Volunteering (3)

The experience of taking care of gay men dying of AIDS changed me. I discovered within myself anti-gay biases that I didn’t know I had. But the patients I cared for showed a courage that reminded me of the men who served beside me in combat. The volunteers who worked with them were unflinching in their commitment to helping their brothers. All of them were gay. I was the only straight man among them. I came away with new respect for the gay community.

I was moved to my soul by the experience of caring for these men. They belonged to a group shunned by society, condemned for moral failure or blamed for their unwillingness to seek therapy to change their sexual orientation. And now they were dying in droves. By the time I finished my volunteer service with AIDS patients, my depth of understanding of the human condition had deepened and broadened. I saw anew.

The result was a novel, the only one by me not about Vietnam. I told the story of a straight man caring for a gay man dying of AIDS. The two principal characters were based on myself and an amalgam of the seven men I had watched die. I poured my anguish and heartbreak into that book to which I gave the title No-Accounts. It has been my greatest artistic success. I still get feedback from readers moved by the story.

I decided from the beginning in writing No-Accounts that I would make no effort to soft-pedal the brutality of AIDS. I described the gay character’s descent into the disease and his subjection to ancillary disease AIDS inflicts. But I endowed him with the courage and dignity I had observed in the men I cared for as they died.

In some ways, No-Accounts is my most successful novel. Most important to me: I proved that I could write about something other than Vietnam. That freed me to author Secretocracy which Adelaide Books of New York will publish next year.

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