When I was getting divorced and coming out as a gay man, way back in 1985, it had only been 3 years since the term AIDS had been defined and only 2 years since the HIV virus had been isolated by Institute Pasteur in France.
It was 2 years before AZT was approved as the first anti-HIV drug.
And it was the year that Rock Hudson died of AIDS.[i]
My friends all considered HIV / AIDS a death sentence, as well as a thing of shame, generally to be hidden from their families, if not their friends and possibly even their lovers. It was certainly not possible for anyone in our group to become affected. I mean, just look at Rock Hudson. He was an old guy in Hollywood and didn’t relate to us (me anyway) in any way at the time. We were young and invincible and many people believed that a cure and / or vaccination was probably around the corner.
We all thought “Really, how unreasonable that some new terrible disease can just rear its head overnight, having never been heard of before, and start killing the young and pretty ones among us.” Even though I never considered myself as belonging to this group!
But it did just that. It wasn’t long before several of my friends, or friends of friends, turned up HIV positive. Then began getting sick. Then they began to die, and they generally were not pretty deaths either. As we watched them die it seemed to separate us into three groups. The first group was grief stricken, but learned from their experience, dedicating themselves to learning how to play and love safely. The second group was also grief stricken, but inward panic was their primary reaction. They never acknowledged the risks they took themselves and they never changed any of their behaviors. They basically went into a strict state of denial. The last group turned inward and became unable to give of themselves intimately to another man again (or at least for a very, very long time).
After 25 years I still know people in each of these groups. Mostly the edge has worn off and, unfortunately, many in the second group are no longer with us.
Today I am saddened by the fact that we have gone this long without a true cure or a vaccination. However, I take heart in the fact that people I call friends, and many, many others around the globe, are living lives that are not dominated by their HIV status and are expecting to die of things other than HIV / AIDS (like old age). At the same time I am disappointed in the rise of unsafe sexual practices among many young gay men, and, I guess, older gay men alike. It seems that as soon as the virus can be covered up with a half dozen medications, life goes back to whatever feels good.
So, while I celebrate #WAD2011 and the accomplishments that have happened over the past 25+ years, my heart is still heavy thinking about this on-going threat to life, love, and the pursuit of happiness that will be with us for years to come.