Starring – Steve Salt, Charlie Clarke, Ernest Vernon
Directed by David Hastings
“GRID stands for Gay-Related Immune Deficiency and was the original name of the virus before it became known to the world as AIDS.” –A statement at the end of the amazing and powerful short film GRID
I was ten years old and playing on our living room floor with my Matchbox and Hot Wheels toy cars, while my dad was sitting in his La-Z-Boy recliner watching the NBC Nightly News, because when it was 6:30 p.m., in our house, our TV was always tuned into the NBC Nightly News. And if the TV was on (and it was always on in our house) then I was watching whatever was on the TV, be it World War II documentaries or Laverne and Shirley or John Boring Wayne movies, I was watching what was on the TV and what was on the TV was usually what my dad wanted on the TV (hence, kid me watching a lot of World War II documentaries and Boring John Wayne movies). So, there I was, on the floor in our living room, playing with my toy cars (like any good little repressed lesbian would do) when John Chancellor came on the TV and started talking about a new cancer that was being called a gay cancer. My ears perked right up at the word “gay” like it always had since I could remember, and since my very first memory is when I was 2 years old, that was 8 years of being on call by then whenever the word “gay” came up in any kind of conversation, be it on TV or with my family or with my friends, “gay” was a word that always caught my attention even when I didn’t know that I was very much a part of that word, “gay.” So I stopped the exciting adventure that my toy cars were going through, and knowing me at 10, I’m pretty sure my cars were making a great escape from Boss Hogg, since I was a huge Dukes of Hazard fan when I was 10 years old (my tastes have only slightly improved since then). So Bo Duke and Luke Duke had to put their escape on hold while I turned my full attention to the TV to see what this new cancer, this gay cancer, was all about.
And that became my ritual for the next decade and a half, until I figured out that I was gay. I would keep my ears and eyes on the lookout when the news was on to see what more information I could find out about gay cancer. And then when I was a little older, I was now on the lookout for information on the news about GRID, which by the time I was 11, was what gay cancer was now being commonly called. And all the news would ever tell me about gay cancer and then later, GRID, was that it was killing all of the gay men; horribly, painfully, almost violently killing them.
Gay men that were so young.
Gay men that had been so healthy and vibrant just a few years, months, weeks before.
Gay men that were being cheered on to die.
I would stop whatever I was doing when gay cancer and then GRID came on my TV news and I would watch with my full attention as these men were dying and no one knew why and no one cared and no one wanted to help and everyone just wanted them shipped off somewhere to die because death was all these perverts and sinners deserved. Gay men were dying and repressed budding almost teenage lesbian me didn’t know why this scared the ever loving shit out of me.
Why did I care so much about gay men dying?
Why did I fear so much that gay men were dying?
Why did I keep searching the news for the one thing I feared the most – that lesbians were now dying too?
My poor, confused brain would contemplate gay cancer, then GRID, and then AIDS all the time. My brain loves to contemplate for hours and hours and days and days and weeks and weeks and months and months and years and years on anything and everything, even at 10, 11, 12, 13 years old. And falling into a debilitating depression at 11 years old, my brain began to go to some dark places when it contemplated anything and everything, and one of those dark places was always asking me, “When are the lesbians going to start dying too and will this mean I will then die as well?” Death is not a fun thing to contemplate at any age, but certainly not at 10 years old. And by the time I was 13, one too many pretty ladies on the movie screen and on my TV were forcing me out of the closet, but gay cancer/GRID/AIDS kept shoving me right back in that horrid and awful and debilitating closet because I just didn’t want to face death at 13 years old.
Recently, a lot of my memories from this time period have decided to have a big ole party in my always contemplating head and so gay cancer and GRID were very, very much on my mind when I got an email back in January from David Hastings, the director of the amazing and heartbreaking short film GRID, asking me to watch it for MOTR. And that email was a reminder of how the universe always seems to work in these kismet ways. I was feeling so sad about these memories consuming my present day brain about my long ago past that had to hide my sexuality for so long (26 years) from my own consciousness, and a lot of that hiding had to do with gay cancer/GRID/AIDS and being so horribly frightened that if I was gay, would I then get the disease too, and then would I too then have people hate me so much that they would cheer for me to die already just for being attracted to women instead of men.
So, 10 year old me was very much living and contemplating in my present day 44 year old head when David contacted me about watching his film that wasn’t about AIDS, but instead about GRID. GRID was the main thing that was hurting me the most. GRID is what originally forced me into that closet, because by the time I was 11, I knew I was gay. But gay people got GRID and so I didn’t want to be gay, so in that closet I went and then spent the next 15 years going in that closet and coming back out of that closet and going in it and coming back out of it, all subconsciously, until that fateful February day in 1999 when yet another relationship with a man just felt so wrong and that is when I said to myself, “I think next time, I’ll date a woman.” And suddenly all those years I spent running from gay cancer and GRID and AIDS, completely and utterly crumpled into a pile of I’m-so-not-heterosexual dust.
GRID is a short film that immediately and wholeheartedly and powerfully puts anyone who can remember the days of GRID right back in that horrible moment in time. Just three actors. Just a couple of simple sets. No CGI. No quick cuts or zooms or fancy camera work of any kind. It is just the simple story of a man dying from GRID and the doctor and nurse who help him die in peace. And by the end, I was crying for all of those men who died alone and afraid and saw no peace when their end came. I cried for the men who did have peace at the end. I cried for myself for letting this disease dictate my life for far too long even though most of that far too long time was when I was really only just a kid.
And that is what movies are all about, at least to me, getting right to the heart and soul of the viewer and having them experience the anguish and heartache and pain right along with the players on the screen. And that is what happened to me in just 26 minutes, my heart and soul were right back in time as I watched GRID, remembering little 10 year old me being scared shitless after hearing about gay cancer for the very first time while I was just trying to be a kid playing with my toy cars. But maybe now that I’ve seen GRID, maybe 10 year old me doesn’t have to be so scared anymore. That would be the true gift of the film, GRID, if I can get past that 10 year old kid pain, because after all, I had only been playing with my toy cars, but after that fateful day of finding out about gay cancer, playing with my toy cars was just never the same again. And after you watch GRID, you will never be the same again either.
To learn more about the short film, GRID, go to their website.
P.S.: I actually did what I had said in my head when I was 26 years old and realized for the first time consciously that I was gay and told myself that the next time I dated someone, it would be a woman. And my very next date was with a woman, who then became my wife. So see, not all stories about how GRID decimated a life, ended sadly. 🙂