Between Certain Death and a Possible Future
Queer Writing on Growing Up with the AIDS Crisis
An enthralling and incisive anthology of personal essays on the persistent impact of the AIDS crisis on queer lives.
Every queer person lives with the trauma of AIDS, and this plays out intergenerationally. Usually we hear about two generations - the first, coming of age in the era of gay liberation, and then watching entire circles of friends die of a mysterious illness as the government did nothing to intervene. And now we hear about younger people growing up with effective treatment and prevention available, unable to comprehend the magnitude of the loss. But there is another generation between these two, one that came of age in the midst of the epidemic with the belief that desire intrinsically led to death, and internalized this trauma as part of becoming queer.
Between Certain Death and a Possible Future: Queer Writing on Growing up with the AIDS Crisis offers crucial stories from this missing generation in AIDS literature and cultural politics. This wide-ranging collection includes 36 personal essays on the ongoing and persistent impact of the HIV/AIDS crisis in queer lives. Here you will find an expansive range of perspectives on a specific generational story - essays that explore and explode conventional wisdom, while also providing a necessary bridge between experiences. These essays respond, with eloquence and incisiveness, to the question: How do we reckon with the trauma that continues to this day, and imagine a way out?
- Short-listed, Lambda Literary Award 2022
An exciting and important collection that reconvenes community and brings our hidden feelings and experiences of HIV again to light and to consciousness. -Sarah Schulman, author of Conflict Is Not Abuse and Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993
For decades, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore has been putting together anthologies that transform the field of queer politics and let us understand ourselves and each other in new ways. Between Certain Death and a Possible Future is just such a book. It is a must-read for this moment, yet another juncture where we face the collision of brutal inequality, right-wing resurgence, and pandemic. This book is deeply personal, moving, and evocative, and at the same time has an enormous amount to teach us about the political and social conditions that have produced the social meanings of AIDS and sex that have shaped our lives. -Dean Spade, author of Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next)
To be queer is to learn about yourself - your identity, your history, your community - in fragments. Mattilda has been painstakingly helping us put our pieces together for decades, and defiantly does it again in Between Certain Death and a Possible Future. Formally an anthology, this book is actually a bildungsroman, unlike any you've read before - this one doesn't take coming of age for granted. -Vivek Shraya, author of Death Threat and I'm Afraid of Men
I thought I knew everything about how the queer generation after mine was impacted by AIDS, but Sycamore's eye-opening anthology pierced my naive cockiness. I remember my life and sexual coming out before the AIDS crisis, but what if AIDS is all you've ever known? How did that define your queerness? Sycamore breaks open a dam of suppressed stories centered on stigma, from wildly diverse voices, pouring forth with startling honesty and resilience. -Peter Staley, author of Never Silent: ACT UP and My Life in Activism
We've grown up reading and seeing the stories of those who lived through the AIDS crisis - and those who didn't - but what of the generation in the middle that grew up in the immediate wake of AIDS but before the promise of PrEP. The generation that, as Lambda Award-winning writer Bernstein puts it, "came of age in the midst of the epidemic with the belief that desire intrinsically led to death, internalizing this trauma as part of becoming queer?" Bernstein's necessary and thought-provoking anthology amasses dispatches from writers and activists who weathered the fallout. -Oprah Daily
Thirty-six essays by writers who have never known a world without AIDS highlight a disparity in education and the impacts of the classism, misogyny and racism that surround it. -New York Times
A dynamic and impressive array of queer writing analyzes the shared trauma of growing up amid the AIDS crisis. Shelf Awareness
It is the achievement of the book Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore has assembled that each of its many writers, regardless of age or circumstance, takes grief and fear seriously, recognizes history, dreams of a better future, and offers models of love that are not solely models of death. -Chicago Review of Books
A satisfyingly diverse collection . .. The passions captured by this anthology offer a valuable wealth of perspectives for AIDS and sex educators and a multicultural wake-up call to all readers. -Kirkus Reviews
In Between Certain Death and a Possible Future, a groundbreaking anthology of essays edited by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, the contributing authors, in prose that is urgent, lyrical, and at times astonishing, describe coming of age in the U. S. and abroad in the years and decades after HIV/AIDS had already gained a vice grip on the marginalized. Unlike AIDS literature's dominant narratives, these stories are not primarily about being sick from a deadly virus or the mass loss of friends, lovers, or family. Rather, they cover the far-reaching trauma on individuals of subsequent generations that, despite revolutionary HIV treatments, find themselves unable to escape the conflation of queerness with death, desire with danger, or the racism and transphobia of the dominant HIV response that cleaved the momentum of progress away from trans, immigrant, and communities of color. The authors' stories also embody a generation that inherited the insidious legacy of HIV stigma born from anti-queer hatred, sensationalized media, and fear-based and sex-phobic HIV prevention campaigns, and the destructive effects this stigma has had on feelings of self-worth, on intimate relationships, and on their understanding of community. Between Certain Death and a Possible Future is an essential contribution to AIDS literature because it invites the reader to wrestle with the unceasing impact of HIV beyond the 'crisis years,' beyond heroic activism, into under-explored narrative terrain where effective medical treatments redefined the ongoing epidemic from certain death to something else we're still figuring out, damaged but resilient, in search of a possible future. -Tony Valenzuela, writer and former executive director of the Foundation for the AIDS Monument and Lambda Literary
Between Death and a Possible Future is an important book, a valuable reminder that progress is never linear but requires continual vigilance, flexibility, and creativity . .. Heartbreaking and enlightening, enraging and uplifting, it's an emotional read. -Women's Review of Books
A wide-ranging and inclusive volume, Between Certain Death and a Possible Future introduces a multitude of voices that enhance our understanding of disease, medicalization, and human engagement . .. Heartbreaking and enlightening, enraging and uplifting, it's an emotional read. -Women's Review of Books
This book opens up new and absolutely crucial questions about the HIV and AIDS crisis both then and now. -Book Riot ("The 100 Most Influential Queer Books of All Time")