World AIDS Day: like everyone who lived through the second half of the 1980s, I’ve seen way more of these than I ever wanted to. I told you last night that I’d lost a bunch of people to methamphetamine: the heart attacks, the brains blown out, the too-much-too-soon-too-bad are certainly part of an epidemic different from, yet related to, AIDS. I’ve lost more people to HIV than I can count, but lately, many of the HIV+ people I know who’ve died have had some involvement with meth. But that doesn’t mean that’s the only thing that offs PWAs now (remember that contraction of Person With AIDS? So much less hopeless than calling someone a “victim”).
But if you had told me in 1989, say, that in 2006 we’d have to use this day to remind people that HIV kills, I’d have been incredulous.
We dreamed of a day when there’d be a cure, of course. As people dropped like flies in San Francisco and elsewhere, as people dropped the other things they were doing in their lives to care for each other, protest, and politic, The Cure was on everyone’s lips. Sometime in the early-to-mid 1990s, after early PWAs suffered behind hellacious experimental drug regimens that made even precious extended lifespans pretty miserable, the drug companies got antivirals together that allow HIV’s spectrum of diseases to be much more live-with-able than the old meds like AZT.
Now, instead of showcasing the World Without Art it looked as though the epidemic had wrought, with creative queers among the first groups of people to be hard-hit by AIDS (and subsequently to die in droves), the radio message as I drove home tonight was: Remember, it’s not really cured.
While guys justify barebacking because there are medical treatments now and besides, everybody knows about safe sex and it’s seronegative guys’ responsibility to insist on it, every day another bus comes into the station in every city big enough to have a lot of queer and bohemian people, and riding it is a kid who just got out of high school in Montanta or Oklahoma or Alabama who got worse-than-bad sex education and no information at all about how to be a healthy gay man. While we used to teach that if everyone used safer sex all the time, it wouldn’t be so necessary for individuals to come out as HIV-positive OR -negative, many in the community persist in identifying according to serostatus.
To say nothing of all the straight people who once again don’t believe AIDS has anything to do with them, and the global epidemic, which follows poverty and poor education like bad news after worse.
Each of us can do things that matter. We can remain educated about HIV and talk about the issues. We can get our heads out of the sand, if that’s where they’ve been. We can demand accountability from politicians and make sure our friends (and our kids) have access to condoms and safer sex information. If you don’t use condoms, get some anyway. Someone you know might need them. Next week *you* might need them. My very first blog entry here was written in memory of my friend Steven Brown who’d just died: I bet he’d want to tell you, just like my friends James Campbell and David Lourea and Honza, like John Lorenzini and Cynthia Slater and Daddy Bear Rings and Clark Taylor and all the many, many other people I’ve known whose lives were too short because of this bug: You don’t want this disease. And you don’t want anyone else, anywhere in the world, getting it either.
Want to do something else about AIDS today? Bristol-Myers is donating $1 to an AIDS foundation every time someone goes to their website and moves the match to the candle and lights it. It takes like two seconds to raise $1 at https://www.lighttounite.org/ — if we all do it, that’s $1 times a lot. Plus it feels a little like a ritual, and you can post your own HIV stories there.
Helping a drug company advertise itself is not usually my favorite thing to do. But it’s not like our government is ponying up the cash to help. Help these guys write a nice big check — it’s really the *very* least we, and they, can do.