Saturday, December 01, 2012

World AIDS Day

A shadow came over my life. A deep darkness of fear. I saw that darkness in the eyes of others. I heard desperation in laughter too loud and desolation in profound silences no longer filled with chatter. I saw grief in eyes never quite dry and in shoulders never quite unburdened. That shadow, that darkness, I now realise has shaped my life. It has made me different. I will never, as I did in youth, trust sun. I will never, as I did in the years before, trust the world I live in. Humanity existed only as a terrifying thing. I knew society to be a dangerous place where the prejudice of the norm is the norm. And it has hardened me.

The fact of AIDS in the time of AIDS wasn't just about the disease. It was also about the gleeful way in which the disease was greeted. Our lives, the lives of my community, were being mown down to the applause of those who stood on the sidelines. Our lives, the lives of young gay men, were counted as worthless. Our lives, the lives of children and brothers and friends, were seen as kindling, as faggots, to be burned. I sat amongst people, people not knowing that a gay man was amongst them, and heard them cluck with approval at the quickness with which the numbers of the dead grew.

Christians told us that God was punishing us. That God hated us. That our love was an abomination. That God was hunting us down in the places where we lay and slaying us - the dirty dogs that we were. Our God is a vengeful God and our God loved the smell of Gay blood.

And it felt that way.

It felt that God had given approval for us to die. Like God had begun to answer the prayers of those who hated us and ignored our pleas, not for healing that would have been too much to expect, but at least for mercy.

I remember a very young man.



Who ran across Church Street to talk to Joe and I. His face was shining. His voice was hopeful. He said that he was so full of the spirit of God that he had to share with us - he had knelt and prayed. He had asked Jesus into his heart. He felt the softness of God's approving love. He felt Jesus at his side. He knew. HE KNEW. That God would heal him. That Jesus would take his sins away. Tears flowed down his cheeks. He was barely twenty.

A week later we'd heard that he'd travelled home to speak with his minister.

And was cast out.

Days later, he was dead.

The shadow. It came. It made me look warily at the world around me. There are those who wish the different dead. There are those who do not want, and will not countenance any idea beyond 'us' ... a 'them' is unthinkable and undesirable.

I live in a world where I believe hatred can burst into flames at the slightest provocation.

I live in a world where love is sung about, proclaimed everywhere ... but where the work of love is reviled.

I live in a world that I do not trust.

We lost more than friends. We lost more than bodies and souls. We lost a belief in a loving world.

And that may be the greatest tragedy of all.


Anja said...

I agree with your sentiments having myself seen the same hate and prejudice inflicted on people living with HIV/AIDS. But I have also experienced love and understanding and given it myself to sufferers of HIV/AIDS.

GirlWithTheCane said...

In my final year of high school, I wrote an essay about political responsibility for the AIDS crisis, particularly in it's early stages. I was horrified. It's a terrible story of deliberate mismanagement of resources and of governments from multiple countries refusing to work together to address the challenges that arose as AIDS emerged - all because the groups in which it first emerged were devalued ones in society.

It's one of those things that makes me ashamed to be human.

Belly (Liz McLennan) said...

"It's one of those things that makes me ashamed to be human."



Andrea S. said...

The fact that AIDS originated in Africa--an entire continent that is greatly devalued by global society, in which reside predominantly black people who also are very devalued in many parts of the world--I think have a big role to play in why it was ignored through the 60s and 70s until it started hitting people in the US and other westernized countries. Then, as you note, it was continuing to happen to people who were devalued albeit in a different way, so the neglect continued for another decade or two.

ANY time society devalues ANY population, it's eventually going to shoot itself in the foot.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

I remember those horrifying days when AIDS first hit the mainstream media. I believe there was deliberate fear mongering.

What stopped me cold was the people saying it was a curse from God for people behaving "immorally".

Personally I think that is what the commandment about taking the name of God in vain means - using the name of God to justify your own prejudices. We left a church community over prejudice against gay people. I want nothing to do with that kind of God. The God I put my faith in is loving - he loves EVERYBODY period end of dicussion.

I can only imagine how awful it must have been to be a young gay man during that time - to have people celebrating what they claimed was the wrath of God - to have people you loved sicken and die before your eyes. I can see how it would colour your view of humanity. I only wonder that you are able to have faith in any of us!

Yes I am ashamed of the way some people acted - still act. But I am also grateful for those who stood up to prejudice and fear mongering and hatred. They provide light for the rest of us.


Anonymous said...

Dear Dave,

maybe because I am younger, maybe because I knew about diseases from the very start of my life - for the first twenty years of my life I lived on the pink cloud created by my family. That changed the moment I started social science. I made friends easily with my fellow students. I am still very connected with a man I met there; yes he is gay, and yes after his parents I was the second person he outed him too. And there was the older woman who consumed drugs in her former life, she was selling her body to man, and she told me she had HIV.
For a very short moment I panicked, because I did not know enough about the disease before. I had myself tested (out of fea - had made dinner together - huh) and did as much reading and informing myself as possible.

Never, never did I think that HIV / Aids is something brought from God to punish a certain group of people. That is impossible for me to think. I have a congenital condition, maybe God wanted to punish me or my parents too?

Maybe its sheer luck that I was not infected I had so many blood transfusions when I was ill...?

All I can say is, that I am sorry things happend like that.


Anonymous said...

>>Christians told us that God was punishing us. That God hated us.

Please Dave, I know you are Christian yourself. Those people may call themselves Christian, but they really aren't Christian at all. How they dare to speak for all of us, as if we all were filled with their hate!

AIDS is a terrible thing, and has affected all of us to one extent or another. Every death (from any cause) diminishes all of us.

Anonymous said...

Anon, where were your voices then? In fact where are they now when those from the Religious Right speak hate?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post, for taking the time to remember. I'm so sorry.

Anonymous said...

Well written Dave. Touching. Wish I could say things have gotten better. God is not punishing anyone - He is offering salvation to everyone. If someone chooses not to believe that is their choice. (God will not be mocked mind you.) We need not take on His job - we are told not to judge. We are also told to love. Let's put our efforts into loving and leave the rest to Him.

Shan said...

I was just a kid when AIDS surfaced in the US in the early '80s, but I well remember the attitudes around it by the middle of that decade. You've reminded me what a bizarre and pitiless response was offered - satisfaction in some circles, downright glee in others. Best you could hope for was a sort of 'at least it's not in my backyard' ambivalence.

I haven't thought about those times for many years. Our people were dying and their fellow Americans and Canadians were either completely detached or cheering.

Thank you for showing me how that must have felt.

wendy said...

I came out in the early '80's, moved from a small town to a larger one to look for a life I coudn't imagine possible where I came from. I remember the first stories about AIDS in San Francisco and the torrent of homophobia that followed in the media and in the streets.
I remember those years of fear and sadness and loss. My pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church died of AIDS. He was a wonderful, intelligent, funny man and I miss him to this day.
God was not punishing him, just sitting with him through a disease, caused by a virus that had no religious or political agenda.