Get Fat, Don't Die
May 5, 2020 9:31 AM   Subscribe

[many links may be NSFW]
In his inaugural food column, Beowulf Thorne included recipes for gingerbread pudding, Thai chicken curry, and vanilla poached pears, plus a photo of a naked blond man spread-eagled in a pan of paella. Eat your cereal with whipping cream, he advised readers, and ladle extra gravy onto your dinner plate. “Not only does being undernourished reduce your chances of getting lucky at that next orgy, it can make you much more susceptible to illness, and we’ll have none of that,” Wulf wrote. “Get Fat, Don’t Die,” the first cooking column for people with AIDS, ran in every issue of Diseased Pariah News, the AIDS humor zine that Wulf started and edited from 1990 to 1999.
Beowulf Thorne’s cooking column for people with AIDS claimed the right to pleasure, but in each recipe was embedded an urgent appeal, Jonathan Kauffman

Digging for the Edges of Life
Some archival collections, while technically separate, produce more meaning when viewed in tandem. Although they are housed on opposite ends of the vault, I have always felt this way about the papers of Arion Stone and his friend Beowulf Thorne, who until his 1999 death was an editor of the AIDS humor zine Diseased Pariah News.
How To Eat In An Epidemic

That's Not Funny! (Or Is It?)
Vice: There’s been a lot of response to the new DPN online archive. Why do you think people remember it so fondly?
Tom Ace: I think the impression that people got from our magazine is not something you forget.

What was your target audience?
Gay men like us who were living with HIV and AIDS at the time. Tom Shearer, in the first issue, wrote, “Our editorial policy does not include the concept that AIDS is a Wonderful Learning Opportunity and Spiritual Gift From Above. Or punishment for our Previous Badness.”

Wulf used to say that the magazine was “A combination of Spy and Good Housekeeping, for the HIV set.” From the start, DPN set out to be sensible. We saw AIDS as a disease, and our essential element was humor. We didn’t seek advertising. I used to cite Mad and Consumer Reports as our two main inspirations.
Diseased Pariah News covers at PLUS Magazine and a contemporary review from POZ

Diseased Pariah News - Issue #1
Diseased Pariah News - Issue #2
Diseased Pariah News - Issue #3
Diseased Pariah News - Issue #4
Diseased Pariah News - Issue #5
Diseased Pariah News - Issue #6
Diseased Pariah News - Issue #7
Diseased Pariah News - Issue #8

The zine survived the death of co-founder Tom Shearer before issue 3. The fifth issue announced that Shearer's ashes were incoprorated into the ink of that issue. DPN ceased publication with issue no. 11 following the death of Beowulf Thorne, concluding, on the masthead "Diseased Pariah News has been a patently offensive publication of, by, and for people with HIV disease (and their friends and loved ones.) This is the final issue of this journal (sniff, sniff). In the eternity since DPN #10 appeared, 66.67% of the editorial staff expired."
posted by the man of twists and turns (12 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
I think that Harpers reprinted one of those recipes as sort of a "ha ha look at how much fat is in this recipe" joke, but then someone wrote a letter explaining that this kind of recipe served a real need for AIDS patients. It was a long time ago, so I can't say for sure where the recipe came from, but I remember being educated by the letter writer - I hadn't thought about losing weight being a matter of life and death, and Harpers' original publication of the recipe did nothing to make that clear.
posted by FencingGal at 10:16 AM on May 5 [3 favorites]

I loved DPN, and “Get Fat Don’t Die” was such an integral part of it!
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:16 AM on May 5 [2 favorites]

ah, I missed a bit: all of DPN has been digitized in the Beowulf Thorne papers and archive. You have to download the scans to read them, though.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:25 AM on May 5 [4 favorites]

Thank you for posting this. DPN was a huge and eye opening thing for me as a young queer. I know a few folks who were friends with Wulf and by all accounts he was a magnetic and compelling person. Stolen, as so many of his generation. And now nearly forgotten I fear. This article and this post are a good remembrance.
posted by Nelson at 10:33 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]

I only had the vaguest memory of this,so thanks so much.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:54 AM on May 5

I am one of the archivists who care for Thorne's papers, and I had a small role in the creation of the Hazlitt article! It's one of the things I'm the proudest of in my recent career, despite how peripheral I was to it -- DPN is vital, I talk about it on every tour, and we need it to be remembered. Jonathan did incredible work!

We also have Arion Stone's papers, which have many materials related to Thorne's memory and funeral. He did indeed dazzle, intimidate, and thrill his friends. Thank you so much for this post!
posted by thesmallmachine at 11:48 AM on May 5 [31 favorites]

...I was too excited to read all of this before commenting, so I didn't see that you also posted our newsletter article "Digging for the Edges of Life," which mentions Stone, and which I wrote.

Seriously, everybody, Beowulf Thorne...!
posted by thesmallmachine at 11:55 AM on May 5 [9 favorites]

I came into my own queer consciousness a little after 1990. I'm incredibly thankful to have not gone through the trauma of the AIDS crisis (though knowing about it as a kid did make me much more fearful of exploring anything related to sexuality) but I really treasure the pieces of queer culture that get passed down like this, because inter-generational cultural knowledge transfer was pretty much non-existent as there was so little of older generations left. Documents like these strike me as having been smuggled out of a war zone.

I'm looking forward to reading through them. Thank you so much for making this post.
posted by treepour at 12:23 PM on May 5 [10 favorites]

Thank you so very much for this post. It is filling my heart.
posted by panhopticon at 12:39 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]

In 1991, just before Tom Shearer died, Newsweek published an article on DPN. Their web archive doesn't have this photo of Shearer and Thorne that was published in the original magazine.

DPN co-writer Michael Botkin (mentioned in the "contemporary review from POZ" link), also wrote a columns for the Bay Area Reporter which was accompanied by political cartoons by Angela Bocage. It's too bad they were never collected in book form but thanks to the GLBT Historical Society's collection of scanned issues of BAR they can be found: Queer Watch and HIV Watch.
posted by larrybob at 1:14 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]

[Comment and a couple replies removed. As much as I can understand the instinct to talk illustratively about history, the line between "these jokes were awful" and writing them out in the thread is generally gonna be better not crossed without really good reason. Reiterating shittiness means other people having to relive that shittiness, etc.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:47 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]

Awww, somewhere I have a photo of a young me wearing a t-shirt with the cover of their first issue. I read it because I was into zines and I was curious about what this one was; I ended up ordering every issue and learning a lot about a world I knew nothing about.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:26 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]

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