Your story “Dancers and Divas” deals with the sensitive and emotional topic of STDs and the hope of finding cures. Do you believe that we are close to a cure for HIV?
If you think about the lifespan of the virus and its history as we know it, yeah I think we’re pretty close. It started becoming a huge problem in the ‘60s, right as people thought we were safe from all the typical diseases that would kill us in the past—that “safe” period is when worse things form. And, unfortunately, HIV stigma kept at bay much progress toward a cure. Right now I think we’re getting to a point where that stigma isn’t holding us back as much, and so there are promising and creative strides being made every day. It’s just around the corner, in the near future.
In the story, the two main characters are both HIV positive when they meet and begin a relationship, and one of the characters reacts deeply to a poster about shared needle use. Were you intentionally ambiguous about how the characters contracted the STD?
Yes. I think for anyone, HOW he or she contracted an STD can be particularly shameful. We might feel judged for engaging in risky behavior, and the horrors of gossip can be debilitating especially for young people. Since the story is told in first-person, I didn’t want the narrator to be at all obvious about how it happened. When he looks at the poster, he sees a picture of “infectious avenues,” and in that moment he feels a bit of self-disgust—contaminated—knowing something foreign is coursing through his veins. After all that time of being positive, it’s still not a welcome feeling for him.
What is the relevance of the holographic technology they use to the main conflict of the story?
Holographic technology made sense to me because people are so visual and tactile. I thought if characters like Alex could interact kinesthetically on an app like “Sexit,” it would make this future direction of technology seem more collaborative and unguarded in a good way. I don’t think it has much to do with the main conflict of the story unless you consider the social impact of holographic technology—that it could increase interconnectivity and general acceptance of others. My bet is that virtual reality, on the other hand, would probably be too real for anyone to handle all the time.
Was writing “Dancers and Divas” different in process than the other writing that you do or have done?
I do a lot of op-ed writing for my column The Nerd Chord at Project-Nerd, and maybe some of that voice seeped in to the narration. Other than that, the planning of these scenes took me a lot of time, and I think I have more practice now in that regard. But the plot didn’t even work or come together until the very end of the process when I was able to make a lightning-bolt connection; I felt lucky to have found a connection between two of those characters. In a lot of ways, every process is different for me because I can’t know the full story often till the end—not yet at least.
Did you draw on your past research of HIV testing for this story?
Some. That project covered some of the latest technology in HIV testing, so it was at least useful to have that in my mind while writing. I drew a lot on my experience working in a clinic, administering HIV tests and giving results fifteen minutes later. Counseling both positive and negative people about risk reduction and prevention and sometimes being with them in the event of a positive result…this gave me a lot to work with.
Reality Skimming Press brands itself as ‘optimistic sci-fi.’ Tell us what you believe that phrase to mean.
I tend to take that term literally. In my story, I tried to create a realistic utopia in which most of the political and social problems we deal with today are things of the past (in this case, deep personal shame doesn’t qualify). So it’s very optimistic of me to envision (much less create) an attainable and advanced society hampered by fewer differences than we have today.
What projects are you currently working on?
For now, I have a few different ideas for other stories that answer that personal question of how a main character may have contracted HIV, and why, and I’ll set it in the Caribbean where my family is from. I think it’s going to be fun and dark. Other than that, my Nerd Chord column is also a lot of fun; I like gushing over Zelda and then taking a side in the gender debate over Link the avatar; I like insisting that Pam Grier was snubbed an Oscar nomination for her work as the lead in Tarantino’s best film, ‘97’s Jackie Brown; I especially like explaining why and how we love Buffy Summers and Veronica Mars. (I enjoy “writing” about pop culture on Twitter @RTBudhram as well).