virus to a killer human allowing the reader to concretize the dual threats Peck was facing at the time. His analysis of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer definitely brings a new level of insight and understanding of his victims and the patterns of their murders.
The book provides a unique bird's eye view into how one man coped with stigma and fear in the early days of a pandemic that still rages. As more and more people--infectious disease physicians included--have dimmer recollections of the horrible march of HIV in 1980 and 1990s America, immersing oneself in the early days of the plague with a colorful tour guide becomes increasingly more important.