Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Fatal Effects of a False Perception

Is there still a perception that sex with another man is a smoldering gun or have we grown beyond that? Today is world AIDS Days and being a gay man who has lived and loved his entire adult live throughout the epidemic, it has had the greatest impact on my sexual life. I first came out and began exploring my sexuality before anyone ever heard the words HIV or AIDS. We thought living in a rural area like Montana we were pretty much immune from it hitting us here and that we were safe. But looking back over the years and seeing that most of the members of the community I first grew up in, were lost somehow during the course of it’s rampage. People began to just disappear, into a seemingly shameful, unspoken oblivion, from which they never returned, no information or details available. I remember how sex suddenly become a danger zone that no one was talking about and something everyone just tip-toed around. Much of the community was still having sex, yet denying there was much danger in it. Heck, even the government wasn´t acknowledging that it was a national crisis until it got completely out of control. The Regan Administration never uttered a word for months and months even with the fact that thousands of people were dying in the major metropolitan areas like New York or San Francisco. It was not until Clinton’s Administration in the 90’s when a young kid named Ryan White who had been infected by a blood transfusion went to the White House and the then passed the Ryan White Act, that it became a clear message that it was not just a gay virus and awareness and prevention needed to be supported. I remember it was a very bitter time in our community and we became consumed with remorse and resentment.

Would we have heeded the warnings earlier if we had known? Would it have changed our behaviors? It’s still hard to tell, we as a culture had just gained our sexual liberation. With all the awareness today do people still heed the warnings? I am still not sure anymore. It almost feels like the pervasive attitude, especially since the anti-viral drugs have came out to make the virus more manageable, that it doesn’t seem to still be a threat. It seems the rates of infection are still rising.

I became an advocate early on and spent a great part of my life involved in the political shadow of its wake. While I was a student at the University, I produced and directed a film for the University that became a campaign across campus. I became a member of the Governor’s Advisory team, and a member of all the regional, state and community based groups and organizations to promote its awareness and several years ago was given a Governor’s Award in recognition for the work I had given over the years. In the beginning I became consumed by my efforts and in the end it consumed me and I was bitten by the community accusing me of conflict of interest by having my hand in too many pieces of the pie. And eventually I was back stabbed and ridiculed by the very community I was trying to support. For my own sanity, I had to eventually walk away to regain my life, and now use my energy to reach out to those most in need or struggling. Throughout my life AIDS has been a painful road to wander as a gay man. There is still a lot of fear, doubt and anxiety that surrounds it. After all these years it still remains hidden and unmentionable, at least in Montana. Though the leaders of the past who remember the struggle are fading, who is present to still sound the alarm? It remains one of the areas that still divides our community and I know the organization who receives the funding to support the community as leaders and who should be the ones looked to and trusted have been the ones through gossip and the release of supposedly confidential information to hurt the community the most, especially those infected. There is no longer a trust or respect as dignity has been compromised and a devastating shock wave has rippled through our small peaceful community, creating more internalized discrimination and fear than education and or awareness. People are even more afraid then every to be tested and a fear we all felt in the beginning still exists, maybe even more so, 20 years later.

I am an artist and I still support my community however I can but it is all still a painful reminder that haunts the very core of my existence.


1 comment:

André said...

I can sympathize with you. I worked in the Swiss campaign against aids starting 1985 and was one of the founding members of that organization. But our Government was very understanding about the situation, funding national prevention campaigns at the very beginning. I was also bitten by part of the community and some doctors. I had to quit for my own sanity when the love of my life was murdered (aids related) and my "little brother" died of aids the following day. I experienced what most people go through in their eighties: the loss of most of my friends and companions.