"I made peace with dying last year. I paid for my funeral in advance, bought my headstone. I've done all that stuff so that when I die no one has to do anything. And I’m ok. That’s the one thing I won't do is look back on my life with regret. There was no book with instructions on how to do this. So you learn as you go along and you stumble and you fall. And I've stumbled a lot in my life. I don't know of anybody that hasn't.

When I left Tennessee I felt suffocated. I was ashamed of being gay. I felt less than everyone else. Wanted to get as far away from Tennessee as I could. I did - I fell in love with California almost immediately. I remember thinking how free I felt. I felt like the whole world was mine for taking at that moment.  The drinking took off soon after that. What started off as casual progressed into daily drinking: drinking at home, drinking at work, drinking at bars. And I went out and got drunk with some friends, went back home with this guy and we’re having sex and the condom breaks and we were so drunk that we don't care. And I know in my heart that's when I seroconverted because it was immediately after that that I got the flu.

You know when you are young you make these wild choices, which is I guess what youth is about, that you can make these mistakes and learn from them. It's so funny because those things that I was reaching for in my twenties, I got hold of and they are never what you think they are. I was always looking for the next best thing. Now, it's not what I would do. We are here to learn something. I'm learning it as a gay man, whatever my life lesson is and being HIV is part of that life lesson. If I die today or if I die next week, I'm at peace with living and I'm at peace with dying.  I am a culmination of all the things I've done up to this point."


Randy was the first person I interviewed for this project. I met him on Tuesday mornings in his room at Maitri Compassionate Care in Duboce Park, San Francisco. We would sit and talk for about an hour, or until he felt too short of breath due to his lung cancer. The N train would periodically clack down the road outside and there were several pairs of cowboy boots stacked neatly along the wall from Randy’s rodeo days. As a gay man, Randy never felt at home in Tennessee and spent his whole life moving through America’s major liberal cities. Plagued by a nihilism that was pacified by drugs, alcohol and sex, Randy eventually turned to God to find his solace. He told me that it was only through this loving God that he found the strength to forgive himself and accept his life. Randy died on September 27, 2014. 


Randy - Pencil on drawing and tissue papers - 30" x 22" - © Claudia Biçen 2015