(1950 - living) U.S.A.
Actor, writer and activist
Kearns is an openly gay, and HIV-positive dramatist and author. His writings include T-cells & Sympathy ( a collection of 34 monologues on AIDS) and The Happy Hustler. Although primarily a stage actor, he has appeared on television and in the porn-flick L.A. Tool & Die.
A member of the Dramatists Guild and PEN Center USA West, he lives in Los Angeles where he teaches acting and contributes regularly to Edge Magazine while attending to the duties of being a single parent of Tia.
Michael Kearns is an expert on sex. In his youth, he was known as Grant Tracy Saxon, America's No. 1 male Madame, head of the largest call-boy ring in the nation and author of the 1973 hit, "The Happy Hustler." With the publication of Saxon's book, published by Warner Books and featuring the first full-color nude foldout ever to appear in a paperback, and Xaviera Hollandar's famous "Happy Hooker" published that same year, it seemed that America was ready to take a frank, new look at sex and sexuality.
Kearns first entered into the gay rights movement when he was at a Silverlake party promoting his book. As he recalls it, the phone rang and someone came to tell him that Morris Kight was on the phone. Kight was one of the premier gay advocates in the nation at the time and Kearns believes that he had heard of him even before his move to Hollywood in 1971. Kight had coordinated a group called First Tuesdays, in which movement leaders such as Troy Perry and Ivy Bottini would meet in various restaurants during the first Tuesday of each month, to strategize and coordinate their efforts.
Kight complimented Kearns on his "glorious" book and his recent appearance on the cover of The Advocate, and he invited him to join the First Tuesday crew. Kearns took him up on the offer, and thus began Kearns' career as an advocate and a friendship that was to last until Kight's death in January 2003.
Kearns has an interesting philosophy about death. As a man who has been dancing with Le Morte for 20 years now, he feels that gays have taught straights some valuable lessons on the subject. "There is a performance element involved with death," he said. "We have learned to celebrate death. We draw it out, in a way. We have beautified it, and even glamorized it. We 'theatricalized' it, and I think that is a huge contribution."
Kearns believes that gays have mastered a process of alchemy whereby pain is transferred into something golden. When confronted with death, we have insisted that it make sense. "Is it tragic that many of us reach our political zenith by watching 45 of our friends dying? It is sad. But it did make us into something. It gave us some kind of fiber, a strength and mettle that often other people just don't have."
Michael Kearns and his daughter, Tia.
Kearns has been a champion for gay rights for decades now. He even testified for the president's HIV commission in 1995. Additionally, he has performed for numerous Pride festivals and at the Smithsonian. "I've had my share of shining moments," he said. But when I asked what he considered to have been his most important contribution to the movement, he replied without hesitation: "Adopting a child." He had considered adopting as early as the '70s when he found a book on the subject.
When he learned that he was HIV positive in the '80s, he began living day-today, even gauging the amount of stationery he would buy. Would he need 10 sheets? Twenty? But then gradually his focus again shifted towards a long-term future, and he gained the confidence to share his life with a child. Ten years ago, at age 45, Kearns adopted Tia through the miraculous help of "angels along the way."
In terms of lessons that the movement has yet to learn, Kearns states that we need to learn to love in the same way that we wish to be loved. We need to learn to love people despite differences such as race, gender or nationality. He is afraid that we have separated ourselves from others. "Are we treating others the way we want to be treated? I think not, myself included".
Kearns is an expert on love. He knows what it means to give for the sake of giving, to nurture for the sake of watching something -or someone-grow. He knows that to succeed in love, you have to take a chance and be confident in who you are and where you are going. It is a lesson for us all, one that he continues to teach through his art and through his living.
Though his parents are now deceased, he has succeeded in creating an extended family of his own, and this is his greatest triumph.
Source: June 2005 BLADE - Courtesy of C. Todd White, Ph.D.