To Tell the Truth
BY HIV Plus Editors
December 15 2009 1:00 AM ET
Prologue: San Francisco, 1997
"Aiden Shaw," said a voice.
I closed the door to the meeting hall on Fifteenth Street and leaned back against it. This was part weariness, due to lack of sleep. After a two-day splurge of drug "enhanced" sex with god knows who and how many men, the remnants of drugs still lingered in my system. More important, it was to ensure that the door was in fact closed behind me and the weight of my body would keep it that way. Surely, anybody in my position would have done the same thing, seeing all those heated faces.
Again and again I heard my name, the angry tones muffled by the heavy door. "Aiden Shaw. Aiden Shaw."
Curiosity got the better of me. I turned around and opened the door a crack, so nobody would know I was there.
A surprisingly large number of people had gathered for the town meeting. The man standing at the front skimmed his notes as he spoke. He seemed very organized and his jeans looked ironed.
"I'm sure you're all aware of the events of the last few weeks, but I'll replay them to open up the discussion. The portrait of Mr. Shaw is art, not pornography, created by the artists Pierre and Gilles and used for a poster to advertise a gay club night."
The people sitting to either side of the speaker all nodded, with varying degrees of speed and enthusiasm. The man's voice seemed to land more heavily on the word gay. Maybe he wanted to put a gay rights or prejudice slant on the debate.
"The said artwork was displayed in the window of the clothes shop All American Boy on Castro, and this is when the first complaints began."
His use of the words the said sounded like an attempt at courtroom lingo. I wondered how the complaints were worded. Shaw's dick is too big, too hard, and too in-your-face?
A man in the crowd stood up. "But for his cowboy boots and hat, Shaw is naked," he said. Ironic, I thought, that a shop used a photo of somebody wearing no clothes to sell clothes. "In addition, he does have a hard-on." The man seemed to have trouble getting the word hard-on out of his mouth. "Personally, I did not find this offensive, but I just want to be a voice of reason."
"Thank you," said the speaker at the front, and continued without really addressing the man's comments. "The image was also printed on flyers. Here the press reported of how these got into a children's schoolyard."
"Yeah!" and "No!" the horrified crowd shouted.
I closed the door once more, this time out of exasperation, and let out a heavy sigh. Before anybody could spot me, I darted across the road, turned onto Castro, and walked towards Market Street.
It was all too much, ridiculous in fact. How could they take this so seriously? Their reaction had gone too far from a reality I could relate to. My instinct was to get away, hide, and give myself time to consider what to do. There was a bar on my left called Daddy's. Parting the strips of rubber that kept out the weather and glances from passersby, I entered the dimly lit room.
The early evening crowd appeared to be made up of alcoholics, the frustrated on their way home from work, and anybody high enough to need their company -- the ideal scenery for knocking back vodka chased with lager. The barman was a hairy clone with a V-shaped torso, completely stunning if not a bit of a caricature.
An experienced barman knows how to work a tip, and I guessed this one had been doing the job for years. The drink he gave me looked to be about six shots. Little did he know I only wanted to feel jaded, not really be it. I took a swig of vodka regardless, feeling masculine and cool and maybe a little self-destructive. It was too much, and made me retch. Attempting to settle my stomach, I took a few big gulps of lager. I still wanted to vomit, but the feeling wasn't intense or urgent. Did I look like a seasoned drinker, like the men to my left and right and all around me?
Pondering this, I drew backwards, away from the bar into the darkness. Feeling beer crates against the back of my thighs, I sat down. Every few minutes, silhouettes of customers moved in front of me, heading to the toilet or escaping outside to the street. My mind swung back to the grotesque spectacle at the meeting hall.
Somebody was walking towards me. "Are you...Aiden Shaw?" he said.
No, I thought, at the same time nodding yes.
"Cool! You don't know how many fights you've caused between me and my boyfriend."
"I'm sorry," I said, managing to construct a laugh but hoping my words would end this interaction.
"Don't be sorry. I mean, he's just jealous."
I guessed this meant the speaker fancied me. "That's sweet of you to say."
"Anyway, I'll leave you alone. I just wanted to tell you I'm your biggest fan."
He looked embarrassed. "Shucks!" I said, acting embarrassed myself. "I'm flattered."
"You must get that all the time."
"Anyway, like I said, I'll leave you alone."
He shook my hand and turned to go, then turned back.
He scrunched up his nose and said, "It must be kind of weird being you."
"Sometimes," I admitted, taking his statement as a question. Not wanting to be too serious, I followed this with another laugh, wondering how believable it was.
It must have worked, because he responded in kind. His laugh rose in pitch to a whooping sound. Shaking his head, he said, to himself it seemed, "Aiden Shaw." Grinning widely, he slapped his thigh and added, "How cool is that!"
I thought the appropriate response this time was to smile. He went back to his buddy at the bar. Alone again and feeling the vodka, I stared at the wooden floor.
Who the fuck was Aiden Shaw? Some porn star character I'd created. This monster was in no way like Little Fella, my nickname for the inner me, my mum's soft, shy, blushing son, the person I'd grown up with, the one I actually liked. Sometimes it felt as though the lumbering, muscle-bound Brit-With-The-Big-Dick (as some magazine called me) had crushed Little Fella. There had been good reason for my creating him. Aiden Shaw was a rebellion against my religious upbringing, when I believed gods existed and that the random one my parents had indoctrinated me with was actually listening and gave a damn about anything, let alone how I behaved. What kind of monstrous institution would encourage such a fantasy in a child's innocent, trusting soul?
Somebody else was heading my way. Panicked, I took another swig of vodka. The figure passed me by, moved through the rubber strips, and left the bar. In a half hour or so, I'd feel more comfortable leaving myself. It would be darker then, and due to the alcohol, I'd be a little more numb.
At the beginning of my "career," one of my clients had told me my dick would be the making of me, adding, "and maybe your ruin." That had been years ago. What a journey it had been since then.
[Excerpted from Sordid Truths by Aiden Shaw, now available at Alyson.com and other retailers.]