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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Cecil W. Wooten, July 16, 2001. Interview K-0849. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Reactions to and impact of the AIDS crisis

Wooten describes initial responses to the AIDS crisis in Chapel Hill during the early 1980s. Wooten talks about some of the fears and misconceptions of AIDS. In addition, Wooten discusses the death of his friend, Hoagie Gaskin, who was the first person in the community to die from AIDS. Finally, Wooten describes how the AIDS crisis had affected sexual behavior in the gay community by the end of the 1980s, arguing that a new trend towards monogamy began to emerge.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Cecil W. Wooten, July 16, 2001. Interview K-0849. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Well, about, another thing that I wanted to talk about. You came here in 1980, that was right when people were figuring out what HIV and AIDS was, I guess it was GRID before that. How do you think that effected the gay community here in Chapel Hill when theyߞyou didn't really see the beforeߞwell I guess that you did see the beforeߞ
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
Yeah, oh yeah.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
And if it changed.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
I think that initially it was a joke. I mean, people, of course people didn't know what it was, and there were very few people who were diagnosed, and I think about being at a dinner party in 1981 or 82, in the early 80s in any case and this topic came up, and somebody was saying, "Well, I read an article in the paper that these people who have this disease were having up to fifty sexual partners a day."
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
My god!
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
And I remember somebody laughing, and saying, "Oh! I am lucky that I only had forty-eight yesterday!" You know and it was that sort of thing.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
That is crazy. [Laughter]
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
But people didn'tߞit was something that happened to a couple of people in San Francisco and New York, and I at the time, I was dating a guy who was a graduate student at Chemistry at Duke and he was a member of Triangle Area Gay Scientists [TAGS] and he was very interested in this from sort of a professional point of view. And I remember the first time that I ever really heard much about it was when a doctor at UNC who had been Hoagie Gaskin's doctor, or who was to be Hoagie Gaskin's doctorߞ
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Later on.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
I don't know the sequence gave a presentation, I must say I was bored stiff, these were slides of brain cells and things, and I didn't understand what was going on. This other guy who was a hairdresser and I went out in the kitchen and drank, drank beer and chatted. But that was the first time that I had heard about this as a sort of kind of serious issue. And then, I think Hoagie got sick thenߞ
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Yeah, Hoagie actually died, I misspoke earlier that it was Ned Price who died.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
Oh it was horrible, it was just dreadful.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
So, Hoagie Gaskins was the first person, gay person, or person period to die of AIDS.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
Yeah, then I think I remember, it wasߞ
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
How did the town react to that, how did the gay populace deal with that? Did people get a lot more scared? Did you notice?
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
No I don't, because I think initially the reaction was, and it wasn't condemnatory, but I think the thing was, "Oh, I think he was in and out of the T-rooms all of the time." There was this feeling that the more sex you had, the more likely you were to get this disease, and you had to have huge numbers of sexual partners.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Oh, so you had to have lots and lots.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
So, I don't think that it was judgmental, but I think that the feeling was that he was special, I mean, he was so notorious. He was in and out of T-rooms and going up to the truck stop, the rest stop on highway 85. You know, I think that people sort of thought, "You know, maybe he did have fifty sexual partners a day." So, I think that people looked on him as being exceptional, and consequently not a category that they were in and so I don't think that it had much effect. In fact, when I used to go to Forty-Second Street, and I used to go there three times a week in the early 80s, I mean at 2:00, it was like Noah's Ark, I mean they went out two by two, I mean everybody paired up. It was really, it was very exciting actuallyߞ
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
I am sure.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
You know, but around 1:30 the sexual tension was justߞit was like a percolator in there. I mean, people were desperately looking around for sex. And I think lots of people were having lots of sex and I think about, I guess about 1985 I noticed a difference. The atmosphere was not as sexual, you didn't get this feeling that people felt that they had to have a sexual partner to go home with, I saw many fewer people leaving with people that they were going to have sex with. At the bookstoresߞnow I used to go to the bookstore in Durham, theߞthere were just not many people there anymore. It was different, and the people who were there were not really very attractive. And, I mean, in the early 80sߞ
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
This was the one with the arcade?
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
There were a lot of them around here, there was Lakewood, there was that place in Raleigh, there was the one on 70
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Aphrodite's
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
And I used to go to a lot of them, I thought it was fun, I enjoyed it. And you know, that didn't bother me, because it wasn't university connected. But, all of a sudden, I guess somewhere between 1985 and 1990, it just changed. There were not many people there; the people there weren't very attractive. It did not seem to be very much sexual activity going on. There was lots of walking around. [Laughter] But, in the early 80s, if you went to a place like the Lakewood bookstore, you had the impression that there were at least 20 couples having sex in the booths around you.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
My goodness.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
It was, I knew people who would have four or five sexual experiences, and I did too sometimes. It was really fun and exciting. But that really changed a lot. Yeah, I noticed a big change.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Interesting, interesting.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
And people dated more [once the AIDS crisis began]
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
So, do you think that it encouraged monogamy to some degree more, that gays became a lot more mainstream?
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think that it encouraged monogamy; I think that it encouraged dating and getting to know people before you had sex with them.