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They Lived Once

Andrew Sullivan has a great post up about not forgetting the early days (and deaths) of AIDS. Money quote:

 It is vital the current generation know about this. Because we gays do not reproduce ourselves, we do not have the family networks that inform one generation of the ordeals of the last. The amnesia horrifies and angers me. We owe it to our war-dead to remember them.

I have been fortunate in that I was spared the brunt of the AIDS epidemic. I was never infected, nor did I know many who were. At least, I think I didn't. There have been some friends who have confided in me that they are HIV-positive that I never would have guessed. But this is in more recent times, when HIV is no longer a death sentence, but a quite livable condition.

At any rate, I do remember, as a kid, watching the evening news reports about this strange new virus, found mostly among gay men. I remember when it broke wide in the media, when actor Rock Hudson stated that he had AIDS (and looked terrible), and then died a few months later. The seemed to open the flood gates. I remember when basketball star Magic Johnson held a press conference in 1991 and stated that he was HIV-positive. At the time I didn't think he'd be around much longer, but here he is, 20 years later, doing great.

We've lost a lot of people to AIDS over the decades. Several celebrities died before their time, bringing the disease to prominence and keeping the pressure on to find a cure. Aside from Rock Hudson, we lost Arthur Ashe, Liberace, Freddie Mercury, Anthony Perkins, Amanda Blake and many more. We had movies -- prominent movies with prominent stars -- that dealt with the plight of those with HIV and AIDS. MTV's The Real World had a season with an HIV-positive cast member, Pedro Zamora, who became a celebrity and gay rights advocate in his own right, before succumbing to the disease.

I remember the folks in my own life that I knew were HIV-positive, among them my friend Jesse. He was first friends with my mom, and then with me. We would hang out with Jesse sometimes, during his well and sick times. He always had a twinkle in his eye, and was a warm-hearted man. I saw what HIV/AIDS did to him over time. It wasn't pleasant, and I will always choose to remember Jesse before his final few months, when things got really bad.

Treatment for HIV/AIDS has improved dramatically over the years. People infected with the virus are living longer, better lives. But it comes at a price. Literally. The drugs are expensive, and not everyone can afford them. Diet and fitness are important. There can still be sudden bouts of illness. It's not a walk in the park, to be sure. But it seems to fly under the radar so much more these days than it used to, that people sometimes act like it's gone away.

AIDS hasn't gone away. A lot of people (especially younger gay people) pretend like it has. I'm not sure what that's about, really. Perhaps Andrew Sullivan is right when he implies that we're not passing down the stories enough (or at all). True, it's not happy to dwell on the realities of illness and death, but sometimes it is necessary to in order to prevent it from happening again and again. History repeating, and all that.


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