A&U February 2018

Page 46

Writer & Long-Term Survivor Randy Boyd Revisits His Journey So Far in a New Collection by Chael Needle

PATHBREAKER Photographed Exclusively for A&U by Sean Black


alandhar Nayak, a man living in Gumsahi, a village in eastern India, had become concerned that his three sons were having a difficult time traversing mountainous terrain to make it to school. It took them three hours each way, he said in a recently published newspaper report. Two years ago, with nothing but hand tools, he set about creating a shorter, more passable, and safer route through five mountains. So far, he has managed to tackle three of those mountains, clearing an eight-foot-wide road. A different but similarly important kind of pathbreaking has been an ongoing project of writer and advocate Randy Boyd. Through his fiction and essays, Boyd has been cutting through social terrain, offering readers a way to find their footing on the uneven ground created by homophobia, racism, HIV stigma, the stones thrown in our way by systemic forces from individual hands. Unlike Nayak, Boyd may have not had a clear goal in mind when he started writing at age twenty in the 1980s, but over the years he has found himself mining his experiences as a Black gay man living with HIV in order to map his insights about social inequities and injustices, as well as transport us through the emotional landscapes of his heart. He has collected ten pieces in a new book, The Essential Randy Boyd, Volume 1, and they will resonate not only with readers who are long-term survivors but also those who are less travelled in the fight to end the pandemic and to care


for individuals who are affected by it. In passage after passage, whether excerpted from his five-time Lambda Literary Award-nominated novels, such as Uprising and Walt Loves the Bearcat, on his blog, or in nonfiction pieces for Poz, Outsports, and our own A&U, Boyd teases out what these intersections of social locations mean for him and what they could mean for others experiencing similar animus. In “Update from the unlovable n----- faggot” (2008), framed as a letter written to an unnamed therapist, he searingly rejects what the world asks him to internalize: “But there was one question you often put to me for which I had no answer. ‘You must be doing something wrong,’ you pondered aloud when I droned on about my loveless love life, ‘what is it that you’re doing that makes you always single?’ “After further review, the 46-year-old former patient has the answer. “What I was doing wrong was living under the false assumption that the people of my generation—my peers, my classmates, my co-workers, the guys at the gym, the clubs, the bar—I was living under the false impression that they were open to falling in love with someone like me. “Which me? Let me put it this way: when’s the last time you heard anyone say, ‘I just need to find the right black gay guy with AIDS to settle down with?’” But one of Boyd’s points is that he is a

survivor; he has found a way to “keep living and dreaming.” He is sustained by empowerment. He has found a way to face himself in the mirror, and his question to the world now is: Can you? Boyd probably wouldn’t consider himself a pathbreaker. He is too humble. And as he points out in his collection, he had absolutely no idea that he would live very long to see any long-term project come to fruition, let alone a career in letters. People who acquired HIV in 1985 were choked by constricting horizons. And we can only imagine the other paths that would have been broken by writers from that same era who did not survive their AIDS diagnoses—Melvin Dixon, Assotto Saint, Joseph Beam, Essex Hemphill....But here is Randy Boyd. And here is his path he has cut through the mountains. It’s not finished yet. Perhaps others who have not yet learned to smash rocks and smooth-out depressions will join in. “From this collection, I hope people have a better understanding of me, both as a person and as a writer,” the Long Beach, California-based Boyd stated in a press release. “You know the old saying, walk a mile in my shoes. This is the readers’ chance to go on a very unique walk with me.” A&U had a chance to correspond with Randy Boyd about his new collection and his life of writing. Chael Needle: What works or writers are essential to you, and why? A&U • FEBRUARY 2018