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The past thirty years have seen HIV/AIDS evolve from a lethal ‘gay plague’ to a manageable condition. Such progress is a cause for celebration, but it was a hard fight to get this far and much has been lost on the way, says Stewart Who?
I’m writing this on a Sunday morning, with the obligatory hangover and a hazy memory of a party the night before. It was soirée where it’s statistically likely that HIV/AIDS was a prominent guest. Last night however, there was no sign of this unwelcome visitor, it was a silent, invisible and civilised presence.
It’s a cheering indication of medical progress that the virus ain’t ruining parties any more. As a gay teen, I’ll be forever be haunted by the memory of a queer soiree in ’88. The polite chatter and champagne smiles were dramatically halted when a queen swished into the room, his face a swathe of KS lesions.
Fear and admiration
As an entrance, it was unbeatable, creating fear and admiration in equal measure. It deserved applause, but people were too busy picking up their jaws and gasping. Yes, it was a defiant act of bravery, but one of necessity. Back then, with mortality looming over every diagnosis, either you went to parties with your AIDS face, embracing what’s left of life, or died quietly.
My boyfriend at that time, who took me to the high-end bash, was unimpressed and quite vicious towards the KS queen who silenced the gibbering onlookers. On reflection, his unsisterly stance makes more sense. He was terrified of dying, losing his looks and worried about of scaring his young lover. With a secret, positive status, AIDS haunted, then killed him.
Steroids and strippers
I learned of his death, a few years later, while working at QX. Somebody came in to place an obituary and as I typed in the details, the penny dropped; it was the man who gave me acid on Christmas Eve, sold ‘roids to strippers and denied being positive at every turn. That man, that lover, now dead.
It’s a plot worthy of a soap opera, but in those days, untimely deaths and grim coincidence were a daily grind. Did those experiences make me aware of the potential price of careless sex? For sure. 24-7? As if. Is the current climate of PEP treatment, riddled pin-ups and raw orgies inducing a less thoughtful approach to sex? Go look at the stats.
Teens with gonorrhea
I’m glad the dark days are over. They didn’t half drag on and it was hideously draining. I mean, four funerals in one week can put a terrible strain on one’s wardrobe, never mind the emotions. So today, it’s goodbye to memorials, eulogies and condoms and hello to bareback porn, combo pills and teens with gonorrhea and Grindr.
Gotta love the progress, but there’s a cost to evolution. As a community, we’re largely ignoring the one thing which truly unites us. I know, what an offensive statement, but it’s true. For gay men, HIV is our consistent, coalescing nemesis. It’s depressing to admit and sounds terribly un-PC. Sorry about that, but it needs to be looked at. Constantly. Instead, we focus on straight male celebrities willing to pose topless for gay mags, sex apps and porn. Or whatever. Anything, but the AIDS.
Meth heads and gym bunnies
Tories, teens, meth-heads, rockers, gym bunnies, city boys, old clones and theatre queens; it was always a utopian dream to expect a happy family to spring from such a diverse flock, but oddly enough, AIDS did just that. It even achieved the unthinkable and brought the lesbians and queens together. Gay women remain in the lowest risk group, but they fought on the front lines with the activists and nursed the dying with Sapphic practicality.
Nobody would wish for the nightmares of the virus at its peak, but it’s hard not to be wistful for the sense of community it brought in its wake. We were defiant, proud and alert. Now we’re unconscious, self obsessed and being barebacked while watching the X-Factor.
Does bareback porn promote unsafe sex? Are the GMFA adverts causing more damage than good? If HIV is manageable, fetishised and seemingly widespread, how come few people are ‘out’ about their status?
Is unsafe sex down to low self esteem or reckless stupidity? There’s a lot of issues up for discussion and we’ve got to keep talking and thinking. The idea of ‘community’ might sound unfashionable and idealistic, but we shouldn’t dismiss it, nor forget the countries where being LGBT is potentially life threatening. We owe them our support before we luxuriate in a fragile veneer of apps and apathy.
First published QX Magazine, October 2010