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literature

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

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Reed, Paul (1956-2002)  
 
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Contracting HIV before it could be accurately diagnosed much less treated, protagonist Andy Stone finds himself enmeshed in a medical mystery. As Andy's condition deteriorates, his partner, David Markman, and his doctor, Walt Branch, who also delivered Andy, fight to understand what is infecting him. The mystery of Andy's illness is revealed through the inclusion of two medical extracts and the deployment of a changing diagnostic language, which progresses from "gay plague" to GRIDS (Gay Related Immune Disorder Syndrome) and inevitably to AIDS.

By the novel's conclusion, after Andy reconciles himself to his life and identity, he faces his death as an act of exhalation rather than expiration.

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Reed's second novel, Longing, ends with a similar expansion of self. In the early 1980s, just as San Francisco's gay community is awakening to the pandemic, the novel's unnamed protagonist moves to the Castro to pursue a decidedly gay life. The protagonist adopts a gay urban lifestyle, but eventually becomes disillusioned by its superficiality and disheartened by heartbreak, as he longs for more than he finds in the world around him. The novel resolves this angst through the protagonist's learning to transcend the feeling of longing for the practice of living, and this epiphany is characterized as a cosmological projection of self.

A comparable projection of self concludes Reed's last novel, Vertical Intercourse. The novel's unnamed protagonist grapples with the losses attendant upon aging and AIDS and struggles with the evolution of his illness from an acute to a chronic condition. Having cared for and lost several friends and lovers to AIDS, the protagonist finds he is overwhelmed with compassion fatigue and unable to locate personal contentment in his new friends or with his new boyfriend. Consequently, he devolves into a paralyzing existential crisis, which is literally and figuratively remedied by his rising from the seclusion of his couch and returning to the world.

In Reed's long fiction, the humanity of the person living with AIDS perseveres and ultimately triumphs despite the self-effacing potential of the epidemic.

Reed's Sex Writing

In the early 1980s, Reed began publishing sex fiction under the pseudonym Max Exander. These stories initially appeared in sex magazines such as Mandate and Honcho. By the mid-1980s, Reed was publishing story collections and fictionalized sex journals. There are five volumes of Max Exander writings.

Although some of this writing is more invested in the prurience of pornography than the psychology of erotica, Reed's sex writing frequently provides a significance deeper than prurience. When Reed's sex narratives yield to the self-limiting hypersexuality of pornography, they fail to achieve the poetic pulse of his other prose. However, the majority of his sex writing evidences an unyielding Anaïs Nin-like exploration of the social and sexual nexus.

This distinction is readily seen by comparing the first two books of sex writing Reed published in 1985: Mansex and Safestud: the Safesex Chronicles of Max Exander. Mansex is a collection of sixteen erotic short stories dealing with sexual experiences ranging from S/M and bondage to water sports. The stories depict unsafe sex, including the exchange of body fluids. In contrast, Safestud, a work of fiction written in journal form, portrays its protagonist's grappling with the emergence of safer-sex practices, as they developed over the course of the 1980s.

The concerns surrounding HIV transmission and the consequent changes in the psychology and practice of sex incited a development in Reed's sex writing, resulting in his merging the genres of memoir and pornography to explore safe-sex journaling.

Reed was a pioneer in popularizing the safe-sex genre. Accordingly, he was asked by noted erotica writer John Preston to contribute a story to Hot Living (1985), an anthology of safer-sex stories Preston was editing to raise funds for the Gay Men's Health Crisis and to help promote the idea and practice of safe sex. Reed contributed an excerpt from Safesex to the collection and continued to explore safe-sex writing.

Reed's consciousness of safe sex permeates all of his later published sex fiction, including Lovesex: the Horny Relationship Chronicles of Max Exander (1986) and Leathersex: Cruel Affections (1994).

Perhaps the literary and social impulse of Reed's sex writing is best evidenced with the short story "Fux" from his final published collection of sex writing, Deeds of the Night (1995). In addition to offering an orgiastic scene, this story reflects on themes such as pre-AIDS nostalgia, urban interracial relations, the temporal nature of racism, and the communitarian function of sex through the narrative device of time travel.

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