Here is a story that I wrote and was published in RFD Magazine last year:
Hogie Gaskins bookended my time at Carolina. He was my first date and one of the last people I saw before graduating. I didn’t see him in between, and I have regretted it all my life.
I arrived at UNC in the fall of 1979 already knowing that I was gay. I had begun having sex with men during my senior year of high school in Hickory, North Carolina. I had even come out to a couple of people close to me, including an older cousin who suggested that I try to date women when I got to Carolina, which I was determined to do. Needless to say, I became depressed.
Eventually, I landed in Student Health to talk with a counselor. I was surprised by his advice: “You need to go to a CGA meeting.” Of course, the Carolina Gay Association. Sensing my shyness, he asked if I would like to meet someone from the CGA to talk to—Hogie Gaskins.
Hogie and I planned to meet on campus before a CGA meeting so that he could take me. I was nervous—after all, I was a freshman from the “sticks.” Yes, I had already been initiated to gay sex, but this was different. I was on my own. This seemed more like life than just sex. This was for real.
I arrived early at the agreed upon meeting place and waited. Anxiously. Hogie arrived and introduced himself—at least, that’s what I assume he did; I was enamored. Hogie was a handsome man—strawberry blonde hair that he wore in a shaggy cut that fell over his eyes; he wore small, round, wire-rimmed glasses that gave him a sexy-but-smart look; he was slightly shorter than I was, but nicely built. The hyper-masculinity of the 1980s hadn’t hit yet, so Hogie wasn’t “buff” by today’s standards, but he had a nice body, visible under his polo shirt and tight jeans. He was a boyishly handsome man, and I was immediately attracted to him.
We never made it to the CGA meeting, opting to go back to his place and have sex. Hogie lived with several other gay men in a house in the middle of Sorority Square that they called FriendlyCastle. It was their gay sorority house. We made a second date, with no plans of going to a CGA meeting—we were going to go on a date.
He took me to see La Cage aux Folles, the movie, which had been released the year before and was showing at the Varsity in downtown Chapel Hill. I knew nothing about the movie—it hadn’t made it to HICKory; it probably never did. We went back to FriendlyCastle after the movie and had sex. We saw each other a few more times that first year, mostly for sex without the pretense of dating, but it didn’t last. He was a senior, and I was a freshman; both of us were desperately horny; and we moved on to other men.
I don’t recall running into Hogie after that first year. I don’t know if he graduated and moved on, or if we just moved in different circles. However, five years later, during my final senior year at Carolina, I found myself back at FriendlyCastle. I had picked up—or been picked up by—someone who lived there. Amazingly, it was still a gay sorority house. After sex, I asked my trick if he knew Hogie.
“Sure. He was one of the original ‘house mothers’ here!”
“Do you know where he is? What’s happened to him?”
There was an uncomfortable hesitation. “I’ve heard . . . I think . . . he’s in the hospital. I think . . . he’s dying. I’ve heard that he has AIDS.”
AIDS! It was 1983, and AIDS had just been christened with that ominous title—Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome—having previously been known as GRID—Gay Related Immune Deficiency—and before that simply the “gay cancer.”
I knew as much about AIDS as anyone in gay Chapel Hill. I was a nursing student, and I had done a paper on gay men’s illnesses, all of them venereal in nature, for a class in 1982. While researching that paper, I had found the 1981 New York Times article, “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals,” that heralded the beginning of the Age of AIDS. I noted it in my paper, in a short paragraph without much concern, concluded the paper, and handed it in. But no one we knew in North Carolina had actually gotten it. Yet. Hogie had the distinction of being our first known AIDS patient.
I used my nursing student’s uniform and knowledge of North Carolina Memorial Hospital to find out where Hogie was and visit him. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when I slipped into his room, still in my uniform. Hogie—handsome, vital, funny, boyishly sexy Hogie—lay in a coma in an isolation room, alone, emaciated, and near death. I had never seen such devastation in a patient so young; I had never seen such devastation in someone I knew, let alone slept with.
The room was dark, and it felt close, suffocating. It was obvious that he would soon die. Indeed, Hogie became North Carolina’s first documented AIDS patient to die. My feelings moved from shock to horror to fear—was this a vision of my future lying in this bed? Would I contract AIDS—did I already have it—suffer and die, alone? Would my name be whispered, “He’s got it; don’t go near him”? I backed out of the door and left, unnoticed by the staff, unknown to Hogie. Seeing Hogie like that scared me and became my first step in escaping the crisis. As the crisis grew and there was no way to tell if you were already infected, I decided to flee. I joined the Peace Corps in 1984, an AIDS refugee.
I never heard anyone speak of Hogie after he died. He disappeared, wiped out of Chapel Hill’s gay collective mind. It wasn’t until the AIDS Quilt came to Washington, DC, where I was living, in 1992 that Hogie came back to me. I wondered if anyone had created a quilt panel for Hogie. I didn’t know anything about his family, and I don’t remember meeting any of his friends—we had been too busy having sex to go out with his friends. I searched my memory for his name, and I searched the Quilt for him. I found him:
Now, all these years have gone by, and I think of Hogie often. I still see him striding across campus to meet me and initiate me into Carolina’s gay scene; to put me on the path of living a wonderful gay life. A life that Hogie never got to live.