It's hard to describe The Pox Lover: An Activist's Decade in New York and Paris, the newest book by award-winning journalist Anne-christine d'Adeskyone of the founders of the Lesbian Avengers, a direct-action group that created the Dyke March.
The book contains sharp critiques of political figures, historical facts, investigations into her own family history, and a look at how those in the AIDS movement became a different kind of family, forever bonded by loss, exhaustion and heartbreak. While on her "In Bed with the Pox Lover" tour, d'Adesky addressed a variety of topics.
Windy City Times: What inspired you to write this memoir?
d'Adesky: This is a book based on my actual, intimate diaries. Without really meaning to, I'd captured my own journey but also a particular history that I felt was very poignant to me still, including the struggles, victories and deaths of close friends and colleagues to AIDS.
This parallel history made the '90s such a rich and instructive decade. I wouldn't presume to speak for my generation, but I think how my cultural, social and sexual life has shaped itself is going to be representative of a current of gay people and activists who were in big cities in the United States at that time and were engaging themselves in the AIDS epidemic. And for me, it goes back to that mantra I put out"the political is personal"which really held true.
WCT: In reading the book, I was struck by how little seems to have changed. Some of the characters, issues and organizations that show upfrom Le Pen to Giuliani to Focus on the Family to healthcare for profit affecting caremade me feel like we're still fighting the same fight with the same villains.
d'Adesky: I understand that point and it's interesting to me because I feel like even though there were a lot of victories that took place, people often will look back at that moment to now and say, "Well, what really changed?" But it is very, very different. To give you an example, when the Zika virus first emerged, the speed with which we were able to mobilize a response … within days we were able to make statements, within moments we were able to reach out to a lot of different people and institutions, because those institutions actually existed. They didn't exist in the '90s.
So many of the frontline organizations, the networks, the people who are now in these positions of power, whether it's the State Department or the CDCwe have allies in so many places. LGBTQ issues have really become much more embraced as a part of any American's progressive civil-rights agenda.
WCT: Let's talk about radical lesbian activism in the '90s. Even then, you understood that the work was often overshadowed by gay men during that time…
d'Adesky: Definitely, in terms of visibility.
WCT: Yes. Can you educate us on the fire-eating Lesbian Avengers?
d'Adesky: With pleasure. Every woman should learn to eat fire. It's an exciting thing to do, it'll singe your brows if you're not careful, and it's an incredible thing in terms of getting people's attention, scaring cops and impressing girls.
But on a more serious note, one of the reasons we wanted to start the Avengers was not because we were tired of doing AIDS work, and not because AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power ( ACT UP ) and groups like that weren't beginning to start paying attention to lesbian health issues … that always should have been done at a much greater degree. But it was because the urgency of HIV really meant for legitimate reasons that everyone needed to respond. Issues of women's health that were equally urgent, like breast cancer or MS, didn't have the same quality of a stigmatized epidemic. They weren't going to get the same kind of urgency because, they weren't sexual diseases, which really makes STDs, in some ways, always have its own special category of public response.
From being in ACT UP, we saw how much we were able to bring to intersectional organizing and we all had a history in reproductive health work. A lot of [the work of] the Avengers was about both directing to the greater public, but a lot of it was directed towards our own LGBT community.
WCT: What are your thoughts on certain groups experiencing an increase in HIV diagnoses amidst the overall decline in the United States?
d'Adesky: What was true in 1980 and 1990 is true now: any disease is going to take advantage of the underlying social and economic fabric. Right now, we're certainly seeing poverty, class and economic issues being factors that are fueling the epidemic. You add institutionalized racism to that … you look at this and it's not by any kind of accident that African-American women who are poor, underserved and economically in the margins are going to continue to be the most impacted. If there was any criticism that I would challenge that still remains true, it's that we always should look at the hurdles that put people in the path of the virus and stop focusing on this concept of an individual's behavior or choice.
WCT: How do you think your parents, being more apolitical, shaped your political views, if at all?
d'Adesky: One of the currents of this book is really about that. When I was very youngin Haiti, in particularI was in a place where there was such radical, extreme inequity and I was profoundly uncomfortable and aware of it. In some ways, my own personal issues have been a response to not wanting any part of that. I was aware that I had privilege. The one piece that my parents did give me, sharing that with privilege comes responsibility. And while that in itself may be seen as a class entitlement, what it meant for me was that I did try to see how I could be of use. I think that when you see things around you that are not right, if you don't speak out, then you're complicit.
WCT: Tell us about your current book tour.
d'Adesky: I'm very excited! It's called, "In Bed with the Pox Lover," which is meant in all senses because I definitely want people to get in bed with me politically and people are making fun of me because, obviously, I had a lot of relationships that happened and also failed in the '90s. I will probably run into a lot of old friends and exes when I am on this tour and that's just going to be fun, too.
For this book, I want to create a reader's blog on my website where not only can people share how they intersect with the story, but I want them to share with me their adventures, too, so I can go and continue my adventure through them. I feel like, we're all in bed together, even across this big American landscape, and there were remarkable connections made that continue to be made.
To pre-order The Pox Lover or to learn more about d'Adesky's tour, visit ThePoxLover.com .