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Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS, and Survival

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Sean Strub, founder of the groundbreaking POZ magazine, producer of the hit play The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, and the first openly HIV-positive candidate for U.S. Congress, charts his remarkable life; a story of politics and AIDS and a powerful testament to loss, hope, and survival.

As a politics-obsessed Georgetown freshman, Sean Strub arrived in Washington, D.C., from Iowa in 1976, with a plum part-time job running a Senate elevator in the U.S. Capitol. He also harbored a terrifying secret: his attraction to men. As Strub explored the capital's political and social circles, he discovered a parallel world where powerful men lived double lives shrouded in shame.

When the AIDS epidemic hit in the early 1980s, Strub was living in New York and soon found himself attending more funerals than birthday parties. Scared and angry, he turned to radical activism to combat discrimination and demand research. Strub takes readers through his own diagnosis and inside ACT UP, the activist organization that transformed a stigmatized cause into one of the defining political movements of our time.

From the New York of Studio 54 and Andy Warhol's Factory to the intersection of politics and burgeoning LGBT and AIDS movements, Strub's story crackles with history. He recounts his role in shocking AIDS demonstrations at St. Patrick's Cathedral and the home of U.S. Senator Jesse Helms. Body Counts is a vivid portrait of a tumultuous era, with an astonishing cast of characters, including Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Keith Haring, Bill Clinton, and Yoko Ono.

By the time a new class of drugs transformed the epidemic in 1996, Strub was emaciated and covered with Kaposi's sarcoma lesions, the scarlet letter of AIDS. He was among the fortunate who returned, Lazarus-like, from the brink of death.

Strub has written a vital, inspiring memoir, unprecedented in scope, about this deeply important period of American history.

432 pages, Hardcover

First published January 14, 2014

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Sean Strub

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 77 reviews
Profile Image for Kenny.
490 reviews849 followers
October 10, 2022
“One of the lessons of Catholicism that stuck with me, even through the periods when I was most furious with the Church, was that life’s meaning is found in contemplation, penance, service. Of these three, my only real talent is service. I’ve always been more interested in action than reflection.”
Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS, and Survival ~~ Sean Strub


Sean Strub's Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS, and Survival is a brutally honest memoir focusing on a dark period of American history ~~ Bill & Hilary, Reagan, Bush, Roy Cohen ~~ no here escapes unscathed including Strub himself.

Strub's story opens with his manning a “Senators Only” elevator in the nation's Capitol, which he operated as a teenage intern. The early section set in the world of Washington politics is fascinating; Strub's tales of political intrigue, and the 1970's Washingtonian closet offer a glimpse into the inner workings that very few people ever glimpse. Soon, Strub has gained a reputation for being hard working, intelligent and loyal ~~ a world where loyalty has it's perks as Strub would find out first hand when he memorized every detail he could of the senators who rode in his elevator. He also shares a story of his interrupting Senator Byrd in a closed door meeting, and how this led to his becoming a favorite of the Senator. We learn too of his meeting his heroes, the liberal lions of the senate, George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey, and Ted Kennedy. Strub came to share a special bond with all three.

We also learn that Strub had a secret ~~ he was gay. Strub agonizes over this secret, at times hoping its a phase, while at others going to great lengths to lose his virginity. Although, he is not quite certain how a gay man loses his virginity. What he does know that is being gay and having a career in politics on any stage is will not mix.

What's a gay boy to do? Move to new York City!


Soon, Strub drops out of Georgetown and moves to New York City. There he becomes an eye witness to history. Strub is walking past the Dakota Building the night John Lennon is shot. He is in New York the early years of the AIDS crisis. He parties the nights away at Studio 54. Young, attractive and bright, he is befriended by Tennessee Williams, Yoko Ono, Larry Kramer and David Drake. Along the way, Strub falls in love, has his heart broken, falls in love again, and again, and again ~~ and he discovers he is HIV-positive.

After a period of self-denial regarding his illness, Strub pulls himself together, taking on the role of activist. When the AIDS activist group Act Up disrupts Cardinal O’Connor during mass at St. Patrick’s for his campaign against condoms, Strub is taking communion in an Act Up T-shirt; when the priest giving him the host says, The body of Christ, Strub replies, May the Lord bless the man I loved, who died a year ago this week.


Strub confirms what many of us already know; Catholicism is the source of the shame he felt about his body ~~ a body he’s forced to accept and meditate upon as he is dying. This revives memories of sexual abuse at his Jesuit school; but he has put his abusers behind him ~~ I understand this as I have put my abuser behind me too. It’s politicians he can’t forgive. Much of his wrath is directed toward Bill Clinton’s Health and Human Services secretary, Donna Shalala, whose failure to endorse needle exchanges, even though they were proven to reduce HIV transmission, caused millions of more deaths.

A word on Donna Shalala ~~ it is well known she is a closeted lesbian. Her refusal to act upon the AIDS crisis and gay health issues makes her no better than gay homophobes Jon Hinson, Roy Ashburn, Ed Schrock, Mark Foley and so many others ...

Strub is a witness to all that takes place in the early years of the crisis ~~ squabbling in the gay community, the government’s refusal to respond to the crisis, the early days of the Act Up protests, the founding of POZ magazine, and as his life makes a 360 degree turn, Strub becomes the first openly gay, HIV-positive person to run for Congress. Yes, our hero was a participant to this all and so much more.


30 years later I want to weep as I read of workers on Long Island who refused to put Strub’s fundraising letter into envelopes because they were afraid of getting AIDS or at Strub’s admission that, when he acquired Kaposi’s sarcoma dogs barked at him on the street.

While Strub's memoir is filled with loss, death and destruction, it is one of the most hope filled books I have ever read. Body Counts is fascinating chronicle of Strub's experience of the disease and the memoir of an activist who witnessed a great deal of history. I cannot recommend this highly enough.

Profile Image for Michael.
657 reviews966 followers
December 4, 2018
A memoir of AIDS activism from the founder of POZ magazine, Body Counts reflects on the state of gay male life in America during the last quarter of the twentieth century. Sean Strub begins by overviewing the cultural and sexual effects of gay liberation during the seventies, before he shifts to discussing the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic and detailing activists’ responses to it during the eighties and nineties. All the while, he charts his personal transformation from straight-edged politico to impassioned advocate for people with AIDS. The author peppers his account of the time with vivid portraits of celebrities and politicians, and he lucidly examines the anger, confusion, and fear that dominated the era.
Profile Image for Ije the Devourer of Books.
1,695 reviews53 followers
July 14, 2015
This is the story of a movement!

Sean Strub's 'Body Counts' is like a sequel to Paul Monette's 'Borrowed Time.'

In Borrowed Time we learn about dying from Aids. In Body Counts we journey through the tragedy of death but move through to life, learning what it is like to live with HIV and Aids and to fight against it in all the different ways it rises up to oppress people.

We are drawn into politics, memories, love, activism and the challenge of living with the virus.

It is an excellent book which also gives an insider perspective into the world of American politics. The world of white men who hold immense power and who unfortunately do not always act for the common good.

It is a book that shows us how some people have great influence and manage to influence political decisions for good or for ill, and the book indirectly shows why it is so difficult for minorities of any kind to get their voice heard without activism.

Act up! Fight back! Fight Aids!

Was the rallying cry of Act Up, the association of activists set up to protest the negligent response of the US Govt to Aids in the nineties. Act Up is a phenomenal citizens movement that protested against all kinds of aids related stigma and discrimination, and that pushed for government investment in aids research and other initiatives.

Sean Strub provides a personal account of the turbulence and urgency of those times and the way he worked in Act Up and other gay and Aids organisations. He writes in a way that is easy to read but deeply gripping and it is a brilliant.

Sean Strub is an Aids survivor. He is one of those men who were brought back from death's door because he had access to the life saving anti-retroviral (protease inhibitors) treatments when they became available in the late nineties (1996).

He is a positive person, activist and also a business person and entreprenuer and politically experienced. We are shown that Sean possesses incredible talents and used these talents on the frontline of Aids activism.

And of course he has a powerful testimony which he shares in this book. But this is more than a survivors tale, it is the story of a man who is passionate about justice and it is the story of a talented man who has taken his life and channelled it into activism, challenging stigma and discrimination and making sure the voice of marginalised and criminalised people is heard.

This book gives an account of Sean's life and his experiences as a gay man and as someone who lives with HIV. It takes us through his childhood, education, family, career, loves, life and losses. It is an amazing and energising testimony and I found it deeply encouraging.

We don't often hear stories of people who are living with the virus, especially those who were living with the virus during the early days of the crisis and who are still alive today, not that the crisis is over.

These voices are vital for the ever evolving Aids response because they are prophetic in the way they call upon Governments and societies not to forget that Aids is still here and that people are still being infected with the virus and although the number may have lessened people still die of Aids.

Sean Strub's writing emphasises the need for a new wave of activism and for Governments to pay attention and wake up!! Wake up to the fact that if we want an Aids free generation and if we want to get to Zero (zero infections, zero deaths and zero discrimination) then we have to work damn hard for it and that includes financing for treatment and prevention, and access to both.

Sean's writing also reminds us that Aids related stigma and discrimination is a reality for so many people still. 10 million people live with HIV today and they also live with stigma and discrimination and this has a way of undermining prevention efforts.

So I enjoyed this book even though it deals with hard issues. I enjoyed it because it is a true life story of courage and vision and because it is stories like these that spur me on in my own activism, in prayer, public speaking and writing, and encouraging the positive people around me.

And his writing is also comforting because it somehow shows that as people read his book and respond, all those lives that were lost will not be forgotten.

The insider view into US politics is fascinating especially the way in which gay politicos negotiated their sexuality and their careers in the seventies and the way in which they negotiated different ways of being closeted. It was also fascinating to read about the way in which politics function behind the scenes - the negotiation of power, the deal making, the rather peculiar alliances.

All of this provides a fascinating image of politics functioning as an old fashioned steam engine with the visible and invisible parts both having an important part to play. It also illustrates how politics may work in any institution with the things that are unsaid and the things that are said - as if the actors are all in a play acting their various parts.

It shows how politics can exclude and fail to address the needs of people who are vulnerable and the way in which politics fails.

As a community activist and priest I found this book to be both fascinating and encouraging because by sharing his life with Sean shows that you don't have to step out of your life to achieve something for the common good, you just need to do the next thing - get involved, donate, volunteer, attend a meeting, educate yourself, educate others. His activism was very much about who he was. It emerged from his interests in politics, his need to fight discrimination and the love he has for people who are oppressed.

I also enjoyed this book because it captures history. It names those:

who dedicated their lives to hatred and persecution, (shame on you)

it names church leaders who just couldn't see that their doctrine stigmatised people who God loves, (shame on you for making the Word of God of non affect and denying people Love!!!)

it names those who struggled and committed themselves to seeking life for people who were infected (I salute you)

It names the lost

It remembers black and minority ethnic people and the way in which HIV and AIDS has impacted people who are constantly discriminated against and ignored because of the colour of their skin or their ethnic origin.

I think it is important to give Sean Strub respect for his honesty, especially in the way he grew in knowledge and understanding. He gained his knowledge by living it and by being open to the lives of others.

He captures the way the virus has affected people from other ethnicities especially black American women (numbers of infected black women in the US are increasing). He acknowledges the way in which HIV and Aids has affected children, siblings, parents. He shows that Aids affects communities and individuals.

Most of all it tells the story of a crisis that people struggled to comprehend and respond to.

These days we have mature institutions and activists and structures, and tried and tested ways of engaging but those days there was nothing.

Sean Strub tells us how this nothing became a political movement and has shaped the way in which we continue to campaign for access to treatment, for dignity, and how we must continue to campaign in all our different ways until we get to Zero.

It is no mistake that Act Up London has been revitalised in order to respond to new challenges such as reduced services and homophobic and racist politicians.
The struggle continues!!

After reading Borrowed Time I felt devastated but inspired and quite rightly so.

After reading Body Counts I feel inspired and energised. I can see my own efforts in this movement and join my own voice to that rallying cry.

Act up! Fight back!! Fight Aids!!
Profile Image for George Ilsley.
Author 12 books217 followers
March 12, 2022
There is a trope that "the personal is political" but Strub has taken that idea and ran with it around the block and back again.

I'm old enough to remember many of the events in this memoir, and they also affected my life in ways that I am still unpacking. It is often said that we are missing a generation of gay men; however, Strub demonstrates that not all are missing.

A difficult, but important book. It's a personal memoir of a life, and it's also the history of an era that is still with us.
Profile Image for Rambling Reader.
206 reviews129 followers
November 4, 2014
It is hard for me to decide between 4 and 5 stars as this is certainly one of the best memoirs I'v read. Strub seemed to skim over some painful topics like his childhood abuse and the deaths of his loved ones. Perhaps the pain was too raw, too visceral for him to write in depth.

I usually do not have the time to write a true book review as I find that trite and overused, but this book has compelled me to write down my thoughts.

I enjoyed the pictures that he included along with the vignette style chapters.

Highly Recommended.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 13 books121 followers
February 19, 2014
It's easy to admit being biased in offering praise for an author's memoir, especially when that author is somewhat responsible for saving your life, if not thousands of lives.

Sean Strub's astute combination of activism, political pragmatism, and financial expertise combined brilliantly in his career fighting the AIDS epidemic. In 'Body Counts,' Strub not only shares eloquently written chapters, but his life and career exemplify the struggle of the modern gay rights movement and a community's response to the AIDS epidemic.

From his youthful days as an Iowa Catholic boy, to his ascendance in Washington, D.C. as a youthful assistant, Strub shares intimate details of his life. His introduction to the secretive world of closeted gay politicians and their aides eventually propels him further into politics. As he learns self-acceptance of himself, his body and his sexuality, the world of politics drags its feet behind him. Failures and successes are given equal coverage.

Strub's personal pains in his struggle with HIV follow the path of the disease itself on a national scale. His eventual work with ACT UP and his achievements in tempering the tumultuous group's protests and struggles are balanced with his innovative fundraising ideas.

It was both wonderful and harrowing to relive these times through his experience. Strub's later successes and difficulties in creating and maintaining the groundbreaking POZ Magazine are, for this veteran gay journalist, quite fascinating.

While I recall many of these events from my own experience, or as told by Strub himself, to read this compelling memoir brings new light to a person who simply sought justice, to keep a movement going by offering his practical skills.

His victories in simply staying alive are woven in with some insightful celebrity encounters, and of the AIDS activist movement's most notorious, heartbreaking -and yes, sometimes hilarious- events.

'Body Counts' adds a personal perspective to the daunting task of understanding the controversies, tragedies and even the victories of the AIDS epidemic. For those of us who lived through these times, and for those who may never understand what happened, it's a must-read.
Profile Image for Eddie Clarke.
225 reviews49 followers
January 18, 2014
A very absorbing account of the AIDS crisis, right from its inception to the point where combination therapies started to have an effect on the trajectory of the virus, told from the viewpoint of an intelligent, energetic, creative and politically engaged individual. Sean Strub as a young man arrived in NYC just as the crisis was about to hit; in the mid-90s he was in the final stages ('90 in 9') with KS when the combination therapies arrived just in time to revive him, Lazarus-like, from his death bed. This is the first AIDS memoir I've read where the protagonist survives and has a productive post-AIDS life, so in that sense has a 'happy' ending; nevertheless there are terribly sad episodes in the book as he loses friends and colleagues, mentors and lovers. Strub's attitude however remains completely positive and pro-active. His involvement with Act Up taught him that 'activists live longer' and it is marvellous to behold the many creative ways he brought his activism to bear on the crisis, helping to create a self-empowering community focussed on personal growth and survival against terrible odds. He founded Poz magazine and kept it running for 10 years through the very worst, battling to keep it going financially at the same time as battling the disease himself (and losing his long-term boyfriend and his business partner too).

I am a few years younger than Strub, and appreciated being able to compare his personal experience and reactions to these social and political upheavals with my own. A great strength of the book is that his life-long political interest allows him to place deeply personal events within a compelling and fully explored wider political context. The writing is direct and no-nonsense, with not a hint of self-pity.
Profile Image for R.J. Gilmour.
Author 2 books10 followers
March 19, 2014
The book is an autobiography about Stub's career as a Washington politico in the 1970s and New York activist in the 1980s. A journey of self-discovery Strub's life also mirrored the lives of a generation of gay men who came from the sticks to the big city just as gay culture changed because of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Truth be told, I wanted to really like this book. It is after all an important story that needs to be told.

However, Strub's narrative is weighed down by the constant name-dropping as he manages to be everywhere that is important in gay history. Like other gay authors (Edmund white comes to mind) this need to detail important names and places hinders the overall structure of the book resulting in poor writing that constantly moves between time and space. This structure becomes repetitive and at times annoying for a reader who wants to understand Strub's journey. The book needed some heavy editing to help smooth out the story that Strub is trying to tell. At the same time the book reads like an apologia and justification for the choices Strub made in his life. This sadly occurs too often in autobiographies. However, behind these structural flaws is a fascinating story that needs to be told. There are people who appear in Strub's narrative that piqued my curiosity wanting to know more about them and who they were.

"In addition, the gay and lesbian movement was already drifting away from its foundation as a sexual liberation movement toward a focus on rights and assimilation. "We're just like everyone else" was the mantra as we began to focus on legal reform and mainstream acceptance." 129

"Like so many gay men of his generation, he was fighting a sense of unbridgeable difference."161 This speaks to me volumes. The shared idea that as individual gay men we feel constantly outside, a feeling we carry with us sometimes as a burden.

"Even if Michael didn't rant or obsess about politics the way I did, he had a quiet rage, like many gay men. That collective rage grew with the death toll and fueled the rise of LGBT and AIDS activism." 162

"Yet, as it became widely understood that new treatments enable us to live much longer, we increasingly became defined not by our expected death but by our potential to infect others, as "viral vectors". As we lived longer, the criminal justice and public health systems have come to view us, even define us, as inherently dangerous." 396

Alan Baron, a gay Washington behind-the-scenes player
The Ramrod shootings
Hugh Steers, Vidal's nephew a talented painter
Barton Benes, an artist in relics
February 1997 "Lazarus Syndrome" in NYT about gay men surviving HIV
February 1981 article in POZ about criminalization (the relationship between criminalization and managed healthcare needs to be explored).

Profile Image for b aaron talbot.
321 reviews5 followers
April 27, 2014
an amazing memoir/autobiography/non-fictional account of strub's life. to say this book is profound or inspirational is an understatement...he shows in stark realities how the personal is political, especially for gay men who were raised in restrictive or non-nurturing environments. I was angry as strub recounted the pitifully shameful political history of AIDS in the U.S.; I was angry at strub as he recounted personal conclusions he comes to as a result of his behaviors/choices; I cried as he told of previous relationships, both intimate and non; I marveled at his undying positivity and laughed along with him as he and his colleagues faces so much death and hardship; and I am in awe of his honesty that does not always place him in a pleasant light.

but most of all, I was reminded of why I wanted to study queer theory/literature, and ultimately become a public school teacher. though strub obviously experienced and lived his life on a grander scale, I saw/see my motivations as connected to his: a desire to learn and experience a shared history and pass that knowledge on to others.

a phenomenal book, and one that I will not forget and will reference years in the future...
Profile Image for Victoria Noe.
Author 7 books26 followers
March 14, 2014
Terrific memoir that takes you from the halls of Congress to the front lines of the AIDS epidemic. Couldn't put it down!
Profile Image for Book Daddy.
45 reviews4 followers
June 3, 2019
Omg there was so much info in this book I lit cud not absorb it all but amazing + I learnt so much xx
Profile Image for Paula´s  Brief Review.
964 reviews16 followers
March 9, 2021
Este es uno de esos libros que en los que te das cuenta que cuando te vayas no vas a dejar ni un granito de arena en la historia por lo insustancial que ha sido tu vida, mientras que otros dejarán granos suficientes para hacer una playa o algunos hasta un desierto completo.
En ese sentido me resulta muy descorazonador pensar que los personajes de este libro tenían una edad muy similar a la mía en el momento de la narración, vivían plenamente y luchaban con fuerza mientras yo era prácticamente ajena a la historia que aquí se relata (si bien recuerdo ser muy empática con sus problemas, no sabia de la gravedad de la situación y para mi eran meras noticias del telediario o la prensa)
Dicho esto, este libro es muy ameno de leer, con un lenguaje muy sencillo y sincero y nada pesimista, muy esclarecedor de los movimientos culturales de la época y de la política y leyes americanas de los 80-90´s (aunque reconozco que a veces me costó un poco entender todos los entresijos políticos ¡La forma de hacer política en USA es tan sumamente distinta a la de otros países....!)
Todos los personajes son reales por lo que me pasé el libro pegada a Google para ponerle cara a todos los secundarios que aquí aparecen y que renacen a la vez que rememoras sus historias y durante al menos un ratito, vuelven a estar VIVOS de nuevo.
5* solo por eso y por lo mucho que lo he disfrutado.
Profile Image for Kate.
56 reviews
February 12, 2019
This book felt so incredibly honest, which is why the activism described is so inspiring. I give Strub so much credit for admitting mistakes, and sharing so openly embarrassment, insecurities and traumas. I learned so much about the AIDS crisis & subsequent activist movement, and it really moved me hearing about it this way. I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time.
Profile Image for Allan.
478 reviews67 followers
June 24, 2018
A fascinating memoir by a prominent activist of 30 plus years standing, telling the story of the fight against AIDS from its earliest days, and the human cost of the disease. Well worth reading.
Profile Image for Sarah-Hope.
1,049 reviews88 followers
April 19, 2014
Let me open by saying that Sean Strub’s Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS, and Survival is an essential, engaging piece of social history that belongs on everyone’s reading list. Word!

Body Counts is one of a number of books being released this spring that reflect back on major social movements of the late 20th Century. Other such titles include Eating Fire, Freedom Rider Diary, and Resister, all of which I plan to review upon their release. For some readers, these will be “history” books; for me they feel much more immediate.

My world has changed immensely over the course of my 50+ years. In high school in the late 70s, when I was drawn to gay rights issues, but didn’t yet view them as personal issues, I kept a picture of Leonard Matlovich hanging in my locker. In graduate school in the early 80s, I volunteered in support of a local non-discrimination ordinance that included gay men and lesbians. As a professional in the late 80s and 90s, I helped found the Lesbian and Gay Caucus of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (my field’s most important professional organization); co-edited The Lesbian in Front of the Classroom, the first published collection of writing by lesbian teachers; and taught several first-of-their-kind Composition courses designed to create a writers’ community among lesbians and gay men.

The years Sean Strub writes about in Body Counts are the same years I was engaged in my own activism, and his writing simultaneously makes those years feel very immediate and very removed historically. Today, at least in the liberal college community where I work, being lesbian is pretty much normal. I’m legally married (when a finance guy my wife and I were working with recently referred to us as “domestic partners,” we explained to him quite firmly that we are married and had never participated in that separate-but-equal charade). We’ll even be filing joint federal taxes this year, rendering unnecessary the asterisks and explanatory statements that have been accompanying my federal tax returns since we were married.

Strub’s book reminds us that this normalcy is quite a new phenomenon. In the period from the late 70s to the 90s we were definitely not normal. Roughly half the states in the U.S. had laws criminalizing sexual acts between people of the same gender. Not only that, but in 1986 the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the legality of these laws. (That decision was finally overthrown in 2003.) George Moscone and Harvey Milk were murdered by Dan White, who got a minimal sentence thanks to his “Twinkies defense.” The AIDS epidemic erupted, followed by all sorts of anti-gay legislation. We had a president who refused to use the word AIDS. Congress passed laws prohibiting any AIDS research or education programs that included information on safe sexual activities for gay men or lesbian. We were—quite literally—dying by the thousands, and, as the title of Randy Shilt’s book about the AIDS epidemic made clear, “the band played on.”

I experienced these years on the “left coast,” which makes Strub’s account of gay activism in New York all the more interesting. Strub was politically active from a young age. Before he began college, he worked as an elevator attendant in the U.S. Senate, and he spent years involved in D.C. politics. Ultimately, Strub gave up on his mainstream political dreams and began working more overtly on gay rights, particularly on the fight against AIDS. He went on to found POZ magazine and continues to devote his life to activism on behalf of those who are HIV+, particularly the economically and politically marginalized. Political figures, artists, writers—Strub seems to have know almost everyone, and they all appear in the pages of Body Counts.

Reading Body Counts will give you a detailed, accurate, engaging historical overview of this period. It will remind you of the necessity of street activism, as well as more mainstream politicking. It will also point out that the struggle (and really it’s struggles plural, not struggle singular) is nowhere near over. We have much to celebrate, but we can’t afford to be complacent.
Profile Image for Charlie Smith.
386 reviews19 followers
February 28, 2014
Here's my review as seen on my blog: HERE WE ARE GOING: http://herewearegoing.wordpress.com/2...

I'm sad I'm not able to attend the signing of Body Counts by Sean Strub (CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT MR. STRUB AND THE BOOK - THIS IS A MUST BUY, BY THE WAY) tonight at Politics and Prose in D.C. I mean, it's only an hour away from Frederick. And a Universe. But even if I met Mr. Strub, I don't know that I'd be able to speak. In the same way, I feel unqualified to adequately express what this book - Body Counts -which is, in many ways, about my life, meant to me.

Body CountsI can't really write about this book. Mr. Strub is of the same generational cohort as am I and we share - at a distance and without knowing one another (though it is entirely ENTIRELY possible we were in the same place at the same time) much of the same frame of reference.

But I was no hero, and he was. And is. I bought ACT-UP t-shirts (all of which, ironically, I gave away to straight boys when last I moved and culled) while Mr. Strub fought alongside and within and raised millions for ACT-UP. I supported gay-friendly politicians and voted for them while Mr. Strub cultivated them and ran for office himself. He lost a lover and chance for happily-ever-after to AIDS. I lost a lover and a chance for happily-ever-after to homophobia.

I loved the book. It is - I think - essential for young people today who take for granted the strides made to understand the horrors of the 1980s and the atmosphere in which those strides were made. I am ecstatic about the progress made, and grateful, but all one need do is listen to the reactions from the right wingers and religionists - spit out without any sense of their own hatefulness - to the weddings at the Grammys on Sunday - to know that we still have a LOOOOOOOOOOONG way to go.

This video:


It was the second thing today that made me cry (slow day for me, crying only twice, but it's early yet-LOL) and what got me was the blonde kid who wanted to befriend the gay-goth but ended up being pressured by friends to throw the paint balloon. I've seen the damage those metaphorical "balloons" can do - and been splashed with a few myself - and it isn't the ACTUAL SPLASH, not the vicious, violent, purposeful attacks that hurt the most (though they cause more than enough/too much pain) but, rather, it's those good people - like that blonde boy - who acquiesce or commit acts of collusion. When someone who you KNOW is a person who truly loves you, someone who you KNOW is a person who knows better, someone who you KNOW has a soul and heart of Light and Love - when that someone allows others to denigrate you, or, worse, joins in, even subtly, in feeding into hate - who allows himself to be part of a story belittling you, demonizing you, not standing up for you - that is about a million times worse than any paint balloon.

I've been physically threatened by men who were threatened by my sexuality a few times (as recently as December, in fact) and I have been struck, pushed around, bruised up a bit by those who thought my sexuality made me less than and gave them permission to hit me; and all of that really and truly sucked - BUT FAR WORSE, far more heartbreaking, are the people I allowed into my heart, my trust, my circle of light, who bashed me with their actions, their lack of standing with and for me, their abandonment of who we were together, who they were at the heart and soul, for expediency and convenience sake - they made the easy choice to abandon and belittle, rather than the difficult choice of standing with and swearing to my Love and Light.

And that was the worst bashing of all.

P.S. Read Body Counts. His journey will create in you a future inability to ever abandon someone whose fight, whose need, whose soul might cost you some sweat and inconvenience. You will be better for having done so.
Profile Image for BMR, LCSW.
649 reviews
November 13, 2015
Great, great book. The author is one of the lucky ones who had a seroconversion in the late 70s and is still alive today, thanks to having money for great medical care and access to treatments that not everyone could get. He got so sick at one point, he and his loved ones were preparing for his death. He managed to live long enough to get some of the drug cocktails that worked for him and his legions went from deep into his lungs to GONE!

Along the way, he was a political activist and a successful businessman (he bought a restaurant before he graduated from high school). Took a lot of risks and hits for what he believed in, and still has a pretty great life.

At first I thought this was a 5 star book, but after a night's sleep and reflection...I gave it 4 stars. How can you do a book about AIDS and its devastating impact but not even mention Freddie Mercury, Magic Johnson, or Arthur Ashe? I understand this is Sean Strub's story, and he was in pretty homogeneous company in both DC and NY. He managed to talk about Rock Hudson and Rudolph Nureyev, and he never partied with them either.

My greatest takeaway was probably an answer to a question I've had for several years. Where is the ACT UP for the marginalized populations that are dealing with climbing HIV infection rates now? ACT UP (and then TAG) was the brainchild of White, gay men in New York City with great jobs and top tier educations pooling their talents and connections together. They had only homophobia to deal with. They weren't dealing with homophobia AND housing or food insecurity, or lack of resources in rural areas, or racism and classism.

Look at who is in ACT UP and TAG and you can see who those organizations were advocating for. It was, and is, important work still sorely needed, but the highest rates of infection are now in communities that are not represented by the largest advocacy organizations and not addressed by NIH or WHO studies. Activists aren't blowing up giant condoms over senator's houses anymore or chaining themselves to drug company HQ.
19 reviews2 followers
August 30, 2016
Most memoirs are simply that: a story of a person’s life. But Iowa native Sean Strub’s memoir “Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS, and Survival,” does more than just tell his exemplary personal history. It also details the history of the AIDS epidemic in the United States and the brave men and women who led the movement for education and equality.

Born and raised in Iowa, Strub became enamored with politics at a young age, landing a page position in the Iowa State Senate and in 1976, when he was 17, a coveted position in the U.S. Congress operating elevator number one. While his youthful exploits are charmingly explored in the opening sections of the book (including some great passages about the freedoms pages had to explore the chambers), this also was a time of great anxiety for Strub. As a young, gay man in the ’70s, “coming out wasn’t an option I even considered.”

When he picked up a copy of the Washington Blade, the weekly gay newspaper, and saw the paper “used real names and photographs of openly gay and lesbian people … I wondered if their parents were dead.”

Over the years, though, Strub’s life changed dramatically. He moved to New York where he felt free to express his sexuality openly for the first time. It is here where he falls in love, becomes an activist, founds POZ, “a general interest magazine reflecting the way [HIV+ people] lived” and battles AIDS himself.

But perhaps what makes “Body Counts” so brilliant is the structure and pacing. Readers are privy to the honest, emotional story of Strub’s life while at the same time given wonderful insight into an important — and oft forgotten — chapter in United States history: the AIDS epidemic.

This review was written for The Cedar Rapids Gazette. Read more of my reviews at www.laurafarmerreviews.com
Profile Image for David.
422 reviews45 followers
March 22, 2015
One of the most remarkable books I have read lately - as powerful as Larry Kramer's play 'The Normal Heart' and so compelling that I finished it in two days.

Near the end of this memoir, Strub states that - although a number of people have labeled him as such - he resists the word 'hero'. If so, he cannot maybe deny the term 'leader'. Graced with entrepreneurial spirit from something like the age of 5, Strub grew into a man with the kind of leadership quality that was simply invaluable when people needed to step up to the plate in the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic. What Strub recounts is nothing less than unbelievable, even if it is simultaneously unsurprising: stories of stigma, ignorance and fear; stories of self-serving greed, pride and unchecked ambition (largely on the part of pharmaceutical companies and those in our government - again, no surprise in any of that); stories of those in or on the periphery of the LGBT community turning on their own for the sake of appearance or survival.

But, in spite of what I have just mentioned, this is not an overtly negative book. Strub details many things which went wrong in the course of his activism work - but they are certainly at least balanced by the many things that went right and brought welcome change; rights that were fought for. The book would be exhausting if it weren't so 'action-packed' with important information about the era it covers (which is not exactly over) and about human behavior in general. This is a book of seemingly-unstoppable courage - all the more inspiring since the stories told take place while the storyteller (like Kramer) is personally battling AIDS.

I can easily recommend this unforgettable work to *anyone* in the LGBT community as well as anyone with any interest in knowing much more about the real reality of the wide-spread impact of living with AIDS - then *and* now.
Profile Image for Chris.
196 reviews9 followers
January 3, 2018
This was a tough read, as evidenced by the two month reading period. Strub chronicles a very difficult period in LGBTQ rights and advocacy, a period that many of my generation are disconnected from. I have long been aware of the elements of my community's history but never in the detail to make it real and visceral. I found this book incredibly valuable as a way to connect with a legacy and a period of activism that many, including I believe Strub, believe to be dead. Many of the chief players in queer advocacy have context and connection where I did not see it before. The puzzle of my/our history is more complete.

I will say Strub is not strong as as a memoir writer in the internal sense. His memory of action, people, and place is sharp. He is able to say what he felt, but I never got the sense of him feeling it again thru his writing in the same way career writers like Roxane Gay or Sherman Alexis do. The emotion was stated, not reincarnated in the page. However, the raw kinetic energy of the movement, both personal and politically queer, that Strub created is enough to make sure the memoir maintains a crackle of power.

This is a tough read, challenging a history many gay men of my generation don't understand or don't care to highlight. But it is critical to do so now in an era where queer has once again become a matter of deliberate ignorance and erasure by our political system.

This is undoubtedly required reading for any young queer person. It is a legacy worthbkmowing and learning from.
Profile Image for Peggy.
Author 1 book20 followers
December 21, 2014
Memoir written by someone who was there throughout the AIDS pandemic and who narrowly escaped death, saved by protease inhibitors and other effective treatments. It is in part a witness account of this disaster. Strub has some harsh criticism for not only the Reagan but also the Clinton administration for their reluctance to fund research and prevent deaths through programs such as needle exchange. It is also a memoir in the traditional sense in which the author reviews his life, explores sensitive areas, and shares their meaning with his readers. And it's the tale of Strub's wildly successful career as direct mail wunderkid for progressive causes, political insider, ACT-UP activist, publisher/editor/author, and friend and intimate to many in gay New York in the 80s and 90s. Consistent with the ground he staked out in Poz, the magazine he founded, Strub is open and frank with his descriptions of gay sexuality and the issues that bubble forth at its intersection with AIDs, as an acute illness and HIV as a chronic condition. Though there is a high death toll for the characters introduced here, Strub consistently advocates for the rights of all with HIV/AIDS to live fully. He provided inspired leadership during a crucial tragic moment in history. I'm grateful to him for his passion and commitment. I recommend this book highly.

Profile Image for Michael.
10 reviews
June 29, 2014
Sean Strub's memoir is overall a good read. It's filled with great history about HIV/AIDS, especially when it was first coming in to light in the 1980s. For someone who was born (1987) and came out (2002) long after the brunt of the epidemic, it provides an eye-opening, first-hand account of what coming out and being gay was like in the past, and especially his own experience living with AIDS. I especially enjoyed this book because I was able to identify and recognize a lot of the names and groups that Strub was a part of or otherwise were close with, such as ACT UP!, Stonewall, and people like Gore Vidal. If you have a background in LGBT studies like myself, this book with be a great addition to the other works in the "LGBT canon." One thing that Strub doesn't mention in this book...[SPOILER ALERT]...is Leonard Matlovich, who was an important figure during this time period (or so I think) and Strub was very active in the 80s in terms of his work. Overall, it's a good read and if you have any interest in LGBT history you should read it.
Profile Image for Meave.
789 reviews55 followers
June 7, 2015
It's not the best-written memoir, but modern memoirs rarely are, and it doesn't commit any sins that its contemporaries aren't just as guilty of. It is a very interesting point of view of a lifelong activist and plague survivor. I work for POZ, the magazine he founded, so for me it was also valuable to see where the magazine started and how it grew into the current version of itself. Which is why I'm not rating it, I guess? But I find it difficult to rate memoirs like these: The writer's experiences are fascinating, but they're just never recounted satisfyingly. It's hard to turn such a full life into a book-length story.
1 review
March 22, 2014
A wonderful memoir that brought tears as I remembered the sadness of the 80s and early 90s when so many people lost their lives. But more important was reading again of their bravery in organizing, protesting and by their actions, forcing a disinterested government (and medical community) to action. So many lively and lovely lives would have been spared if not for the apathy and attitudes of those including our then president Reagan. A book worth reading but be prepared to both cry and be enraged.
Profile Image for Rob Murphy.
243 reviews31 followers
August 3, 2016
This was a powerful memoir! From Congress to ACT UP, this book recounts some truly amazing and important events. This book brings up a wide variety of emotions. There are tender moments, angry moments and historically important moments. A great number of players find their way into this memoir including Larry Kramer, Bill Clinton, Peter Staley, Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal. This memoir is filled with critically important issues, addressed with honest and dignity.
Profile Image for Shannon.
587 reviews1 follower
July 17, 2014
After watching The Normal Heart on HBO I realized that there was a huge gap in my education. I knew about the stigma and fear that surrounds HIV/AIDS but I had no clue how bad the time really was. The author was very candid about the things that happened. The slice of history represented here is definitely worth knowing.
Profile Image for Andy White.
151 reviews2 followers
March 3, 2015
An important book for those that did not live through the great plague. It stirred up many memories for me. I would summarize that this is a tender textbook. It is packed with many details. A slight irritant is that there seems to some name dropping.
Profile Image for Catherine.
111 reviews
March 22, 2014
This was a good read. I appreciated the author's matter-of-factness and lack of pretense.
Profile Image for Dan Kagan.
58 reviews1 follower
February 1, 2014
I wish every young gay person would read this important and brilliant book. Thank you Sean Strub for all you do.
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