2018 Sucked Ass. Will 2019 Be Any Better?

Contributing Editor
Charles Sanchez
Rick Stockwell

"Y'all know how long this year has been? Pose premiered six months ago today."

My adorable friend Alex Smith from AIDS United posted that statement on December 3 on Facebook, and when I read it, I thought: No. That can't be right. I love that show, but it was like, last year, wasn't it? It's not that I didn't believe Alex, but I had to Google it to make sure. Alex was right: Pose, the FX series exploring the ball culture in 1980s New York, fabulously featuring transgender and gay actors of color, and beautifully and fearlessly depicting the AIDS crisis, debuted June 3, 2018.

Holy crap. The realization was way harsh, but then, this year has truly been eternal. I swear, I've aged five years in 2018.

I don't look it though, since I moisturize.

It might be too easy to blame my rapid decline on the current U.S. president, but I can't help it. When he was elected, like many people in our community, I was all about voicing my anger and standing up in resistance to his bombastic brand of leadership. As a Mexican-American, gay, creative artist living with HIV and a liberal Democrat to boot, I'm so many things that the administration seems to detest. Just by existing, I'm a living, breathing protest.

Since the president took office, every day brings new crazy, unbelievable things to be angry about. Attacks on the free press, attacks on women, attacks on minorities, on trans people, on gays. New policies that strike out former safeguards, rolling back Environmental Protection Agency protections, threats to HIV funding, immigrant children in cages. The Kavanaugh hearings. Russian collusion. The freaking wall. The unending list of things he says should make us Americans terrified.

My personal pet peeve is the president's grammatical errors on Twitter. He may have gotten a degree at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, but he wouldn't have made it through Mrs. Tyo's English class at Cortez High. I mean, shouldn't the leader of the free world be able to spell "smoking?"

Add to all that the rise in hate crimes, injustices in courts, violence against more and more trans brothers and sisters, public shootings, public shootings, public shootings, and on and on, and what started as a raging anger fire has become more of a dull, heavy weight. An anger anvil, if you will, that I drag around with me every day. With every something new that pisses me off, I add it to the anvil and it grows. Hauling that thing around is exhausting, and I don't have the energy that I used to as a young whippersnapper in 2017.

My hope has waned. Gosh, remember hope? Remember when that was Obama's slogan? Ah, Obama. We were so innocent then.

I got a mini puff of hope in November; the fact that so many Americans showed up at the midterm elections in November (though it seems like months and months ago) gave me a glimmer. And the Dems taking over the House was a sweet treat. Maybe in the coming year they'll be able to balance out the unbalanced, to add some reason to what feels increasingly and incredibly unreasonable.

It can't all be bad, right? I am ever the optimist, and I believe in choosing joy. After all, it's the holiday season, hoop-de-doo and hickory dock. There are things in the coming year to look forward to, I know it, things that give hope. Give me a sec, and I'll come up with some.

I know I can do it.

Okay, just another sec.

Hmmm. Okay, got it.

Undetectable equals untransmittable (U=U), the campaign sharing the science that people living with HIV with an undetectable viral load cannot transmit the virus sexually, is life-changing news for those of us living with the virus. The campaign started out as basically a one-man band of Bruce Richman and has grown into a global movement, sharing hope and health, and transforming the landscape of HIV prevention. The steadfast work of the Prevention Access Campaign to spread the message of U=U and PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) makes the idea of a world where the HIV epidemic is a thing of the past within reach, and that's something to be excited about as we head into 2019.

Expanding on that, the activists and advocates in the HIV and LGBTQ+ communities who continue to resist and protest give me life. They are strong and passionate when I'm weary. They pay attention, show up, and speak out. Because of these sexy folks, this administration won't get away with what they're trying to get away with. They can't erase us if we are right in front of them. Those activists and advocates are heroes to carry us into a stronger future.

And speaking of heroes, those Parkland, Florida kids! After 17 people were murdered by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland last February, the students took the tragedy and turned it into a national rallying cry for sensible gun laws. I marvel at them, their passion and tenacity, and they inspire me for sure. If those young people are tomorrow's leaders, then America's gonna be alright.

Creative people of all sorts. There's a great line in the musical Rent where a character says, "The opposite of war isn't peace; it's creation." My family and friends, the talented artists, actors, writers, comics, and musicians who are in my circle -- and anyone who creates anything, from novels to knitting -- give the world beauty and tangible joy. Creating in any way is a present to the future.

Speaking of creativity, Season 2 of my HIV musical comedy web series Merce comes out next year, and it's a personal source of hope and joy. One of the reasons my producing partner Tyne Firmin and I forged this series is to show a different view of someone living with HIV, someone who isn't sad or sick or tragic, and who has a colorful, fabulous life. The production, in its campy, bawdy, funny way, shows a very unconventional family of people who, with all their challenges and faults, love deeply. Merce is a form of hopeful artistic protest, and I'm profoundly proud of it and excited that it's returning soon to a small screen near you.

You know what else gives me optimism for 2019? Humans. Yesterday, I was walking home from the grocery store, and this dude in his car stopped to let me cross. He had the right of way, but he stopped, smiled, and waved me on. That one-on-one human interaction, kindness, and civility on a personal level lifted my spirit. Nice folks are all around, and if I don't see one, maybe I can be one.

As I write these last few paragraphs, I realize the tension in my shoulders has eased. I could go on and on with things that give me hope and that I'm grateful for in my life. I need to hold on to those thoughts when the craziness becomes overwhelming.

And on days when things get so bad that my shoulders won't leave my ears, I'll just remember that Pose is set to come back in 2019. Werk!