Friday, December 01, 2023

World AIDS Day: Remembering Steven Jodell Meier (April 25, 1963 - April 17, 1995)

Found myself unable to sleep on the eve of World AIDS Day, which inevitably led to my cyber-stalking -- aka researching -- old friends and lovers. 

It didn't take long before the name Steve Meier popped into my head. Steve was the star of many of my gay "firsts" -- first kiss, first date, first sexual experience.

The way we met was straight out of a bad '80s movie -- I was coming out of the stall in the bathroom of my second gay bar (Al E. Gators on North 7th Street in Phoenix) when the guy walking in singed my arm with his cigarette, back when every gay man in the world smoked. 

I reacted not unlike Carrie Bradshaw did about a dozen years later when a dashing AA adherent accidentally flicked a butt at her. Despite being a smoker herself, Carrie was pissed -- so you can only imagine how I, the Nancy Reagan of tobacco products, reacted.  

After apologizing profusely and vowing to quit, Steve slowly began to examine me and decided he liked the looks of (t)his burn victim. 

And not unlike on "Sex and the City," it didn't take long for me to cut him some slack, after noticing Steve's thick dark hair, permanent 5 o'clock shadow and that cleft in his chin: Hello, Nurse! 

Before long, he had the DJ dedicate Taylor Dayne's "Tell It to My Heart”(!) -- the first of Taylor Dayne's string of seven Top 10 hits -- and my telephone number. 

Our relationship only lasted a few months. On our first date this "much older" man -- he was 25 to my 20, back when five years felt like decades -- took me to the very fancy Velvet Turtle restaurant on East Camelback Road. (I figured an alligator introduced us so why not dine with another reptile?) I remember going to Dillard's and charging a new yellow Polo shirt I couldn't afford for the occasion, at which my new flame allowed me to choose my very first bottle of wine. (I selected a white zinfandel -- natch!) 

As the weeks went by, sometimes we'd go out to the bars, like Taylor's for cocktails or dancing at the Connection. 

The Connection and Taylor's, two of my earliest gay-bar experiences

Men looking to make a Connection 

But most nights we'd just hang out at his quirky pink apartment building on East Thomas Road, probably because I had a lot more in common with his hilarious hairdresser roommate with whom I'd laugh the night away before retiring to Steve's bedroom for sexy time.

After I moved to Los Angeles in 1990, I remember spotting Steve on a trip back to Phoenix a year or two later at the city's popular gay country bar called Charlie's. If he saw me he didn't seem to recognize me -- in his defense, my hair was no longer styled like an omelet -- so I didn't even bother saying hi. I now regret this decision. 

Around the same time I found out my artist friend Mary had a "small world" moment with her hair stylist in Scottsdale, who turned out to be Steve's old roommate. (Sadly, neither of us can remember his name.) I asked her to ask him how Steve was doing and the response was vague but clearly not good.

Without knowing exactly what had happened to him, I managed to largely put it out of my mind over the next 20 years -- until last night, when my insomnia led me to confirmation that Steve had died in 1995, eight days shy of only his 32nd birthday. (I could write a book about the sadness I feel about people who died just before "the cocktail" began to save lives.) 

April 18, 1988 entry about the AIDS Quilt from a journal I briefly kept after reading "The Andy Warhol Diaries"

Even before I learned this I have often thought about how horribly different things might have turned out for me had I been born even a few years earlier. Although I did briefly have a fake ID that allowed me to go to gay bars when I was slightly underage, Rock Hudson, HIV antibody tests and safe(r) sex were all well known by the time I came out in 1987. But knowing Steve was likely positive at the time we were together is sobering, and makes you realize that even one slip-up could have easily led to deadly consequences. Now the rage I have felt for an entire generation of men before me -- who were struck down prematurely simply for trying to navigate their way through a cruel and unaccepting world -- has yet another personal touch. (It happened last year, too.)

Sadly, I have no photos to share of handsome Steve, who had a bit of a Jon Hamm quality about him. (That was a period when I was using my sister's pink disc camera before it melted in my car under the murderous Arizona heat.) But it would really make me happy if anyone out there remembers him and could get in touch with me -- and even happier if we could eradicate this still-killer disease once and for all. xo

P.S. Phoenix New Times has a wonderful slideshow of some of my gay earliest haunts HERE.

UPDATE: I'm so happy to report that I heard from Steve's former lover, who was with him (by then as friends) the day before he died, and even received some sweet photos of my first flame. I was asked not to share them, which is perfectly understandable, but I wanted to give a shoutout to Al Gore for inventing this crazy tool that can help connect people no matter how far and wide. xo

UPDATE 2: The day after I wrote this post (above) about finding out the first guy I ever dated had died in 1995 of AIDS, I came across a list I compiled in 1993 of all the men I had hooked up with to that point. (I've mentioned this before, but before the Internet came along, compiling lists was MY LIFE!) Damian immediately said: "You can't type a list of guys you've f**ked(!)," but there it was on the back of a slip we used when I worked at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Sure enough, it confirms that Steve was my first -- well, if you don't count my prepubescent pup-tent neighbor. It also nudged my memory about a name I'd forgotten (someone I actually dated a bit), who I found out still works where I met him 30 years ago, and about a guy who had a bit part in the film version of "Biloxi Blues" (it was gay nod, if I recall!), and most disturbing led me to do some searches that revealed one of them is a lunatic conspiracy theorist (who was arrested after an armed standoff with the police) and another was charged (later dropped) and then sued for grooming boys. Yikes! 

Then last night I learned that there's an incel spinoff movement of men who try to shame women about the number of partners they've had. (They call it a body count.) Some of them are actually hot IG influencer types, dubbed gymcels -- and the whole thing is obviously misogynistic and gross.

But the topic dovetailed nicely with the documentary we watched on World AIDS Days called "Killing Patient Zero," about the infamous (and very sexy) French-Canadian flight attendant Gaëtan Dugas, who was said to have brought HIV to the U.S. by sleeping with something like 250 men a year for decades. 

The film started out strong with interviews of old friends and colleagues of Dugas's, but kind of lost me when trying to claim one of the reasons he's obviously not responsible in any way for absolutely anything -- much less to blame -- is because you don't get symptoms from HIV for about 10 years after exposure and he'd slept with everyone too recently. Huh? So all those poor guys had actually been infected a decade before? 

And more to the point: Call me Larry Kramer -- or maybe Richard "Sex Positive" Berkowitz, who is interviewed for the doc -- but watching actual footage of Dugas fighting with an advisory panel assembled in the early days of the epidemic that he will absolutely not change his sexual habits in any shape, manner or form until he has concrete PROOF that sex was spreading the disease -- and then babbling some conspiracy theory about the hepatitis vaccine -- doesn't exactly paint him in positive light. Yes it's true that no one deserves to be "shamed" for being a sexual person. But I'm not sure he was a worthy subject of a soft-focus image-rehabilitation cinematic endeavor. 

I'm not sure why, but now might also be a good time to tell you that Damian and I went with a friend to see Thunder From Down Under in Las Vegas as our bachelor party! The boys were as friendly as they are sexy -- Dan's my man while Damian is "with" Liam. And we hung out with them in a bar afterward to discuss their HGTV show, "Flip the Strip," which we're hoping comes back for another season! 


June 1987: "Don't Get Mad/Get Evan" -- about 1,000 gay men, lesbians, and their allies, marched from the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza to the state Capitol to try to show Gov. Evan Mecham that LGBT people are a significant population in Arizona. Participants joined hands around the Capitol in an effort to "educate Evan Mecham," said organizer Bj Bud.

June 1987: Valley gays and lesbians rally at the Capitol as part of the seventh annual local celebration of gay pride, and planned to join hands around the state Capitol.

June 1987: Bj Bud, the chairwoman of the 1987 Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee, said in her speech at the rally, "We need to let (Gov. Evan) Mecham know that being gay is a viable lifestyle." Mecham, a Republican who was elected in January 1987, said he believed homosexuality was not an acceptable lifestyle.

Footnote: Mecham ended up being recalled largely due to the efforts of Ed Buck, an openly gay man who was a folk hero of sorts to LGBT Arizonans. Much to my horror, Buck was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison in 2022 for providing methamphetamine to two victims who suffered fatal overdoses, a practice he seemed to get off on. 

July 1990: Hundreds of Arizona Republic customers in Phoenix and the East Valley received brightly packaged condoms attached to newspapers they bought from street boxes in a protest against a cartoon that ran in The Republic. The cartoon, drawn by cartoonist Scott Stantis, showed two men walking into a bathhouse, one saying to the other, "It puts me in a tizzie to think the government hasn't done a thing to stop the spread of AIDS." About 15 members of ACT UP picketed at The Republic's downtown Phoenix offices.

1 comment:

Jo Anne Whorley said...

Very impressed that you knew your partner’s names. My list would’ve run more like 1) Guy at reststop on I-95 2) guy in blue Buick 3) guy from Macy’s men’s room, lives in Clinton street apt..