Resurrecting the Forgotten Art of the AIDS Era


GROWING UP IN Denver, Neal Baer used to study the way straight men walked, how their legs moved with strides that seemed more declarative than his own. At school, he would lower the register of his voice. When he drank from a glass of water, he made sure to keep his pinky down. For as long as he can remember, Baer believed that being gay was an aberrance — and that to indulge it would lead to a lonely death. He rejected that part of himself, attempting to cure, or at least curb, his gayness through therapy and abstinence.

To an outsider, Baer entered middle age as a happily married straight man with a quirky career path that made him popular at dinner parties: In addition to being a Harvard-educated doctor, he also wrote and produced hit TV shows such as “ER” and “Law & Order: SVU.” But even as he helped introduce gay and trans characters to television, his desire gnawed at him, as did the attendant shame. In 2013, as his 60s loomed, he came out to his then wife and their college-age son; the relief he felt was immediate and transformative.

Endeavoring to make up for lost time, Baer, who had been a casual art collector, started buying work solely by gay artists, beginning with a colorful 1990 acrylic on paper portrait by Don Bachardy of the writer Paul Monette, whose 1992 coming-out memoir, “Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story,” helped Baer do the same. Today, next to that painting of Monette is another work by Bachardy, from 2014, of Baer himself.

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