Infected Faggot Perspectives & dark AIDS humour

Zine of the Gay

Cover of Infected Faggot Perspectives #12

The cover of Infected Faggot Perspectives #12, dated to December 1992/January 1993, and priced at “$3.00 or free to the infected”, confronts the reader with a caricature, signed to Rick Cole, of an emaciated figure in a hospital bed, strangled by IV lines, stuck full of needles, and dripping sweat. The zine’s tagline, which seems to have appeared on every issue, was:

“Dedicated to Keeping the Realities of Faggots Living with AIDS & HIV Disease IN YOUR FACE Until the Plague is Over!!!”

The zine dates from a time when AIDS was high in the U.S. public consciousness, following, for example, shortly after the death of Freddy Mercury, but a few years before the availability of the combination therapies that began to make HIV/AIDS more survivable for many of those able to access them.

I am about a generation younger than the generation of (Western, white, not necessarily street-involved, because we know now that the virus had been killing people for decades before it became known here) people most affected by AIDS. I was spared those traumas but grew up with a huge absence where my elders should have been. As far as I remember, I first learned about HIV/AIDS through saccharine, pitying, heterosexual representations like Philadelphia.

Image of a satirical American Express ad, where the credit card is labelled "AIDS Express", with text reading "BECAUSE MEMBERSHIPHAS ITS ITS PRIVILEGE ! ! ! ! !.!!! AIDS EXPRESS (DON'T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT, GIRL!!!) W. WAYNE WAYNE KARR, AKA THE FABULOUS VIEJA SIDOSA, CONCEPTUAL CONTROL QUEEN OF THE UNIVERSE, CO-CREATOR & CO-EDITOR INFECTED FAGGOT PERSPECTIVES; MEMBER SINCE AT LEAST 1983 (PROBABLY A LOT LONGER THAN THAT)"
From Infected Faggot Perspectives #12

The records that people who were actually living with AIDS left, as they fought for their friends’ lives are deeply precious to me. A crucial component of this cultural legacy is a dark, dark, dark gallows humour, suffused with rage at the abandonment of PWAs on both individual and cultural levels, the physical messiness of living and dying with AIDS, and the social messiness of organizing amidst mass sickness, death, and grief.

Directed outwards at a wider audience, AIDS gallows humour, alongside actions like the political funerals of ACT UP, aimed to force those not yet affected by the virus to confront the reality that people were dying young in excruciating pain, and nursing, burying, and mourning entire social circles in the face of public indifference and hostility.

Directed inwards at fellow community members also grappling with AIDS, dark humour offered a pressure release from those same realities. It’s not actually possible to live full-time as a tragic, saintly victim, sometimes you’ve got to laugh.

Line drawing of someone on their hands and knees simultaneously pissing, shitting, and vomiting, with the word "END" above it

IFP offers arch advice like, “let’s face [it,] an AIDS Queen isn’t Glamorous until she is way below 100 [t-cells]… sorry, girls, maybe next year… keep trying.” Its articles share useful resources, like “Around the World in AIDSy Days”, which gives travel advice for PWAs, including resources for DIY healthcare, and considerations of border restrictions for poz people, but also opens,

“Hey girlfriend… wanna take one last trip to a tropical paradise before kicking the bucket but you’re afraid ‘cause you’ve heard there’s a 50% or better chance you’ll get something other than fucked during your visit & then what would you do?”

Other articles vent anger at fairweather friends of PWAs, and the unique social dynamics of the AIDS crisis:

“People with AIDS are often abandoned… but the deathbed is well attended and there is plenty of loud crying at the memorial – Nice new outfit there.”

At times, the zine’s tone is more straightforwardly sincere, as with its long obituary for Cliff Diller, who was among the founders of the West Hollywood SM party Club Fuck!. IFP’s memorial for him includes beautifully specific and evocative moments like:

“A celebration of Cliff’s life took place in L.A. on Sunday Oct. 25, the highlight of which was a performance and ritual by Aztec fire dancers. Over 100 friends gathered, most wore green, ate lasagna, ceasar [sic] salad, and pulled together. Instead of feeling, I am over this, I left feeling that, yes, I can do this one more time.”

∇Δ∇Δ∇Δ

Cover of Diseased Pariah News, a zine printed in black and white on green paper. Above a photo of two hands, there is a speech bubble reading "The blood of over 100,000 Americans who have died of AIDS, Mr. President? You're soaking in it!"
Diseased Pariah News #1 (reprint)

One of the most famous examples of dark AIDS humour is Diseased Pariah News, an influential AIDS zine published from 1990 to 1999. All eleven issues of it are available to read online at the Internet Archive, and it is well worth your time. It offered a similar combination of resource-sharing, irreverence, and political rage, with the first issue declaring its mission to “provide a forum for infected people to share their thoughts, feelings, art, writing, and brownie recipes in an atmosphere free of teddy bears, magic rocks, and seronegative guilt.”

Another example of grim AIDS humour in the QZAP archives is AIDS Kills Fags Dead, by Eric Deutsch, whose title references a shirt worn by the singer of metal band Skid Row (although misattributed to Axl Rose in the zine itself, for what it’s worth).

A collaged zine page, featuring an image of two people having sex outdoors, a statue of someone lying down, and a list of rules for safer sex in French.
from AIDS Kills Fags Dead

According to an academic article on “Counterpublicity and Corporeality in HIV/AIDS Zines,” Infected Faggot Perspectives ultimately ran to 14 known issues. There is at least one issue held in Duke University’s Bingham Center zine collection. There is a copy of issue 6 in the Columbia University Libraries and of issue 8 (April 1992) at the ONE Archives at the USC Libraries. Traces of it are also scattered online.

The writing in IFP is mostly under pseudonyms like La Vieja Sidosa, Pansy Ass Faggot, and Trixie Trash, but the zine appears to have been the work of W. Wayne Karr, who died in 1995 and was remembered for his advocacy around access to AIDS drugs, and Cory Roberts-Auli, who died in 1996, after writing a final essay about facing his death, which was published with a preface remembering him for the depths of his solidarity with the often-neglected population of women living with AIDS.

He wrote,

“When I think of what is ahead of me, I feel almost a sense of relief. I know I am capable of letting go and I look forward with a sense of adventure to what lies ahead. If all of you hearing or reading this could step outside of your own emotions for a moment and be happy for me and for my freedom, you would see just how ready I am for this to be over. I’ve been carrying this disease around for many years and I am elated to be free of it. Of course, I have little to no information about what lies ahead, after all, I have never died before. Still, I can’t help being excited and scared at the same time.”

Mia Mingus, the writer and activist in disability justice and transformative justice, writes a blog titled Leaving Evidence, with the description,

“We must leave evidence. Evidence that we were here, that we existed, that we survived and loved and ached. Evidence of the wholeness we never felt and the immense sense of fullness we gave to each other. Evidence of who we were, who we thought we were, who we never should have been. Evidence for each other that there are other ways to live–past survival; past isolation.”

Zines like Infected Faggot Perspectives, Diseased Pariah News, and AIDS Kills Fags Dead, left evidence of their creators’ immense creativity, brilliance, and a mordant, furious, catty, grief-laden, exquisitely faggy sense of humour. I’m grateful to have these zines available to me, and to count those who made them as my elders and ancestors.

Lee P is interning at QZAP in spring/summer 2024. Ze is a long-time zine maker, and hir current project is Sheer Spite Press, a small press and zine distro. Originally from unceded Algonquin land, Lee calls Tiohtià:ke // Mooniyang // Montreal home. Ze’s also a member of the organizing collective for Dick’s Lending Library, a community-run, local library of books by trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit authors.

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