Tuesday, December 12, 2006
I Am Many More Things Than Gay But The Plague Outted Me
I got a DUI in Houston in the 1980s and was ordered to do 50 hours of community service. I was sexually active, very active. HIV had been named for about four years, it had killed gay men for about eight. When you got it, you started wasting away, maybe you got dementia - two years and you were another Memorial Service program.
The infected babies of those years lived a year at most. At the time, nothing prevented the HIV from traveling from the Mother to the infant during passage through the birth canal. Those babies lived eight or nine healthy months inside their prostitute or IV drug using mothers and were infected with HIV as they passed through the blood of their own births. Almost no time and they were orphans.
I used my DUI Community Service time for a charity that existed at that time. People went to Hospital Maternity Wards to hold "AIDS babies" give them bottles, feed or change them, sing to them, walk them outside the hospital ANYTHING normal. Even Nurses in the Hospital System were scared to hold them. Everyone was really that scared. But they were little shriveled purpley newborns with a disease thay did not deserve and they smiled and recognized the kind faces that came to there nursery. And I held them and prayed for them and kissed there little noses as I sang to them. They smiled back, held my finger, learned my face. And they died a lot..
At this time in adult AIDS therapy, grown men wore antibiotic pumps on their arms or chests all day, diapers for emergencies. It was all anyone knew to do and it did nothing. In the ACTOR'S EQUITY newsletter some months 30+
young men under thirty died. I am one of the few survivors of the PLAGUE SCHOOL Class of the 1980s that lived to see the 90s.
Early on, because all the PLAGUE seemed to kill were unwanteds - IV drug addicts and GAY men -we learned that one of our unique qualities, our invisibility was a terrible liability. We organized worldwide. Maybe you remember a very powerful political alliance called "ACT UP!" WE'RE HERE! WE'RE QUEER! GET USED TO IT! We were socially disobedient, loud and we were right out there in public and everything. I've chanted that rhyme in parades in city streets nationwide.
Thank you my loving God that Gay men, for whatever reason, SPARKLE just a little. I don't mean to leave out our Lesbian sisters, but early on we needed every tap-dancing, showtune crooning, hairdressing, head to toe Drag Queen on the planet to SPARKLE bright RED! Their mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and grandmothers and grandfathers and teachers banded together and REFUSED to let us die. They sewed us a quilt that covered the capitol lawn. We may take for granted the multicolored ribbons for breast cancer or lost children or heart illness BUT the VERY FIRST and ONLY ribbon was the RED RIBBON worn during the 1985 TONY AWARDS ceremony to honor a class of young talented men mostly who were dying.
The worst part was that we were largely an invisible minority. We had to become visible and loud or we would all die in respectful silence. I had never been all that "OUT." Afterall, whom one sleeps with is usually the business of whores and gossips. This disease that killed us BECAUSE of whom we loved forced us to do away with SILENCE and INVISIBILITYand DEMAND that every "favorite uncle" "school marm" "Rock Hudson" "choir director" "playwright" "actor" and even quiet private K.D.Lang step up and question "how'd you like to try get along without us?"
I am blessed, so blessed in this life because I have a quick wit, a sense of humor and make friends easily - always have, always will. During my High School and college days, I was often the "only gay person" people knew - AND they liked me. When a deadly disease made Gay men scary It became very important to me that everyone that liked me knew I was Gay. Even more so when I became a "poster child" for the disease itself in 1995. Millions of dying African children aren't as charming, funny and smart as I am at a party. When I explain my disease, the treatment, I'm not scary. HIV/AIDS is.
As things stand AIDS research wise, 15-19 vaccine trials are moving along at about the same pace. The lead trial has run into it's first set of obstacles in human trials. Since the remaining vaccines work along similar methods we are looking a another decade of lost work. The millions in Africa, India, Russia, China that will benefit from the regime of Anti-retroviral drugs being made available now will live relatively full lives. For third world countries 50-60 years. At a dozen years into my own struggle, maybe I get 60 years too.
So that's why I talk about my sexuality, my terminal illness. Things whispered are feared.