Lamar (far right), 1985

Lamar (far right), 1985

You Are Lamar

My great-uncle Lamar and I appear together in a photograph, taken in late 1985, of my mother's family. I am in my father’s lap and Lamar is next to us, smiling at the camera (or perhaps at the man behind the camera: Allan, his partner). In April 1993, shortly before his death, Lamar sent me a book with the note: “I love this book. I think you will too.” Later that year, in October, Lamar died of complications from AIDS. He was 48.

I have no memory of meeting Lamar, but I grew up constantly aware that we had some mysterious, not-quite-hereditary, connection. It explained why I wanted to sing, dance, and write instead of play football. It determined why I had to learn German instead of French. When I came out, my mother’s response was, calmly: “Yes, of course. You are Lamar.”

This book is an autobiography of Lamar: it is how I “am” Lamar, how I have discovered what this meant, and what it means to live with the fortune of this inheritance. It is also about how, like many queer people in his generation, Lamar died far too soon and left behind infinite losses, missing pieces that still remain. The book is the story of how I have tried to figure out who Lamar was, maybe in order to figure out who I was, or maybe so that I could stay true to my mother’s response.

This is a book about gay aunts and uncles: the ones we know we had, the ones we might have had, and the ones we wish we had. It explores how we have to look for them in the rubble left from the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis, a plague that decimated nearly an entire generation of queer ancestors; or how we find them hidden in fragments, gossip, and rumors. It is a book about discovering that the “families we choose” might include the families we have had all along.

As I try to imagine Lamar and his life, I am also interested in how we remember the initial HIV/AIDS crisis – and, more importantly, how we forget it. I look at the ways we romanticize AIDS activism, and how we forget those still living with HIV in favor of focusing on those who died too soon. I am interested in how we recover certain lives and practices while ignoring others, and the various ways in which we wrestle with our pockmarked histories. What are the stories about our own queer history do we tell ourselves to in order to live Though we cannot know them in advance, what are the stories we might tell for our future queer nephews and nieces?