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I normally post a diary on World AIDS Day; with the actual day being a Saturday, I figured I wouldn't get that much attention and I assumed I'd be out riding my bike all day and therefore unavailable to respond to comments. With that in mind--and because Monday falls in the middle of the list of days below, which are all quite significant to me, I've taken the liberty of delaying this year's entry until then.

December 1st; December 4th; December 5th. These dates are of great significance for me personally.

December 1st is World AIDS Day. The event began in 1988, so this marks the 25th time we've been given the opportunity to recall that the world AIDS pandemic continues to exist.

I've cited three specific dates to begin this piece; follow me beyond the Orange Squiggle and I will explain why they matter in my life.

In a certain sense I've covered these subjects before; but this year marks a personal watershed.

My very first diary here on Daily Kos was posted for World AIDS Day in 2006; I figure I'm best off writing diaries covering topics I'm at least informed about. With very rare exceptions I steer clear of partisan political issues because there are others here far more qualified and knowledgeable about how things work in Congress and in other legislative venues. Plus I'm a federal employee and there are things I'm not supposed to do; I have to tread lightly, at least until I retire.

Let's start with December 5th. I wrote about this particular subject last year but it bears repeating at least briefly. Although I was unaware of it at the time, December 5th, 1980 was the day I was most likely infected with HIV. That was the subject of last year's diary and I don't want to go into too much detail. The important thing to note is that I am still here and still alive and well. That, by itself, surprises many people, including me.

I was 29 years old in 1980. Many of the men I counted as my friends, both in 1980 and over the next decade and more, are gone. I currently have very few friends who are my age; most are either older or significantly younger, because my peers, by and large, did not survive.

Now let's jump back to December 1st--World AIDS Day. One of the most important things about World AIDS Day (it seems to me at least) is that it provides an opportunity to look at why the AIDS epidemic expanded as much as it has since it began around 1980.

Certainly those who passed early on were infected long before anyone knew such a thing as AIDS existed. The ones who died later, as far as I'm concerned, were as much as anything a victim of rampant homophobia and sex-phobia and the fear of dealing with substance abuse in an host manner.

It was homophobia that prevented Ronald Reagan, elected in November of 1980 and inaugurated the following January, from so much as mentioning AIDS in public until the epidemic was seven years old. It caused Jesse Helms to propound, and Congress to enact, legislation making HIV infection a reason to bar individuals from entering the US. While there is every reason to believe that most of the people denied entry would simply have visited for a few days or weeks and then departed for their native country, for some significant subset of those individuals, being turned away marked a death sentence for them. They were condemned to return to nations where there was even less acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people than there was here at the time. And despite the enormous shortcomings of our health care system, our nation's refusal to accept them as visitors or as immigrants ensured that they would be unable to access the care and treatment that might have made it possible for them to live longer and better lives.

It was our culture's pathological fear of honest and frank discussions of sexuality that resulted in paid-for sex becoming an important vector in the transmission of HIV. And it was our demonization of substance abuse, a subject better handled with medical and mental health intervention than with criminal statutes, that resulted in the rampant spread of HIV among injection drug users, and from them to populations seemingly far removed from the obvious locus of the epidemic. There are those among the religious and non-religious far right who continue to insist upon viewing HIV and AIDS as the consequence of gay male sexual behavior. This is quite irrational of course. While gay men continue to be just barely the source of the majority of new AIDS infections in the US, worldwide the vast majority of new infections come from those who identify--and mostly truly are--heterosexual men and women.

There is still stigma attached to having, and living with, HIV. There is stigma attached to being an addict or a sex worker. All of these must end if we hope to find effective ways of treating current HIV infections and preventing new ones.

While my nation continues to disappoint me in some respects, I am nonetheless truly fortunate to live here. I can announce to the public (and have, on many occasions beginning in the late 1990's) that I am HIV-positive without fear of being arrested or assaulted or threatened. In many parts of the world that is still not the case. Once again, removing the stigma surrounding HIV is one of the most important functions this particular day of remembrance serves.

Finally let us move on to December 4th; the third date I cited at the beginning of this piece. My partner Mario passed away on December 4th, 1992. Thus it will soon be 20 years since I lost this wonderful man.

I would not want anyone to think that I have dressed in widow's clothing for the past twenty years. Indeed, I count myself lucky to have been able to move on in the way things have progressed. I met my current partner, fellow-Kossack TrapperSF, a bit less than eleven years ago. I thought I might never find love again; thankfully I was wrong.

Nonetheless, I cannot simply ignore what happened twenty years ago. Again, I diaried on my relationship with Mario a couple of years ago and I have no wish or need to document that period of my life in such detail again. What's important is that while the loss of my many friends over the years has undoubtedly affected me, it's difficult to have lost someone so dear.

Mario was only 41 years old when he died. We were only a few weeks apart in age. Most people--in this country at least--do not die when they're 41 years old and do not become widows or widowers in their 40's. For most people in our world that reality is fortunately long gone. There is nothing I can do that will bring back that wonderful man. And there is no point in remaining lost in grief lest it take me down as well. What is important here is that I acknowledge that the pain is still there. It is also just as important, if not more so, to tap into that pain and put it to good use. My goal is of course to make sure that others are spared losing their life at 41 years old and that others do not need to experience the loss, at a relatively early age, of someone they'd planned on growing old with.

On the evening of December 1st I attended a special showing at the San Francisco's Castro Theater of the documentary "How to Survive a Plague" and addressed a pre-show reception sponsored by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. I hope some of you folks were there (or not, depending upon whether I did a good job or made a spectacle of myself). The movie was and is well worth seeing. Not everyone can connect with ACT-UP's tactics; what's more important though is that they made a difference. One theme that came up during the movie itself is that the fight for survival and equality has to happen on a multitude of fronts, using a multitude of strategies so that everyone who can benefit is engaged in a way that works for them. I'm not an ACT-UP sort of guy myself, but that doesn't mean I'm not an activist in my own particular way. Another of the things highlighted by the movie is the way in which (as noted above) homophobia and sex-phobia had a considerable--and possibly avoidable-- impact on the way the AIDS pandemic progressed. One final point: while not everyone is comfortable with ACT-UP's tactics, the movie does highlight the fact that at least in some instances, these tactics worked. In particular, the Treatment Action Group, which started out as a part of ACT-UP, was instrumental in changing the way in which clinical trials of experimental drugs are handled in the US.

The form my activism takes shows up in June (you knew this was coming; didn't you?). I will once again be participating in AIDS/LifeCycle, biking from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Yes, it's a fundraiser. Yes, I'm asking you to help me meet my goal of raising $7,500 by June 2nd of next year by going here, or following the link in my sig line, and making a donation.

The ride raises funds for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. One thing I learned on Saturday evening: AIDS/LifeCycle and its predecessor, the California AIDS Ride, have raised $168 million for AIDS services since their inception.

But that's not all AIDS/LifeCycle does. It also serves as a moving reminder that AIDS is still with us. Because of people like me, who participate in it while also living with HIV, the ride also serves to remind others that living with HIV is not necessarily a death sentence and is most definitely a shameful secret to be kept to oneself. The ride provides an opportunity to remind everyone that removing the stigma surrounding HIV is one of the best means we currently have of fighting this epidemic. Stay healthy, get tested, get treated. Support the people in your lives who live with HIV; support those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Accept that those you may know who are substance abusers are entitled to dignity and to treatment, rather than contempt and incarceration. (And while we are at it, remember as well that many in the sex industry are not there by choice. They also deserve to be treated with dignity.)

Originally posted to sfbob on Mon Dec 03, 2012 at 12:04 PM PST.

Also republished by HIV AIDS Action and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tweeted, tipped and rec'd. (4+ / 0-)

    I'll have to postpone my contribution till after the first of the year but you can count on me.

    I know you're going to ask if I'm going to pop my cherry and ride... I keep trying to get my head around it and am just not there.  :(

    I started strong on my commuting this year but finished weak, very weak with only 4 days in July and then nothing until two days in October. I know I feel better when I ride but my own personal laziness/procrastination demons got the better of me.

    But, I'm good at writing checks so... thank you for your dedication. You are making a difference!!!

    Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusets, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington, Washington D.C. and California (pending)

    by cooper888 on Mon Dec 03, 2012 at 12:56:16 PM PST

  •  I listened to Diamanda Galas' "Plague Mass" (6+ / 0-)

    last night.  It's one of the more powerful cultural responses to the crisis.  I'm writing about Plague Mass for a project, which is forcing me to think about the AIDS crisis at a new level.

    It's something I've always had a bit of a block around.  In 1980, I was 9, and living in a predominantly gay neighborhood.  Neighbors dying was just daily life for most of my early adolescence.  Not that we ever are ready for something so horrible, but it hit me at an age where I think I developed some major defenses that get in the way of really processing what the significance of the crisis really is.  It also wasn't until I was in my late 20s, sitting in a therapist's office, that I realized that the experience had made me a little gun shy about sex in general.  There's a layer of "sex = death" in my head that complicates the fun aspect (doesn't negate it, just is a bit of a barrier to negotiate at times).

    -9.38/-7.69 If religion means a way of life, and life's necessities are food, clothing, and shelter, then we should not separate religion from economics. - Malcolm X

    by dirkster42 on Mon Dec 03, 2012 at 01:01:41 PM PST

    •  It is interesting to me... (6+ / 0-)

      and I confess I really do not know what it might be like, to have come of age after the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. I was already an adult and already sexually active (one might even say sexually hyperactive) when it started so for me it has always been an add-on to my prior experiences, not to mention being a rather serious impediment. When I was coming out there were things around like mono, hepatitis in its various forms, and a variety of parasites, not to mention the more pedestrian STD's, but while hepatitis could be fatal it rarely was, and the others were viewed as nuisances to be dealt with. The idea that one could contract a fatal illness through sex was rather a foreign one; I can't imagine what it is like to live in a world where such a thing is taken for granted by everyone, even before they are old enough to consider engaging in sexual activity.

  •  I'm going to see the movie (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sfbob, FindingMyVoice, terjeanderson

    "How to Survive a P;ague" is showing locally tomorrow night and I'm really looking forward to seeing it.  I had great admiration for ActUp back in the 90's; their activism was one of the few bright lights in a pretty scary world.

    Thanks for posting and good luck with your ride.

  •  When we moved to Western Mass from Denver, CO (9+ / 0-)

    Our apartment complex had an unheated  swimming pool.  (this was in 1992) One day a man from the other side of the complex was swimming in the pool along with my children.  Some other mothers pulled me aside to tell me to get my kids out of the pool, because that man had AIDS and they could get it.

    1) I couldn't believe that in MA AIDS education was so lax

    2) it was time for some education

    So I told these mothers that there was no way their children could get AIDS from swimming in that pool with a man who had AIDS.  

    That AIDS was not contracted that way and that given the virus only lives in a very narrow temperature window (which made it hard to grow in the lab) there was no way it could live in that rather cold pool water anyway.

    Also that they could not catch AIDS from talking to him or being compassionate to him - which is probably what he needed right now.  And then I encouraged my children to be just that.

    I lost two high school classmates to AIDS in the 80s - one was a beautiful singer and everyone in our class was devastated when they learned of her death.

    Thank you for this diary, but I have to beg off donating until 2013 - -  I will, it's just the holidays and other things I've been donating to this month.

    Bumper sticker seen on I-95; "Stop Socialism" my response: "Don't like socialism? GET OFF the Interstate highway!"

    by Clytemnestra on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 06:25:40 AM PST

    •  It's disturbing how little people understood (7+ / 0-)

      back in the '80s and '90s -- and how much many of them misunderstand still.

      Your story reminded me of one of my professors (the late, much lamented Harrell Beck) at Boston University, where I attended seminary. It was 1984, and there was a lot of misinformation even among healthcare providers.

      Dr. Beck was speaking to a classroom full of 80 or 90 first year students in the Master of Divinity program. The course was Intro to the Old Testament, but Harrell never limited himself to a strictly academic discussion. As he so often did, he was taking the opportunity to transition from the text under discussion to its modern, real-world implications.

      I can still hear his voice: gentle, supportive, and insistent.

      "Most of you," he said, "are going to be pastors or chaplains. At some time in your career, maybe many times, you will be called to the bedside of a parishioner, or just someone from the community, who has AIDS. Most likely it will be a young man, and he will be frightened.

      "You will go. You will sit with him, for as long as he needs you to stay. You will talk with him, and listen to him. You will take his hand when you sit down and you will hold it as you converse, and you will not wear gloves. You will do this because you know that you can't get the virus from casual contact, and because you know that yours may be the only ungloved hand he will ever feel again.

      "You will pray with him, for healing, for peace, for whatever he needs you to pray for. You will not pass judgment, any more than you would lecture a person dying of cancer or heart disease.

      "Before you go, you will take that young man in your arms and you will hug him, and you will kiss him on the cheek, and you will remind him that he is loved.

      "You will do this because it is your job. You will do this because he will need you to do it. You will do this because it's the right, loving, Christian thing to do. You will do it because Jesus would have done it.

      "And you will do it because, if you do not, I will come back and haunt you."

      I really miss that man. Thank you for giving me the chance to remember him again, and for having had the good sense and simple compassion to expect your kids to be humane to a man who needed others' humanity, and for taking the chance when it arose to give your neighbors an opportunity to grow. I hope they did.

      "Do it in the name of Heaven; you can justify it in the end..." - Dennis Lambert & Brian Potter

      by pragmaticidealist on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 08:06:19 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the diary, sfbob. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gramofsam1

    I'm glad you survived, though I am grieved that so many thousands (millions) did not. And as you say, many people with HIV/AIDS died needlessly soon, since research and proper treatment were unnecessarily delayed. Reagan has much for which to answer, and that is at the top of the list.

    It is hard for those who didn't live through the time, or who were removed from the immediacy of it somehow, to understand just how cruel and hateful people could be toward people with HIV back then. Too many people behaved heartlessly, motivated by groundless fear. It's good to have personal testimony from people who do remember very well.

    Some DKos series & groups worth your while: Black Kos, Native American Netroots, KosAbility, Monday Night Cancer Club. If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

    by peregrine kate on Tue Dec 04, 2012 at 08:39:19 PM PST

    •  There was cruel and hateful behavior- (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      peregrine kate

      but there was also a truly inspiring coalescing of the gay community in caring for each other. When my brother-in-law was dying in San Francisco, we were on the opposite coast and trying to manage getting out there for more than a few days a month.  His friends put together a schedule and he was never alone, never lacked for care or companionship.

      When his friends became ill, more friends appeared to care for them, and the circle of helpers widened to include acquaintances- and a lot of lesbians who were not impacted by the disease and wound up being the caretakers of last resort.

      It was all devastatingly sad, but it was also a testament to the power of community and the human ability to create a family that in many cases was stronger and more loving than the family they grew up in.

      •  Quite so. And it seems likely that the strength (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        gramofsam1

        of the LGBTQ community today is a direct consequence of the loving and compassionate responses you describe,
        multiplied a thousand x a thousand times. Definitely a case of the best and the worst.
        I'm sorry you lost your BIL but I'm glad that he was well cared for all the way.

        Some DKos series & groups worth your while: Black Kos, Native American Netroots, KosAbility, Monday Night Cancer Club. If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

        by peregrine kate on Wed Dec 05, 2012 at 04:58:00 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

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