Walt Loves the Bearcat, 15 years on

Reflections on my most important work, to date, and the epic romance I created to deal with HIV/AIDS.

December 2020 marks the 15th anniversary of the publication of Walt Loves the Bearcat, meaning it has now been over 35 years since I first conceived of my fourth novel and exactly 15 years since I set forth into the world some of my deepest dreams.

As clear as I live and breathe, I am eternally grateful for having written Walt Loves the Bearcat, a title and story I first conceived of during a critical juncture of my youth, one where I was dealing with two new realities that would forever shape my life: my own personal literary awakening and my awakening to the reality that was HIV/AIDS.

It happened while I was a cheerleader at UCLA, where at times, instead of reading textbooks, I was busy reading novels. Catcher in the Rye. John Irving and his bears. Anton Myrer and his dramatic tales of love and war. To name a few.

Doesn’t a black boy’s dreams deserve a Harry-Potter-size book featuring flying football stadiums and celebrated black male cheerleaders?

During the 1984 Rose Bowl, I fell ill and subsequently received my first wake-up call about sexually transmitted diseases (during the early AIDS crisis). Diagnosed with hepatitis B, I had to withdraw from school for a quarter.

I went home to rest and had little to do but continue my literary awakening, which led to the revelation that I, too, wanted to write novels and tell compelling stories. A flurry of ideas came to me, none more important than Walt Loves the Bearcat.

Walt Loves the Bearcat: the story of a black, gay, male cheerleader who deals with his impending AIDS crisis by dreaming up an epic romance between a black male cheerleader and a white quarterback who becomes the first openly-gay, superstar athlete to come out in the prime of his career. Along the way, the QB’s famous cheerleader husband dreams up a story where the two never met and the cheerleader is forced to deal with HIV/AIDS without the love of his life.

It’s a parallel universe, double-fairy-tale flight of fancy where I threw in every literary trick of the trade I knew and admired, followed the rules, broke the rules, and created all manner of “infectiously and ferociously inventive prose,” to quote a glowing review.

It’s my magnum opus, the most personal novel I could possibly ever write, to date, and probably forever. For years, conjuring up the story was a great form of escapism, as well as a way to grapple with real life. The book deals with HIV/AIDS, male cheerleading, homophobia in sports, race relations, gay life, and so much more.

Or do the lives of black, gay, male cheerleaders living with (or without) HIV/AIDS not matter so much?

It’s a miracle to think I even lived long enough to see Walt Loves the Bearcat published in 2005, considering I became infected with HIV in 1985, a month after graduating UCLA. Back then, life expectancy for someone who acquired “the deadly disease,” as the media so often put it, was around 12-18 months.

I am so grateful to have accomplished two seemingly-overwhelming-at-times feats: living this long and completing this book.

I’ve been celebrating the 15th anniversary of WLTB’s publication by playing the songs of the “soundtrack,” songs mentioned in the book, like “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight & the Pips, “World Without You” by Belinda Carlisle, “Born to Run” by Steppenwolf, just to name a few; plus songs that were part of the “author’s soundtrack” as he “composed” the book, songs like “Canadian Rose” by Blues Traveler (for the Canadian scenes), and “If You Were There” by Wham! (thus the title of chapter four, “If You Were There, You’d Know”).

I’ve been celebrating by reading some of my favorite passages and being surprised by some of the wonderful lines I’d temporarily forgotten, only to be surprised by the fact that I actually wrote that (and kept it in!?!)

“…y’all’s Walter’s top niggas, hello? House ‘n’ field?”

As an author, I feel I met the moment. And it truly was a moment … in time. A snapshot of the creative process, the wordsmith, the man in his early 40s, the dog owner, the mama’s boy, the cheerleader for life, the cheerleader in his early 20s who was forced to confront his mortality due to this “strange new disease killing fags” in the 1980s.

I did it. I published it, questionable choices and all, huge risks and all. I did it, survived it, looked inside my psyche deeper than ever before and made it through. Nothing can ever change the fact that I wrote Walt Loves the Bearcat. I took the ultimate leap of faith, shared my journey and my book with the world, bared my soul as best I could.

While writing the book, I fell down on the job. For months, I isolated myself, worked far too many hours to get anything resembling a good night’s sleep, and abandoned self-care. As a result, I had a physical and emotional breakdown. I suffered the consequences, went through a series of health challenges, took a few years to recover.

My novels are like my children. I’m happy with the way they turned out. Like my other three books, Walt Loves the Bearcat was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award — in this case, Best Romance. That’s an honor and measure of validation for which I’m eternally grateful.

Unfortunately, my fourth novel has not sold very well (yet), nor has Oprah responded to my plea that she read it (yet). Nor has WLTB become the bestselling, barrier-breaking blockbuster book and subsequent movie that spawns a whole Bearcat Boyz franchise and universe (yet!).

Such a small fish in a small pond, is Randy Boyd, author. So far, the Bearcats have barely made a ripple. “Because it’s so long,” is a comment I’ve heard more than once about my 721–page opus. “I’m just not into sports,” is another (even from fans of my other books).

Does that mean you’re into murder, if you read a murder mystery?

Doesn’t a black boy’s dreams deserve a Harry-Potter-size book featuring flying football stadiums and celebrated black male cheerleaders?

Or do the lives of black, gay, male cheerleaders living with (or without) HIV/AIDS not matter so much?

There’s only so much I can do to get the world to love my book. But I can certainly be eternally grateful to anyone who’s ever read it. And for the rest of my life, I don’t have to live in a world without having put my deepest dream to metaphorical pen and paper, and sharing Walt Loves the Bearcat with the entire universe.

My world changed when I published my fourth novel, but to my surprise, the rest of the world barely noticed. I’m still hoping that changes. I haven’t given up on a bigger bang for the Bearcats. I intend to never give up.

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