HIV: Uninvited

HIV: Uninvited

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 was a prominent guest. However, among the glowing faces and fit bodies, 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 sense. He was terrified of dying and losing his looks. More than that, he was worried about scaring his young lover.

He was nursing a secret, positive status. AIDS haunted, then killed him.

hiv2blog

Steroids and strippers

I learned of his death, a few years later, while working at QX. Somebody came in to place an obituary. As I typed in the details, the penny dropped; the dead man was the boyfriend who gave me LSD on Christmas Eve, sold ‘roids to strippers and denied being positive at every turn. That man, that lover. Dead.

It’s a plot worthy of a soap opera. In those chaotic 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.

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Teens with gonorrhea

I’m glad the dark days are over. They didn’t half drag on and it was hideously draining. Four funerals in one week can put a woeful strain on one’s wardrobe, never mind the emotions.

So today, it’s goodbye to memorials, eulogies and condoms and hello to free porn, chemsex and teens with supergonorrhea and Grindr.

Gotta love the progress, but there’s a cost to evolution. As a community, we often  ignore the one thing which truly united us. I know, what an offensive statement, but it’s true.

For gay men, HIV was our consistent, coalescing nemesis. It’s depressing to admit and sounds vaguely homophobic. Sorry about that, but it’s true.

We look elsewhere. Focussing on straight male celebs, who get their tits out for gay mags. We exist on sex apps and still worship at the temple of porn. Nada wrong with either, but it helps to have perspective and read a book once in a while.

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Meth heads and gym bunnies

Tories, teens, junkies, gym bunnies, kids of immigrants, city boys, clones and drag queens; it was always an optimistic hope to expect a caring family to spring from such a mixed grill. 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.

The lesbian friends I have today were the women I met in the eye of the storm. Those relationships were deep and remain so. When we see each other in contemporary settings, unspoken grief is exchanged in knowing looks as we stagger into old age.

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 often unconscious, selfie spewing and forgetful or ignorant of our recent history.

Keith Haring Act Up artwork

The idea of ‘community’ might sound unfashionable and idealistic, but we shouldn’t dismiss it, nor forget the countries where being queer 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

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