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What I meant, yesterday, by it adds up, is that I’ve got at least 100 pages of usable material — and I’m not even through all the backlog yet. 100 pages of writing that will work for these couple of book projects; that doesn’t include the writing that could be worked for creative submissions, poems or short fictions.
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Last night we watched part of Angels in America, the movie — just part one. I am trying to remember that time, late 80s, when everyone was going to die from having sex. Sex became something even more important to avoid. In the 80s I was living in Omaha. Gays had AIDS. People who went to the hospital got AIDS. I lived in Omaha, where no one got AIDS. I didn’t know anyone who was sick — it was on all the magazines, on tv, and of course, les taught us about it. What do I want to say about all this? It seemed removed. It seemed like something that would happen to me. It seemed necessary, having to pay so much attention to sex; we did it all the time. For a long time After, after I broke contact with him, I thought it was a wonder that we didn’t get sick, me and my sister, given that he was having sex with both of us and mom & who knows who else?
AIDS was this defining cultural event for my generation — we already knew to wear condoms because teen pregnancy had already been a big deal. AIDS seemed far away but lurking, too. Possible. Vague. I figured I was in the clear, first because I thought I was straight, then because I was having sex with women. After I went off to college, I got tested regularly. I’m sure I got tested first because I wanted to have sex with some boyfriend, so we could stop using condoms. Then I went every 6 months for a long time after that. I was fooling around with bi boys — they could get it; that was the story. Bi boys– those were the ones bringing AIDS to the gay male & straight women communities. That’s what the fear and panic was. Biphobia gone ballistic. Did les ever get tested? Why, of all people couldn’t he have died of it?
People were wearing gloves to touch their children in the hospital, they were platsticking up. In college, I participated in safer sex trainings, teaching us how to have hotter sex using plastic wrap, dental dams, condoms. We needed to wrap it up. I didn’t learn about AIDS up close and persoal, just third and fourth-hand. Someone at school maybe got it, maybe killed himself after he was diagnosed. Even in the early 90s, it was a terrible death sentence.
It’s still seen as a gay disease, even thoiugh, the world over, it’s mostly heterosexual acting-and-appearing people who have it now. Regan, the Right Wing, the conservatives — they branded AIDS completely as that fag sickness. Why am I writing about this? I want to remember — it was just another thing to be afraid of when it came to sex. There was nothing I wasn’t afraid of about sex. Still, that feeling and fear lifts up and around me, it’s present in my body, in my desire, around the longing for dirtiness, for mess; skin-to-skin became a fetish. I’m lost in this. What did les say about AIDS? He’d use it against us, then tell us we had nothing to worry about. That was his way. There was Ryan White, he was normal — not gay. There was how I expected, somewhere underneath, that all my gay male college friends would die. None of them did — we were all protected, isolated. How did that happen? Were we all too scared to get risky?
It feels like a long time ago, and something so far away. When did things shift? In the late 90s? I never knew anyone on the cocktail, didn’t watch anyone die of the disease. Just read about and with those who did. That wasn’t the holocaust I was a part of — I was part of the other one, the one that sang Take Back The Night songs, the one that railed in the night and in small therapy groups holding stuffed animals. I was a part of that epidemic instead. I appreciated having the safer sex community to escape to — we could get angry without shame, could proudly proclaim sex as possible and ours, could talk about safety and latex boundaries, though we didn’t always talk about other boundaries. This wasn’t incest. This was something people gathered in huge numbers to shout about, marched on Washington for, died-in for, demanded change around. People didn’t do that about incest, even though incest and rape killed people, too, and affected almost everyone I knew in one way or another. This was my plague.
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There’s more in here. What do you remember? Where were you during the first part of the AIDS crisis? Where were your characters? Take 10 or 15 minutes and write it out — write the parts you don’t tell all the time, what you were afraid of, what you were proud of, who you loved then, and why.
Thank you for the layers of your survival, for your standing up for others, for your words.