Do you remember December 1st as a day when people gathered in terror and grief with candles and tears listening to words that couldn’t begin to touch the pain and anger and sadness?
Do you remember when it was a time for all kinds of people to gather together, people that probably wouldn’t be in the same room for any other reason? We don’t really do that now. And maybe it’s okay that we don’t.
Maybe it’s good that the terror of HIV is no longer there. Maybe it’s good that people aren’t dying so fast and so painfully, isolated and afraid. Maybe it’s good that we’re not so traumatized by fear and grief and anger.
Is terror a good thing? Is a painful death beneficial? Is emotional trauma something to be longed for?
No. But I have to say, those scenes of suffering and bravery certainly helped capture the zeitgeist of the Eighties and Nineties. It helped keep AIDS in our collective consciousness. Drama and fear and compassion fueled activism and grassroots movements and the formation of community-based organizations.
AIDS is overwhelmingly real. It is dramatic.
So I’m not sure if it’s a good thing that HIV isn’t such a drama queen anymore. Not to say that I want people to suffer needlessly. I don’t. I just happen to think we’re not paying attention because it’s no longer hip, sexy, avant-garde and noble to do so.
Our short attention spans need to be constantly reminded. And, there’s really not a lot of spectacular theatrics to grab our attention today. Well, not compared to the past.
But, trust me, it’s still there. There are some rather dramatic facts to consider:
People are still being infected. That means they may not be protecting their sexual partners out of ignorance. That means more HIV.
Gay men, and/or Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) account for more than half of all new infections each year, and MSM is the only risk group in the country whose infections are increasing. MSM account for nearly half of all persons living with HIV.
People are still dying. Yes, the drugs help, and people with HIV are living longer lives, but the drugs don’t always work, and HIV mutates. Our immune systems are under a great deal of strain and one serious opportunistic infection can kill.
It’s not over. Families are still being traumatized and our community is being hurt by this epidemic.
And those are just some of the many points to consider.
Is it good that people are no longer dying and suffering in such huge numbers? Yes.
Is it good that we no longer gather in great numbers, sharing strong emotions, standing hopefully resolute in the face of pain and suffering and memory? I don’t think so.
Personally, I need to remember these facts and these people, because they’re part of my history, my community, my country and my world. I need to be reminded that my compassion, my voice and my heart are all still relevant. I need to be reminded that I’m not alone, I need to remind others of the same thing. And I think doing it once a year is the least I can do.
That’s why I post this, to remember, to remind, to regroup.
Because I still think it’s important.