In America, the “deadly disease” known as HIV/AIDS is no longer so deadly, so AIDS apathy has set in and the topic is out of sight and out of mind. That is, until you run into someone living with the virus and are reminded of the original AIDS Panic.
Like suddenly coming face-to-face with a Vietnam vet and realizing, oh yeah, they’re still among us.
On the other hand, some haven’t forgotten about the virus, namely gay men who date digitally and display their “neg as of a certain date“ status as a badge of honor. As if to say, I’m not damaged goods from that place and time — a delusional and useless claim, if there ever was one in the last 40 years.
All of which makes it harder to share one’s status with loved ones, and by extension the rest of the world, which is why there still exists poignant writings about the journey. One of which is the Salon article, No one will ever have sex with me again: Why I stayed silent about my HIV status by Jamie Brickhouse, author of the memoir Dangerous When Wet from St. Martin’s Press.
In the article, Brickhouse recounts how he acquired the virus in the early 2000’s, but save a few furtive admissions to virtual strangers, he stayed silent about his HIV status to most who were important to him, including his mother, who went to her grave not know about her son’s greatest fear/challenge.
“It robbed us both of our fundamental roles: me admitting I needed her and she loving me unconditionally,” writes Brickhouse.
During the 1980s AIDS Panic, I had little choice but to tell my mom I was HIV positive. Yes, because we were becoming closer, but most importantly, because there was no time to stew on it. The bullets were flying, the surge was on, as was evidenced my assurances of my imminent death.
Fortunately, I was one of the lucky ones — one of the few houses left standing in a neighborhood ravaged by tornadoes, wildfires and hate and fear mongering all at the same time for at least a decade and a half.
My early admission to my mother afforded us, upon further reveal, 30 more years and counting of her and I acting out our fundamental roles: me admitting I need her, she loving me unconditionally.
We’ve seen London and Paris, raised two dogs that were best friends, laughed countless times and shared a lot of love and support that flows in both directions.
You better believe I’m grateful for the 30 years and counting of the loving, mother/son relationship I’ve enjoyed since receiving a death sentence in July 1985. But all is not bliss.
AIDS apathy means AIDS lives don’t matter
Although the world has come a long way in the journey with this virus, for me, the scene is not one of unabashed joy, as imagined at the end of the seminal 1989 AIDS film, Longtime Companion.
Mostly white, mostly gay, mostly men dancing on a beach in some hopefully near future when humans declare their independence from HIV/AIDS, the deadly disease the media never failed to mention without adding the phrase, “the deadly disease.”
(In the media in the 1980s, the Iranian hostage crisis rescue attempt became “the aborted rescue mission,” and AIDS became “the deadly disease,” almost as if The Elements of Style had declared it so.)
Now AIDS apathy seems to be at an all-time high. HIV/AIDS and people living with the virus get barely a mention in the media and new viruses have taken centerstage in the nightmares of Western civilization.
Collectively, we’ve forgotten about AIDS but still fear it, still shun it, still put up insensitive walls in plain sight, still make laws to protect people from it, as if people are incapable of being responsible and protecting themselves.
The result: AIDS apathy flourishing, people still scared of coming out as living with the virus to loved ones, others not getting tested for fear of shame, fear and ignorance begetting misinformation and more infections. And stigma.
I’m still an AIDS monster, not feared as much but still feared nonetheless, not categorically rejected as much but still categorically rejected nonetheless.
And nowhere near the monsters of the animated movie franchise, Monsters, Inc., in terms of acceptance.