Monday, December 01, 2003
I'll never forget the first time I knew that I knew someone who was HIV+. It was a little over two years ago, and I was on a first date with a friend of a friend, whom I'll call A. I don't remember how the topic came up, but I was telling A that to my knowledge, I'd never known anyone HIV+ or with full-blown AIDS, and how that made me feel somehow like anathema amongst gay men (I was almost 31 at the time). Less than 5 minutes later, A told me that he was HIV+. I felt like a fool, but he told me not to – how could I have known? We ended up dating for three months, and parted romantic ways quite amicably. A's still a friend, and his health is great, thank God.
What I didn't expect, however, was how it affected our sex life. A later admitted to me that part of the reason we only had sex so often/much was because he was worried about his HIV status, and how it could impact me. Interestingly, I had far fewer reservations than he about being involved sexually, because his being poz (and being upfront about it), I felt, made things easier. We knew right away what we could and couldn't do, and that, I felt, was that. But I think that there was always a nagging worry in the back of A's mind, something along the hypothetical lines of tiny oral cuts and microscopic abrasions. For the record, though, he was really good in bed.
Through him I met another (now-)friend, B, who's been diagnosed as poz for 15 years, and thinks he was infected 18 years ago. He's always been very hale and hearty, a veritable mountain man (he's, in fact, from the mountains of western VA), so it came as quite a shock when he came down with pneumocystis carinii earlier this year. In less than a month, B lost 25 pounds, and went from hearty to, well, not hearty (it didn't help that his head was shaved, giving him a profound concentration camp look). I was shaken by B's appearance and by what his partner said about his hospitalization, in part because he just seemed so not-well. His health has since rebounded nicely, but I still consider what might happen. I still remember when I first met C (via A), shortly after an extended hospitalization. C used to be quite the bear, and even made bear porn for a time. When I met him, however, his weight had dropped by nearly half, he walked with a cane, and could barely construct basic sentences. There, right in my face - not on television or in a film - was the reality of AIDS.
I think the biggest reason that HIV infection rates are rising again amongst gay men in the U.S. is, perversely, in part because of successes we've had against the epidemic. When you see ads in magazines such as The Advocate touting how healthy and vibrant you can be with HIV (thanks to new meds), that's not scary. That might even make you think, "well, it's a liveable condition, like diabetes." It's not. Ask A just how much he enjoys taking at least 23 pills per day just to maintain a status quo. Honestly, Larry Kramer (as he so often does) has got it right: we need to start scaring people again. AIDS is not just another "condition." There's still no cure. At this point, if you become infected with HIV, chances are, you will die from it. Thank God for people like GeekSlut, who aren't afraid to talk about the nasty realities of living with AIDS. Listen. And learn. And tell Bush that preaching abstinence won't prevent the spread of HIV. Remember, Silence = Death, still.
To the best of my knowledge, there are no large-scale events scheduled today in Norfolk for World AIDS Day, so I'm lighting a candle and putting it in my window tonight to remember. I encourage you to do the same. The fight is not over.