Today is World Aids Day. This is one of the most somber and reflective days of the year for those of us who are LBGTQ. It is hard not to think of all the people we lost through the years to this horrible scourge and plague.
It was not easy coming of age in the early years of the plague. There was a sense of anger at the world which would turn their heads away and those who used the disease as an excuse to further their agendas of hate against us. I can remember feeling as if some way I was not as valuable as my straight counterparts. I found myself being afraid to love and awfully guilty at those times when I did. I can remember standing and watching in horror as my friends died one by one for nothing more than doing what was natural and what they were wired to do and be.
Working in the entertainment industry at the time it felt as if I was standing within the epicenter of death. There was this sense we had all been given a death sentence as we watched those close to us die one by one. It is hard to relive those memories. We witnessed the death of a whole generation of gay men from the front lines. I can remember hugging someone and feeling the heat radiating from their bodies and you just knew at that moment something horrible was brewing within them. I can remember looking at a very close friend and seeing the large purple mark they were trying to hide which was forming on their thigh. I understood what that mark meant because I had seen it many times before. I watched as a friend of mine wasted away in high school. A high school kid who at one moment who was healthy and happy. Very quickly that changed and I watched as they withered away to nothing and died.
It was hard not to feel some type of survivor’s guilt at the time. It was no different than feeling guilty for being the one to survive some type of disaster. The guilt of survival and the nagging question of why you were surviving and they were not ate slowly away at your soul. I had a friend dying of Aids once tell me, “It is true that I am dying, but the person I feel the most sorry for is you. I don’t feel sorry for myself at all. But you, I feel sorry for you because your curse is going to be standing by and watching all of us die. You are the one cursed for outliving us all.” The honesty and the horror of the statement still haunts me and on this day it haunts me even more when I remember all of those young beautiful people who are no longer with us for doing nothing more than loving one another.
The other day, I had posted something about Aids on my social media. Like with anything on social media you are subjected to the thoughts of others even when they differ from your own. It is a heavy price at times to pay for participation and at times it is helps your own ideas grow. However, someone decided to post something which disgusted me completely. Once again it reminded me of the ignorance and discrimination which still, after all of these years, continues to revolve around HIV. They said, “Aids was not real. It was nothing more than a made up story to further a gay political agenda.” I was furious when I saw it because for something which was supposedly fabricated that fabrication took a whole lot of my friends way before their time. I found not only the ignorance of the statement unbelievable but it also struck me just how dangerous this thinking was. I have to tell you that it felt like an attack. It amazes me that still this type of thinking is out there. The idea that it is not real or just a gay thing. Dammit is not just a gay thing. HIV is one thing which has never discriminated. It is a mutually transmitted disease among all races and sexual preferences.
Can you imagine what it was like in those early years hearing every time you turned on the television and radio the one thing you could not control was a damnation from God? I use to think how was it possible for my God to damn me for being who I was and just wanting to find someone to love and to be loved in return? Day after day we were told by the world we were not worth the concern and this was nature’s way of eliminating our sinful souls. I can remember watching in horror as people in our government stated the most vile and hateful things about us. I would secretly hide in the bathroom searching for any sign of the plague getting ready to end my sinful existence because I just watched a new horrifying report on television depicting the dying. They would refuse to bury us when we died. We would walk into our clubs and you would see the infected hiding in the dark corners because we were even afraid of those like us. To see them up close meant we had to deal with the reality that it could actually happen to each of us. Those were truly the nightmare days. Those days were riddled with fear and this feeling like any moment it all was going to fall apart on a very personal level.
This past week, I saw an article stating there might finally be a vaccine which would put the final nail in the HIV coffin. The memory of the final scene of the film, Longtime Companion, came to mind. The scene was a fantasy scene depicting a time when a cure was found and the characters basically were able to walk away hand in hand leaving the disease and death behind them. If the human actually worked that way. I would love to live to see the day where there is no more HIV in this world, but the horrors of it will always be part of our hearts and memories. Nothing will erase that sadness. Until the cure finally happens, we must continue to march on to fight this together. No one can really explain why some of us survived while others didn’t. However, the one thing which remains is we have a right and responsibility to those we lost. We must tell their stories and to continue this fight in their memory. Their strength and bravery is something which should never be lost or forgotten.
Today I remember them and I would hope you would do the same. I miss them and I loved them all.