The Quest for Community
WHEN I BEGAN my online diary, “Living in the Bonus Round,” in March 1996, there was no way I could have anticipated that eleven years later it would lead to my being invited by pop star George Michael to play John Lennon’s “Imagine” piano. The route was unexpected, circuitous, and completely unplanned. But it was entirely representative of the numerous unexpected and life-affirming experiences that have come from my simple desire to create an easy way to keep my family and my doctor updated about my failing health—I was at the “end stages” of AIDS—and, finally, to unconsciously be saying goodbye as I lived out my own public deathwatch.
Without my realizing it, my on-line diary had become a first-of-its-kind website for people with AIDS, a proto-blog—a unique source of crucial information for doctors, caregivers and medical students around the world in isolated places who were facing HIV and AIDS alone. I found myself becoming a patient advocate and case study. Eventually, my diary was incorporated into the course curriculum materials at Harvard University School of Public Health, and I have now appeared at high schools, colleges, universities, churches, synagogues, theaters and other groups all over the country, including delivering the prestigious Jonathan King Lecture at the Stanford University School of Medicine Center for Biomedical Ethics.
As a recovering Baptist, I began attracting those who opposed my open acceptance of my homosexuality. My confrontations with conservative religionists were at first fiery and combative, but they led me to Soulforce, where I learned about the modern movement for relentless non-violence. This led to the creation of my own cantata for peace for the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.
My diary also attracted young people who were struggling with the same sexual and spiritual issues. Through PFLAG, I helped oversee the creation of Youth Guardian Services, an online peer support group for GLBT youth and their straight friends, by mentoring a nineteen-year-old, Jason Hungerford, who lived on the other side of the continent and who became the group’s first executive director.
So, how did this turn into my playing John Lennon’s piano? Through my on-line diary, I encouraged a mother named Gabi Clayton to share the story of her bisexual son’s suicide after a gay bashing. It was on my site that she first posted her story. She went on to help found the Safe Schools Coalition and Families United Against Hate, and it was Gabi’s story, discovered by George Michael’s partner in a random search, that led to George Michael finding her story—which led him to invite me to play John Lennon’s piano.
And something tells me this is only the beginning of the story.
Steve Schalchlin is an HIV-positive blogger, composer, lyricist, and performer.