Be a homosexual, die of AIDS. Homosexuality and AIDS just weren't talked about where I came from, yet the implication was that the two were intimately connected. Funny that such thoughts could exist less than a hundred miles from San Francisco, but when I was young in the 80's, San Francisco was the enemy. Even San Jose was the enemy. I wasn't allowed to go there alone until I was around 16. I remember taking the 68 bus up to San Jose when I was 17 and I felt so mature because I was with a 15 year old goth girl who loved Siouxsie and who wanted to find something, anything to listen to that wasn't a dubbed tape. She was shivering with fright to the point that it was embarrassing, scared of the Latinos on the bus, scared of the blacks who started boarding when we entered San Jose... most of all, she was scared of this seedy place we were riding through. This was not the suburbs. The record store we visited was called Underground Records, which, oddly enough, I would become a manager at one day...
It wasn't until the late 80's when I was in college until I really gave much of any thought to AIDS or even homosexuality - even though there were times when I was with my best friends and all I wanted to do was to hold or kiss them, regardless of gender. I just didn't go there... it was more trouble than it was worth at the time. Yes, I knew that I was supposed to wear condoms before having sex, but my concern wasn't AIDS, but pregnancy. To this day, I still use condoms religiously, even with my s.o. It's worked so far... >knock on wood<
I didn't really think much about sex when I was first in college... I was painfully shy and it took time for me to get to know people. All the girls I liked in high school were now scattered across the country, and I was in San Jose, with really no place to call home anymore. I was the odd one in the dorms, and getting through the first year without getting kicked out of school, kicked out of the dorms, or committing suicide was an accomplishment - not that it felt like one at the time. I was poor, struggling through school, unhappy, and drinking a lot.
One thing that terrified me but eventually gave my life some focus was becoming a part of KSJS. I loved music and I wanted to deejay, but the thought of doing so live terrified me. That's how I wound up in radio promotions, which, directly or indirectly, is how I wound up learning about business management, computers, events organization, and how I basically started to find some degree of confidence. (I even learned how to deejay.) It's also how I found adaeon, my best friend.
He was perhaps the one person I knew who was as shy as I was. He talked about things that interested me, had the mind of a writer/philosopher, a love of music, a nice guitar, a great record collection, worked at Underground Records, and was far more charming than I. He also had compelling reasons to want to drink, and had the money to afford it... and I had +1 tickets to pretty much any concert in the Bay Area. Above all, he was kind to me when practically everyone else wasn't. We became immediate friends.
About a month into knowing him, we were driving in his car when he became serious, trepidatious, and told me that he was gay. My initial reaction was that I didn't know what to think - I didn't see it coming. I didn't even have a base of reference, since I never really knew anyone who was gay - or so I thought - even though it had occurred to me that I might be gay, even though I had feelings for some women. I responded soon enough, however... my reaction was that he was my friend - pretty much my only friend - and that it didn't matter. For two f*cked up people, I am still impressed with his bravery for telling me, and my ability to make the right decision so quickly and to really mean it. That's what friendship and love does though - it allows people to transcend the boundaries between people. Love sees no colour or gender. It bypasses the surface and goes straight to the heart of the matter.
Through being his friend, I came to understand much more about the difficulties, guilt, shame, pain, and struggles involved with his life... his family's religious background, his fear of AIDS, and his belief, on some level, that he was a faggot who deserved to die from AIDS. The damage that AIDS does isn't just physical - it is a bone deep fear that can lead to fatalism, even amongst the most well-meaning. The fear can also seperate the victims of AIDS from the very people who could potentially help them. Some of the bravest people in the world are helping others with this disease, yet their biggest risk is not their health but their hope. To suffer through the deaths of people you care about and to just keep putting yourself out there is an incredibly courageous act - more than I think I could personally muster.
Soon after meeting Adaeon, I met the first person I knew who had AIDS at a benefit dance at SJSU. He was thin, sickly, in a wheel chair. I greeted him, but I didn't *see* him. I only saw the disease. He probably thought I was being courteous nonetheless, but the truth is, I let myself down. I didn't know any better, I saw the disease, and it sure felt a lot like death to me. I looked right through the man, and that was my loss.
It would be so much easier if the face of AIDS wasn't so horrific, so debilitating. It makes it so easy to forget that these are people who are suffering. People that should be healthy, should be vibrant, should be strong and happy and alive, and who shouldn't have to be frustrated, scared, and angry at all the hoops they must jump through just to - at best - stay alive another day, or - at worst - to die anonymously. These people shouldn't have to be stigmatized - they shouldn't have to scream at the top of their lungs to get attention from those who don't care and who aren't directly effected.
With time, I started to see what the larger gay community was like. I grew to consider it as much (if not more) my community than the rest of society. I also came to realize that although I was primarily interested in women, the people who really interested me were those I loved, and that for me, love was less about gender than about the person.
In the gay community, I also saw the names and faces - names and faces hanging behind the counter of a bar, names and faces in the obituary section of a newspaper, names and faces on banners and quilts and signs, held in the hands of those who loved and lost. It soon became obvious to me that some in the gay community didn't want to see those names and faces anymore, ignoring them. Others in the gay community didn't want to see those names and faces anymore either - but they fought for them, they fed them, they nursed them, they comforted them, and they even got them high just to ease their suffering and give them some kind of appetite. It became a very personal issue to them, perhaps because it finally effected someone they loved, or perhaps because they felt they were next.
Some say that AIDS effects everybody. I disagree. The truth is that AIDS can effect anybody... which is quite different. Chances are good that AIDS doesn't effect you much. Don't feel bad about that; be very grateful that this is the case. You don't want AIDS. You don't want your friends or your family to have AIDS. Nobody who doesn't have a martyr complex wants AIDS. Still, it's hanging over your head and that of everyone that you know... just like it is hanging over the head of those who are gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, male, female... it hangs over the head of everyone and anyone in the world today.
AIDS probably hasn't effected you. Consider yourself lucky. But consider the consequences of ignoring it exists. Consider that the faces of AIDS are really those of people who should be healthy and who are more like you than not. Consider the consequences of ignorance and apathy... because some day it might be your face or the face of someone you care about that people are mourning over.
To be fair and to not over sensationalize the issue, AIDS is just one of many potentially fatal human ailments. A case could be made that money for AIDS research should go to treat cancer, or Parkinson's or one of numerous other diseases. The truth, really, is that research on eradicating all of these blights on humanity is not properly funded. In practically every country in the world, more is spent by governments on weapons to take life than on treatments to save them. We have embraced the culture of death and we aren't even brave enough to stare him in the face. Instead, we turn our backs and hope we won't be the next statistic... and when someone we know does become a statistic, we might feel sorry, but better them than us, right?!
Wake up. Don't turn your back. Yes, we are all going to die, but don't go down without a fight. Kennedy became a hero for focusing the nation by challenging it to land a man on the moon. What politician is willing to step forward and make themselves a hero by challenging the nation to cure cancer, cure AIDS, feed the hungry, or just promising to try to do something - anything - that appeals to the highest aims of humanity? Is idealism a quaint notion that outlived its purpose after Vietnam, or is there still more for humanity to aspire to? In short, do we have the will to act on our convictions anymore?
That, I think, is why the Founding Fathers said "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness"... It was intentionally written by order of importance, where you can't have the latter if you don't have the former. Let's make life a priority again.