Went with a small posse of brothers to the THT screening of We Were Here, a new documentary film by David Weissman, the guy who made that genius film about the Cockettes I was so in love with all those years ago.
It’s a film I always wanted to watch – paying tribute to that terrible period in the 80s where the plague descended on the gay community. Literally, like a Biblical plague, people dropping dead in their thousands from an unseen, inexplicable, remorseless disease that killed and mutilated a specific population.
There were so many moments when I welled up. Mostly when the massed faces were shown, or when mass solidarity happened. But one phrase from one of the talking heads really stayed with me. He has lost not one but two partners to the disease and he is left, for the first time suicidal: “All my friends were dead… there just didn’t seem much to stop me checking out.” I imagined for a moment how it would be if all my friends – all the surrogate brothers and family that my gay friends represent – were dying all around me and i was the only one left.
More than 15.000 people died at the height of the epidemic in just the Bay Area. All in the space of four or five years.
What was most moving and most thought provoking was the transformative solidarity and spirit that arose in that carnage. A real community of care – not just of promiscuous fun – emerged and the gay community showed dignity and strength. I wonder whether that strength is still there or now dispersed into a more particulate community?
Most young gay men I know socialise on line, have sex on line and hang out with a heterogenous crowd that is certainly not the one Weissman shows on the Castro in 1977.
We are more mainstream now and have less need for ghettos – but I wonder how an internet generation would deal with the awful trauma of the AIDS epidemic. Has the momentous soul we showed back then become dispersed into the world or has it just faded away?
I left the film feeling more proud of being gay than usual. I missed the horror by a generation but I am immeasurably proud of the gay men and women who passed through it on my behalf. This is the first proper history I’ve seen.