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Ricardo Gamboa Discusses How to "Play Smart"

February 14, 2014

Ricardo Gamboa

Ricardo Gamboa

Ricardo Gamboa is a tireless guy who is hard to sum up with a simple title. At the very least he is an artist and activist who makes videos, theater and collaborative projects. Looking unflinchingly at race, class, family, desire and social justice Gamboa uses all that is in his arsenal -- humor, relatability, technology and community -- to connect and make positive change. For Visual AIDS' Play Smart project Gamboa shares this personal essay in which he explores seemingly unlikely connections to deliver us to the most wonderful of places -- the current moment. Learn more about Play Smart.

Right now. There are two things on my laptop screen that I can't stop staring at:

The first is Ben and Silvia's collaboration for Play Smart featuring a black-and-white photograph of a black nude reclining onto a bed of white space against a back wall of geometric shapes drawn in the grey of pencil graphite. And, the second thing I can't pull away from is an article with the headline: "Bottomless Costa Rican Pothole Could Be Time Travel Portal." The article's byline reads, Stephen Hawking amongst physicist in Costa Rica to investigate potential intra-universe wormhole.

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A gaping tear in the time-space continuum situated in urban Central America would seem to have nothing to do with sex-positive, homoerotic trading cards promoting HIV prevention and social awareness around stigmas of HIV/AIDS. But what else has queerness been for us cosmopolitan gays of the modern metropolis besides a dip into a dark hole for another kind of pleasure or wormhole to a parallel universe of being.

Science fiction has underlined repeatedly that space and time travel can be risky endeavors. But for us, risk isn't a cosmically foreign thing like a planet of apes. Whether in reference to queer youth hustling on the piers or tendency toward a compromised immune system, we're designated as an "at-risk" population. We're "at-risk" because they have always put us at risk. Beyond the limits of norms and laws, figured as terroristic in media and politics, we've survived homophobic and systemic violence. We're intimate with risk.

And, as the complex of power relations would have it, pouring old semen into new condoms with a little inversion, our intimacy would become branded and conditioned as risk. Despite persistent stigma, compromised immunity isn't just the province of one side of the gay-straight divide anymore. Yet there is a metaphysics of power with disproportionate HIV infection rates and access to treatments still abiding by the gravitational pulls of class, race, gender, etc. (No wonder the law has found ways to criminalize the immune compromised.)

As a social activist who has had a queer fumble and had to be treated for an STI; I can say, "Fucking isn't conscious." That whole heat-of-the-moment-thing is real. But so are the risks. Being risk exposed, doesn't mean we're without risk management: Testing, safe sex, and Pre- and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis are among the means. In the science of HIV prevention, we can all be proficient physicists.

But, don't get it twisted. Like I said: I'm an activist. This means words like "solidarity" make my cock revolutionary hard. I read once that "solidarity" means "running the same risks." Let's be in solidarity. Whether on the frontlines of a protest or in the blurring of the lines demarcating the borders of our bodies that distinguish "me" from "you" when we're naked together, inside each other, we can run and manage risk together. In a society where everyone's out for number-one, and as members of a population often conceived as only worthy of a limited quality of life and marked as deserving of premature death, it's a political act of radical compassion for us to consider the other. We're not alone.

And, right now, I'm not alone. I'm staring at that beautiful baby boy on my laptop screen that's the subject of Ben and Silvia's collaboration. Deducing from the title of the piece, his name his "Lance." Lance is fine. Just as alluring as his puffy lips is all that pulsing geometry behind him: All those scratches of grey graphite exploding against the lines of the circles like big bangs contained or the soft edges of thin lines like the fading trails of comet tails. All of it assembling a queer cosmos with Lance and me in orbit.

Look at that picture: Lance stares back at me--and you. We all know that gaze. We've given it; we've gotten it. That gaze is not just about recognition. It's an invitation. A risky proposition maybe. Go ahead: Find out how deep the wormhole goes. To paraphrase Sun-Ra, "queer time and space is the place."

Ricardo Gamboa is an artist, activist and academic working in his native Chicago and New York City. In Chicago, Gamboa was Founder and Artistic Director of Teatro Americano, Company Member of Barrel of Monkeys, and worked with the city's most notable directors. In New York City, he was a fellow with the Hemispheric Institute of Performance & Politics EmergeNYC program, launched his Border Jump-Off Short Film Series, is a Company Member of the critically acclaimed New York Neo-Futurists, and performs at a range of independent and institutional venues. He is recipient of several acting, directing, playwriting, and filmmaking awards. His first feature film Maydays premiered this past year at the Chicago Latino Film Festival. He was selected as one of Chicago's Featured Artist for 2013 city-wide Chicago Artists Month. Gamboa has worked with over 5,000 young people in the U.S. and Mexico. He received his M.A. Arts Politics from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and is currently pursuing his doctorate degree in American Studies at the university's Department of Social and Cultural Analysis.

Read more Play Smart Essays:

Dee Borrego: "HIV Criminalization laws become a self-defeating, and even dangerous, proposition to the health of the community it is intended to be protecting."

Jim Eigo: "But today, peer-to-peer sex outreach is an endangered species. So much guy-on-guy sex originates in a phone app and gets negotiated in the ether, often with mutual assurances that each is "clean." Such terminology is incomprehensible to an aging sexual reprobate like me. I am far from clean. Often I am dirty."




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