Friday, December 2, 2011

World AIDS Day

OK, so I'm a day late in marking World AIDS Day. I'm embarrassed to say I didn't even realize it had arrived until a man walked past me on Westbourne Grove wearing a red ribbon, and I thought, "Oh yeah!"

Kind of a sad statement, but probably typical for many people in this day and age, now that HIV is treatable and much of the urgency has faded from the AIDS pandemic.

When I saw that man's red ribbon, I began thinking about how just 15 years ago, I was very active in AIDS and HIV as a cause. I helped raise money, I donated money, I wrote articles as a medical reporter and I dispensed very general information (based on that reporting) on Internet message boards. I read constantly about HIV and its treatments, partly out of my own fear that, as a gay man, I might become infected myself. (Never mind that I always played safe. Always.)

I walked in AIDS Walk New York, and helped organize the annual teams for my employer, right up through 2009 -- my last year working in Manhattan.

It is hard to overstate the effect HIV had on gay men of my generation. When we were coming out in the mid-1980s, AIDS was a death sentence. There was uncertainty about how it was spread and how long it would take an infection to make itself known. There wasn't even a consensus on how it was transmitted -- which acts were dangerous and which weren't? How could the risk be gauged? I lived in terror of HIV, and that fear undoubtedly had a substantial effect on my social and romantic life.

Now, of course, medicines have changed all that -- even in developing countries, where medical treatments have become more available. Young gay men today don't have that fear, for better and for worse.

I always come back to how different the world would be if AIDS was still cutting a swath through the population the way it did in the 1980s. How many movie actors wouldn't have made their most recent films, or musicians written their most recent compositions? How many artists wouldn't continue to show us their visions of the world? How many people would be missing? Who among our friends and relatives would be dead?

It boggles the mind.

Meanwhile, it's worth remembering that AIDS isn't over. It's quieter for now, but it's still there. Apparently I'm not so good at remembering that myself.

(Photo: Hackney Road, on Wednesday.)


  1. I remember the 80s vividly. All of San Francisco changed as a result of the plague. Seventeen of my friends died during those horrible years.

    At the time, I felt so hopeless. It seemed like nothing could curb HIV. I'm so glad it's controllable now. Still not a great diagnosis to receive, but it can be treated. Thank god.

  2. Good stuff to ponder! I was in Zambia in the mid-80s & worked with a woman who was so paranoid that she wouldn't drink water out of a glass she hadn't personally washed. Of course back then they were still saying that you could get AIDS from mosquitos...

  3. I know someone who is HIV positive and although he takes the drugs, he worries that his insurance status will change and he will no longer be able to afford them. But that's not nearly as scary as wondering how and when you will die as the early victims did. I would like to think this disease could be eradicated in our lifetime, but maybe that's just wishful thinking.

  4. I too lost several friends in the 80's, and vividly remember what it was like to visit one of them in hospital. He was quarantined and I had to wear a gown, gloves and shoe covers just to sit by his bed...