“You can’t get AIDS from a hug or a handshake or a meal with a friend.”
~~ Magic Johnson
“I lost relatives to AIDS. A couple of my closest cousins, favorite cousins. I lost friends to AIDS, high school friends who never even made it to their 21st birthdays in the ’80s. When it’s that close to you, you can’t – you know, you can’t really deny it, and you can’t run from it.”
~~ Queen Latifah
When I was first coming out it was a totally different world for gay men. We were having our sexual revolution, our ‘60’s so to speak. Sex was a way to flip our middle finger at the society that said we weren’t supposed to be having sex in the first place. It was liberation. And it was easy to get.
Then, I was quite young, we started hearing this rumor of a new “gay cancer” out in San Francisco and possibly New York, but that all we knew. It had no effect on us and it certainly didn’t have an effect on our sex lives. No one thought for a minute that whatever this was, it had a thing to do with sex.
Back then it became known as GRID, or gay-related immunodeficiency.
Here is part of a little article I found from May 11th,1982.
A serious disorder of the immune system that has been known to doctors for less than a year – a disorder that appears to affect primarily male homosexuals – has now afflicted at least 335 people, of whom it has killed 136, officials of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta said yesterday. Federal health officials are concerned that tens of thousands more homosexual men may be silently affected and therefore vulnerable to potentially grave ailments.
Moreover, this immune-system breakdown, which has been implicated in a rare type of cancer, called Kaposi’s sarcoma, and seems to invite in its wake a wide variety of serious infections and other disorders, has developed among some heterosexual women and bisexual and heterosexual men.
At a recent Congressional hearing, Dr. Bruce A. Chabner of the National Cancer Institute said that the growing problem was now ”of concern to all Americans.”
We didn’t believe it though. In fact our sexual habits weren’t effected in the least. At least not amongst my friends, and it didn’t change what I was up to either.
But then I met the woman who would one day become the mother of my daughter and things were different with her. I was able to “be” with her. And I loved her. A lot.
So I moved from Chicago—and area that was even then being hit and hit hard with the virus (although we didn’t know it yet)—and went to Kansas City and was monogamous for almost six years. I was out of the…ah…“dating” pool.
When I finally realized I couldn’t fight the fact that I was gay any longer and I came out for sure, it was into a world I didn’t know what to do about. Unlike all my gay friends I had once known and other gay men of my generation, I hadn’t been hit like they were. I had lived in my comfortable cushioned safe hetero environment where we knew next to nothing about what was going on.
I began to contact my old friends, only to find out that almost every single one of them were dead. I tracked down the family of this guy I had really, really liked and found out he died like a month before I called. He died, as I said in a previous post here, alone.
It was a shock.
He died alone. His entire family—except for the aunt I was speaking with—rejected him.
I came out into a world where many of the men I was meeting at church and social occasions—new friends I was making—were dying. And fast.
I remember a guy announcing at prayer time at the end of church service—it was the time where we could ask for prayers—and a month or two later he was gone.
Or this beautiful young man I had a crush on—he was gorgeous and built, and then six months later he looked like a concentration camp victim.
Horrible. It was horrible.
I lost so many friends.
And it was nothing like my new found friends had been going through. They’d lost nearly everyone they knew.
Who knew that when I found my first long term lover that he would get HIV and my life would be touched even more?
Through some miracle I’m HIV negative.
AIDS has touched us all. When I was coming out twenty-five years ago I hardly ever met anyone with AIDS.
Fifteen years ago I had been relatively untouched by the disease since I had lived in a heterosexual world.
Today there is really no one untouched by the disease. More than 35 million people have died from HIV/AIDS.
How can there be any kind of silver lining to this?
Well, the world has changed. People with HIV aren’t ostracized as they used to be—at least not like when I came out. When my friend Stephen died there were biohazard signs on his hospital room door, he had no room mate, and the nurses wore these masks and stuff. That is how he left this world—surrounded by that.
Today we say such things as, “Kissing and hugging don’t spread HIV. Ignorance does.” We didn’t when Stephen died in that bed.
Today AIDS is not a death sentence like it used to be. No friends announcing at prayer time that they’ve found out they have HIV and then a few months later we’re going to their funerals. At least not in the United States and most of the free world.
There is the silver lining that I have friends who have lived for years and years and years with the disease, many of them with viral loads that are virtually undetectable. Friends that I see maybe once a year and live with as much expectation that I will see them the next as I do all my friends. That is pretty awesome.
I live in a world with World AIDS Day and the average person doesn’t squinch up their face in horror.
At the official website for World AIDS Day, it explains what the day is all about:
World AIDS Day is held on the 1st December each year and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died. World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day, held for the first time in 1988.
It goes on to tell us that, Over 100,000 people are living with HIV in the UK. Globally there are an estimated 34 million people who have the virus. Despite the virus only being identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.
Today, scientific advances have been made in HIV treatment, there are laws to protect people living with HIV and we understand so much more about the condition. Despite this, each year in the UK around 6,000 people are diagnosed with HIV, people do not know the facts about how to protect themselves and others, and stigma and discrimination remain a reality for many people living with the condition.
World AIDS Day is important because it reminds the public and Government that HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education.
But what I think is really important is what we do after World AIDS Day—and I think I am preaching to the choir here, but I will say it none the less.
Not only should we show our support to the millions of people how have HIV/AIDS, but we should educate the ignorant. Not only should we tell people, when we hear it, that we don’t appreciate their racial jokes, what they say in ignorance about gay people, that God does not hate gay people, that women should not be treated as second class citizens and have a right to control their own bodies, that we need to treat our planet better, and so many other things—but when we hear someone says something in ignorance about HIV/AIDS, we need to educate them.
And do it with some modicum of love, because when we snap at people they only close down. Hatred does not conquer hatred.
Only love does that.
Today I am grateful not only for my own HIV negative status, but that my friends with HIV have a chance at a normal life, and finally for World AIDS Day, created to show support and to remember those who have died.
Today I will remember that long ago boyfriend David. I will never forget him. I can see his face right now.
Through the tears….
I don’t want to forget.