Metro Weekly

Sex Positive

Reel Affirmations 2008

Review by Sean Bugg

Rating: starstarstarstarstar (5 out of 5) [Critic’s Pick!]
Saturday, 10/18/2008, 2:30 PM
Feature presentation, $10 at Lincoln Theatre

HISTORY HAS A funny way of never running out of stories to tell. You’ve heard of the heroes of the early AIDS crisis, such as Larry Kramer and Michael Callen, whose names have become synonymous with the earliest and loudest efforts to raise the call against the disease. But have you heard of Richard Berkowitz? Likely not.

Along with Callen and Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, Berkowitz wrote the first-ever guide to safer sex, a pamphlet frankly titled ”How to Have Sex in an Epidemic.” He wrote articles in the gay press that said the verboten: that gay men’s sex behaviors at the time were helping to spread a deadly disease. But unlike Callen and others who are still honored for their efforts, Berkowitz — who earned his living in the ’80s hustling as an S&M top — descended into drugs and depression.

Sex Positive picks up Berkowitz’s tale, from his teenage sexual experimentation to his kid-in-a-candy-store debut on the New York City gay sex scene of the ’70s. A veritable Who’s Who of AIDS activism provides commentary on the epidemic and on Berkowitz. In many ways, it’s the story of potential lost, as Berkowitz was never quite able to overcome the obstacles in his community or himself.

It’s also fascinating to have archival footage recalling the days when people smoked while being interviewed on television, CNN broadcast out of bargain-basement studios, and gay activists attacked each other with venom equal to any leveled at them by a nervous and homophobic country.

With a poignant end that highlights how the history of the epidemic has been written — Callen, Kramer and others immortalized in words and stone, while today’s activists all essentially ask ”Richard who?” — Sex Positive is a worthwhile journey into the past.

Sex Positive
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Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.