If the truth will set you free, then writer, activist and long-term HIV survivor Francisco Ibáñez-Carrasco is living proof. Ibáñez-Carrasco’s third book, Giving It Raw: Nearly 30 Years with AIDS, oscillates seamlessly between zany prose and the painful loneliness of loss.
For Ibáñez-Carrasco, it was only a matter of time before his novel — crowd-sourced and published by California’s Transgress Press — was shared with the world.
“Writing for me is like breathing,” he says. “It’s something that we all need to do. While some need to fill their lungs with oxygen, I need to fill pages with writing.” Two hundred odd pages later, he’s discussed his mother’s dementia, public transit, taking it raw and being dumped.
So what makes this tragicomic story special?
“It is what is known as a ‘nobody memoir,’” he explains. “Just like you and me, no one famous, I wrap passages of my life in topics that we can all identify with. There is a whole genre of ‘too much information’ out there, from telling about our weight to our larger peccadilloes. Confessionals, memoirs and autopathographies have a purpose and an audience.
“We want to know that what is happening to us, what is happening to many others, what is going on in the life of one HIV-positive gay man, what is making him feel alone and guilty and shameful, is actually happening to many HIV-positive gay men of all ages. There is something in Giving It Raw that will resonate within you like a cathedral bell.”
Thirty years ago, the world was a very different place. That’s when Ibáñez-Carrasco, a native of Santiago, Chile, moved to Vancouver, discovered he was HIV-positive and was faced with a terrifying fate. In 1985 terms, he had a fatal, mysterious illness that would decimate those he loved, push others from him in terror and eventually lead to his own untimely demise.
At times, he was so ill that were it not for a slew of “experimental treatments” — everything from radiation and chemotherapy to acupuncture — he would not have been able to get out of bed. (He continues to experience side effects from these early treatments, rather than from his chronic condition.)
In his most desperately weak moments, Ibáñez-Carrasco found humour and strength in his own methods of perseverance. When his Kaposi’s sarcoma was so bad that he was peppered with dozens of purple lesions, he used the opportunity to try out drag: “I wasn’t going to go outside with a purple mark like that on my face!”
Though he has been published in many volumes of collected works, Ibáñez-Carrasco created a fictional protagonist for his first solo book, Flesh Wounds and Purple Flowers: The Cha-Cha Years (released in 2001), experimenting with real-life themes of immigration, sex, disco and illness.
His second book, Killing Me Softly: Morir Amando (released in 2005), was a grouping of myopic short stories about singular topics. Unlike the previous two books, Giving It Raw is a no-holds-barred account of Ibáñez-Carrasco’s dirty, seedy escapades in the three decades he’s lived with HIV.
“I decided a few years ago to shed the shame I’d been holding,” he says. “Before then I had to make up stories. For this novel I thought, ‘Now I’m ready,’ and I was as honest and open as I could be about my life.”
Francisco Ibáñez-Carrasco’s involvement in the BDSM and fetish community plays a prominent role in Giving It Raw. (And who’s surprised with such an incendiary title?) But the casual frankness with which he describes his many sexual escapades takes away any potential shock; there’s something about his anecdotes that invites even the most vanilla reader into the realm of voyeur.
In a world that still discriminates based on sexuality, gender, ethnicity and class, Ibáñez-Carrasco is an example of someone who laughs and fucks through the fray of shame, taboo and stigma and comes out on top. Literally.
Giving It Raw is a utopian perspective born of 30 years of dystopian experiences, tragedy and comedy. The protagonist, a singular character of unlikely tenderness, may inspire universal understanding — for the next 30 years.
Excerpt from Giving It Raw, by Francisco Ibáñez-Carrasco
I have experienced hundreds of significant events in taxis because I never learned how to drive. There is something tremendously grownup, self-assured, and fabulous about putting your hand in the air, getting into a vehicle, giving directions, and going to meet your fate. I have taken cabs nearly naked, in a harness and chaps, sober, high, wearing butt plugs, horny, lovelorn, running from thugs, and on my way to weddings and emergency rooms. You might go to exotic paradises, exclusive all-inclusive resorts, or cruises, but if you don’t have taxi etiquette and a certain comfort with it, you have not lived.
I used to have this earnest notion that my Anglo lovers had to be immersed in Latino culture in order to understand something essential about me. Well, what a stupid idea. If your man is not prone to understand others, to be in a (maybe) bi-cultural/bi-racial relationship, dragging him to see your people, eat your traditional food (Chilean traditional cuisine, boring) and see your culture might not move him one iota. In fact, he might discover how much ¡andale! ¡andale! we are sometimes coerced to paint into our nostalgic postcards. Latinindad is not in the food or the language or the handcraft, it is in things like taxi rides.
In Santiago, Mike and I have been lost in dangerous neighborhoods in the middle of the night, looking for medication when we felt the flu would kill him, and ending up with some local homeopathic version of belladonna that could have frozen a dog, or pushing the fucking car because the driver was squeezing the last drop of gasoline before we paid him for the ride. We have also had fabulous rides in the sticky and sizzling Buenos Aires evening, zipping from venue to venue, nicely dressed, taking the scene by storm. Once, upon our arrival at Tegel airport in Berlin, a joyfully straight cab driver picked us up and unfolded maps on the roof of the taxi, like a commando post, telling us with great efficiency about all the spots we might want to visit, “Fisting here, pissing here, dancing here, and dining here.”
When you and your trick of the night have dropped acid, and really have no wherewithal or place to go fuck, hail a cab and hop into it.