Once upon a time, there lived a black male college cheerleader who dreamed big dreams. He dreamed of being the greatest male cheerleader in sports history while loving the greatest quarterback who changed sports history by being the first openly gay superstar athlete of his time.
Together this dynamic duo changes football and life as we know it, all because Walt loves the Bearcat.
Walt Loves the Bearcat—a Lambda Literary Award finalist for Best Romance—is a story I dreamt up while I myself was a college cheerleader at UCLA at the dawn of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, when I was forced confront the harsh new realities of what the media was calling “the deadly disease.”
I was in the closet at school but having casual anonymous sex in the sex zones of West Hollywood. Confusion was everywhere. I had zero information or support. It was only a matter of time before the perfect storm would sweep me up in its wake.
My first dose of this scary new world came the day after UCLA beat Illinois in the 1984 Rose Bowl. All that parading and cheering turned my holiday flu into something worse, rendering me half-dead at student health.
Excerpt from “Walt Loves the Bearcat”
“Are you gay?” asked the ancient female doctor after he relayed his symptoms.
“No,” scoffed Marcus, taking up the tone of an indignant New Yorker. “What—is this, like, similar to …”
Those four little letters—a i d s—were cropping up more and more around the periphery of his world, slowly replacing herpes as the Sexual Disease of the Day. “Yeah, and they have this new thing that can kill ya,” said a man at a bathhouse once. Another time, while driving with the other cheerleaders, they had spotted hundreds of men walking at night, holding candles by the Federal Building near campus.
“Those are the fags doing a vigil because they’re all dying,” said Heather, the girl with the highest hip quotient of anyone on the squad.
They have this new thing that can kill ya. The fags are all dying. Those were the only two things anyone ever said to 21-year-old Marcus Coleman about the disease until 125-year-old Dr. Battle Axe asked him: “Are you gay?”
The doctor diagnosed me with Hepatitis. I withdrew from school and went home to recuperate. During one long blurry binge of reading novels and reminiscing about my crazy college life, I dreamt up the story of Walt, the QB, and his Bearcat—a sort of what if. What if two crazy college kids became lovers and…?
In 1985, a month I graduated UCLA, Rock Hudson admitted to the public that he had AIDS, and that same night, I discovered that I, too, was infected with HIV.
Walt Loves the Bearcat then became a story of: can my deepest dreams come true, regardless of my HIV status?
The cheerleader and the quarterback.
My dream is that classic combo but from the point of view of a black gay male cheerleader and his hotshot, cocky quarterback buddy. A buddy movie. My buddy movie. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Butch and Sundance. Starsky and Hutch. My buddy and me. With or without HIV.
I never realistically imagined living (and thriving) into the 1990s. Then I never imagined living at all to see the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Then I never imagined living long enough to see the turn of the century or even a second decade of it.
Since my twenties and those painful, chaotic days of the early AIDS panic, I’ve dreamed of writing Walt Loves the Bearcat and many other novels, so the fact that I’ve actually lived long enough to write, finish and publish them is something I’m astonished by and grateful for.
Sometimes, dreams do come true, regardless of HIV status.
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