Would you say that to Ryan White?

Ryan White

Think Rock Hudson ever dreamed of being alive in the year 2000? Think Arthur Ashe ever imagined life in the 21st century?

How about the other public figures who died of AIDS in the 80s and the 90s: Jerry Smith, the pro football player, Max Robinson, the anchorman, John Holmes, the porn star, Pedro Zamora, the young Cuban who appeared on the Real World.

How about Ryan White, the teenager who at first faced so much opposition, then support, then died of AIDS? How about the countless non-famous men and women who died of AIDS during the last two decades of the last millennium?

What dreams did they imagine for life in the new millennium? Where are those dreams now? Dissipated into nothingness? Living on through their works, their family and friends, their children, their contributions to the world?

“In the US, AIDS has been managed into a niche.”

Like the aforementioned souls, I too had AIDS in the 80s and the 90s. However, unlike the aforementioned souls, I have been fortunate enough to remain alive to see 2000, and indeed, 2008.

I wonder how the people no longer with us would view the world today, from the digital bells and whistles that provide instant data and communication, to gay kids being young and horny on MTV just like hetero kids. From a white woman and a black man having a legitimate shot at the presidency, to AIDS being a “manageable disease,” so much so that AIDS is barely a topic of interest in the gay community, let alone the country at large, let alone the world at large, where the disease still flourishes and hasn’t been quite as “manageable.”

Randy Boyd, HIV author

In the United States, AIDS has been managed into a niche, a niche market for healthcare, a niche philanthropy, a niche concern in the gayworld. At the same time, the gayworld boomed itself into a whole new fabulous reality, complete with sexy icons backed by the corporate world (think everything from Will and Grace to Logo).

The result: a generation of young gay men who feel empowered enough to be just as openly sexual as their non-gay peers. Who would have ever dreamed so many men in their teens, 20s, and 30s would feel so free? Who would have dreamed those men would come to use terms like “clean” and “disease-free” to identify themselves and their ideal mates?

This AIDS survivor never imaged living in a world that would describe me as “disease-ridden.” I doubt that any of the aforementioned souls who died of AIDS ever imagined such a world either. I can only speak for myself, but I wonder.

I wonder how those who died of AIDS would feel knowing some people now call themselves “clean” and “disease-free.” I also wonder about the AIDS babies who did survive and are now part of the younger generation. How do they feel hearing their peers use terms like “clean” and “disease-free?” More than anything, I wonder: how I can play a part in helping us all dream better dreams. The following photo is my answer. For now.