Unbunging Selfie, de-freckled, de-gingered and de-aged (Trigger warning in every which way, in every possible direction in the text, not for public consumption, not at all, at all…)

Unbunging Selfie, de-freckled, de-gingered and de-aged (Trigger warning in every which way, in every possible direction in the text, not for public consumption, not at all, at all…)

Unbunging Selfie, de-freckled, de-gingered and de-aged (Trigger warning in every which way, in every possible direction in the text, not for public consumption, not at all, at all…)

The Conversion.

Ruin: so, tell me about the day you got the ‘news’. Did you go there alone? I went with Adrian, but we got the news separately.

Rack: I will, but zero energy today and this will require some gusto. I was alone, half expecting it. I’ve never fully described it to myself or anyone else. Going to think on it. If it goes in our book, it will have to be largely fictionalized as I remember very little. Not surprisingly. Send me yours and I’ll send you mine. xo

Ruin: Mine is similar, remember very little, though I did write around it, both to you and to one or two others. I was working in the Civil Service at the time. I had just finished my Doctorate. I will re-build it around those messages, will find it out, write about not remembering it, even. I can’t even remember if I was sitting opposite a male or female doctor. I do remember the shock though, and coming out to discover that Adrian was in with another doctor. I had gone in first, so I had to wait for him. My head was racing, but then, when is it not?

Amanda Knox writes quite well, relative to that link you sent me, about her ‘Red Letter Day’.

There’s a similar feeling in it, that prison sentence, the air being drawn out of the room.

Yes, I will write it, we can also find it in our exchange, and yes, it can include fiction, of course. But then what is fiction? Perhaps it’s the story we tell ourselves convincing ourselves that it’s true, those self-justifications we invent to make moving forward possible, that greasing of those wheels.

I also have the writing about when we first got our t-cell count back, and mine being higher than his, and there being some guilt. It’s near the end of those emails I sent you, but I will contrive to pull it all together.

Rack: God yes, the T-cell counts. Mine were not terrible. Peter tested after me and his were terrible. That’s how he found out. I feel like I might have to resort to science fiction, a genre I’m not fond of. Not that I know anything about it. Anyway, will stop writing about writing about it and will write it.

Sent : Sun Apr 22, 2001, 9:17 am.
Cries and Whimpers. (On discovering new HIV status Sent : Sun Apr 22, 2001, 9:17 am.

“I feel like I have dropped out of the world. You know the feeling, that in it but not of it, sort of thing. This acknowledgement of a new but inevitable state of being waxes and wanes, sometimes seeming unbearable and sometimes seeming very ordinary. That we both want or need to deal with it in totally different ways causes problems intermittently as we knock off each other (relative to Adrian). Meanwhile the world seems even more inaccessible than ever, the art world in particular. As usual I cringe at youth and beauty, but now in a more bitter and twisted way. When I see what is acceptable and celebrated in the Art world it becomes immediately clear why I would not be. Who needs the ravings of an aberrational cock and cum obsessed dysfunctional unit? The world is about going forth and multiplying, about buying and selling. It’s all about possessions and looking good. Having got to the ripe old age of 47, I haven’t even managed to develop the acquisitional gene and imagine that will be a lack until the final shuffling off of this tired old coil.”

That’s the day I found out, after a little search, but I will make it into a story. But no, on re-reading, I see it isn’t the day I found out, it’s 12 days later. I have no idea what happened in those intervening days.

I sort of discovered that in the act of writing, you start to remember even, to recapture memories. It’s an interesting process.

Rack: Yes, I hope that happens. I am thinking I might make the perspective that of the doctor’s, to some degree, not entirely. I do remember him. Better than I remember myself that day. Telling.

Ruin: I remember reactions over that time, telling people, and getting that "well you were bloody looking for it" reaction.

I think before that day I thought that I might have been immune.

There was a rumour that some people were, and I had been such a slattern to that point, and always stayed negative, so I sort of allowed myself delude myself.

But I think that I might have wanted it too.

Rack: I mostly knew. I had fevers, swollen lymph nodes and one night a pain in the left side of my neck like a piece of rebar had been jammed up from my clavicle.

Yes, regarding wanting it, me too. It was connected to my loss of Conor. Complicated. It was a way for me to have an identity.

Ruin: But it was so much not your demographic, that must have been bewildering somewhat.

I think I was a semi-conscious bug-chaser, but also blindingly honest. As soon as I converted I told everyone.

Rack: Oh, it did. It was my calling card. The 25-year-old Irish woman with AIDS (no distinctions were made back then really).

Ruin: It was how I sorted out that wheat from the chaff, frighten the fuckers away.

Rack: It was a fantastic litmus test. That’s certain.

Ruin: I told you before, that demographically in London, the Irish and those from the Caribbean have the greatest percentage of HIV positive amongst their cohorts. They both have a disproportionate number for the size of their populations. It’s the old ‘Cuckoo’, ‘Wild Goose’ thing. There was a survey done, and it was reported. I wish I had kept it.

Rack: Not surprising. The disenfranchised. Same could be said of Covid deaths.

Ruin: Lost, wandering, souls, untethered.

Rack: Yup. Less to lose.

Ruin: It’s interesting now here to be in that demographic again relative to Covid, the disposables, the old.

Rack: But there was also the sense that it could get anyone. Liberace. Rock Hudson. Magic Johnson.

Ruin: Straight from one to the other, straight from seeing our parents out to preparing to see ourselves out. But that is universally the way of the world too.

Rack: I’d like to see myself in first.

Ruin: Yes, absolutely, but the untethered are more vulnerable, more likely to head for it, almost daringly.

Rack: I’m beginning to understand the reason for my writerly reticence. It ain’t pretty.

Ruin: Great, meaning ‘yes’ to the seeing of yourself in, but also describe it, it works at perhaps even bringing that about, of disenfranchising it.

Rack: I will. Not now though. I need to clarify it to myself. It’s terrifying.

Ruin: That self-loathing, it’s great, and liberating, when you at last begin to call it out.

I am listening to Sapolsky again today about childhood abuse and PTSD. Take your time.


Baboons in the wild, that’s us, his subject, extrapolated to us.

Rack: Waving our purple arses. xoxooxoxox

Ruin: Kiss it, bitch!!!! XXX

It’s bedtime here. I have been thinking about this, I will write it tomorrow, or start, it will include this, grow out of this. This will be the immediate aspect. The rest will happen, from notes made around the time and retrieved memories. It might take the rest of the week to pull it out, but I will.

When I think of it, it must have been a female doctor. At the same time, it might not have even been a doctor, perhaps a social worker, or a nurse, or one of the gay men manning the ‘Tavistock Clinic’. It was all nicely normalised for us sexual renegades, so that we could talk about anything, just as if we too were actually ‘normal’. My memory of the clinic in Dublin was not like that. There, we were well and truly outsiders, beyond that pale, next to the shackled prisoners from the local jail (I kid you not). This was indicative of the shame we might have dragged with us unknowingly, that friendly self-targeting fire. There is an aspect of that there in Nuala O’ Faolain’s autobiography, around abortion and birth control, and lesbianism. In fact, it’s more or less there in the writings of all our compatriots from Joyce wandering off to forge the conscience of his race, to the Magdalene Laundry atrocities in Claire Keegan. It is our wandering lot. I guess it’s that I seethe against in everything I make or do. That stranglehold of religion, for generations, casting sex as shameful. But there’s no real blame there either, or if there is, it is directable somewhere else. It perhaps could be laid squarely at the feet of the colonisation, and devastatingly cruel treatment, of our forebears, driving them into the maws of religion, that all-devouring solace.

I am not surprised we went crazy, you and me. I guess it’s also why I hold onto the discussion around Joyce relative to syphilis. There is much Irish objection to the theory amongst literature scholars, that ‘not our Saint James’ sort of thing, not now that we have taken him back into our collective, all enveloping, chaste bosoms. But we know he is one of us, shameless, you just have to read his letters, and look at the treatments he was receiving (That mercury and Neo-Salvarsan). We are shameless, and this is good. This needs both embracing and celebrating, wantonly, lusciously, and hilariously.

So back to the ‘Tavistock Clinic’, nestled there just off the Tottenham Court Road, succour for sinners, offered now by our nation’s tormentors. Going there to confess repeated improprieties, which inevitably did, at last, trip one up, was always a bit of a laugh, until it wasn’t.

The thing I think I remember most is hard to describe. It wasn’t a sharp intake of breath, not exactly that. It was more like a rush of cold air into the lungs, like it feels just before a panic attack. But this was years before those panic attacks, but I still remember that ‘cold air’ second. It was like, suddenly from nowhere, air from a deep freeze had entered your lungs. Just the once, it wasn’t ongoing, but it took quite a few more breaths to warm it back up. The heart felt it, and responded, speeding up. Again, Sapolsky describes this wonderfully, that flight or fight response to danger, that speeding up when there was nowhere to run to. He links it to abuse and neglect in childhood. Like a baboon sitting directly opposite a man-eating tiger. The thing is that we are so used to running away from our own personal ‘bête noire’, mine being my mother selling me for sex to her brother when I was a child. That she did this ‘innocently’ is no succour, no release at all. Running had to happen. Running until you dropped, and you, apparently, had just dropped in front of this ferocious caregiver. Luckily the tiger opposite you was just there to make a follow up appointment to have your bloodwork done, to see the extent of the damage already coalesced. I didn’t realise at the time that there would be still a lot of time to conjure a seemingly infinite amount of even more damage. I was always very good at generating self-damage, a past master, even. But then this was inherited, something passed on from abused parents to their litter (or their farrow, as Mr. Joyce termed it). I still love this stuff we carry forward, until we work out that reproduction is probably not a good idea at all; so we stop.

We were very clever in that regard, or at least our DNA was.

Rack, I think that this is how it is done, or a lot of it anyway. This immediacy of these SMS messages between us, this explaining it to each other. You pointed out that this was your favourite part of the 50 pages I sent you, that ‘nowness’. Yes, I agree with you there, it is the ‘bones’, like an extended diary really, a day by day thing, grabbing what ever understanding happens as you wake up. That’s when it’s best for me anyway. It also means you don’t actually have to sit down and write, in that traditional way of putting hours aside for the ‘muse’. Anyway, you both muse and amuse me, enough to make me respond.

I am searching in the stuff I have here from around that time. There is not a lot, I think I sort of temporarily shut down. There are some breadcrumbs scattered. The next part seems to be about results, t-cell counts and the like. I can certainly fill in the gaps somewhat. I remember distinctly telling a few people, and their inappropriate reactions, which made me angry. Some fed me some ‘choices’ shit, as in "you made bad choices" sort of way. I knew that I had been true. I also knew already that there was no such thing as ‘freedom of choice’, no such chimera as ‘free Will’. Those ghosts were the terrors of childhood, they were over, as dead as ‘God’.

I thought their reactions were shaming, and I was having none of that.

Anyway there is solace. I love the tenderness between us as we work this out.

Ruin: Anyway, dear Rack, here’s a start. Good morning!

I was surprised to hear that you knew before Peter, and then he went and got tested. I always presumed that it was the other way around. I remember those people in New York, those gay men that didn’t want to know. I had myself tested more or less every three months, more so after I had resumed barebacking. That happened quite late for me, it was really after I had left New York, that point where I had become so tired of all that self-preservation of someone I loathed, myself. You see, I had come from a long line of barebackers. My parents were, it was mandated by their religion (as you know condoms were not available), and my grandfather and grandmother, with their 17 children, were definitely barebackers too, and so on through countless generations. What can I say? It was ingrained in my DNA.

In fact, almost every heterosexual I ever met was a barebacker. They were forever falling pregnant, or going on the pill, or looking to get an abortion, or whatever. It was from that bastion of privilege that most of the shaming was coming from, as it would happen, and this always managed to irritate the bejaysus out of me. This might have been at the root of the art I was beginning to make, that adoption of those indicators of their divinity, that gold and silver they chose to honour their beatified, that idealised self they had inherited. Fuck them all Rack, I would give that to us.

Rack: Great stuff Billy. I love the idea of barebacking, for whatever reason being hereditary. Brilliant. And yes, the immediacy and the “I’m not really writing” are the genius of the back and forth.

It seems I need this. Or an assignment like this. Working on mine. I’ve got to the office, but no further.


08:20, 15/03/2023

Ruin: Yes, I do and don’t see it as writing. It’s really just a correspondence between friends, and we both write as we write. That, of course, comes with a sense of immediacy, that not writing really towards an end, the picking apart (that knot) being the ongoing driver. This is what we have been doing for years, though I did start by saying that I wanted to keep a record of us dealing with what was happening, and that I had this ‘Laclos’ fantasy. Yes, it has developed, but it is also still the same. I never set out to be a writer, you know that; I am, and was, an image maker, it was and is how I explain the world to myself. I still don’t want to be what is called a writer, that career involving whatever it involves. It’s still writing until I feel this is sorted out, whether that be completed in those fabled 4 years I say I hope for, or whether it goes on until Max Van Sydow arrives with his scythe. The writing is primarily the unravelling of what I have wrought, that Gordian knot thingy, my very own one, in tandem, and parallel with your picking apart of your very own variant of the same. I sense similarities there in both our fumblings. Though it isn’t all fumbling, sometimes we seem to have breakthroughs, seem even to be getting somewhere. This might be delusional on my part. I often look back as things I make, places where I thought I was being ‘true’, some of those ‘eureka’ moments and wonder what I thought I was up to.

Maybe my trying to fashion it into a type of ‘book’ is too much pressure, maybe it is even dishonest, though I see there is ‘worth’ there. I think we can communicate something valuable about the human condition, or at least our own ‘perverted’ version of the same (which is equal to all other versions) especially relative to sex, shame, and abuse. The struggle with whatever, in the moment it was happening, is what the messages back and forth between each other manifests. It wasn’t some narrative contrivance we manufactured to create something called a story or plot. It was the ‘there and then’ of the continuous ‘now’. We are lucky to have that record, and I don’t really care if it is ‘literature’ or even ‘good writing’. I have no problem with correcting it where necessary, grammar or spelling-wise, but that’s only to make it clearer for myself initially. After myself, I want to make it clearer for you. I have no idea what follows after that, or if anything needs to.

I am saying this to take the pressure off of you, the head of steam you seem to build up, fit to burst. I see it can cause a type of panic for you. I am talking about your fear of writing. Don’t write then, just respond if you want to. That’s enough. It builds of its own volition.

Strangely, I could hardly read the O’Faolain book. I got to about 150 pages in and had to stop. I kept waiting for it to start, and kept getting irritated when it didn’t, and had to stop. Anyway, I am not going to attack it, the writing I mean, I am hardly an expert, but it didn’t win me over at all. I don’t know why, maybe it was that generational thing, that Dublin one just before me, before I found myself on Kildare Street, with your mother, and had somewhat of a sampling of what Dublin had to offer (for the first time), before deciding that I had to escape from that too. Then there was that usual doo-doo. That “you had books growing up, you were lucky”, all that crazy comparative abuse stuff, that “mine was worse than yours” stuff. Then she went to Oxford. I would have killed all Jude the obscure’s children to have been aware then that Oxford even existed as a possibility. It’s all very much about what you were born into, and the sort of privilege that is taken for granted, even if her father was a complete negligent asshole.

So, there you have it, another good book ruined through seething jealousy.

Well, at least I now know it, and knowledge being power, and all that palaver, let’s see where that takes us. Anyway, jealousy often comes up around memoirs I read, primarily that Monty Pythonesque “You were lucky, you had books”. I must have always really wanted them, those ‘unobtainables’. This suggests that I might have wanted to write. I remember loving writing in school, and always getting top marks for the same. I think it had something to do with not being able to speak, that damned stutter, so that the writing was the only way I could manage to say what I was thinking. The progenitors worked according to the rule that “children should be seen and not heard”, a relentlessly repeated maxim. So, most of the time was spent making cheap jigsaws. I got one every Christmas, each one more complicated than the last in the hopes of keeping the stammering child quiet. But there was drawing too. I preferred that.

Then I pulled Rack, sorry Kim, through that scratchy hedge hole, your doggy alter-ego, and the world changed. That all sounds a bit like what happened in the Moondance Diner, on that day we first met and simultaneously told me that you had just found out you were HIV-positive.

Ruin: Next step for me is first bloodwork, as you know my veins and arteries are sewers so that should make for fun reading. Can you remember your first? Each seems like a tentative step at the beginnings of a journey. First sex after conversion, first time stoned, pissed, first bloodwork, first confession of new status, first time you snapped at someone who complained about something trivial when you were carrying life and death, and mostly the latter, on your shoulders, first film you managed to sit through. There have been no first tears yet. You know all of this……wanna be my Beatrice?

Edge-dwelling, one of our favourite subjects.

It does seem strange not to have your madness here at the moment. It probably wouldn’t help but it might. I may need to visit NYC at some stage for a fix and a change of perspective and just to prove that I can and that all is not over. This is a stupid infuriating stage, and it can be over as soon as it wants. Sorry if I remind you of a past self. Going to the Irish Club in Eaton Square for lunch for some posh comfort food. The sort of food which was eaten on the Hill of Howth but never made it to Clondalkin. With Wine (for some reason my spellcheck wants to change this to Whine).

Rack: You know what is really odd. I get bad news and my whole being reacts as if it’s good news. This is a strange thing. I get all fired up, determined, focused, confident, strong and ballsy. It’s the perversion of our predicament. Of course, the bloodwork sucked the big hairy moosedick. This I think I knew without having to charge my health insurance company 2,000 dollars. I’ll deal with it, as I always do. I’ll go back in. I’ll play more drug-chess, I’ll grow to love compromise as much as a miracle and I’ll be around for a little longer.

This is not easy.

I think I am going back on the interferon. This is hard for me, but it’s a gamble. Maybe I can keep my liver in working order for another two years and by then the drugs in the pipeline now will be available to me. It’s always been thus, and I have to say that I have
had great fortune in being on the right side of time.

Ruin, Ruin, Ruin. You know I’d say a prayer if I could. There must be real comfort in that stuff. However, we persist…

I’m happy to have you as my dear friend.

Ruin: I should have written earlier to you to let you know of the results of our bloodwork. I was somewhat shocked and dismayed to discover that mine are actually much better than him indoors. Mine are 800 with a low viral load of 9,000. His are around 500 with a viral load of 60,000. I know these are all just figures and can change over a short period; I remember that film ‘Silverlake Life’. This comparison thing is odious and the main overpowering feeling I had was one of guilt at being overly endowed in the T-cell department, as opposed to the trouser department which is my usual problem! We are both being treated at the moment for an amoebic infection in the gut and hopefully this will up his numbers (and mine to superhuman levels), as he has been quite sick and squitty.

They are probably a leftover from my time in New York as I had bad stomach bug problems there (Giardia etc.) from my propensity for eating nether regions. When I went to have them checked here, I was told I had nervous stomach and sent home by my GP, and it is only now that I have the lurgy that the National Health bothers to check and finds the little buggers. At last, we will get comprehensive healthcare, but it had to get to this point (where they check out every little problem). Can you imagine how the rest of the clean population (henceforth to be known as the cleanies) gets treated? Cancer patients getting sent home with ‘Imodium’. It happens.

We are now, of course, utterly disposable. All the rules of survival of the fittest would support this. How do we turn this around? This has been your struggle for years. I don’t mean it in a bad way but is it somewhat of a support to have me there with you in the same boat? It is a support for me that you are such an old hand and inspiration in your ability to move on with this. I am telling my friends but the present climate dictates that they absorb the news, express concern and then disappear (my NY friends excluded), almost like an ‘Oh well, too bad, now get over it’ sort of shrug. So that is what I am doing. I am not averse to milking it, but the udder of human kindness seems to have deserted the pap. Anyway, I am more likely to laugh than cry and my inclination is to shout ‘fuck you and your sympathy.’ At the same time, I don’t want to hide it. I don’t want to become some HIV activist, but I do want to talk about being mortal. I still want TOO MUCH, but now I want it immediately. NOTE TO SELF: Self, you must get some credit cards or at least a credit rating.

So, I am sure you will be glad to see that my unhealthy Ego is still very much intact and beginning to re-emerge from the wettest winter on record. I am torn as to how to approach bodies for art funding. Should I do the “I am profoundly mortal and in touch with the moment of extinction” spiel, hoping they will think, “oops better fund him because he won’t be around for much longer” or avoid all that in case they think, “oops another AIDS artist who has nothing to say to us cleanies?” It’s all in the work anyway……but which is the best way to exploit the situation, given that Brit Art is dominated by Laddism and that even the girls are beer drinking heterosexual womanisers (who can spit great distances).

Brit art has had no response to this Fin De Siecle malaise, there is no Gober, or Gonzales Torres or Wojnarowicz, or even a Goldin……I don’t think they should get away with this. Similarly, Brits don’t know how to respond when you tell them of your lurgyness, as they know no one else with this condition, or at least act as if they don’t. I miss my mates in New York, who have absorbed the whole shebang and know how to respond. Let’s hear it for the ‘Healing Circle’ and ‘Act-Up’ meetings.

They were good, if slightly hysterical, times. I hate normalisation, it really does you in.

I am not what might be considered ‘normal’, I worship at the back passage and no amount of interior design flair will change that. I love being an aberration.

I still have the bitter and twisted fantasy I would like to write as a story. Set in the future it would involve a new virus that would kill you within a month. The idea would be that anyone who was already HIV positive would be immune to the virus. So, reverse everything. Those who were Poz would no longer be Pariahs. Cleanies would be begging for positive loads, it would be on sale on the net. The most efficient way to contact it would be anal sex (as if) so that every straight jock in Christendom would be begging for it and we would be very busy and multi-squillionaires in no time. So I am a sicko….but you always knew that.

Anyway now you have the latest earth-shattering facts and fantasies of my so-called life. Civil servitude continues and the days drag on. I have some feelers out for vague connections to generate art and space and support. We now have a power shower and the new cooker and washing machine and tumble dryer are paid for and awaiting delivery. We will never go short of a clean diaper when the time comes. Debts mount for same.

Attached please find pic for cover of aforementioned book,
Infected kisses,


Rack: Will reply. I don’t see the cover attachment. Xo

Ruin: Nope, that’s an old email, that last part. It was just as far as I got this morning.

This is exactly what I am talking about, this immediacy, this interweaving. It is an exchange between two people, in that moment of that exchange, that perpetual now. Perpetual, another catholic word, that idea of perpetual succour, and that giving and receiving of same to each other.

I sent you more, as email, which I think is a better place to communicate. Except there is also that added immediacy of this organ (WhatsApp) here….that complete ‘in the moment’. Let’s not lose this either.

"I suspect you saw that ‘cleanies’ reference I put up. I know it seems offensive. It came from a time when I would go out to bars, or wherever, and someone would try to pick me up. We would chat away, the usual inanities, until the person flirting with me would ask was I clean. I would play along and say I washed regularly, or whatever, but they would insist. So, I would get them to ask me if I was positive or not. I was asked was I clean so many times. They would get angry too, when I said I was positive, as in why I had wasted their time. I was told a few times that I shouldn’t be in a bar, because I was spoiling it for ‘clean’ people."

I am looking at stigma and shame, though the email I sent you is not about that. It’s a continuation on the last one.

Rack: I had this boyfriend who said to me after I tested positive (as I was soliciting him for sex), “I didn’t think you could have sex now.” As if my vagina had grown a metal hymen. I think of him sometimes, now 35 years later, and wonder if he wonders what happened to me.

Ruin: I remember a friend in NYC used to cover his glass with his hand when he was drinking with me, just in case. I wasn’t even positive then, but I was a wooftah. That was enough.

That was the same guy I went to work with in Palm Beach around 9/11. That story is, of course, here too.

It appears I have forsworn even trying to be a sympathetic character. It’s just as well that I am fictional., or rather we are.

Posted by Billy Quinn 1954 on 2023-03-16 09:08:57


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