this boy was swallowing a hundred million infant stars/ while the rest of us/ unable or unwilling to hold him/ tripped and stumbled through the elements with our notebooks/
Tristan wanted very much to show us his life. But that life only had a limited run. Tristan was a sex worker. It defined him. But also killed him.
Tristan was young. The tricks (seemingly straight men most of whom had families and children Tristan's age) like their boys young. Such boys are exploited, abused, addicted, forced into sexual situations they are not equipped to handle, bought and paid for, trafficked, fucked in the mouth, fucked in the ass, torn apart, denied a childhood, frequently murdered, a high risk for HIV infection, denied access to an education, kicked out of schools, kicked out of families, incarcerated in institutions where they are raped, forced to turn to survival sex, and when they're sick, they turn to the only family they have: other sex workers, junkies, pimps, and drug dealers. Many commit suicide. For some, HIV IS suicide.
The story of how boys are bought and sold and sold out belongs to him. The story of their destruction belongs to him. Tristan was dark and disturbed. He had been twisted around by tricks and men. Tristan is dead because the world fucked him inside and out. Yet, he was a kid. Like any other kid. He had dreams and ambition and he was smart. Smart enough to survive living on his own in a very adult, abusive environment. He had scores of friends. "Just us whores," is how Tristan put it. He was always with a camera and photographed his world. Jumping onto subway tracks. Crawling out onto roofs. To get the shot he wanted.
When visiting the hospital Tristan was never without a camera. Tristan was a regular, and frequently went with his friends (as support). They were still into tricking and heavy into drugs. BIG GIRL drugs like heroin to better endure the violence and neglect. Some of these boys were thirteen. At the very moment of being told they were infected with HIV, Tristan would take a photograph capturing the agony on each face. They WANTED him to be there. With his camera. I think basically because it was some kind of strange record. A record that said: we were here. The photographs Tristan took are still very difficult for me to look at. Whoredrama. You get it or you don't. You survive it or you don't.
Representations can take many forms. Each is merely the shadow of a life. It is not a life. Tristan wanted people to know something about the anguish he had endured. I go out of my way to tone the shadows down. To make it palatable for you as I ask again and again: how many videos and photographs have to be made, before we admit there are children our culture hurts, abandons, infects and permits to live, and to die prematurely, in intolerable pain.
Tristan always volunteered his time on a variety of hospital wards. Surviving the abuse, surviving the HIV cancers, is the REAL issue. Tristan did things like read to kids whose vision had become a trainwreck. This can happen from pneumocystis. After a day of being at the hospital, Tristan would arrive home and he was just quiet. Never said a word for a few hours and then he'd explode. "I tell kids they are not alone," he'd weep." But they are alone." I believe we have the right to feel angry. We are the ones who kept vigil and held Tristan when he was dying a slow, painful and premature death.