Many of my heroes are fictional. Dr. Anthony Fauci, our country’s top infectious disease expert, is one of my few real-life heroes.
As COVID-19 cases surge nationwide, and Donald Trump tells us to stop listening to scientists, I can’t help thinking about Fauci. How does he keep going as his work is continually disrespected by the president and his base? Like many queers, I’ve heard this song before: When Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush refused to speak of AIDS or adequately fund AIDS research.
To many, as Trump lies so often that it’s hard to keep track of his false claims, Fauci is the one person we can trust. He’s become the voice of sanity for our time. When Trump says we’ve “turned the corner” on the pandemic after more than 230,000 people have died from COVID-19, we know Fauci will tell us the truth, even when it’s hard to hear or bear.
A number of straight people I know hadn’t heard of Fauci before the pandemic. They may have had vague memories of him being on the news. But he didn’t become a household name until COVID-19 and the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefings.
But Fauci has been a friend to the LGBTQ community for decades. He’s been respected by the queer community since he began working with scientists and AIDS activists to find medications to help people with HIV.
Before he came to be loved by the many in the queer community, Fauci was loathed by AIDS activists, because they felt he was working too slowly to get medications approved as thousands and thousands of people were dying at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. “Fuck you, Fauci!” Larry Kramer, founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and of ACT UP said at the time.
Later, after Fauci had worked with AIDS activists, Kramer, author of the searing play “The Normal Heart,” and Fauci became friends. “We loved each other,” Fauci said after Kramer died.
Not surprisingly, Trump and his base distrust Fauci, who has been the director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the U.S. National Institutes of Health since 1984. On Oct. 19, in a conference call to his campaign staff, Trump called Fauci an idiot, reported The New York Times and other news outlets.
“He’s been here for 500 years,” Trump said. “Every time he goes on television, there’s always a bomb, but there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him. This guy’s a disaster.”
Trump’s displeasure with Fauci didn’t stop his campaign from using Fauci’s voice in a campaign ad. Fauci told CNN that he didn’t consent to his voice being used in the ad. “In my nearly five decades of public service, I have never publicly endorsed any political candidate,” he said.
I doubt if Trump’s base will ever want to learn more about Fauci. In their own minds, they know that he’s the idiotic Prince of Darkness who wants to shove science down our throats.
But, for the rest of us, there’s “Fauci,” a new audiobook by New Yorker staff writer Michael Specter.
Though it’s dubbed by its publisher as “the essential first biography,” it’s not the comprehensive story of Fauci’s life. If you love gossip, you’ll be disappointed. Its most juicy revelation is that, when he was young Fauci loved basketball. If he was taller than five foot, seven inches – who knows? He might have been the next Lebron James.
But, “Fauci” (an extension of Specter’s April 20, 2020 New Yorker profile of Fauci) let’s us in on what makes Fauci tick. We hear how his belief (honed from “The Godfather”) that “it’s not personal, it’s business,” helps him to keep working in the midst of death threats.
To get to know the good doc, check out “Fauci.”
Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.