Paul Monette was my mentor. We met in 1990 when I first moved to Los Angeles. It was the height of the AIDS epidemic and PauI was one of the era’s most insightful and accomplished voices. I was just beginning my academic career. Mutual friends in the arts and AIDS activist communities introduced us. While we were a generation apart we were kindred spirits and forged a quick and easy friendship that lasted until his death in 1995.
I was the first scholar to take his work seriously, something that came easy to me given the beauty and power of Love Alone: 18 Elegies for Rog and Borrowed Time: an AIDS Memoir, his late 1980s masterpieces, books I would teach in my undergraduate courses and write about in academic journals.
Here’s an excerpt from his memoir Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story, which he wrote during the AIDS years. It gives you a sense of his passion and purpose:
“But the fevers are on me now, the virus mad to ravage my last 50 T-cells.
It’s hard to keep the memory at full dazzle with so much loss to mock it.
Roger gone, Craig gone, Cesar gone, Stevie gone.
And this feeling that I’m the last one left in a world where only the ghosts still laugh.
But at least they’re the ghosts of full-grown men,
proof that all of us got that far, free of the traps and the lies.
And at that moment on the brink of summer’s end,
no one would ever tell me again that men like me couldn’t love.”
Paul was full of passion and immensely loyal to those he befriended. He was drawn to my commitment to his legacy and to AIDS awareness in general, and grateful for my efforts to make his work accessible to a younger queer generation. He was funny, smart, gossipy, flirtatious, curious, fully present in the moment — which is to say that he was fully alive except, of course, that he was living with AIDS. He looked out for me, affirming my life choices in ways I very much needed at the time. I saw him as a tribal elder, some full of wisdom, experience and generosity.
His triumphant moment, when his memoir Becoming a Man won the 1992 National Book Award, remains a milestone in LGBTQ history. I will always remember the joy the recognition offered him and the pride he felt for the various communities he was honored to represent.
We had a very tender inter-generational dynamic, made all the more immediate given his health challenges.
Were we friends? I wasn’t inner-circle by any means, but we spent time together during his final years. He single-handedly took it upon himself to help me get hired at Yale University, his alma mater, for the first-ever LGBT studies position through The Larry Kramer Initiative. He advocated for me with letters and phone calls that almost certainly were the reasons I got the job. I owe him everything for that alone.
He died the first year I was teaching at Yale. Along with David Groff, his editor and friend, I organized his New York City memorial, which we hosted at the Public Theater. It was essential for us to gather together and celebrate Paul’s life and legacy.
My name is David Roman. Paul Monette was an important figure in my life and the lives of so many others. I loved him for his passion and authenticity and I remember him for his deep love for queer people everywhere, especially those living with HIV.