In This AIDS-Free Alternate Universe, Poppers Save the World
Groundbreaking filmmaker Leo Herrera’s Fathers Project asks the profound and poignant question, “What if AIDS never happened?” His ambitious and radical film audaciously answers the question by presenting the alternate universe of a vibrant queer community that has flourished in the absence of the HIV epidemic.
Episode 2, “The Colonies at Night,” explores queer nightlife and the revolutionary community response to a potential health crisis in this alternate AIDS-free universe. Queers respond with disco beats and innovation, and all are saved by a trusty bottle of poppers.
When AIDS happened, the nascent queer sexual revolution quickly turned into a devolution. The ’80s were gripped by fear and a sex panic. Gay sex was still criminalized, and Congress condemned our behavior as degenerate and the cause of the epidemic. But if none of that ever happened, what would the queer sexual revolution look like?
For decades, poppers have provided pleasure for millions of men, but in the alternate reality of the Fathers Project, poppers are the star of the show as the first inhalant prophylactic. As the film’s narrator states, “For the first time in history, disease would have no dominion over sex.” Wow. What a world that would be.
This installment of the Fathers Project is fanciful and sexy, but it’s not complete science fiction. ACT UP and the community response to HIV forever changed the dynamics of health care in the United States. Health care was advanced as a basic human right, exorbitant drug costs were directly challenged and a model for providing care and treatment was created. All of these things had a profound impact on modern health and the ongoing political fight for health care. That struggle continues as activists call for breaking the patent that keeps Truvada for PrEP inaccessible to those most in need.
“I wanted this episode to be sexy and light, and show the sci-fi camp of The Fathers Universe. As outlandish as the idea of ‘poppers as a vaccine’ is, the people and places represented here were real, so the joy comes in imagining the most incredible things they could have achieved. There are many things I’m witnessing that are incredible in a terrible way. As a queer Mexican immigrant, it’s a difficult time, so it’s vital to reimagine the good this country can create when we give everyone the freedom and respect they deserve,” says filmmaker Herrera.
He also discussed what these themes mean for our culture and our community. “Our history and nightlife culture are inextricably linked,” he says. “AIDS caused an immeasurable loss in gay nightlife, and Episode 2 of Fathers Project explores what it could have accomplished had it thrived intact. To help put this in context, I included two New York nightlife legends who gave their oral histories to this episode and are featured in the prologue. Johnny Dynell is the DJ and promoter behind Jackie 60, MOTHER and Click/Drag. Stephen Pevner is the producer of the infamous Black Party.”
Watch Episode 1 of The Fathers Project here:
The next installment in the Fathers Project is Episode 3, The Gay President. It will imagine the campaign and election of a gay president, and the effect it has on our community, replacing our currently solemn news cycle with headlines about Chechen prisoners being freed and LGBT people plucked from caravans and given asylum.
This one-of-a-kind film project has been a labor of love for Herrera, but it requires ongoing support. It falls to us to preserve our history and invest in our future. You can help this film get made by visiting the Fathers Project website, where you can make a donation or purchase queer art and jewelry.
In our reality, poppers may not save the world, but art and culture just might.