Being Gay in the AIDS Generation

Question: What’s a situation in which your ideas about sexual \r\npreference have been challenged or changed?

John Cameron Mitchell:  Well, maybe, you know, I grew up \r\nin a military, very conservative Catholic background and certain things \r\nare considered received wisdom and not to be questioned, and of course \r\nthat, you know, can be very comforting for some, but it sort of scared \r\nme.  And I knew I was different, in terms of my sexuality quite young, \r\nand having sort of an understanding that I probably deal with that \r\nlater, at some point, it was an understanding, that I wasn’t really \r\nready to do that until the end of college... which was, was a strange \r\ntime to come out because AIDS had just hit, you know, and it was a \r\ncomplicated time and life and death was involved.

But also I was \r\nvery excited about entering the world as an adult and a sexual being and\r\n someone who could actually be loved or love someone. Because I wasn’t \r\nreally into girls, so I didn’t really have that outlet or opportunity to\r\n feel those things.  So I was like the first generation of people who \r\ncame out, understanding that safe sex was important.  And people just a \r\ncouple years older than me were dying, so, you know, even a year older, \r\nand it was very strange.  And I was an actor and at that time in the \r\nearly ‘80’s, you just didn’t really come out, you know, and still it’s \r\nvery uncommon for actors to talk about their sexuality lest they be \r\ndiscriminated against and people think, oh, well, you’re gay so you \r\ncan’t play straight, though if you’re straight and you play gay, that’s \r\ngenerally a requirement for a major award.

\r\nSo I thought, it was a strange, you know, intensity about it, it seemed \r\nstupid to be scared and in the closest, you know, thinking about being \r\nin the closet when people were dying and Reagan was doing so little and \r\nit was a, again, it was people who weren’t exactly my peers who were \r\ndying. So it was a very strange, but exciting time to be hitting your \r\nadolescence at, you know, at that very serious time.

And when \r\nyou, you know, when you’re young, you think you know stuff and you \r\ndon’t. And about relationships, certainly there’s a, you know, you can \r\nread about how things are, how things go, and that’s our first way of, \r\nyou know, or now in a more, perhaps more visual, cinematic way.  You do \r\nyour research on what you’re supposed to, you know, what you’re supposed\r\n to learn about love, about life, about everything.  And you have these \r\npre-formed opinions, and especially now, in this information age, \r\nthere’s a kind of false, false wisdom or predigested kind of, "Well, \r\nwhat do you think?"  You know, and it’s like your comment on the, you \r\nknow, post a comment on... “Will North Korea attack? You vote!”  You \r\nknow, and it’s like this sort of false, kind of like, knowledge that \r\npeople foist on you and you’re supposed to have it, you know, you’re on \r\nFacebook and you’re supposed to know your sexual orientation at 13.  \r\nIt’s like, I, nobody really knows what’s going on at that time and \r\npeople seem to, you know, seem to know stuff or they have to act like \r\nthey do, and they make decisions before they really need to and it’s a \r\nstrange, a strange thing.

So I did that a bit, too, and then, you\r\n know, the older you get, you realize the less you know and you know \r\nsome things.  And I guess the key thing is to... don’t make a decision \r\nbased on some fear of the unknown.  And I make decisions based on fear \r\nof the known all the time, I mean, that’s what the voting booth is \r\nhopefully for.  But if it’s something based on fear of the unknown, it’s\r\n probably a bad decision, that’s the only thing I know.

Recorded on May 3, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

Contending with discrimination and AIDS panic as part of the first generation of "out" gay people.

Malcolm Gladwell live | How to re-examine everything you know

Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET today as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to your calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo

Keep reading Show less

Ever wonder how LSD works? An answer has been discovered.

UNC School of Medicine researchers identified the amino acid responsible for the trip.

Credit: Motortion Films / Shutterstock
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at UNC's School of Medicine have discovered the protein responsible for LSD's psychedelic effects.
  • A single amino acid—part of the protein, Gαq—activates the mind-bending experience.
  • The researchers hope this identification helps shape depression treatment.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists uncover the brain circuitry that causes mysterious dissociative experiences

A team of researchers have discovered the brain rhythmic activity that can split us from reality.

Mind & Brain
  • Researchers have identified the key rhythmic brain activity that triggers a bizarre experience called dissociation in which people can feel detached from their identity and environment.
  • This phenomena is experienced by about 2 percent to 10 percent of the population. Nearly 3 out of 4 individuals who have experienced a traumatic event will slip into a dissociative state either during the event or sometime after.
  • The findings implicate a specific protein in a certain set of cells as key to the feeling of dissociation, and it could lead to better-targeted therapies for conditions in which dissociation can occur.
Keep reading Show less

There are 5 eras in the universe's lifecycle. Right now, we're in the second era.

Astronomers find these five chapters to be a handy way of conceiving the universe's incredibly long lifespan.

Image source: Pablo Carlos Budassi
Surprising Science
  • We're in the middle, or thereabouts, of the universe's Stelliferous era.
  • If you think there's a lot going on out there now, the first era's drama makes things these days look pretty calm.
  • Scientists attempt to understand the past and present by bringing together the last couple of centuries' major schools of thought.
Keep reading Show less

To be a great innovator, learn to embrace and thrive in uncertainty

Innovators don't ignore risk; they are just better able to analyze it in uncertain situations.

David McNew/Getty Images
Personal Growth
Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, was America's first female self-made millionaire.
Keep reading Show less