Friday, March 24, 2006

OpEd in Blade

The Washington Blade ran an OpEd I wrote today:
My HIV/AIDS reality check
I thought I was living in a ‘post-AIDS’ world until I met someone with HIV. Sugar won’t help those meds go down.
Friday, March 24, 2006

A FEW DAYS ago I found myself at another Washington, D.C., gay political event with another open bar. The crowd was typical: older adults who the event was designed for, and the younger guys there for the booze. I was part of the latter group.

I was downing my second apple-tini, which for me is about one and a half–tinis too many, when one of older attendees struck up a conversation. Being the young and gracious freeloading drunks we often are at these events, we were polite and engaged the fellow in what we assumed would be light banter.

As it turned out, he is a city official from a small gay-friendly city in California. I am not sure how the conversation veered, but we soon learned he is living with HIV/AIDS and has been since 1985.

I am not sure why he felt compelled to disclose his status to us. Perhaps he wanted to correct me after hearing my irreverent remark to my roommate about how you can always spot an alcoholic at open bar events. (I had seen the official drinking water.)

Or maybe there was something unique about us that made him comfortable enough to disclose his status. Or maybe he is just very open about it to everyone. Whatever the reason, we now knew.

I WAS A BIT taken aback by his admission. The only other people I have ever heard be open about their HIV/AIDS status were speakers at school assemblies or activists at rallies. Weren’t these the only places that people with AIDS went?

Even though I know HIV is out there, to me the virus feels theoretical. I know how you can get it and all the precautions I can take to prevent from getting it, but my reality with the disease stops there.

No one I know has died from complications related to AIDS. No one I know is on a regular drug cocktail. And no one I know has to drink water at an open bar event to keep his viral load in check.

I came of age in a gay white male post-AIDS reality. The only people I see dying from AIDS are in the movies or on the television when Bono shows people dying in sub-Saharan Africa.

I had grown comfortable in my post-AIDS theoretical fantasy bubble, and here was this man laying a load down upon my shoulders that was heavy enough to burst even the strongest bubbles.

It was a heavy dose of reality that would have been even more shocking had the liquor I had been pleasantly consuming not taken some of the edge off.

THE REALITY OF the situation woke me up. Suddenly HIV/AIDS was real. It is real. Theories be damned, this is a fact.

My memory of the exact conversation I had with the official is hazy. I barely remember getting home that night. What I do know is that it is a conversation that will stick with me.

I learned that people living with HIV/AIDS aren’t just theoretical people you only read about and see in the movies, but that they are real and are living with and dying of HIV/AIDS, no matter where they are or what they happen to be doing. That post-AIDS reality I was led to believe exists never really did. Ever.

I have grown up in a world where people with HIV/AIDS are living with the disease through the aid of modern medicine. I made the awful discovery at the open bar that night that, like most of my peers, I have grown up in a fantasy world where pills solve everything. Ignorance is certainly bliss with a price.

Sometimes reality twists her ugly head around and stares you straight in the eye. For too long, I have not had to face the ugliness of reality when it comes to HIV/AIDS. Pills and silence have kept me away from it.

Sugarcoated desires and theories have allowed me to become distant from the reality of living as a gay man today. And while sometimes we need some sugar to get through life, when it comes to HIV/AIDS, I think we younger guys have used a little too much to help the medicine go down.

It is time we get real about HIV/AIDS.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Testing positive at 23, I was the first person I knew with HIV. Well, excect for the guy who gave it to me. That was my reality check, but even I feel immune still. My pills work really well. Or have for the last 2 years, anyway. Thank God, 'cause I love to drink.

Maybe that has something to do with why I still haven't seen the "ugliness of reality" of HIV. I feel like I wouldn't change the fact that I was infected. My status yes, but not at the cost of my experience. I mean, once you've faced the idea of your own death, what is there left to be afraid of? That's a pretty powerful feeling.

So protect yourself, don't get HIV. But if you do, stop worrying about it so much.