Happy On Your Own Terms with Joe Perazzo and Greg Louganis

Welcome to the Season 2 premiere of our LGBT podcast This Queer Book Saved My Life! In this episode, we talk with Joe Perazzo (he/him) about the LGBT memoir Breaking the Surface by Greg Louganis, with special guest: 4-time gold medalist Greg Louganis! Breaking the Surface is Greg’s memoir and it shares his journey not only to becoming the greatest diver of all time, but also as a gay man living with HIV. For Joe, the memoir played a crucial role in his life. First when he was about 13 and dealing with gay slurs. Then at 16 as he came out. And then again in his early 20s as he began his career as a nurse and in HIV research. As Joe shares with us, “It’s liberating to read it and then you want to live the same experience. You want to stop giving people so much power over you and become happy on your terms.”

Buy the LGBT books on this LGBT podcast at our Bookshop (bookshop.org/thisqueerbook)!

Episode transcript below!

Learn more about Greg and his writing at greglouganis.com. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok: @greglouganis

Follow Joe on Twitter: @writer_RN

A big thank you to Natalie Cruz., Archie A., Bill Shay, Stephen D, and Paul Kaefer for being This Queer Book Saved My Life’s first Patreon supporters. Their sponsorship level directly supports transcription services that ensure this LGBT podcast is accessible to our deaf and hard of hearing audiences. Patreon supporters help keep us on the air and promote accessibility. They receive a variety of benefits, including shout outs in our episodes, social media mentions, access to live-streaming events, virtual lunch with me, or even better, bring me to work day where I can do a talk and Q&A around queer diversity, equity, and inclusion. You can subscribe at patreon.com/thisqueerbook.


[theme music]

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN Der Boghossian: On today’s episode!

JOE PERAZZO: It’s liberating to read it and then you want to live the same experience. You want to stop giving people so much power over you and become happy on your terms.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: Maybe we should start with some introductions. GREG LOUGANIS, would you like to introduce yourself?

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN Der Boghossian: We’re heading to the Olympic pool with Dr. JOE PERAZZO Perazzo to discuss Breaking the Surface. It is a memoir by the greatest diver of all time, GREG LOUGANIS Louganis. I talk with JOE PERAZZO about how he kept coming back to Breaking the Surface throughout his life, learning how to cope with bullying, coming out, and as he established his career in nursing and HIV research. Then we chat with GREG LOUGANIS, the 4-time gold medalist himself, about his life as he wrote Breaking the Surface, who he dedicated his memoir to, as well as sending teddy bears to Fred Phelps. My name is J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN Der Boghossian and you’re listening to This Queer Book Saved My Life!

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN Der Boghossian: Welcome to Season 2! I have JOE PERAZZO and GREG LOUGANIS with me here in our virtual studio and as we’re getting started I’d like to share a little bit about what you’re in for in our second season. We’re going to be releasing episodes every other Tuesday this season. So, the next new episode of This Queer Book Saved My Life! won’t be for another two weeks. However, don’t worry about the off-weeks! We still got you. First up, we’ve got special podcast cross-over events. So, next Tuesday, we’re releasing a cross-over episode with the delightful Queer Lit podcast. And we’ve also got a new podcast short for you. It’s called 7 Minutes in Book Heaven. In each episode, I interview queer authors about the new or upcoming books they have coming out for us to love and cuddle up with. So keep it here every Tuesday for This Queer Book Saved My Life!, or a cross-over podcast episode, or 7 Minutes in Book Heaven.

And to get us started, I just can’t say enough how grateful I am to Quatrefoil Library in Minneapolis. They are our promotional sponsor and they’ve been so supportive getting the word out. For those who don’t know, Quatrefoil is a community center and their mission is to make accessible LGBTQ+ materials for education and inspiration. Check out their queer reading lists, lending library, queer book clubs, and community events, at qlibrary.org

Righto! Joe! Greg! Welcome to the show. Let’s start off with some hellos, get to know each other, and how about we switch things up, and have our author go first! Greg, would you like to introduce yourself?

GREG LOUGANIS: I’m Greg Louganis. He him pronouns and gosh where do I start?

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: [laughs] You’re a diver I think? Something about the Olympics?

GREG LOUGANIS: That is like another lifetime ago right? You know? So yeah, gold medals in forty-eight gold medals in diving.

My first was Montreal: a silver. I wrote Breaking the Surface with Eric Marcus he was my co-author and that was really a journey you know in really embracing myself and accepting myself.

It was also during a time when HIV aids was kind of coming to the forefront and a lot of stigma surrounding the disease and all that so yeah, coming forward with my HIV status when I talked to Barbara Walters and then that was followed up by Oprah Winfrey. The book spent five weeks on the New York Times bestseller List. It was funny because when we were on book tour, Eric Marcus was like oh my god we’re New York Times bestseller and he’s bouncing off the walls I’m like oh, that’s really cool. Because that’s not my world. It’s not my world, the literary world and he goes well just imagine that the New York Times Bestseller List is an Olympic gold medal. Oh… okay, oh damn we got it!

Olympic gold medals very cool. That’s kind of been my journey.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: Thank you! And JOE PERAZZO would you like to introduce yourself?

JOE PERAZZO: I’m Joe Perrazo and my resume includes no gold medals but I will say I am from Cincinnati Ohio born raised and live. I’m a nursing professor. and am a clinical trials nurse. My journey of getting to what I do for a living now and basically I’m very passionate about has always included books along the way from a very early age. I am a voracious reader and was given Breaking the Surface at twelve years old and it was just one of the most incredible, perfectly serendipitous gifts anyone has ever given to me. It has always remained with me. I’ve always kept this as just one of those books you don’t get rid of that time you move. It’s one of the keepers. My husband and I know that and we take care of it. It’s with my favorite books. It was very life changing for me.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN :I always ask folks what were important exciting stories or books or TV shows that you were watching or reading as you were growing up?

JOE PERAZZO: A lot of my friends were reading The Hobbit and CS Lewis. I will say that I love scary stories to tell in the dark.

I loved a lot of those basically compilations of short stories. I got a love of suspense novels very early on and then started really getting much more into reading people’s memoirs as I got older and reading a lot of you know nonfiction as well.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: Greg how about you?

GREG LOUGANIS: What comes to my mind is the Harry Potter series. I just really got into that and  I remember I was doing Nunsense Amen in Hollywood Florida and  one of the other cast members brought the first book and was like oh magicians, wizards yeah and then I got reading it and it was like, oh my god, when’s the next one? I got on that train and it was like I pre-ordered it and when they came out yeah, I really got into that.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: I was the same way when the movies were coming out. I was like okay fine, I have a flight to Detroit. I’ll read the first one. I devoured it on the plane. Got off the plane and ran right to the nearest bookstore to buy the second one and then like devoured the next two. I was obsessed. I totally get that. What are you into reading or watching these days?

So…. what is the book that saved your life?

JOE PERAZZO: The book that saved my life is Breaking the Surface by Greg Louganis and it is a book that chronicles Greg’s early childhood including education and background. It describes how he got started in the sport that he would just absolutely dominate in the end. It covers a lot of the challenges, interpersonally that he had coming to grips with the fact that he is Gay and later having faced domestic violence and endured domestic violence He lived through the very beginnings of the HIV AIDS epidemic and as a person living with HIV, it had a more profound effect on me in retrospect. That last part which is that Greg is an outspoken advocate for people living with HIV was not at the forefront of my mind when I first decided to go into HIV care. I didn’t start there. But of the things that I really do think I was influenced by was the fact that I learned that he was Greg Louganis first and then a person who lives with HIV second. I had no idea, how much learning to think that way would serve me later. It was actually a mentor of mine when I was in graduate school. I started working on her team and she worked in the field of HIV. That’s how I got into the field. It’s a book that I’ve always thought of as a companion to my career. When I read it again in my early 20s, it’s like the book can metamorphose. I totally understand what he’s talking about. I’ve learned a lot of the experiences that he had mirrored my own and more importantly, a lot of things he felt and thought have mirrored what I was going through at different stages of my life. I just always think that it’s nice to have someone or something that you can find comfort or solace in during those challenging sorts of times.

J.P: Take me to the first time that you read the book. You said it was a gift?

JOE PERAZZO: I was twelve years old, and I had been diving for a few years first recreationally and then started year round. I was telling the associate producer I have to be very clear that I probably related less to GREG LOUGANIS’s diving than anything else because I never was going to be an elite but I loved the sport.  I absolutely love this sport and was a gymnast from the time I was four or five years old. That was the first time I think I ever set foot in a gym. I quickly learned that that was not the popular sport for a boy in a suburban Ohio catholic school system. I grew up with this cohort of kids from the time that we were four or five years old in the same school district and it was as I was getting to around that age, something changed in the way they treated me. I started getting bullies in my life and I started being name called and so because I love diving my mother was at a bookstore and saw GREG LOUGANIS’s book there. I don’t know how many different covers are used. The one that she bought had a picture of GREG LOUGANIS mid-dive on it. We were going on a vacation and so it was an early birthday gift. I just devoured this book in a lot of ways.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: I have a question about that. Were you out when you got the book? Was it because GREG LOUGANIS was a diver, and you were a diver?

JOE PERAZZO: I was not. I like to think that my mother had good intuition. I think there were probably multiple reasons why she thought that I would enjoy reading the book and certainly did.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: What was it because you’ve read it multiple times? What do you recall on that first read was resonating the most with you? What were you taking away and applying it to your own life.?

JOE PERAZZO: There were a couple of different things that show up in this book that I was just shocked about them. I’m not sure what words I can use. I will say I was being called certain names that I did not recognize even what they meant! I didn’t learn until much later in life I was very blessed in the sense that I grew up in a household where those words were not used. Racial and any sort of pejorative language like that. I had no idea what this f word meant but I was getting called this left right and sideways as I started to head toward my teen years. I would try to approach teachers and a lot of times was told you just seriously need to buck up a little bit and stop being so sensitive! I mean like kids call each other names and you need to shake it off. It had become so relentless at times that my mental health suffered. I just kind of started a bit of a decent.

And that comes up in this book so eloquently. He had the same issue with teachers giving very flippant responses to his asking for help with conflict. I was progressively becoming more and more of a loner really as the kids were kind of breaking off into their groups, I wasn’t belonging anywhere, and this book was literally the first time I’d heard someone else tell me that they’ve been called this same thing too and that it really was very confusing. Whatever it was supposed to mean these names. But you knew they hurt really bad and othered you. I think that that is what hooked me first. It was exciting to read about his start and diving. But this was the first time I had heard ANYBODY talk about these things that were just very omnipresent in my life constantly.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: You were processing this on your own then with no one to talk to.

JOE PERAZZO: Correct. I don’t like to think of myself that I’m from a different time but it was different. You know you didn’t have the internet to run to and look things up to get people’s perspectives. There’s plenty of bad with the internet but at the same time, there’s a lot of good. You can look up a lot of information but that just wasn’t available. I don’t think any of the adults in my life would have ever meant me harm. There was also a complete lack of discussion around what that word means and who they call that word and that it’s okay to be that where it was just complete avoidance and silence about the issue really. and that it would be easier.

I just stopped being hurt by it and tried to “buck up” like I was the first person who’d ever lived through that experience.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: Wow! This is a Queer podcast so we can say all the words We’re taking them back. We own them so no stigma there.

GREG LOUGANIS: Yeah, right? yeah.

JOE PERAZZO: All right.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: And when you came back to the book, you said it also had this important place in your life.

JOE PERAZZO: Yes, because that is when I came out and I was not met with venomous hatred of any sort. I was met with a great discomfort within my family. I think that people were like okay, I think we’ve known forever and ever but like let’s just move on. We don’t have to discuss it. We don’t have to make a meal out of it. I wasn’t certain what was to become of me within my family and that comes up in the book. I did not know if and again I have to be clear, my dad was never hateful to me about it. But I certainly did not, at first, feel like he was too pleased. I’ve learned, later in my life before my mother died that the whole paradigm my dad had years ago was very different and it wasn’t even bigoted. It was just he was still thinking that now I’m consigned to a life where I have to look over my shoulder at all times. I’s not been that way and he sees that now and loves my husband and you know everything worked out in the end. But when there was no one who wanted to say anything or to talk about it, I wondered. It’s a great equalizer for many of us that there are people who depart from our lives at that moment and that I got from the book for sure.

There was a a school trip that involved an overnight and in the book Greg talks about another experience I had which is that people did not want a room with me on this trip and I will never forget what that was like. My roommate was a teacher! What is this? There was a cost to coming out. I wish it was the victorious story that some people have expressed. I’m not sorry that it happened. There was no question from the time I was seven years old. It is a much different experience to look people in the eye and say yes. It wasn’t until later, for anyone who who is struggling, it wasn’t until later that I saw coming out disarms so many things and disarms people from so many weapons that they had been able to use. I started to make real friends. There were no lies. There was no hiding. There were no stories that I was making up. I was late teens getting ready to go into adulthood. I remember very clearly rereading it in my parents’ backyard.


J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: After this quick break, we’ll dive in, haaaa, with Greg about writing Breaking the Surface and how a bunch of folx sent teddy bears on Greg’s behalf to the anti-gay pastor and disbarred lawyer Fred Phelps.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: At Bookshop.org you can buy all the books that we feature on This Queer Book Saved My Life! We have a link to our Bookshop page in the show notes, and on our website. You’ll find Season one’s books and our Season 2 ones as we release new episodes. We receive a 10% commission on every book you purchase through our Bookshop page, so not only are you getting a life-giving new read, you’re also supporting us directly! Happy book buying!

Shout out time to Natalie Cruz, Bill Shay, Paul Kaefer, Archie A., and Stephen D., for being This Queer Book Saved My Life’s first Patreon supporters. Their sponsorship level directly supports transcription services that ensure the podcast is accessible to our deaf and hard of hearing audiences. You can join them to help us keep the podcast accessible and equitable. There are three monthly membership options, starting at $5/month. You can subscribe at patreon.com/thisqueerbook

Lucious news! We will have our second ever live recording of this podcast at Lush Lounge and Theater on November 10th! Our guest is William Burleson, author and founder of Flexible Press. Flexible Press supports publishing under-represented voices, in the belief that at its best literature is often a catalyst for change. The event starts at 6pm, tickets are free, but we do recommend you RSVP. The link is in the show notes and on our website!


J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: Greg Louganis has one of the great Olympics comeback stories. Hits his head on the diving board during the preliminaries, but finds a way to make it into the finals, and then, wins the gold medal. The world didn’t know that he had done this as a gay man or while living with HIV. But…a gold medal, even four of them, doesn’t necessarily make coming out easier. It was as an actor and an activist, that Greg found his voice and came to write Breaking the Surface. Here’s more of my conversation with Greg and Joe.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: Greg I have a question. I was listening to a podcast interview you did on Inside Mental Health and you said something that struck me and I think it builds off of what JOE PERAZZO’s talking about here in terms of silence. You felt, after the 1988 Olympics that you were living on an island without even a telephone for communication with the outside world because all of these secrets were isolating. So how did the book and the writing process help with that?

GREG LOUGANIS: Joe thank you for sharing all that you’ve shared. That’s just incredible that I was so much a part of your life growing up and influence. What would happen because coming out is a process right? You know we have to identify our sexual identity if we’re gay or whatever to ourselves and recognize that in ourselves.

It was interesting because I was doing the play Jeffrey in New York and that play is all about HIV. I was playing Darius.I was able to play out my fantasies and my fears on stage because Darius is out and proud, in gay pride marches and all of that. He’s a chorus boy with an eighth-grade education but lives in a penthouse and doesn’t pay rent. It was so much fun but also facing those fears because Darius does die from complications with HIV and so I was able to live out my fantasies and my fears.

On stage for six months and while I was doing the show, it came to me that I did feel like I was living on an island with barely a phone for communication to the outside world because of these secrets. The secrets isolate you.

I went to a friend of mine, Robbie Brown in New York, the late Robbie Brown. I told him, I said Robbie I really want to write a book. He said oh I must introduce you to Eric Marcus. He introduced Eric Marcus to me and we just kind of sat down. He started asking questions. One of the first questions that he asked me, he said ‘well when you hit your head on the board, what was going on through your head… besides a diving board. I said Eric turn the recorder off because I hadn’t shared this secret. I said I was concerned because I knew my HIV status and then he started sobbing and I started crying and then and then the next question was well, were you on any type of treatment when you were diagnosed? I said yeah, they wanted to treat me really aggressively, so they put me on AZT right away. Then he started really sobbing and I didn’t understand that because I didn’t have anybody to talk to about the treatments and reactions to the treatments or potential side effects and all that. When he calmed down I said well why did you react that way? He said Greg you don’t understand. You were on AZT and you won Olympic gold medals. You will never know what that means. I said AZT is not a performance enhancing drug. Far from it.

Because of all the secrets and because of feeling so isolated, I knew in my heart that I was not the only one. I knew that there were a lot of other people in that similar situation. I felt that it was the next step on my path of growth. I needed to come forward. I needed to be open and honest about my HIV and about my sexual identity. People ask me, well when did you come out and really when did I come out?

It depends on who you ask in my life because people who were close to me knew about my sexual identity. That was not an issue. Well, some of them did have an issue but you know it was what it was. It was known. It was just my policy not to discuss my personal life with members of the media. I justified that into thinking everybody’s entitled to a private life which I truly believe. I truly believe everybody’s entitled to a private life.

When you share of yourself openly and honestly and unapologetically then you know people are able to see a full person. I love Eric Marcus to death but there were there were times because he dug really deep and there were yeah I mean there were times where I was not ready to share a lot of the stuff that was coming up for me. I wasn’t ready to share it. There were weeks that we did not talk.

Random House, when they agreed to do the book made Eric sign an agreement that he would have the book on the shelves within the year. what Eric shared with me because that’s a world that I don’t know. They wanted to make sure that the book was published before I either went in the hospital or before I died.

So, he was on a timeline. They kind of forced that. I mean there were a lot of things that were happening surrounding the book that I really didn’t know about but I learned later.

You mentioned the cover of the first edition. That was an Annie Leibovitz photo. It was one of the best photos of 1984 from Photographer magazine and she won all kinds of awards for it. I’m pretty sure I was doing Jeffrey and so I was working on the book and she was my thought. Random House came out and said well, ‘we have to decide on a photo for the for the book cover. I was out to dinner with a friend of mine in New York and he said, ‘oh do you know who we just passed? We just passed Annie Lebovitz. She was having dinner there with her partner and I was like, oh my god! I got to talk to her and so I ran up to Annie and I said I love that photo and I’m writing a book. Would it be at all possible to use that photograph for the cover of the book? I would love that. She said, oh of course GREG LOUGANIS that would be awesome! You know she really sold a lot of those books because of that photograph. I’m in a water tank, you know the tank for Splash with Daryl Hannah? It was that tank on the Paramount lot. She’s shooting into the tank and I’m underwater doing these diving poses.

She was trying to figure out how do I slow down the motion of the diving so I can get a photograph and in the photo you can see the bubbles. I think it’s the way that it’s printed sideways. The bubbles are going this way. SIt really is shooting the tank this way and the bubbles go up! So, that was the whole story about the cover of the book which was really incredible. That was a blessing!

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: So Eric had this contract and you didn’t know about it. Were there moments where you’re having to think through, ‘am I really going to disclose all this?’ Could you have pulled the plug and said, ‘no, I’m not going to do this anymore?’

GREG LOUGANIS: When I decide to do something I kind of stick to it. I knew I was committed. My mother was concerned for my safety coming forward with all of this information. She was afraid for me. I had other friends that were afraid for me because there wasn’t a whole lot of compassion surrounding HIV aids for a lot of people. You know it was killing the ‘right’ people IV drug users and prostitutes like it was some sort of judgment. Before the information of the book came out, I booked a speaking engagement in Lawrence, Kansas which was right in the backyard of Fred Phelps. I knew what that speaking engagement was going to be. That’s the reason why I wanted to be there. I WANTED to be there. So then when I got there, they said ‘okay GREG LOUGANIS it’s time to get you to the stage.’ They started taking me through the bowels of the auditorium and it’s like, ‘why are you taking me down here?’

Isn’t there more direct routes? They said ‘we don’t want you to see what’s outside the building.’

and I said oh, I want to see. So they took me upstairs so I could look down on it. Where they figured that I’d be safer. There was all of Fred Phelps family and congregation with pictures of me with a ‘6’ on my forehead and Faggot, you’ll burn in hell’ I said oh my god, that’s so cool!

I did. I thought that was like some cool… So then I go into the auditorium and it’s standing room only. I mean it was just busting at the seams with people supporting me. During the q and a says Mr. Louganis, ‘what do you think of the ignorance that’s standing outside this building?’ I said ,‘oh you mean Fred? Everybody kind of chuckled. I said I feel like I should hand him a teddy bear and tell him he needs lots of hugs because anybody who spews that much hate can’t like themselves very much. Then the LGBTQIA student union sent him a bunch of teddy bears in my honor telling him that he’s sending you hugs! I thought that was so cool because you know when you’re doing speaking engagements like that, you don’t know who’s listening. You don’t know what they’re going to hear. You don’t know what their takeaways are going to be. For them to send teddy bears in my honor… I thought that was like way cool!

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: I love that story. You dedicated the book to Ryan White. Could you share a little bit of how you met him and got to know him?

GREG LOUGANIS: I think it was that the People magazine article came out about this young boy in Cicero Indiana, and he contracted HIV through his clotting factor. He was a hemophiliac. They wanted to keep him out of school. He fought for the rights. He was fighting for the rights of kids who were in in the same situation. Kids who were living with HIV because they got their disease through their clotting factor before blood was screened and all that. I knew that the Indoor National Championships, the winter nationals, were going to be in Indianapolis. I reached out to Jeannie White to invite Ryan to be at the Nationals. He came out to the Nationals and I shared that experience with them because my feeling was if other people saw that I’m not afraid of this kid then they shouldn’t be afraid of him either. So that was my thinking and so after the competition I gave him my medal from that National that I won.

Then I took him up to the ten-meter platform and showed him what the view is like from my perspective when I’m up there. He looked over and said, oh my god, you’re crazy! You’re nuts!! That began this incredible friendship, this incredible relationship.

Andrea, his sister was a competitive roller skater. I went to her regionals. She was qualifying for the Nationals and so I went out there to support her. I’ve been friends of the family. When I

I’m a performer. I’m not a competitor. After I hit my head on the board, I realized that I had to find the fighter in me, you know and who came to mind was Ryan White.

He’s a fighter I’m not. He was my inspiration to get through that competition and that’s a reason why I also gave him and Jeanie that medal from those Olympic games for men’s three-meter springboard. and I think it’s at the Ryan White Museum in Indianapolis. He was such an inspiration. I dedicated the book to him. Obviously, the book came out after he passed.

He really was an inspiration for a lot of people. He did so much good dispelling a lot of the stigma: not all of it, but a lot of the stigma.

He was an incredible soul.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: When you were on the book tour, you had what I think of as those big talk show surprise moments right? I was just looking at it in prep for this interview and you’re talking to Oprah and then she’s like we’ve got a guest for you and Jeanie was there. Are you all still close?

GREG LOUGANIS: Everybody’s been through a lot but we touch base here and there and actually it was funny because when that was happening, I was trying to reach out to Jeanie. Barbara Walters had the exclusive on Breaking the Surface and her interview was airing on Friday.

Oprah got word about what was in the book she reached out to Barbara and asked Barbara if it would be okay if she interviewed me with an NDA. She wouldn’t air her show until Monday AFTER Barbara. I went to Chicago to do the interview with Oprah the night before the 20/20 piece was going to air. I was trying to reach out to Jeanie.


GREG LOUGANIS: I was calling her. You know it’s like call me, call me, call me because I never told her that I was HIV positive. I wanted her to hear it from me not from someone else on the news.

I left her message and then Oprah does that to me. She really got me. I mean that was like, oh my god. I was just kind of lost. It was so stressful because that was also when I was shooting. It’s My Party (Randall Kleiser’s movie with Olivia Newton John) I was playing this Andy Warhol character in in the movie.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

GREG LOUGANIS: I was on the set and my editor told me to be on the lookout for some of the paparazzi. There’s some muttering going on so be aware somebody might pop up! It was just very stressful. They sent a car for me to get to the airport to go to Chicago to do the interview with Oprah and there were photographers that were in my driveway and cameras and all that. It was crazy! I had to run down the hill to go get in the car.

This one guy’s running with this camera and he stumbles and falls because it’s pretty steep terrain. I turned back: Are you okay? I making sure he’s all right. Okay bye! It was Insane. It was so crazy.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: Wow Joe, I’m curious what is coming up for you as you are hearing all of this?

JOE PERAZZO: That Paparazzi story does not surprise me whatsoever. It could frighten like you said if you’re not the fighting type. As Greg is talking is I just hope that anyone who listens can kind of see where I’m coming from and that during a time where people had a scarlet letter put on them for things, Greg persevered. I think the biggest take home lesson I ever got out of reading the book is that there have been several times where it feels like you are just struggling uphill. I just think that Greg’s story epitomizes that. You can have people against you. You can have institutions against you. You can have yourself against you but just don’t throw it all away. Just keep going. You know your path may change and that’s fine. These are those lessons that, when we hear them, it’s like yeah, totally. But you know what, it’s you. It’s your life. It can become exponentially more difficult. The idea of someone having such huge successes remaining so human in the process!

I used to say if I ever wrote a memoir. It’s going to be after some astonishing accomplishment: something super human. But when someone is willing to ah take down the walls and the silence that separate us from each other it’s so liberating. It’s liberating to read it and then you want to live the same experience. You want to stop giving people so much power over you and become happy on your terms.

I just I really recommend this book. It’s a story of a person who was not handed their success: Not from the people around them or from the sport itself. Let’s face facts. I think that you have to be at least somewhat inclined to be able to excel let alone to dominate a sport. It wasn’t anything that came easy for GREG LOUGANIS. A lot of things don’t come easy for people. I think when they can hear from people that are on the other side of certain obstacles. Here’s how I got through it. I think that can heal people. It can help people in a huge way.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: I’m curious how did Breaking the Surface impact your work in HIV as a care provider?

JOE PERAZZO: One thing that became very clear to me when I became a nurse was that stigma exists INSIDE of health care. I was very lucky to have certain things in my life. I have sisters who are also nurses. My mother was and she never did this thing we love to do these days which is hook someone’s health status with their character. I started training as a nurse and I realized that there is still a lot of stigmas.

At my first job, I was probably going into my third year and it was an intensive care unit. We had someone with HIV obviously rather advanced infection coming to our unit. I worked with wonderful nurses but there were just some people on the health care team who made comments. It’s always the same broad stroke framework when you’re bigoted about someone’s health. It’s always this idea that you went out and chose to become ill because you have such disregard for those around you. It’s just so stupid and ridiculous. But you still heard it. I mean I was hearing it from people who worked in the hospital. I’m like you have a problem with sick people and you work in a hospital! You’re the one who needs to make better choices in your life.

This young man basically was abandoned with us. His parents were, I think very shocked. I don’t think that they knew that he was gay let alone that this is how they find out. They really didn’t visit him much after that that I was able to see.

I was just getting ready to go back to school again to go to graduate school and one of the things that’s maddening is in the beginning you want to start looking for a topic that you really want to focus on and dedicate yourself to. There was a woman that had recruited me into the program and her specialty was working with young black mothers who had children where both mother and child had HIV and her work was just astonishing to me.

I mean it was just the way Dr. Donna Shambley-Ebron approached patients and the way that she approached these people. She’s retired now but she is just someone who influenced my career beyond measure. As it happened at the University Of Cincinnati we had several HIV scientists that have been part of that effort since day one still working away at this ambulatory clinic. I went over there and I can’t describe to either of you…I just would not want to do anything else. I have been in this field for a while now and I was so embraced. I didn’t have to fight through graduate school to get a good mentor who would just give me the time of day. I had these people just saying get over here. We have this great opportunity, and I became very taken with the intake process. When someone finds out, we link them up with care for the first time. I was so interested by this one type of person that I kept seeing in the data and they were people that would go get tested, they would test positive but they would never link up with care!

I wanted to know more about them. I started for my dissertation work interviewing people that came in at their very first appointment. I used a gatekeeper, so I didn’t go asking people to be in a research study. The medical team stood in front of me and said you know you don’t even have to talk to him if you don’t want to. We went in and it was so humbling because when I went into this process, I was very driven. I just really wanted this degree and really wanted to get into this business of research. I do not live with HIV. I think the book showed me what this phenomenon was at a very formative stage of my life with somebody that I had great admiration for.

Everyone should be so lucky because I didn’t struggle with any sort of stigma surrounding HIV. For me, when I started going out and being around other gay people, I was meeting people my age that were living with HIV. I used to make the joke like you’ll outlive me! Because they were healthy, and they were happy. I think the book helped give me perspective. It gave me perspective about how good people and probably bad people and probably everyone in between can get an illness. It showed me how cruel people can be when they want to be. It’s amazing. We as a society don’t see it for the weak move that it is which is to weaponize illness against a person or weaponize an experience that someone has had that was traumatic that they chose to share. I think Greg did all of the above and so I think I was able to embrace this work and it’s enriched my life tremendously to be part of a community of healthcare workers doing this work.

J.P. DER BOGHOSSIAN: I’ve been asking all of the questions so far, and I want to give both of you a few minutes to talk, I guess Joe ould you like to go first?

JOE PERAZZO: As I’ve gotten older there’s all this technology that I can now go back through the book and watch the competitions that Greg talks about. I’m sitting here having this realization. My mom was just like my biggest supporter. She would look in catalogs and she would we would go Sun Coast and there was Sam Goody and Waves and these music stores and they would have sports sections of videos. Every now and then you get an Olympic highlight tape and it was such a victory! Now it’s just awesome because somebody was videotaping something and has digitized it by now and it’s just great because you get a whole new perspective. There’s just an entirely new perspective of what the book is talking about and what happened at a given competition. That’s been a really awesome development.

GREG LOUGANIS: I see the interviews and it’s like oh I’m smiling. So this was going on. Good acting!

JOE PERAZZO: This has just been wonderful for me I’ll ask the favorite dive question.

GREG LOUGANIS: It’s funny because when I was diving if somebody would ask what’s your favorite dive. They all are you know every one of them. I didn’t want a weak link in my chain. Every single one of them was my favorite dive but now with years of separation, I can say I loved my flying front one and a half, that was fun. There was a certain spinning reverse I had a  knack for that so that was good even though I hit my head on the platform in Russia and in Seoul, Korea and on springboard. Even with those little hiccups you know reverse was generally a good group for me.

JOE PERAZZO: If you could look back on everything that you have accomplished and you know it is a lot! Do you have a favorite moment? Do you have the moment that you can go to mentally when things are really bad but you know what, this this warms me up?

GREG LOUGANIS: You know what? If I go back to moments that I need self-nurturing, they’re not the big moments. That’s not it. It’s the quiet moments with my mom you know? The quiet moments with my dogs. Adventures I remember. It really isn’t the big moments that I look to for nurturing. It’s the smaller, quiet moments that are really nourishing to my soul.


I want to thank you Greg and Joe for joining us on our season two premiere of This Queer Book Saved My Life!

You can follow Joe on Twitter. He is @writer_RN

If you go to GregLouganis.com you can read posts of Greg with his adorable dogs. He also has a video course available on his website called Finding Your Rhythm which focuses on awareness, focus, visualization and mindfulness. It is a work at your own pace course, plus you get access to Greg’s private Facebook group. And there is a store on Greg’s website where you can buy autographed memorabilia, like headshots and photos from his Olympic years, trading cards, as well as the documentaries Back on Board and Looking to the Light.

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Thank you for listening to our first episode of season two. Come back every Tuesday to this space for episodes of This Queer Book Saved My Life!, or 7 Minutes in Book Heaven, or our podcast cross-over events, and next week we’re crossing over with Queer Lit. As always, we’re on the Facebook, and you can follow us on Twitter and Instagram, we’re @thisqueerbook. Transcripts of this episode are available at thisqueerbook.com Don’t forget to buy books from the podcast on our Bookshop page and to join us at Lush Loung and Theater for our live event on November 10th. Links are in the show notes. And until our next episode, we’ll see you in the bookstores!