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.)