join us tomorrow night at 9pm EST as louie & Abdul-Aliy Muhammad talk aids history, personal rituals and how we are surviving a plague…again.
join us tomorrow night at 9pm EST as louie & Abdul-Aliy Muhammad talk aids history, personal rituals and how we are surviving a plague…again.
my life is a perpetual music soundtrack. i remember all of the moments – no matter how trivial or traumatic – in song. my friends often joke that whenever i say, “i love this song!”, they know a story will follow. and they’re correct. music and pop culture are usually how i recall and process my experiences. they help me to make sense of things.
during my many days of quarantine, i have spent a lot of time listening to music, specifically my “1990 was that gurl” playlist. there are times when a song comes on and i simply sing along and then there times when i am flooded with emotions that are normally dormant in busier times. one of those songs is “joey” by concrete blonde. a song that helped me make a little bit of since of the complicated and absolutely relationship i shared with my aunt blanca.
one song that reminds me of blanca, not necessarily because the song was ever playing when we were together – she would have never listened to modern rock – is concrete blonde’s 1990 hit “joey.” the song conjures up feelings that are both painful and sentimental. released in the fall of 1990, “joey” is an all too-relatable song about loving someone who is the depths as addiction.
i cannot listen to this song without thinking of the many nights i watched blanca disappear into herself. she never instructed me to keep her self-medication a secret. i just kinda just knew. i was already a master at hiding the severity of my own mother’s addiction. and for real, for real, everyone in my universe was either surviving addiction or fiercely judging those of us who were surviving. there was really no one left to tell. these secrets were easy to keep but heavier to hold.
“I know you’ve heard it all before
So I don’t say it anymore
I just stand by and let you
Fight your secret war
And though I used to wonder why
I used to cry till I was dry
Still sometimes I get a strange pain inside
Oh, Joey, if you’re hurting so am I”
the youngest of my mother’s sisters, blanca was 10 years my senior and in 1990 was one of my favorite people to spend time with. she was an avid music lover. she loved babyface and keith sweat. when together, she and i would listen to the quiet storm and just talk – me about boys i had crushes on and she about the men who had broken her heart. it seemed her heart was always broken.
blanca wasn’t a drinker. i cannot remember her ever drinking actually. we drank pepsis and ate chinese take-out while we listened to songs about heartbreak. we laughed and laughed as songs by phylis hyman, stephanie mills and luther vandross played in the background. but then a song would begin to play and the energy would shift immediately. it was like literally like watching a broken heart bleed. i’d try to distract her with conversation and antidotes. i was a funny as kid. but she would just pull the small clear bag of heroine from out her purse and take a hit.
then the race would begin. i would begin to talk faster because i knew she would be nodding off soon. blanca engaged in conversation for as long as she could or until she was completely out of it. then i would continue to talk but not as much and not as fast. i would try to salvage the night before the feeling if regret began to set in.
“But if I seem to be confused
I didn’t mean to be with you
And when you said I scared you
Well I guess you scared me too
But we got lucky once before
And I don’t want to close the door
And if you’re somewhere out there
Passed out on the floor
Oh Joey, I’m not angry anymore”
i never got mad at blanca for getting high. i hated that it made her disappear. but i knew heroine was a tough thing to kick. when she did try, i would accompany her to the methadone clinic. and when she relapsed, i would go with her to cop her drugs. i just liked being around her – most of the time. i liked the world we created together. blanca was funny as hell.
blanca struggled with addition up until the very end of her life in 1998. she was just 32 years old.
it has been 30 years single the release of “joey.” i listen to “joey” when i want to mourn the loss of the things i remember and the things that i don’t. like her birthday. i still listen to the songs that played in the background during our times together. sometimes i laugh because i remember her jokes. i tell you, blanca was funny as hell! and yes, there is trauma attached to these memories but the immense love i still have for her is what carries me.
Growing up, I’ve always considered music to be a huge part of my life. I used to sometimes joke about how I’d leave my current city and one day become a popular DJ in Miami or Atlanta. While my dreams of being a DJ haven’t clearly panned out into a serious decision, social distancing, COVID-19, and virtual parties have re-sparked my interest in creating playlists and having people dance to tunes. Throughout COVID-19 I’ve celebrated/held down the music on birthdays for myself, family members, and friends. This was all done through folks coming together to decide on a time, wishing the individual happy birthday, and jamming to tunes so loud that my neighbors sometimes knocked.
When my friends first suggested that I have a “Virtual Birthday Party,” I was shook. As my birthday got closer, I began to take the option seriously and how it was a low-level activity where no costs were involved. Considering that we were all advised to stay at home, I continued to ask myself “Well, what are people going to be doing at 8PM on Thursday anyway?” We quickly set up a webinar link, sent a calendar invite, and spread the word on social media.
To see my family members and friends on several screens and webinar apps showed me how it was probably in my best interest to virtually celebrate with people. For instance, if I were going to have a party in person, most of the people that joined wouldn’t have been able to come anyway due to locations, etc.
As weird as it may have initially seemed to host a virtual birthday party, and now DJ for others, I’m reminded of my passions: community and dancing. No matter what here’s what I’ll always remember that during this time of social isolation: the beat goes on.
growing up in the 1990’s, there were ballads and then there were slow jams. that distinction mattered in the early 90’s. today, with the advent of streaming, it is a norm to consume multiple genres in just one playlist. but in 1990, that required more work. if you wanted to listen to pop, you turned to mtv or turned your radio dial to a top 40 station. if you wanted to listen to r&b music, you watched BET music videos shows or switched your dial to an r&b station. and this was only possible for those of us who lived in bigger metropolitan cities because many cities didn’t even have a black radio station. my point is that radio was hella segregated. so “ballads” were code for non-black and pop slow songs. “slow jam” was an indication of an r&b slow tempo grove that made you feel all the things. that is thanks to the late radio, tv personality and quite storm originator, melvin lindsey.
raised in washington, d.c., melvin attended howard university and interned at WHUR, a local adult contemporary radio station. melvin’s break happened in may 1976 after he was asked to dj as a last minute substitute. he compiled a stack of his favorite records (the 1970’s way of creating a spotify playlist) that included smokey robinson, the delfonics, isley brothers and others. although young and inexperienced, melvin’s silky and calm voice coupled with his choice of smooth r&b songs were an instant hit with listeners. by 1977, he was a radio staple with his own nightly show, “the quiet storm.”
named after a 1974 smokey robinson song, by his friend and mentor, cathy hughes, the quiet storm quickly became more than a radio show – it became a radio format that was duplicated by black radio stations though out the country. every night from 8pm-12am, quiet storm radio shows played mid and slow tempo r&b songs with very few interruptions. the show creating an easy listening and intimate mood for listens. it is usually the quiet storm that folks are referring to when they says “baby making music.”
melvin’s impact cannot be overstated. the quiet storm helped to make luther vandross, freddy jackson, anita baker, sade, babyface and keith sweat, just to name a few, r&b mega-stars.
in the late 1980s and early 1990’s, melvin became a fixture on BET as a co-host of “screen scene,” a daily show that in the same vein as entertainment tonight and access hollywood. he also filled in for video soul host donnie simpson on many occasions.
throughout the 1990’s, the quiet storm became cemented in black radio history. artists were recording and releasing songs specifically targeting the format – which by then had become a genre of its own. many artists often released “quiet story remixes.” but melvin, the format’s creator would not live to witness its growth.
on march 26, 1992, melvin lindsey died from complications of AIDS. he was just 36 years. a few nights before his death, after going public with his diagnosis and prognosis, melvin addressed listeners of WHUR, the radio station where his career began, to thank them for their support.
Horacio: Long story short, the quarantine made our March 21st date impossible so the day that the stay at home order was enacted in Philly (March 17th) we got a call from the chapel offering to sign our marriage license that day so it wouldn’t expire. We like to think of this “time off” as our honeymoon.
Besides binging televisions shows and desperately trying to come up with recipes that accomadte to our limited knowledge cooking, we’ve embarrassingly enough been spending many days playing Fornite on the couch without cat and dog. We introduced our sobrinos to it (yeah, not the other way around) and since then we’ve been playing together over the phone and it’s been a cute bonding experience since we can’t go visit them at the moment. When we need a little movement we switch to Just Dance or go for a little walk when it’s nice out. We also got to volunteer for Prevention Point here in Philly by helping put together bags of clean syringes and other sanitary measures for the community. When I told mom I had to reassure her we were more than six feet apart in a big room with masks gloves on. We’ve perfected the deep clean, our bathtub and stove have never been shinier. We’ve also become each others personal barber and our hair has changed color like three times. We’re homebodies to begin with so staying at home hasn’t been too strange but we do miss our friends.
Eddie: During quarantine, I have learned that in life, you just don’t have control over the situation that happens around you. What you do have control is how you chose to respond to it. That there is a difference between staying home voluntarily and staying home involuntarily. I like one but not the other. I’ve also learned that I’m much less of a introvert that I thought I was. We’ve both been missing hanging out with friends and being social. Also that Hori and I can sleep a lot haha. But I could probably become completely nocturnal if left unchecked.
Horacio: Personally, I’ve learned to be less serious. I’m the dramatic one and Eddie is the level headed peacekeeper if you will. When I found out we both wouldn’t be working, it stressed us both out but his way of conquering stress is contagious. Of course there are moments of tension when we’re not on the same page, and I’ve learned to detect when those moments are coming and diffuse them by clearing the air before we grow silent. Mostly, I’ve learned that I really have married my best friend and that our connection is genuine and I’m lucky to be able to spend this historical moment with him.
Horacio & Eddie (He/Him/His)
interviewed (yesterday)& photographed (a few months ago) by: louie a. ortiz-fonseca
My love for Selena would begin as a young brown boy growing up in Tucson, AZ. As a first generation Mexican-American, and child of immigrant families, her story of embracing her Chicanaroots is what mirrored most in my life. From my earliest of memories, all I know is singing and dancing like Selena, mimicking her moves, perfecting her vocals…even putting a bandaid on my finger and tying my tshirt into a bra. I never felt freer as a kid than when I was blasting and dancing to her music in the living room when no one was home. If you haven’t guessed by now, I was an incredibly unapologetic and unconsciously Queer child. Me and my brother, who is also Queer, would get up in all the Selena drag and perform, then rush to take it all off when our Mother pulled into the driveway. Selena has always been a part of my family’s life…So much so that my Nana would record Selena’s TV appearances in between home family videos on VHS.
I am a “deep cuts” Selena fan. Before my birth in 1990, she already had many years in the game. Her 80s Tejano music is some of my absolute favorite and probably the most slept on. Watching Selena y Los Dinos evolve from kids with cute matching outfits to full fledge flashy performance attire, modern choreography and sophisticated sound is nothing short of astounding to witness. She truly had an immense love for music. I find myself now as an adult watching her live performances and still in awe of her volcanic talent. Seeing her incorporate famous 80s fashion, big hair, huge shoulder pads, and freestyle dance moves into her Pop/Tejano music has me screaming at my TV! Her “Running Man” was just so fresh!!! She was even brave enough to attempt the “Moonwalk”, and even covered both Michael and Janet Jackson songs, as well as many other 80s top 40 jams. You’ve got to Youtube her singing “Girlfriend” by Pebbles, and any performance of “Enamorada De Ti” will give you all the life!! Whew!!!!
Selena would eventually grow into a massive household name for some Latinx folks in the early 90s. I’ve recently converted all of my family’s home VHS videos to digital, and it was so funny to hear her music in the background at family gatherings as early as 1993. She is undoubtedly the reason that I myself love to sing, why I love to dance, and the reason I grew up feeling like I wasn’t the only Pochx in the world, shit, she taught me most of the Spanish I know today!
It brings me great joy to see that while she was still here with us that she knew how much she was loved. She frequently snatched all the trophies at award shows, and we can’t forget about that Grammy! Her image is now beyond the words legendary and iconic, but meteoric and phenomenal. I still can’t wrap my head around her passing. It’s been 25 years, and I am now about to turn 30, I still weep for Selena as if I somehow knew her personally. I’m so pissed at what could have been. Before her death, she was working with the likes of Dianne Warren and David Morales, both famed and highly coveted and respected musicians. She was going to be a massive star, I just know it. Today her legacy lives on, no Quinceanera, sweet 16, wedding, or even backyard junta is safe from a Selena cumbia. Whenever I go to live music shows where artists perform her music, I cheer with excitement because I never got the opportunity to cheer for her, like I do with all of the other divas I stan for. Her voice, image, laugh, smile, entrepreneurship, hard work, creativity, passion and determination has been and always will be an inspiration to all who love her, and to those who will be introduced to her in the generations to come.
Happy Birthday Selena, we love and miss you so so much. Today I celebrate as I sing and dance in my living room for you, and we are together, siempre.
Written by: Carlos, He/Him/His
Los Angeles, CA
Gran Varones Fellow
the year was 1982.
new york began the year as one of the most dangerous cities in the united states with a record 637,451 reported felonies by the end of 1981.one year into what is now known as the AIDS epidemic but before the urging of activists during a july 27 meeting a new york to adopt the term “AIDS”, much of the media, researchers and medical providers called it “GRID (gay related immune deficiency syndrome,” “the gay plague” or “gay cancer.” the city’s underground club begins emerge into the pop consciousness after the release of madonna’s debut single “everybody” becomes a club hit. however, new york’s gay clubs are still under siege by the city’s police who still routinely raid clubs. on the night of september 1982, the NYPD violently raided blues, a manhattan gay club primarily patronized by black and latino queers and trans folks. police locked the doors and beat patrons for more than an hour sending 35 club-goers to the hospital. police were never charged.
this is the new york that hector valle, a 22 year-old vibrant puerto rican gay man with a flair for style, existed in. hector was widely known throughout the community and dance clubs for his elegant and athletic style of vogue. while not formally a part of any ballroom house hector was enchanted by new york’s growing ballroom scene, and made the bold decision to start his own house – the house of extravaganza (original spelling until 1989). hector set out to recruit members from the pre-gentrified christopher street pier from the legendary queer dance utopia, paradise garage which would helped inform the xtravanganza culture. one of the first official xtravaganzas included a young puerto rican trans woman who later become an icon in her own right – angie xtravaganza.
the house of xtravaganza made their debut in 1983 and under the leadership and guidance of hector and angie, who served as house mother and father, the then not-so-experienced house quickly emerged as one of the most exciting new houses on the scene. as their popularity expanded, the xtravaganzas became a fiercely close family on and off the runway. hector’s pioneering vision was in full fruition.
in just two years, new york was rapidly becoming a different place. gentrification was beginning to change the landscape of new york’s nightlife and culture. madonna had emerged from the underground scene and was reaching pop icon status after the release of her 1984 sophomore album, “like a virgin.” And after the protest of black and latino LGBTQIA people and allies The NYPD was no longer raiding gay clubs but in the fever hystreria of AIDS panic has begun to close bathhouses. And by the end of 1985, AIDS had claimed over 5,000 people including the pioneering hector valle xtravaganza. hector was just 25 years old.
the house that hector built would continue under the leadership of angie xtravaganza until her own death in 1993 at the young of age of 28. by the late 1980’s, the house broke into the mainstream appearing in both time and american vogue magazines. the house was also prominently featured in the 1990 groundbreaking documentary film “paris is burning.” and two of the xtravaganza children, josé and luis xtravaganza rocketed to international stardom as dancers for the madonna, the singer who started her career the same year the xtravaganza was founded.
almost 40 years later, hector’s vision remains stronger than ever. the house of xtravaganza continues to be one of the most influential and iconic houses in ballroom history. one of the first houses to incorporate HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment messaging into their mission and vision, the legacy of founding father hector valle xtravaganza still shines. and for someone known for his flair, this makes perfect sense.
many of the important moments and even many of the not-so-important moments often times play out in my memory through music. for example, every time i hear “unbreakable” by alicia keys, i am reminded of the night i tested hiv positive. i was in the car with my best friend on the way to his house trying to process this new health reality when “unbreakable” began to play. in that moment, i thought, “for real, universe? this song? right now? does everything have to be like a mellow-dramatic made-for-TV movie with me?” i actually said it out loud. i know this because best friend and i laughed. then cried.
music grounds me. always has. which is why i write a lot about music, specifically the music of the 1990s. and these past few weeks have been unlike anything i have experienced emotionally, mentally and physically. well, i can think of something that may come close to this experience but this “short” post is already dramatic enough. anywho, just as i created mixed-tapes for my friends and family members in the 1990s to express my love and gratitude, i have created a spotify playlist that includes songs that has been helping me to survive. i humbly share it with you all.
thank you for your love and continued support. may this playlist give you some or all of the things it has given me.
enjoy, dance, sing, and be safe.
chris: my brother really continues to teach me how to be unapologetically me. he is so unapologetically him ALL the time. like, i have never met another person who is able to be like “i don’t give a fuck if you don’t like anything about me. i’m pretty sure about who i am.” i’ve even told this to people about you (andrew), you are going to do what you want to do, when and how you want to do it and that’s it. that’s something i have learned because out of the two of us, i am the more reserved one. i am figuring out that i can be be that way too and that there is nothing wrong with me and he teaches me that.
andrew: you (chris) teach me to never be afraid to stand up. seeing you defend me when you felt i needed to be defended has always been very inspiring. we would be on the train and somebody would say something crazy about me and my brother would be like, “what the did you say!?” we much homophobia we DON’T get inside our home, we don’t live in a bubble. we don’t live in a place that is always going to be safe to be queer. and so i see you (chris) as a hero. your ability to stand up for people. you taught me “if my queer friends and family aren’t safe, i’m not safe.” that is something i have learned from you.
chris (he/him) & andrew (he/they)
bronx, new york
interviewed & photographed by: louie a. ortiz-fonseca
last august, hydeia broadbent celebrated her 35th birthday. this wasn’t just a milestone but a testament to the sheer determination of life and hope.
diagnosed with hiv at three years old, hydeia was not expected to survive past age five. and in 1987, years almost a decade before the breakthrough of hiv treatment, this prognosis was pretty accurate for children battling the opportunistic infections brought on by HIV. hydeia’s mother immediately became a fierce advocate and enrolled hydeia into clinical trials with the hopes of prolonging her life. and no easy feet during especially during a time when hiv clinical trials did not include women, young people and people of color.
a chance meeting with the late hiv advocate elizabeth glaser in 1988 at the national institutes of health, where they were both receiving treatment, led to hydeia becoming a public speaker. after telling her story across the world including on a tv special for nickelodeon with magic johnson, 20/20, good morning america and becoming one of the most memorable guests of the oprah winfrey show. at just age 10, hydeia had become the face of not just pediatric aids but the first generation of children born with hiv.
in the years since, hydeia has dedicated her life to promoting hiv prevention among young people, specifically young black women as well as advocating for accessible treatment and healthcare for all young people living with hiv.
today, on national youth hiv/aids awareness day, we honor and celebrate all of the work hydeia has done to center young people living with hiv. we thank hydeia broadbent for teaching us all the power of storytelling as a radical tactic for activism and advocacy.
I was born in Mexico, grew up there as a little kid but then I’ve spent most of my life now in Houston, Texas.I was nine years old actually, my dad had to come over to the US undocumented since he was 14 years old. Back in the 80s, it was more like he would spend some time working in Texas, go back to Mexico for a few months, do that back-and-forth and then that’s how he met my mom and they got married and all that. At age 9 we moved to Houston.
I mean it was weird because I come from a really tiny town that had maybe like 1500 people. We only had one school and one church, I mean everyone knew each other, it was very rural. And then I moved to Houston which was this huge city, where I couldn’t, yeah it was way bigger, but it felt a lot smaller than my town. In my town as a 6, 7, 8-year-old I could just roam around, like go to my friends house, play all around, but in Houston we moved into a tiny apartment and that’s what I thought Houston was, kind of like a tiny apartment. Getting used to that took a while but then I think that I was the lucky to find a lot of community and a lot of folks in Houston that basically made me stay here and I’ve been living in Houston ever since.
Well, I was a big nerd in high school so I did a lot of school things. One of the things I did was theatre. I started doing theater since I was in like six grade 6th grade, and you know I was like a really shy kid and didn’t like talking a lot. I also wasn’t allowed to have friends outside of school like I never was able to go to like their houses, they couldn’t come over to my house. Theatre was like the thing that I was allowed to do where it was still outside of school, but you know it was still seen as like you’re taking a class or you’re doing it for like an extracurricular and that was actually the thing that helped me most like connect with people.
Theatre was in a lot of ways a place where the queer kids would go because it was that space where you could put on different characters and sometimes the characters that we are putting on weren’t fake, they were actually the real ones, but we had to pretend. We had the space to be like “Oh this is something we can do.” When I was in high school I wasn’t at the point where I was out, or a lot of other people were out, but there with us understanding that in that space we could be whoever we wanted to be and that included like our sexual orientation, gender expression, and all of that, even if we didn’t say it out loud .
My parents came to shows and it was weird in a way. My mom actually passed away like the beginning of my junior year of high school, so she went to some of the first performances. The thing about my family, my parents in particular, was that they didn’t speak English so they would sit through an entire like two hour play that was all in English. They didn’t understand mostly anything that was being said, but then, you know, every time at the end of the performance, they were always like “That was really good, I really liked it.” I always wondered like how could they do that, I don’t think I could sit through like a two hour thing where I don’t understand what is going on, but I think in a way that kind of that was really cool to me, but at the same time I wonder if they understood, like not just what was happening in the plays, but also what I was trying to express through being in the plays. That was always like an interesting thing– they would go to all the shows, even if they couldn’t understand most of what was happening.
My interest in theatre was mainly in Houston, but in Mexico the one thing that I remember since I was a little kid was just being in the kitchen all the time because that’s where my mom was, that’s where all my aunt’s were, that’s basically where all the women in my family were–in the kitchen. I remember being there and it was just like this really special place, again ,where I felt, I never thought about this but in a way that was like a theater space. The kitchen was kind of like a theater. Every time my aunts, grandma, and mom were cooking they were always telling these stories about when they were growing up or people that they knew. Actually, now that I think about it that was kind of like “theater” that I had before I came to the US, and then had like you know like a more sort of formal or like traditional definition of the term.
In the kitchen I mean I learned so much about my family, the town, and maybe some stuff that I shouldn’t have been learning when I was that age, but seeing them there, they were the ones in power. In power in every aspect of it from deciding the dishes, dividing the labor among themselves, to like who is leading the conversation of the stories that they are telling.
José Eduardo, He/They
Interviewed by: Armonté Butler
Photographed: louie a. ortiz-fonseca
idk who needs to hear this but nurses who work 16hr shifts aren’t heroes. they’re horrifically exploited workers& they don’t need thanks or applause, they need more colleagues and better labour protection
As a nurse I will say that it’s sad and has been a rude awakening to know that in times of widespread hardship, people will expect you to put your life on the line- and anyone you love and interact with- just to make up for the government and medical field’s greed. We have little staff, either because people are sick or just afraid to come in due to the fear of getting sick. We have little to no protective gear. The ONE face mask they give us per shift doesn’t do CRAP! Administration is no help for us on the actual field and these hospitals are trying to cover up new cases of COVID-19 to hide the fact that their “protection” for staff and patients is inadequate. This week alone, two of my patients have been confirmed cases and 3 medical staff have been confirmed too. It’s not heroic to see your fellow colleagues catch a deadly virus. It’s not fun to see young people my age, OR ANY AGE FOR THAT MATTER, be on a damn ventilator. IT’S TRAUMATIZING! And to think there are people who aren’t taking this seriously still!