01/29/97 - 10:25 AM ET - Click reload often for latest version
By Juan R. Palomo
Wes1 is not an alien - he just plays one on the Internet.
"All Mars life forms are homosexual," he explains with a boyish, mischievous grin on his 33-year-old face. "I've taken over an earthling's body. I use it to torment homophobic earthlings. I see it as a cosmic revenge."
It's an ironic explanation, considering that Houstonian Wes' own body has been taken over by an equally alien and more destructive life form - AIDS.
Since February, Wes - who retired as head of computer systems for an energy company in 1991 when the pressures of the job made his illnesses worse - has been taking out his playful, entertaining and often touching revenge against the world's homophobia on the World Wide Web in a site he calls "Wes & Tom's Cool Site!" (Tom1 is a computer consultant and Wes' life-partner.)
Wes says his site is where he gets to share "what it is like being a gay man and a person with AIDS."
But it's more about what it's like to be a gay man with a warped sense of humor - so warped that the Idaho Gay Page made the site the first recipient of its award for Web page "twistedness."
Like the thousands of other Web sites "Wes & Tom's Cool Site!" (http://www.officerwes.com/coolsite2) is a testament to the unexpected benefit of this electronic medium. Despised as impersonal and feared as the intrusive first step toward Big Brotherism, the Internet has become a valuable tool for promoting the unfettered exchange of ideas.
What has historically been hailed as a "free press" has been free only in the sense that government was prevented from dictating what was and wasn't published. The freedom to publish - to express views to large audiences - however, has always been reserved to those who own the presses or have had enough money to hire them.
The Internet has made it possible for anyone with access to a computer and a modem to have such freedom, whether it's to entertain, inform or merely vent frustrations and fulminations.
In Wes' case, it's all three.
He started with a simple purpose: to expose to the world the inanity and danger of anti-gay rhetoric, as expounded by a relative who sought to prevent Wes from taking Tom to the family's 1995 reunion. The relative's initial letter protesting Tom's inclusion triggered a staggering explosion of letters between the two over homosexuality, AIDS, the religious right and related subjects - with both sides "convinced of their moral superiority."
Other family members joined in, and Wes published all 26 of their missives under the apt heading "The Letter Wars" (along with a handy "cast of characters") because, he says, he wanted to share these "wonderfully bizarre" letters with the world.
Does he ever. Except for the altered names to protect identities, Wes includes every word, comma and period, prompting one reader to comment, "I thought my family was dysfunctional!"
The letters are both hilarious and intriguing, so much so that Wes has actually gotten a request from a sociology professor for permission to use them in his class.
The Web site has grown to some 100 files of text and graphics, and it's still growing. Included in those files are the couple's 1995 Christmas photo, five Christmas letters, a description of how the two met (at a bar, with Wes in a cop uniform) and an account of their first big date, when Wes took Tom to his company's Christmas party.
Then there's the truly weird stuff, such as "Things from Wes' Nose," where you'll find more than you ever wanted to know about Wes' sinus problems (including a grotesque photo after one of his several surgeries in which he looks like a corpse from the pages of the Mexican crime tabloids my father used to read). There's also a 3-D color chart of the ups and downs of the couple's immune systems, from the day in 1987 when Wes first tested HIV-positive; a list of Wes' friends who've died of AIDS; a recap of the IX International Conference on AIDS from Wes' doctor; and help for finding drugs to fight the disease.
It's an odd, surreal world, this site that Wes has built, with its childlike fascination with the way things and people work and its insistence that there's a humorous side to all things, even the bad ones such as AIDS and homophobia.
But even more important is its existence as a connection to those out there who may be in the same situation as Wes but can't create their own outlet for expressing what they feel. People like the Canadian who wrote last month, "I recently tested positive for HIV and I was looking for someone to talk to."
Juan R. Palomo, a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors, is managing editor of The Salt Journal.3 Based in San Marcos, TX, TSJ covers psychology, religion, mythology and culture. He can be reached at email@example.com
This is the article exactly as it appeared in USA Today's online edition, with the following exceptions:
full names were revealed in the article. We took off our last names in February
1998 in order to regain a little privacy.
(2)We updated the Web address to reflect our July 1997 domain change.
(3)We updated Mr. Palomo's e-mail and editorship to reflect the November 1997 launch of The Salt Journal.
The print version on January 29, 1997, used a wonderfully huge font size for the headline so that it stretched across the entire page!
The article is © 1997 by USA Today.
If you came to this page because you are reading the The Letter Wars in sequence, here is your navigation map for the previous/next letters: