HIV All These Years Later

Originally Posted: June 22, 2012

I was looking through some old papers and came across some rough notes I made a couple of months ago regarding an interview I had heard on the radio. I thought about that interview and made some notes about it in order to write another blog. However, I never did get things together enough to write and post it at that time, so here it is, a couple of months late but still relevant:

When I heard it on the radio this morning I didn’t quite know what to think or feel. A doctor was being interviewed about how the present state of being HIV Positive is considered nothing more than a chronic illness. This is especially true if a person is diagnosed early enough they can live healthy lives late into their seventies and eighties.

The interviewer asked this doctor if there were any particular groups who should be tested every year and her answer was, “everybody.” The interviewer sounded incredulous when he asked her again and she repeated, “everybody.” It is no longer considered a disease that ravages homosexuals or intervenes drug users only.

I couldn’t help thinking back to when I was 25 years old in the summer of 1982, there was all kinds of talk about a “gay cancer” infecting men in places like New York and San Francisco, and not long afterward, it started trickling into Canada. I remember at the time there was speculation it was caused by inhaling poppers, (Amyl Nitrite). It was also around that time this new infliction was briefly given the acronym GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency). It was only when it this disease was discovered in other populations that the term was shifted to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).

In those early days being diagnosed as HIV Positive was considered the first step on the way to living with, and dying of, fully blown AIDS; and I remember it was a common belief that the person being diagnosed was generally given about two years to live. Fear became rampant in the gay communities all over North America. It was such that the onset of a cold would be cause for alarm…
“Oh my God, could this be it?”
“What if this is HIV?”
“Should I get tested right away?”
“Do I really want to know the results?”
“Will the consequences be worse if I didn’t know?”
At that time, those knowledgeable were saying the fear of HIV was killing more people than the actual condition itself, which was correct; but in those early days we just didn’t know what was going on or how people were getting it.

It didn’t help that religious zealots and bandwagon politicians were all over this issue. Cries of “God’s vengeance for the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah” and admonitions of living perverse and dangerous lifestyles were rampant on Sunday morning televisions across the Globe.

Politicians were equally as bad. I remember seven Legionnaires attending a national convention in Philadelphia died of a mysterious illness and every available action was taken by the American government immediately to find out why. But, it took over 100,000 gay men to die of a mysterious illness before the Reagan administration reluctantly acknowledged there might be a problem and action was finally taken to find out why. Some people are indeed more equal than others. Over the next fifteen to twenty years losing so many friends and acquaintances to HIV/AIDS was the thing that stands out for me the most. In fact, I stopped counting when I lost friend number fourteen…and the numbers continued to climb.

Now here it is 2012, I will soon be 55 years old, and I realize I seem to be a bit of a rarity. I’m one of the few gay men I know who came out of the closet back in the mid-1970’s, was very sexually active, and to this day remains HIV Negative and healthy. So many who came out at the same time as me are no longer around, and it’s because of them I feel the need to write this down. So much has changed, and in many ways little has changed.

Here we are, thirty years later and HIV/AIDS are still among us. They took a huge bite out of a whole generation of gay men, and those of us who are left remember all of those who are no longer here with fondness. But a new generation of LGBTQ2S folks are out fighting the good fight. They are the generation that have grown up with messages of safe sex, HIV transmission and I find with young people these days, being LGBTQ2S is not even an issue. It just doesn’t matter to them who you love, they all go out on the town together, go to each-others bars and get involved in making the world a better place for all.

But some things don’t change at all. Religious zealots and social conservatives still want to drag society back to medieval times, and still shriek hysterically that God Hates Fags. But the news that HIV is now considered a chronic illness and not a death sentence is welcomed as many who live with the diagnosis are living fulfilled and happy lives. Our LGBTQ2S communities have proven to the world and ourselves that we are resilient, creative and loving. And to the religious zealots and social conservatives who still believe that HIV/AIDS are somehow God’s vengeance upon the LGBTQ2S communities I say they are not, nor were they ever. The fact we’re still here and stronger than ever proves that. No, we are not going away!

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