Ghost Player

3.25.2013

By Paul Flynn

The brutal, elegant honesty of singer–songwriter John Grant.

Grant might yet turn out to be the gay version of that thing. He doesn’t mind the idea of becoming “the gay” anything. “I mean, why not?” he asks. He made a deliberate decision to talk about his HIV status, announcing it with nervous flair onstage at a Hercules & Love Affair show in London last year. “I thought, You’re not allowed to do this, you can’t do this, you shouldn’t do this, and then I was like, OK, well, I have to.” He adds that he knew the outcome of the test before he was given it, though there had been occasions before when he felt the same way and tested negative: “This time I knew for a fact. I counted back. I was on tour in the States and I had the flu really bad. It was fucking horrible, and I realized that was me seroconverting, because it was exactly two weeks after the incident.”

Growing up under the specter of “Sex=Death,” he’d schooled himself on seroconversion. “It’s the process of the virus taking hold in the body and making its little home in there,” he explains. “I was on my way to Sweden for the first time, and I was living with a girl I didn’t know very well, and the first thing I had to do was tell her I needed to find a doctor because I had just gotten a text the day before while I was buying shoes and a backpack to move to Sweden. I was so excited, because I was in Berlin and I had a break. I was going to spend two months in Sweden working with Kleerup on some electronic music and it was fucking exciting, right? Then I got this text saying ‘I’ve got bad news for you.’ It was this guy I’d fucked, just once, and I didn’t even know him, so it was obvious what he was going to tell me. I just felt my blood freeze. But here I am and I do have it and I’m getting along just fine.”

He has noticed a change in his sexual behavior, if not his appetite. “I don’t think I’ve had actual sex since, and it’s been two years. Destructive attitudes to sex are really difficult to deal with. Anything to do with sex when it’s going wrong is hard, like an eating disorder.”

Grant talks a lot about shame, in his music and in conversation. But his behavior is more telling. During one of our chats, a student-looking character enters the room to get Wi-Fi access. Grant is in the middle a brutally honest monologue on sex and the modern man, so I ask if he’d like to change the subject. “No, I don’t want to,” Grant answers. “I feel like it’s almost taboo in gay society to talk about the difficulty of what goes on between two men.” In revealing his own complex internal struggle, the piano man continues to resist the trappings of a modern-day, two-dimensional, corporate idea of “pride.” Might we be ready to man up and tell the truth: It gets... different?

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