An edited conversation: Patrick Staff
19 May 2014
I wonder if he’s still alive, that’s what I always thought
Tape I 00:05:00
SARAH SCHULMAN: Ready?
Sandy Katz: Oh, so you’re gonna film me from two different angles?
SS: Yeah. Look at me.
Jim Hubbard: Look at Sarah.
James Wentzy: The tapes last 40 minutes, so we’ll change tapes every 40 minutes.
SS: Okay. So the way we start is you say your name, your age, where we are, and today’s date.
SK: Okay. My name is Sandy Katz. And we are at Short Mountain Sanctuary, where I live, which is in Cannon County, Tennessee. I’m 42 years old. What was the –
SS: Today’s date.
SK: And today’s date is October 15th, 2004.
Do you want to take me through your notes?
The interview appears to be part of a bigger project that this woman, Sarah Schulman, was doing at the time…ACTUP…
ACTUP…yes. And it was an oral history project.
What’s an oral history?
It’s based around the process of interviewing and creating an oral history through that medium. So there is less of a focus on documents, cold, factual elements etc., and more of an interest in speaking with individuals, getting their personal stories and creating an archive – a living archive of their voices.
SS: Do you remember how you became aware of it?
SK: I can’t remember the first references to AIDS or gay cancer, or whatever. Later on, in retrospect I’ve read the early articles that appeared. But I don’t specifically remember seeing them. But by the time I started having sex with men, I was definitely aware that there was this health crisis in the gay world, and that I, that there were precautions. I think that, I think I was aware of, say, of some basic safe-sex ideas before I was having sex with men.
At the same time, I’ll say that sort of because of what I was just describing, of this idea that I just was so strongly not identified with the men who I could tell from a block away were gay. I did feel sort of weirdly distanced from AIDS in my early sexually active years. I felt like the guys who I was having sex with didn’t really fit the profile, and I wasn’t, I don’t think I was really sort of seriously considering the idea that, that they could have HIV.
One part of the interview that I found particularly poignant were the sections about medication, which seems to be quite a contentious issue at the time, whether you took the prescribed medication for HIV/AIDs or whether you didn’t.
Well that medication came out as new medication just as HIV/AIDs was considered a new disease. There’s a fear around how you actually treat it and deal with it. Because in many ways it’s the unknown.
And it’s interesting how he put off the fact that he was sick. It got me thinking about the idea of abled and disabled bodies again…
Yes, it’s interesting to question at what point you become a ‘disabled’ body. Is it from the moment that you start to feel physically ill or at the point when the doctor diagnoses you? In many ways you become a disabled body because the diagnosis and prescription of medication tells you that you are.
And for a long time Sandy seemed to be in denial about that, thought he was…before he was positive…when the results came back inconclusive.
SS: Well did you ever conceptualize of yourself as a potentially future person with AIDS?
SK: Not really. I really just, I just, I guess I felt I had enough information, and – was smart enough that I wouldn’t get it. And I never particularly had any anxiety about having been exposed to it. And the times when I got HIV-tested, it was always as a companion to someone who was filled with anxiety about having been exposed, and just wanted a friend to go get tested with. So, and it’s kind of interesting.
I didn’t test positive myself until 1991. But I did start testing inconclusive in 1988. And on two different occasions, it was the same scenario, of a friend who was filled with anxiety. So I went with them to get tested, and got tested, really just thinking I was doing it as support for them. And then, they came back negative. And I came back inconclusive. Which I didn’t really interpret as positive. I sort of constructed all of these elaborate – reasons why I would have an inconclusive blood test. I had had malaria in the late ’80s, and some doctor told me, maybe my malaria was making the test read strangely, or. Um. But it, no, it wasn’t ’til I actually tested positive in ’91 that I really thought about the possibility that I could be positive. I had even had boyfriends who were positive, but I just felt like I was being so careful and by-the-book that, uh, that I’d be okay.
Compiled by Joseph Constable and Jess Dunleavy