Luv ‘Til It Hurts: the Launch, by Brad Walrond
Luv ‘Til It Hurts was formally launched October 27, 2018 at the historic LGBTQ Center in New York City. In keeping with Luv ‘til it Hurts stated mission,
‘’to be a porous container, it aspires to ‘hold’ people together
long enough for essential introductions and exchange ideas’’
for me at the time of this writing, April 2019 it has already been a ravishing success. I launched Every Where Alien [my arts culture and content producing brand and company] in January 2019. My first project is in the form of a narrative documentary and requires travel to São Paulo. I’m thrilled Luv ‘Til It Hurts, found Every Where Alien’s project worthy of support.
I am equally thrilled by how this journey with Luv ‘Til It Hurts has placed me proximal to several astonishing artists and HIV/AIDS activists from around the world. In September by the time I walked into Kairon Liu’s New York Humans as Hosts solo photography exhibition I understood. This experience, for me, had to be more than a fiscal exchange. Kai is brave and brilliant. His art is breathtaking and layered and provocative. I was here to learn, to hear, to witness, and to breathe.
Simply put I would not have met Kai were it not for Luv ‘Til It Hurts. Quite likely neither would I have met Malaya Lakas, Philip Miner, Theodore Kerr —each all, in their own right, gifted and prodigious HIV/AIDS activists, administrators and artists.
Mine and Pony Zion’s trip to Brazil in January 2019 gave occasion for me to deepen my relationships and collaboration with the truly legendary artivist innovators Flip Couto of Festa AMEM and Félix Pimenta of the House of Zion in Brazil. I had the honor to work with the unmitigated genius of Coletivo Coloteres in capturing the footage as the two-week residency in São Paulo unfolded. And of course I got to witness firsthand the life and work of Luv ‘Til It Hurts’ founder Todd Lester.
In the course of doing this work to research and write this poem chronicling Luv ‘Til It Hurts Launch I’ve been gifted with new friendships, inspired by world-class art and activism, and the prospect of vanguard globe-spanning collaborations.
And for me, as an often reluctant and sometimes burnt out longtime HIV/AIDS activist perhaps the greatest surprise is to realize, even now after all these years, there is so much this pandemic and its survivors and activists have to teach us about but what it can plausibly mean to be human beings, and how we might co-create freer safer more vital societies for our kin—even when either ourselves, our families, our friends, our communities, are faced with withering stigma, economic injustice, health and healthcare access disparities, and yet still the prospect of dying too soon.
On the night of October 27, 2018 Pony Zion opened the Luv ‘Til It Hurts launch with a group dance performance performed to a song he wrote and produced. Flip Couto and Festa Amem and Félix Pimenta shared a video about their work and travels. I shared a poem chronicling 30 years of black queer art activist organizing and the House Ballroom Scene in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in New York City. Pony and I shared a bit about our then forthcoming Luv ‘Til it Hurts and #houselivesmatter supported residency in São Paulo. We joined our co-presenters Malaya, Phillip, Theodore (Ted) and the panel began curated and co-facilitated by Kairon Liu and Todd Lanier Lester.
To write this poem I interviewed, in the course of six months, the principal contributors to the panel at the Luv ‘Til It Hurts launch. I wanted to hear from them firsthand how and why they were drawn to the project? I wanted to learn how HIV/AIDS, art, activism and stigma has impacted their lives? I wanted to hear from them their sense of what proved meaningful in the discourse, process and exchange with the project and the audience during the event. Above all I wanted to hear their heart. I am blessed to have been present with them and I am blessed to have borne witness through their eyes and my own the legacies of HIV/AIDS then and now.
The poem is written in five parts. I wrote each section as I completed either an individual interview or a set of interviews. I wanted each section to be able to live on its own and tell its own story. I hoped to discover through the sections’ iterative and evolving interactions what the poem was truly about and how the emergent themes related to one another to tell a bigger story. I pray, however flawed, I have succeeded in hearing their hearts and learning a bit more of my own.
Luv ‘Til it Hurts, by Brad Walrond
Across generations of continents
What do it mean to be haunted?
by a virus. A bluegrass
grandma in Sparta, Tennessee died today;
So did Ntozake Shange.
I wonder is it was they knew each other?
Ntozake and grandma?
the yellow / the red / the Asian pacific islander /
the poor poor white / the black / the trans girl /
the doula / the woman / the social worker / the rich /
the nuyorican / the new yawker /the southern belle /
the global south /Brasil / the brown-black / AMEM
and thank you /the activist / the artivist / the Zion / the poet /
the visual artist / the scholar / the writer / the shunned /
the convener / the loved / the forsaken
a Universe of Us?
got queer children in common?
Somewhere in the beveled glitter of rainbows
A proximal history melts us into lemon drops
America’s punk daughters and sons sure know how to tie a not
How else to cut down a noose?
cept with the knife’s edge of a fem queen’s heel
and an icon’s death drop
tonight Love ‘til it Hurts launched
right where we landed simulcast in this
historic nyc LGBT Center Auditorium
on 13th Street just west of Seventh Avenue South
breathing the unrequited ash suffusing St. Vincent’s biosphere
in this west village five to six block radius
a repurposed hospital building ain’t never lose it’s mission
here lies a fertile field endlessly pregnant with ghosts
Where NYC’s AIDS patients had flooded-in parched
for something like water & comfort on the hapless occasion
of their tsunami life and death
what do it mean to be haunted by a virus?
Tonight there is a Taipei hiv-positive gay boy in here
lending us an innervision. A love petri dish is bubbling over
in his terrified eyes
He’s going back home soon; His country everywhere
infectious with stigma
the medicine men don’t make pills for that.
Kai’s momma don’t know yet his secret.
Her son a host.
His soul-force, warm porcelain, nurses a kindling tide
swayed with tenderness and courage and rage
and grief and joy we can all touch
when we meet him
he has tasted here in nyc some portion of his soul’s own freedom
the call. we hear it. don’t u?
its in the blood its in the blood-water
earnest and quiet and true
It hurts to spring out of a cage smiling
It hurts to bounce too hard against a Tree
In the photos he has shown us.
He is calling us home
He is a gift.
He does not quite know how powerful he is yet.
row after freckled row in this ancestor scented auditorium
every where in view an horizon of all-american fauna
sat blowing in the fall wind
we watch at the intersection
wave after seceding wave
ntozake’s fresh unencumbered ghost
laughs in panorama with all the traffic lights
sitting to my right a tsunami flew in from Edmonton
a boy burning himself to the bone
body fluid born too hot
for a working class town
finds a hungry pandemic after its stolen
the lion share of his bedfellows and wet-dreams
left him spurned already in a hotbed
of First Nation descendants and poor immigrants
a psychic says his former lover in a past life must have been a dandy
from the high hills of america’s west coast
AIDS always had such fashion sense
Here today gone tomorrow
baroque Baudeliere bad ass.
world turned upside down
negative [survey says] is a positive health outcome
if only it were so simple in these blood rich oil fields
reverse transcriptase trenches mine with the nuclear
parochial sanctimony of a moral majority
plus and minus everybody else
the top’s bottom
the bottom’s top
the infected and the un-infected
the bound and the unbound
the buttoned down and the unbuttoned
the prude and the wanderlust
if only our kind came readied to nurse
each ours very own chance at living?
meanwhile Kai’s photos stream behind us un-announced
[A prayer becomes an affirmation]
to tell their own story
to teach us?
[if even by omission]
the history of unintended
how silent and unbeknownst a virus haunts what it hunts
to occupy the hearts and minds of its prey
This project warrants no apology
the activists job is never done.
Perhaps the best ones wrastle
the too tight tendons
of their own too tidy towns
their own dissembled selves
born biting at the bit
kicking the stables
cut their teeth earn their chops
cross the stigma-shorn frontiers
imbued to their own origins
to discover the wealth
of what it could mean to survive
a pandemic before it kills you.
Whether you have it or not
Whether you will get it
To find a cause, greater than oneself,
throbbing with its own life
beyond the boundaries of caste
to lay among the shunned and the dying
the survived and the surviving
the besieged and the otherwise well off
the castaway and the unmoored
in search of what is possible of a self
inside the catacombs of a womanist’s theory
breathing still at Union Theological Seminary
right where it was found
in new york city
inside the bodies of black women
who had to have known
long before they got there
the evidence of their own being
must be for all civilization
a salvation unto itself.
Now are you gonna start dressing like a girl?
Some questions bury their own answers
inside the ferment whisper of unasked breath.
She was born inside the navel concave of a question
marked for transition from the beginning
a Filipina girl born into someone else’s body
run up the west coast Interstate 5 like a spine
run up the American dream like a tourist with tangled roots
immigrant parents born knowing tourism must be a fantasy
long before it is a business.
A brother in Redding California asks his teenage sibling an answer
to his own redwood question
Before he outs him for talking to a boy
so seismic a proposition to ask a world for: an understanding.
boys and girls are born whole and un-belonging
they are shells
we can take them on
we can take them off
for the sake of our selves
we are quite simply who we feel we are
Rehearse with me the freedom wolverine-knit
into the soul–spine of that name
She is a brook delicate and frothing
There is fertility in her bones
Like any fresh water river she is born caretaking
A sea of west coast salmon yelping against the tide
She is an undertaking
her own precious project
She intends on becoming the name of herself
Over and over again
feminist courses are no panacea
corset a millstone to its own precipice
we who believe in freedom can not rest
we who believe in freedom can not rest until comes
for women of color
there is no way made for us
we must make our way
each every time
Kai too is the beginning of an answer
To Malaya’s own unasked question
To see herself?
freed inside the swelling shadow of her own story
To bear witness how her light must-will,
so numinously, contend with that darkness
A heart pricked too young by a virus
for the which she was offered no viable
first or second language
with which to negotiate an actionable line of defense
Had not quite begun their rally
A whole body of stories snagged between
the too-titan lexicon of an aeon. AIDS HIV unspelling
their own death sentence
whole acronyms still sneezing mouth uncovered
their nubile stigma into a generation’s consciousness
before and after they
a desiccate and crumbled fiction
beneath the hard-packed weight
of their own histories
There is a new way.
We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes
these young ones are making it up as they go
the olde warrior’s stories are not enough
for these young bloods
navigating a new virus
in a haint town
in a new time
they will teach us how to read the next chapter
they will teach us how to listen.