This is the last week of school before Christmas break. And for Tuesday’s class, we’ve been tasked with reading Paul Monette’s Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir. And this is the strangest feeling ever.
Im so excited for Christmas break. No school. No homework. Just relaxation and the joys of Christmas – The lights, the music, the snow, the food. the presents! And yet, that joy is mixed with a feeling of nausea. Reading this book is probably one of the hardest I’ve had to read, along with our books on the Holocaust last month. Ever page weighs on my chest.
AIDS crept into the gay community like a stalker in the night. The virus itself is actually brilliant. It’s smart. It knows how to survive. It can sit dormant for long periods of time, infecting more and more of your body before any dire symptoms arise. By the time the worlds realized that there was a “Gay disease” it was too late. Enough men were infected with the virus (and were also asymptomatic) that it was hopeless. Men were having sex because they felt fine, unknowingly spreading the virus that caused what was then called “gay-related immune deficiency” or GRID.
There were tons of misinformation in the beginning. The disease was prevalent among Haitians, leading researchers to believe that was the origin of the disease. Also, since it was mainly gay men having with the disease, it was assumed it was a gay problem. And with America being both racist and homophobic, GRID wasn’t seen as a problem, because really, who cared about faggots and poor foreigners anyways? was the common thought.
The disease spread, originally being seen as something that only big-city slutty gays would get. It was believed that exposure took time, and related sexual intercouse. New York and San Fransisco were the hotbeds of the disease for America, with LA leading on their tail.
The Reagan administration was completely homophobic, passing no LGBT legislation, and Reagan was openly against homosexuality. Along with that, many religions refused to to take part in what was now known as HIV (Human immunodieffeinrcy virus) education. The church refused to take a stance, saying only condoms were against God and that refraining from sex was the only answer for gays.
Gay men were dropping like flies. The death-toll rose daily. HIV cases began sprouting up around the world in countries like Australia, Canada, Brazil, and had been in Africa for quite some time (It is now believed that HIV originated in Kinshasa, DRC, and was transferred to humans from the primate disease SIV).
The gay community sat and wondered wonder if they would survive, or if they were simply waiting for their turn to die.
A slew of early-stage HIV medication was used, like AZT, with little success. And protests began, begging the world to take the disease seriously and stop the genocide of the gay community.
Finally, in the late-90’s and into the 2000’s, after the gay community suffered in fear and mourning for almost 20 years, AIDS research took a turn for the better with more funding and more dedicated research being given to the disease. And all of this wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the grassroots non-profits and the protests from groups like ACT UP.
Now, in 2018, we have Prep, which is a daily pill that can help reduce your chances of HIV infection with an almost 100% success rate. And we have PEP which is a series of pills that can be taken within 72 hours of exposure to the virus, and can prevent it from infecting you.
We also have our strongest set of weapons: Knowledge.
We know that condoms can save lives. We know that HIV is everywhere, not just the gay community. We know that being smart about sex, and being smart about who you have sex with, can also save lives.
Being a gay guy in 2018, I have to say that I am so fortunate and so privileged to benefit from the actions of the gay community of the 80s, 90s, and 00s. I’m so relieved that I never had to go through the crisis period, where they spent everyday finding out another friend was infected or had died, or worse still, finding out that they themselves had the disease.
I remember the famous Newsweek cover about Saving Private Ryan that said “War Is Hell”
Well, after reading this book I’ve also learned that HIV/AIDS is also hell. And the gay community were the grunts on the frontlines. The ones who died so that the world could come away with knowledge of the disease, and medication, and a future of potential hope.
And to all my fellow gays, here in 2018, I ask that we be smart. Viruses are much better at their jobs than we are. They evolve and adapt so much faster than human medication. And I know a lot of younger gays see Prep and PEP and the savior we’ve been waiting for. The “end of AIDS”, but viruses don’t work that way. If not used properly, the virus can form a resistance to the drug, thus creating a second epidemic that will take countless lives. And also, I know a lot of gays these days see Prep as such an all-all-encompassing cure, that they feel there is no longer a need for condoms.
To that I say, READ THIS BOOK. Read about how slow and agonizing a death from AIDS is. Read about wasting. Read about the constant weakness, the constant pain, and the knowledge that there is no cure. You want to see hell? I would imagine that dying slowly, knowing there is no way out of it, knowing that if you would have just used a condom all of this could have been prevented…. That’s hell. I can’t imagine a worse hell.
Because at the end of the day, HIV isn’t a disease for sluts or whores. It takes 1 time.
1 single encounter.
That’s all. So always use a condom.
This Christmas, remember we are so fortunate to live in the time we live in. And because of that, we need to respect our past and those who died for us. And we also need to respect future generations. Do we want to pass HIV on to the next generation? FUCK NO.
So, this holiday season:
Get to know your sexual partner first,
Wear a motherfucking condom,
Volunteer at an HIV nonprofit, take part in and AIDS walk, or donate to a charity, like this one here: AIDS UNITED
Or, go to the next step, and help out at your local LGBTQ youth center. Help educate the new generation. Help inspire young runaways. Help in any way you can, because it’s our fucking duty as gays. Our community has been to hell and back, and let’s not go there again.
Can I get an Oorah!, please?
~ The Dark Horse