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Mark Thompson has lived in exciting times. Growing up in northern California in the 60s with a passion for journalism and advocacy, he was perfectly situated to join the staff of The Advocate, first as a freelancer, soon rising to become Senior and Cultural Editor. He writes of his personal journey, and the changes he has witnessed in the GLBT community, in this new memoir.
Advocate Days packs much history into its brief pages, from the start of the gay liberation movement and the publications that helped report on the struggle for equality, to the turmoil and uncertainty of the AIDS epidemic, as well as the riots that broke out after Harvey Milk’s assassination. He ends the title essay, which covers his time at The Advocate, with the publication’s 40th anniversary gala in 2007, as one of the few surviving contributors from the early days, mystified at the new generation, “oblivious to everything but having their mindless fun.”
His discovery of The Advocate, at the time a small Los Angeles-based newsletter, as a sixteen-year old boy proves a turning point in his life; he notes that “there were lots of photos of handsome men wearing mesh underwear and clingy knit tops – and often little else.” When he began writing for the magazine a few years later, it would expand to cover fashion, the arts, politics, and everything else of possible interest to the community. Thompson even wrote about the struggles of gay activists in Spain, forced into extreme secrecy under fear of arrest and imprisonment under Franco’s rule. The challenges he faced in meeting and interviewing the few people willing to speak with him serve as a stark contrast to the progressive attitudes in Spain today.
Thompson covers other subjects in this book, such as his work with HIV-positive youth. In “Hands Across the Generations” he writes touchingly of the special relationship he developed with Timothy, a bright, charming young man with AIDS and a dysfunctional family life. His counseling and advice on everything from a new method of taking his cumbersome pills to establishing an independent existence, bridged the generation gap and brought these two very different men closer together. Indeed, Thompson remarks that his “relationship with Timothy was probably as close to fatherhood I would ever achieve.” The young man’s death, from failing to take his medication, moves him to tears, and he mourns as a father would.
Among the many distinctive personalities Thompson discusses in this book, perhaps the most fascinating is his partner, the Episcopal priest and author Malcolm Boyd. Despite the extreme differences in age and religious temperament, they have been together for more than twenty years, surviving even the Rodney King riots. The last essay, “Charmed, I’m Sure,” alternates between the couple as they relate how they first met, the challenges they faced, and the deep love they share. The anecdotes are amusing: Thompson remembers as a high school student encountering his future partner speaking on a talk show — replacing the musician Ravi Shankar, much to the younger man’s annoyance. Fifteen years later they met, and after a long courtship, bought a house together in the Los Angeles hills. Thompson quickly began to settle into his role as a self-described “preacher’s wife,” one he accepts quite happily. While Thompson learns about the comfort of religion from his partner, Boyd discovers that “a little camp can be just the right spice for making the bitter parts of life go down easier.” Advocate Days relates the history of the GLBT movement and prominent publication through the eyes of one of its most powerful writers and witnesses.
ADVOCATE DAYS & OTHER STORIES
By Mark Thompson
Queer Mojo/Rebel Satori Press
Hardcover, $16.95, 165p