30 years of AIDS: six 30 year-olds recall lives in parallel
Unlike the generation that lived through the early part of the AIDS crisis, and distinct from the younger generation who have no recollection of it whatsoever, these 30 year-old writers have lived parallel to the epidemic and have the particular experience of being born in 1981 (or 1980) as well. Herewith, they recall lives lived in parallel to the AIDS pandemic, as part of our lead-up to World AIDS Day this Dec. 1st.
- Unleashed Power: Michael Hendricks and the Parc de l’Espoir
- Réjean Thomas, Actually: HIV/AIDS, and the problem with campaigns
- A Day with/out AIDS: Persistence and Dec. 1st
Born in 1980, I was barely a year old when the US Centre for Disease Control (the CDC) first issued a report on the highly unusual occurrence of Kaposi Sarcoma amongst gay men, in the summer of 1981. While the term Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome was not coined until a year later, and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus that causes it was probably circulating for decades before, it has generally been acknowledged that 1981 was the year that marked the beginning of the AIDS era. As millions continue to die of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere in the world where anti-retroviral drugs are not available widely or cheaply, the “AIDS crisis”, as it is now known, is thought to have ended in 1995, with the advent of HAART, Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy. By that time, these children of the 80s were teenagers: our understanding of sex, politics, and “health” have been all but defined by HIV/AIDS and its global and local effects.
To mark the occasion of the 30th year of the AIDS era, we asked our contributing writers, a prominent photographer, and a heterosexual ally to tell us what AIDS has meant to them, given that they have never known a world without it. From Marc-André Goulet’s magnificent Blanc de mémoire exhibit at the Écomusée du fier monde this summer, to the exciting new scientific workThe Origins of AIDS (Cambridge U.P. 2011), by Université de Sherbrooke researcher Jacques Pepin, to David Weissman’s stunning documentary We Were Here (2010), which screened to a teary audience at the Image + Nation festival this year, deliberate and incidental commemorations of this anniversary have been manifold.
At 10 years of age (in 1990), I saw an episode of the Golden Girls that was the first time I had heard the word “gay” on TV. When I asked my mother what “gay” was, she replied that it was when men were attracted to younger boys, and that they wound up getting AIDS. From then, I remember a blurry decade of red ribbons at award ceremonies, Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia, art trio General Idea, and constant news stories on death and devastation in sub-Saharan Africa. Only recently have I connected to its profound social and personal impact, by living in a community where HIV positive people are healthy and politically engaged. In many ways, the story of the 30 years of AIDS is for me one of myth to reality. – Jordan Arseneault, Editor, 2Bmag
“Growing up through the rise of the HIV/AIDS crisis as a gay man was by no means pleasant. On top of the fact that society did not accept you, now gay sex could actually kill you. I longed to have grown up in the 1970s when gay sex was considered subversive, but not necessarily suicidal. Even years after tritherapy turned a death sentence into a chronic illness for those who have access to medication, it still took years for my fear of HIV/AIDS to subside. What saddens me now is that with all of the knowledge and all of the medical advances, the social stigma surrounding the disease has barely changed at all… especially within our own community.” – Michael Hawrysh, (Montréal, 30), 2Bmag contributor
Recently, a friend visiting from India drunkenly slurred, ‘We always focus on the negative aspect of the virus, but so many good things have also come out of it.’ After a confusing, uncomfortable silence, that only politically correct North Americans can produce, she said that she meant in the context in developing nations, where AIDS NGOs were the first to inaugurate explicit, detailed, conversations about sex in the public sphere. In that sense, world over, the existence of the virus has forced the conversation of sex onto table. Movements for queer liberation and sex workers’ rights were able use this as a launching point. Globally, the last 30 years, have taken different meanings in different places. – Indu Vashist, (Montréal, 30), 2Bmag contributor, and blogger: globalqueerdesi.wordpress.com
“We can’t stress enough the importance of cooperation, the sharing of ideas and constant learning, woven into a common experience that we have been living for 30 years.Conveying this knowledge is vital. Blanc de mémoire allows us to come together and testify. This in itself is good, but from there, how do we build bridges between us, but especially with others and the next generation of activists? What will it take for a generation that has not lived through the beginnings of the epidemic to understand the importance of current HIV issues? At 30 years of age, I share the same birth year as AIDS: how could I envision a world without it?”– Marc-André Goulet, performer and photographer, Blanc de mémoire www.marcandregoulet.com
As a 30-year old queer man, I have no recollection of a time before AIDS. Nonetheless, I recognize that I did not physically experience some of the most dire and brutal moments of gay history in the early days of the epidemic―years of terror and mass mourning. I’m aware that I was spared the threat of quarantine, forced-testing, and sero-status tattoos. I know that even though the faces in power may have changed throughout three decades, I belong to a population that was, and largely still is, viewed as disposable. Through texts and memories, I try to honour the ghosts of history, and celebrate all warriors who continue to live, fuck, fight, and scream. – Mark Ambrose Harris, (Montréal, 30) 2Bmag contributing writer markambroseharris.blogspot.com
“AIDS, in its devastation, shows the resilience and strength of communities who have provided support and care. Faced with the unknown, many have shown true strength. Attitudes about discrimination, education, tolerance, and acceptance have changed because of how people responded. Health issues are now cultural, whether it’s November moustaches for prostates or runs for breast cancer research. That started with AIDS ribbons and people who had the courage to be open about their experiences and people who reminded us that each death was too many. Being the same age as a disease is an odd marker of time. I’m no baby and GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) is thankfully obsolete.”– Peter Josselyn, (Toronto, 30) www.typed.ca
Photo by Keith Race