Humans of TCGMC: Matt Butts

Photo: David Coleman

Matt Butts is a fighter, and a survivor who moved out of New Orleans, away from his unaccepting family, into Minnesota and the welcoming arms of TCGMC. Matt is also an author whose writing was first brought into the public eye by a Rolling Stone exposé on “bug chasing” (IYKYK), and has spent the last several years crafting a series of thriller novels in a one-man operation.


You’re originally from New Orleans?

Yes. And people hear that and say, “Why would you move to a place like Minnesota, where it’s so cold?” Well, for one thing, blizzards are a lot easier to deal with than hurricanes. I mean with a blizzard, you can hide in the house, but with hurricanes, you have to board up everything. New Orleans exemplifies the old cliche of, “It’s a nice place to visit, but you don’t want to live there.” It’s high crime, they have hurricanes. 

I left home for disagreements with my parents… mainly my marijuana use. But now I do it legally! My parents were also uber-Catholic. They got involved in this thing called the Charismatic Renewal, which eventually became known as the People of Praise. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Amy Coney Barrett is a card-carrying member. My mother knew her mother. Amy Coney Barrett is from New Orleans, and was a member of my mother’s cult.

My first couple of years here were pretty rough. I had basically run away from home when I was like 20 [1981], and I fell on hard times almost immediately. But I pulled myself out. I found a few other people who were also homeless and hadn’t yet lost their minds, and we worked together and got out of the streets. Eventually, I got into middle management at Wells Fargo, working in mortgages. The smartest thing I ever did was sign up for long-term disability coverage while I worked there. It wasn’t long before my AIDS got to the point where it was affecting my ability to work, and I had to retire [2006]. I’ve been retired since. About all I do is sing with the chorus and, of course, my writing.

Can I ask when you were diagnosed with HIV?

It was Pearl Harbor Day [1992]. I had just met a new boyfriend at the time. At first, I thought he was going to run screaming into the night, but it turned out he was what we called a “bug chaser.” I insisted on being safe; he begged me not to. He said, “I love you enough,” and I said, “I love you enough to say no.” He eventually did find someone to get it to, and he died around the same time I joined the chorus. 

My fifteen minutes of fame was when Rolling Stone did a story on bug chasing in 2002. I had written an article on bug chasing for a local gay newspaper. I wrote a column called, “Positive Thinking.” I would go on to these various websites and see how they were justifying affecting others, and some were even proud of infecting others without their knowledge. Rolling Stone wanted to see more, and the first thing they found was my article. I got mail-bombed for about a month. I got a nationwide response. Half of it was, “Oh, this so terrible, how can these people be so stupid?” And the other half was, “You fucking faggots, you get what you deserve. You all get AIDS and die.”

Unfortunately, I’m not surprised by the latter response.

Can you tell me more about your writing?

My writing was something I picked up to do in my retirement. My first novel was based on an old ghost story that told about a lovers lane in New Orleans, called “Grunch road.” There was this creature called “the grunch” who would attack young lovers, and boyfriends would tell their girlfriends this story so they’d cuddle closer. (Nowadays they just slip her a roofie.) The protagonist was kind of based on me. He was a senior working at the high school paper, like I did at the time. He’s trying to figure out what killed his best friend and best friend’s girlfriend. I won’t give away the ending, but I liked the protagonist so much that I wrote a four-part sequel where he goes to college! It’s set in New Orleans in the early 70s, and is full of obscure historical references. You may recall the Upstairs Lounge fire, which we sang about. The fire figures into it.

I named the political figures at the time in the book. Harry Connick Sr. [father of Harry Connick Jr.]  was the District Attorney when I was growing up. 

We previously sang about the fire, which was an attack on the Upstairs Lounge, a gay bar. I believe that, during a previous 3-minute share, you mentioned that he minimized the coverage of the event. A tragedy. But please, back to your books! You wrote your first novel. Afterward, did you continue with the same character?

For 5 books. The 6th book is a stand-alone, though. It’s the story of a gay telepath! It’s set around the same time as the Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage. He’s walking down the sidewalk, sensing everyone’s emotions. He happens across this street preacher, who’s always on Hennepin Ave, screaming about the queers. And he loves teasing this [preacher] guy. Later on, he’s walking home with a trick he met at the Saloon’s block party, and he gets assaulted by the three grandsons of this street preacher. And they murder his trick and beat him within an inch of his life. The story is about how he’s using his telepathy, to help the investigating cop, who is gay and in love with him, find the killers. 

That goes to a lot of places. Really quickly! And your books have been published. In what way? 

I self-publish through Amazon. All my books are available on Amazon. They’re in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle! I do everything myself. I do the writing, the typesetting (I have Adobe everything on my computer). I don’t have an editor, so I basically do my own editing. I can’t afford an editor!

And what is your writing process like? Do you make any money off it?

Ernest Hemingway said you just have to sit down in front of the typewriter and bleed. So that’s what I do. And I’ve made a total of $12 over the last ten years!

But it makes you happy, and that’s all that matters. And thank you for bringing me a copy of your novel. I’m gonna flip to a random page. 

Oh, my, I found the sex part!

Josh Elmore (he/him), singer and member of our small ensemble OutLoud!, created Humans of TCGMC in 2018. He graduated from Carleton College with a B.A. in Linguistics and has since worked in sales, higher education, and, most recently, as a bilingual insurance agent (Spanish). Endlessly curious, he has dabbled in improv theater, stand-up comedy, sword fighting, the cello, and modeling for fantasy-themed photo shoots.

Check out the archive of previous interviews!

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