Bo liked to sketch on poster board; it was part art, part therapy. "It's not safe to be safe" marks a moment of realization, hopscotching from point to point and then landing on the realization that he had arrived somewhere, and still it wasn’t safe. Home, partner, writing, he had everything—but everything, from his writing to his health to his relationship, was fragile and uncertain. The "oh" that marks its termination is very much Bo, a soft oh full of feeling and meaning, pain and insight.
Bo loved daytime TV, in particular the talk shows that were the reality TV of the 1980 and '90s. I hated those shows, but it was a different experience watching them with Bo. He had a sociologist’s fascination (and a satirist’s eye) for what those real-life dramas and traumas were all about. And I had no doubt he was always absorbing material for his writing.
I’m not sure how Bo organized his days but the talk shows, telephone, and a steady stream of cigarettes framed the writing he did during the day. He stayed busy during the day, with friends, and with the column and news pieces he wrote for several San Francisco gay weeklies.
Bo often wrote deep into the night. I’d drift to sleep to the keyboard clicking, a lamp on the table the only light, with a thread of cigarette smoke rising through the light. And the music, almost always something long, or several longer pieces, often a mix he put together on a cassette tape. One novel was written to a series of pieces by Erik Satie. The looping music helped frame his mood for the writing.
Bo Huston was born Paul Richard Huston in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, in 1959. He was born just a few weeks after me, so I can say for both of us that we were not Boomers, except perhaps in our blithe sureness that everything would always work out. After college, heroin battered that illusion for Bo and made writing fragmentary or impossible. Bo got clean and quickly started writing again—I’ve found his film and play reviews in a NYC gay weekly, a free entertainment guide called Michael’s Thing, circa 1986. They're cogent and smart. Whatever combination of events—breaking away from old haunts and disappointment in love was part of it—brought him to San Francisco, we met in late 1987 and were a couple by the last week of the year.
Across Bo’s college years and twenties, his closest bonds were with women. He had a great capacity for intimate relationships, was great fun in social settings in sly, subversive ways, and people I barely knew adored him. In my mind’s eye I see him with his cigarette, the TV possibly on mute, on the phone, occasionally rolling his eyes for my amusement, more often waving away the cigarette smoke and sipping tea.
Bo wrote his fiction and the columns he produced for the local gay newspaper with equal ferocity. He was lucky enough to have gotten disability for AIDS after only one routine rejection of his claim, and he had parents who could help, so he had time; not enough time, but some time to write and research, time to be sick, time to be with friends.
Most of all he had time to write and rewrite four volumes of fiction over about five years. He had time to forge relationships with other writers and to support the OutWrite conferences and the Out/Look quarterly that gave queer writers a new forum and increased visibility. Seeing his work in print wasn’t just compensation for the time he didn’t write, it was a promise kept.
The last five years of Bo’s life had its sorrows and fears, from our sometimes rocky relationship to friends dying completely out of turn. But it was a bright vivid time as well.
Bo was largely well until early 1993. I see him in a band of sunlight in our Bernal Heights home that January, dancing a little jig in his happiness that The Listener was on the way to being published. Just five months later, wracked by pain and a failing body, Bo chose when he would go. He said his goodbyes and made his final edits to a piece he published posthumously, in Thomas Avena’s Life Sentences. His ashes are scattered (quite illegally) at Land’s End in San Francisco, where he loved to go for various types of inspiration.
—Dan Carmell, October, 2022
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