HIV/AIDS activist, author, blogger, speaker, and all-around wonderful guy Mark S. King was recently recognized with two amazing honors. First, he was given the Sarah Pettit Memorial Award for the LGBTQ Journalist of the Year by NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists. Second, NLGJA awarded him an Excellence in Blogging prize for 2020 for his already much-lauded blog, My Fabulous Disease (an honor he also won in 2014 and 2016). Third, after five consecutive nominations, his blog was awarded the 2020 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Blog.
These are fantastic achievements, and Mark S. King, known worldwide in the HIV community, is completely deserving of these honors and more. Mark is also one of my best friends, and as such, it is my job to not only honor and celebrate the feathers in his cap, but also to tease him a bit so his head doesn’t get too big. We recently had a face-to-face on Skype, during which I struggled to find the balance between being genuinely happy for this dear friend I love and making sure he didn’t get above his raisin’.
Mark S. King: Hi, Charles.
Charles Sanchez: Winner winner chicken dinner!
CS: Yay! Congratulations, my friend! You’re a winner! Thrice over in the last month!
MSK: I know! It’s an embarrassment of riches.
CS: You’re not embarrassed for a second.
MSK: No, I’m not. I’m really not.
CS: Let’s talk about the GLAAD award for Outstanding Blog. You finally broke the Susan Lucci curse! After five nominations, you won! Who beat you before?
MSK: Oh, everybody. Everybody who could possibly could. Joe.My.God. beat me. Monica [Roberts] from TransGriot beat me. Autostraddle, the lesbian blog, beat me. Sue Kerr from Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents. I’ve only been beaten by the best.
CS: What do you think put you over the edge this year?
MSK: I’m getting old.
CS: They had to give it to you before it was too late!
MSK: If I reflect on what I’ve written this year to try to figure out why I won, that would just drive me insane. I can’t be self-conscious about that stuff, because then I’ll start thinking, “What should I be writing more of in order to keep winning?” That’s crazy. I just have to go along, trust my instincts, and hope for the best.
CS: You also won some little journalism award, too, didn’t you? What was that again?
MSK: Um, it was the National Gay and Lesbian Association’s 2020 LGBTQ Journalist of the Year, thank you very much. I was also named Blogger of the Year for them three times, including this year.
CS: What made you a journalist this year, as opposed to a blogger?
MSK: That’s a very good question! It’s funny, because I call myself whatever is convenient at the time. If I’m writing a highfalutin’ article where I’m trying to get, say, Dr. Fauci (director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) on the phone, I’ll say I’m a journalist. If I’m doing some silly piece on how hot Bruce Richman [founder and executive director of the Prevention Access Campaign] is, I’ll say I’m a blogger. All I know is, I tell my stories in about 800 words at a time.
CS: How long have you been writing?
MSK: Before there was an internet, in the olden days, there were these things called newspapers, and you’d pick them up and turn pages.
CS: I think I saw that on Little House on the Prairie.
MSK: I was a columnist, and I wrote about living with HIV and being gay. It was silly and funny and irreverent, and serious when it needed to be. I started doing that almost as soon as I tested positive for HIV in 1985. It was the heyday of the gay community papers: Frontiers in LA, the Windy City Times, and the Washington Blade, and so many of them that are still around, of course. But those were the news sources, and my column was syndicated around in these publications. Now they call me a blogger because it’s online, but I’m doing the same thing I’ve always done.
Bonnie Goldman, the late, great founding editor of TheBody.com, was my champion. In the early ’90s, I submitted to TheBody, because it was the site. I submitted a couple of pieces I’d written about living with HIV. The first one was called, “When Opposites Attract,” and it was about a conversation with a guy I’d started dating. Seeing.
CS: What’s the difference between “dating” and “seeing”?
MSK: We were fucking, as one does. But it turned into a relationship. Anyway, the piece was about having this conversation over pasta at a restaurant in West Hollywood. As soon as I disclosed I was positive and he said he was negative, it was clear what that meant: If this relationship was going to go any further, he was going to have to take care of me when I died. It was the middle of the AIDS pandemic, after all, and I was shopping around for who that caregiver would be. People like him were looking across the table and thinking, “Do I want this guy dying in my bed?”
I sent pieces like that to Bonnie, and she would print them, and she was very supportive. Bonnie would call me and want to push back on things I had written, or try to get me to dig deeper, or to bring out more of some aspect of the story. She would really debate me on the choices I’d made. Then one day she said, “Why don’t you blog for us?” I literally said, “What’s a blog?”
I feel like Bonnie Goldman birthed my writing. She really took an interest in my work and had a real sense of critical thinking about what I was doing. Bonnie told me to tell the truth, warts and all. She said, the more vulnerable you are, the more you admit when you fucked up, the more people will be invested in you. She took my writing more seriously than I did. I owe a lot to her and to TheBody.
CS: Geez, what a suck up.
MSK: Shut up.
CS: So what’s next? Are you going to rest on your laurels? Retire?
MSK: Oh, that would be nice. But I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. Fortunately, the world of HIV is always so interesting. I can always talk about sex! I can always throw “barebacking” in the title …
CS: And you do …
MSK: Yes. What has reenergized me right now is examining white privilege and white supremacy, and how that has permeated even those of us who are liberal AIDS activists. That title does not give us a pass. I’m discovering, the more that I’m learning and listening, that we are as susceptible to being racist as anybody else. I’m stumbling through my own awareness process right now, and I want to share that, be vulnerable, and admit when I’m screwing it up. More importantly, I want to lift up Black voices. Those issues have refreshed my thinking, and hopefully, it’ll show up in my writing.
CS: Well, Mark, many people have called you a national treasure. Not me, but many people.
MSK: Wow. It just hurts you so much to say that, doesn’t it?
CS: Well, honey, truthfully, I’m so happy for you winning these awards and for everything you’ve done and continue to do for the community. You are a wonderful writer, you inspire me, and I love you.
CS: That part was sincere. Like, I really mean it.
MSK: But you’re saying it with that look on your face!
CS: It’s the only face I have.
Besides his blog, MyFabulousDisease.com, you can also find Mark on Twitter and Facebook.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.