Mark S. King's 'My Fabulous Disease'

  • by Hank Trout
  • Tuesday September 5, 2023
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author Mark S. King
author Mark S. King

Mark S. King, familiar to all of us but especially to the HIV community, is an award-winning writer, speaker, and HIV/AIDS activist. His cheeky, provocative blog "My Fabulous Disease" has been a must-read source of information, opinion, and humor for the HIV-positive and -negative for several years.

The National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association (NLGIA) awarded "My Fabulous Disease" their Excellence in Blogging award in 2014, 2016, and 2020, the same year he won the GLAAD Outstanding Blog Award. He has garnered several other accolades along the way.

Now, he has published "My Fabulous Disease: Chronicles of a Gay Survivor," an anthology of some of his favorite blog entries and other pieces he wrote for various gay newspapers. For his new readers, it serves as a carefully curated introduction to Mark, his straight-forward style, his deeply rooted compassion, and his sometime contrariness.

For his long-time readers, the book is like a "greatest hits" album reminding us why we read him regularly. The entries in the book are thoughtful, thoughtprovoking, intensely personal yet touching on universal themes, and, again, often very funny. Having lived with HIV since 1985, Mark has a lot to say, and he's not shy about saying it.

Take, for instance, "Stop Bludgeoning Young Gay Men with Our AIDS Tragedy," the blog entry from November 2013, the entry that Mark says provoked the most heated responses of anything he's written. In it, while acknowledging the importance of our recording and sharing our HIV/AIDS history, he chastises, in no uncertain terms, those in the community who would use that history in all its gory detail to shame and scare younger men who were born or came out after the worst years of the plague.

In response to comments like, "You don't know. You didn't go through what we went through," Mark responds, "Well, thank God they didn't go through what we did!"

He begins the essay telling us that there are little rituals he goes through to honor his friend Lesley who died of AIDS in the 1980s.

"There's something I will not do. I will not dig up Lesley's body and beat young gay men with his corpse." That jarring image exemplifies Mark's take-no-prisoners attitude and writing style.

author Mark S. King (photo: Darrell Snedeger)  

In other essays, his softer compassionate nature takes over. He writes lovingly and sensitively about his parents, his older gay brother, and other family and friends.

In "Hurting Mom on My First Gay Christmas," he recounts the story of his first Christmas after coming out. He received two watches that year, one from his boyfriend, one from his mother. Asked which watch he would keep and wear, he made a decision that, he says, still haunts him to this day.

In "I Am the Man My Father Built," he pays moving homage to his kite-building father.
The most somber, poignant piece in the book, and the best-written, is "Suicide: A Love Story," which tells two stories. The first recounts Mark's experience of being in the house when his brother David's AIDS-weakened lover of thirteen years died.

The second occurs a few years later, when David tells Mark the full, gut-wrenching story of his lover's death. There are images in this piece, such as the sound of the coroner's gurney squeaking as it rolls across the Spanish tile in the house's foyer, that will stay with me for quite some time. It is a remarkable piece of writing.

Mark's lighter, more humorous approach to life, including his life with HIV, informs several of the other entries in the book. For instance, "The Fabulous Wizard of POZ" is a laugh-out-loud self-deprecating fantasy about attending a "poz social" right after he appeared on the cover of POZ Magazine in 2013.

In it, the character "Mark King" is a clueless, self-promoting, subtly egomaniacal media whore. He gripes that Leibowitz and Scavullo were unavailable to shoot the cover; that the editor of POZ turned down his suggestion of appearing in a prom dress with a bucket of blood dumped on his head; and that the host of the social wants to use the buffet table for a buffet, not as a display rack for the dozens of copies of the magazine he has brought with him. It's one of the funniest things I've read in ages.

Many readers will react very favorably to how easy Mark's book is to read. The brevity of each piece, many of them no longer than this review, means that the reader can pick up the book, turn to any of the entries, read and digest it in a short time.

The brevity also indicates that Mark has set himself the task of making strong, resonant points about life and love and living and dying, in about 800 words or so. He recently told me that his approach to his columns and blog pieces is "to get in, tell you a story, make my point, and get out." It is a technique that serves him and his readers very well.

"My Fabulous Disease: Chronicles of a Gay Survivor" is heartily recommended for anyone who enjoys a good, taut, concise, moving read.

Mark S. King's local appearances:
Sept. 15, 7:45am: on-air interview with Reggie Aqui on KGO-TV.
Sept. 16, 10am-12pm: Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Networks weekly meeting, Maxfield's House of Caffeine, Dolores St. at 17th.
Sept. 16, 7pm: Mark and members of San Francisco's long-term survivor community will read excerpts from 'My Fabulous Disease' at Strut SF, 470 Castro St.

'My Fabulous Disease: Chronicles of a Gay Survivor,' by Mark S. King. 209 Pages; $19.99.

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