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'The AIDS Diva is Alive.' by Michael Kearns on Medium (blog post)


The title is perfect; however it’s a bit oxymoronic, isn’t it? A diva is glam, a bit haughty, a lot naughty; she usually (not always) has a cause, and usually (not always) gets her way. Notoriously, a diva is demanding, purposeful, sexy, ageless.That description certainly describes Connie Norman, the spectacular woman who reveals valuable life lessons in AIDS Diva, The Legend of Connie Norman, a documentary with a beating heart that illuminates the power of the people who fought against the injustices inflicted upon us during the AIDS crisis. An indefatigable soldier with big red hair and oversized glasses, Connie was a force that carried undeniable power with a voice that could not be denied.

In today’s parlance, a diva must be charismatic and Connie’s lovability seeps through the big screen; it’s Connie’s authenticity that ignites her charisma, allowing her to go to well-earned extremes as she shouts remonstrances into a bullhorn or appears on a talk show and addresses the maelstrom of LGBTQ politics with patience and poise.

Connie would wholeheartedly approve the title (AIDS Diva, The Legend of Connie Norman) since when asked in the film, it’s how she defines herself with a self-reverential cheekiness but also a deliberate description of her power.

Tragically, Connie isn’t here to kvell about the doc’s title or see the brilliant film. Yes, AIDS.

I’ll admit that the “AIDS” in the title initially triggered me; for one thing, I knew Connie will die before the final credits roll — no more fantasies that she’s as alive as she is in the film. And Connie’s death summons the decades of losses that consumed us humanistically, spiritually, sexually,emotionally, artistically. Nothing before or since has grabbed my heart and soul like AIDS did. And still does.

One of the gifts that resulted from the plague was the deep friendships that flourished even though the fear of death was imminent. I got to know the public Connie from her gutsy activism but also the quiet Connie who looked you in the eye if you needed comfort. Seeing AIDS Diva, The Legend of Connie Norman reintroduced me to this fabulous creature.

I must call her to arrange for tickets for my new show which coincides with her transformative lecture about gender (among other things).

She says she wanted to be a female from the time she was a child and the longing to be a woman propelled that desire until she became a woman. But she was visited by a profound reality that womanhood wasn’t the cure-all; it was being human–in all its magnificent diversity–that Connie was seeking through much of her troubled life. She discovered the magical answer to soul survival during the catastrophic days of AIDS when we were blamed, vilified, ignored, and bullied. Connie shows us how she manifested her life with compassion and empathy on a road we can all take to claim ownership of our humanity.

Before we die.

Fuck, I can’t call her. I can’t get her tickets. Connie is dead.

During the final chapters of her life, the diva devoted herself to all things HIV/AIDS–”twenty four seven” someone who truly knew her says in the documentary. As the film tracks her life, we experience her evolution, as she becomes more committed and more fervid in her pronouncements.

One can only project Connie Norman’s responses to the deterioration of America today; her agenda would likely remain blisteringly intact. Sadly, she is irreplaceable–the paramount reason to engage with AIDS Diva, The Legend of Connie Norman.

The final credits of the documentary inevitably roll, emphatically confirming the AIDS diva’s death but also cementing her everlasting life on video, thanks to the precise skills and untold passions of director Dante Alencastre, producer-writer John Johnston.


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