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An Interview with Kevin Bentley
Author of Wild Animals I Have Known

D.O.C.: Lust Letters

Do you worry that a 21-year-old gay kid reading your diary might be adversely influenced by reading about all the unsafe sex in the pre-AIDS period?

No more so than he might be by watching mainstream movie depictions of straight people having apparently unprotected sex. This isn't the Anglo Saxon Chronicles, but it is a kind of historical record with clearly dated entries. Somebody said—Edmund White, maybe?—that you could hardly be expected to have safe sex before the concept existed. You can tell when things started to change in the story. There's an entry where an adorable British flight attendant I used to play with on layovers laughed at me when I showed up with condoms in July of '85. "That's so American," he said, like it was a quaint foible. And there are several breaks in the narrative where I was going through caregiving and grieving with two lovers who died. Partly, what was happening was too painful to record; partly, that's just another story. But HIV isn't ignored.

What did you do in the war, daddy?

During the White Night Riots I was busy getting the clap "fore and aft" as they used to say at the city clinic, on the roof of a Tenderloin apartment building a couple of blocks away from all the ruckus. I heard the sirens and smelled the smoke, but all I got was gravel in my knees and elbows. That pretty much sums up my career as an activist.

Why do you keep a diary?

It's one way to keep writing and finding a voice. It's a way of taking yourself seriously, of thinking about things like sex and love—a way of talking about love and emotion when the people you're sleeping with may discourage it. It reminds me who I am. It keeps me honest with myself. A friend in the book remarks that her diary has saved her from suicide hundreds of times. It certainly guarantees having the last word about a break-up.

What do you think is the most important thing about your book?

The importance of sex and love. It's about the quest for love. I spent nine years working in bookstores because I was too busy partying and looking for love to find my vocation, and I'm not sorry. Either you're the kind of person who thinks that's a waste of time, or you understand that it's the most important quest there is. I still think it is.

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