Tuesday, December 1, 2009
World AIDS day...And The Unbroken Thread Of Memory
Today is world AIDS day. While many of you who watch our Youtube channel already got a heads up about this, today is the actual day.
I'm having a difficult time today, thinking about how to talk about how AIDS has touched my life. I have been extraordinarily blessed, not to have lost someone I loved to this disease. However, just because I haven't lost anyone doesn't mean that AIDS hasn't marked my life in some way. It has touched all of us. Its always been there and in all likely hood will continue to be a factor of our lives long after my time on earth is done.
My memories of HIV and AIDS come from the stand point of a child, back in the early eighties. I remember hearing about a "mysterious disease" that seemed to be taking out the gay population. Sometimes it was referred to as "Gay Cancer" but even then no one really sat up and took notice...that is, until Rock Hudson died. AIDS was now outing people and Rock Hudson's death shocked the public. He always evinced the image of movie star masculinity and no one saw it coming. But that didn't stop us from turning on him.
Now...being a kid, about the worst insult you could throw at another kid, was to call them gay and I did my fare share of that(I was kind of a bastard). We all told horrible jokes that we had heard from others, about Rock Hudson and AIDS and jokingly accused each other of having it. Not one of us understood what we were doing...we were just kids then. Thankfully, I can't remember how those jokes went, which is just as well...I never want them to be told again. We would never have used AIDS as a joke if we hadn't first heard it somewhere else and derision for being gay and having AIDS was easy to come by.
Recently Rock's partner passed away and it made me remember all the terrible things I said and put me in mind of all the terrible things he must have had to endure. First, with the death of his partner and then derision at the hands of a vicious world that had absolutely no sympathy. I don't know how he dealt with all the comments people made about Him and Mr. Hudson. I only know that he sued Rock's estate because Mr. Hudson concealed his HIV status from him and still continued his relationship with him until he could not hide it any longer....but that's Hollywood for you....forever in the closet.
It probably doesn't matter so much now...but I humbly apologize, not only to Rock Hudson but also to everyone who I painted with the same brush then. I am deeply regretful for the truly awful things that I said during those times...even being a kid. I understand now the loneliness and terror many faced as they died and the helplessness of those that could only watch them go, not understanding why.
as time went on and we discovered more about HIV and AIDS, attitudes toward those that suffered from it changed considerably...though the perception that it was still a "gay disease" never really went away. Now, we realised that it was hitting every community and that if we didn't educate ourselves, there would be no stopping it. During my teen years I remember being clearly away that it was unprotected sex and exposure to blood that transmitted AIDS. We saw the first public awareness commercials targeting teens, played after school. They taught us: "Where a condom...get tested". This is the mantra we have been reciting ever since. And now it didn't matter matter what your sexual orientation was, AIDS was killing everyone...even housewives with philandering husbands. While the drugs got better, they were still as bad as the disease sometimes and no guaranty of a long life. Many still died young.
This is why its truly sad that today in many countries...AIDS continues to flourish because education and prevention takes a backseat to religious dogma...and so people still die young. Many,... women and children.
Lifes little ironies....I discover I'm gay...
After all my crappy attitudes to other human beings maybe GOD felt like I need a taste of my own medicine.
Coming out and learning the truth about what it means to be gay, meant also facing the realities of what HIV has done to the community it has hit the hardest. At this point, frank discussions about HIV status were a part of dating and Sex became anything but just sex, it always comes with the specter of awful possibility.
I saw men that survived the first years of the disease with the saddest most haunted eyes I had ever seen, even as they continued to smile....But they lived. That itself was a miracle...HIV was no longer an automatic death sentence...though it did nothing to mend survivors guilt, or to fill tho void left by those we lost who's memories continue to burn.
What brought it home to me was watching "And The Band Played On" with my first boyfriend. It was an old movie by then. It told to story of the first days of the AIDS outbreak and the horrible things that happened to the first sufferers. It goes on to detail the fight to discover what AIDS was and how to combat it in a society that wanted to turn a blind eye to it. So many people died in that movie....
At the end two of the surviving main characters are walking along the breach holding hands and they see friends who had died walking towards them. Not believing their eyes they all run toward each other and embrace...then the scene is FILLED with those who died, all in one great reunion....I cried so hard...It can still make me do that today. How awesome would it be to take down the barrier of death and see everyone again.
AIDS is still with us today and Regardless of what religious leaders say, its not a punishment from GOD....but maybe it still contains an important lesson about the value of life. Don't be afraid of sex, don't be afraid of being gay...but DO value your life, treat it like the very brief gift that it is. love as hard as you can....and never forget...