Wednesday, December 01, 2010

World Aids Day

AOG, Madrid

Today is World Aids Day. How far we've come since that first glimpse into the illness back in 1983 when ABC's 20/20 program covered the disease for the first time.

I remember it well, I think it changed my life. 
I was living in Houston, Texas, at the time, and I was a young impressionable youth then of about 13. I remember watching the program and being mesmerised by it. 

I think I was too young to fully understand it, but old enough to know that, this AIDS thing was going to determine a lot in my life. For better and for worse.

I remember that soon after the program, my mother had some friends over, and they were talking about it. I particularly remember a lady, I forgot her name, who was very tall, and who was explaining to my family how shocked she was by what she had seen. 

"It can be passed on through the sweat in the palm of your hand", she said, as she stretched out her hand into the void to mimic a handshake. Whenever I think of Aids, I think of her and that handshake. And, of course, of the fact that she was terribly wrong.

I knew then that this definitely had something to do with me. 

Why? Well, because back in the 1980s (and unfortunately even today), the general consensus was/is that only gay people got Aids, and that it was a gay disease. It wasn't, it isn't, but the stigma is still there.

Since then, I've grown up and had AIDS surrounding my life constantly. 

I am gay, how could it not?

Soon enough, my mother, who hosted a radio show in Houston, began to investigate AIDS. 

A lot of people in the Hispanic community in the State of Texas were concerned with the disease. 

Many of them worked in hospitals, and they were, at first, being forced to clean up -without any sort of protection-, after patients. Many of them with AIDS. 

Of course, unfortunately, a few of them were infected. I remember my mother being very concerned with their health and promoting their protection. 

She invited doctors, investigators, lawyers, in short, a plethora of people to tackle the issue. It wasn't long before things changed. She helped, in her own way, to change this. Even Mexico's UNAM bought her radio shows. Such was the lack of information in the early days. I remember my sister and I helping her out. 

Gathering information, making phone calls, reading up on it on the press (no internet back then, remember?). I think that is where I got the journalism bug from. 

It was information with a purpose, and I was only too glad to help out. I think in a way, I was helping myself out too. By learning about protection.
Back in the year 1992 I was living in London. 

It was then that I met the first person with AIDS. I had just moved out from home and had hosted a "house warming" party at my flat in Pimlico. 

One of the guests, a friend of my first ever gay friend, Pierre, had invited another guy over. His name was Robert. He stayed after the party ended and helped me to clean up afterwards. 

He was a bit tipsy and we got to talking about many things. But, I will never forget this, the first thing he told me when we were alone, was that he had been diagnosed with being HIV + that same day. 

I was slightly in shock, since, until then, I had not met anyone who knowingly was positive. Knowingly. 

I didn't care that he was, since by now I had a pretty clear idea of how to protect myself. I tried to just be his friend. I think that is what I've always done when I meet people who are HIV+. This is because if I ever become infected, I think this is what I'd want from people. Just to treat me like any other human being.
Living in London, I must say that the pandemic hit me hard at times. I remember the first person I met who died of AIDS.

Him and his best friend came up to me once in Heaven, the night club. We became friends of sorts. They thought I was funny and, as they said "a new face in the scene". 

They liked me and I liked them, but we weren't buddies, just people who were friendly to each other and would speak to each other when they met. I don't know what word best describes that situation. 

Perhaps a lighter form of friendship, just above just an acquaintance? The first ever red ribbon I wore to commemorate the victims was given to me by them, the Lollies.

The years passed, and one day I noticed I saw one of them alone. I asked about the other one, and the reply shocked me. 

"Lolly died of AIDS a couple of months ago". 

His real name was not Lolly, but they called everyone Lolly.

Other too would follow in his journey. But many didn't.

Medicine, with its intense desire to end this disease, made things better for those who kept themselves alive. 

I write this with great pain, since many decided to let themselves go. I saw it. I cried for them. But it was their choice, and no one could do anything to stop them. 

Today, I am lucky enough to have a few friends who are still alive. Who care about themselves. Who survived. The cost I can't even imagine. Both at a personal level, and generational. People my age have suffered greatly, and their families and friends. 

I see that young people today are more cavalier with the disease. Just yesterday, whilst having a drink with some friends, a guy of 25 dismissed the whole thing with, "no one dies of AIDS anymore". 

I was shocked. He hasn't lived through it. Perhaps it is for the best that he didn't. It was no Pic - Nic.

But there are many more anecdotes I try to forget. 

Like the one about the guy who's partner was positive and he, out of love, became infected. 

Like the guy who felt he was missing out on the support of the gay community towards HIV positive people, and didn't stop until he became infected on purpose.

Like the guy, a close friend, who never volunteers his HIV status unless they ask. And they never, or almost never, ask.

Like the mother of two who committed suicide by mistake, in a drunken night, thinking she would have more help from the State if she was even more disabled.

I rather not go on, but it is obvious that this disease has taken its toll, mentally, on many of us.

My wish today, as every day, is that one day, before I depart this planet, World Aids Day is no longer held. That a cure, a vaccine, whatever, was found. 

And that all the suffering was not in vain.

That is my wish.

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