I wondered what I would say today. I wondered all week and even today, literally at the eleventh hour, I've yet to post anything commemorating World AIDS Day, other than my red condom/ribbon background.
I thought that I might have to let the occasion pass with nary a word from me about the topic.
Then, I remembered a conversation I had at work today.
I work with someone, roughly the same age as me (almost three hundred years-old), and he's a dancer. Now, we all know that one of the communities hit hardest in the 80's was the theatre/dance/art/fashion scenes, for obvious reasons.
Today, he wore a red ribbon on his sweater and I thanked him for doing so. I would have done the same, but I'm not in a such a "customer-facing" role as he is. I would have worn Red, but that goes against my very specific dress code.
We had a very honest and frank discussion about what today meant for us. We're both HIV-; we've both engaged in activities in our histories that we knew were beyond risky; we've never "lost" anyone to HIV/AIDS that was close to us, but we've been affected by it and we both lived through the 80's and early 90's and "witnessed" the devastation of the disease.
Our conversation focused on something very real and very mind-numbing; the highest rate of infection is among 20 -29 year-old people.
Even for those who are 29, assuming that they became sexually active at 16, they would have been doing the nasty in 1998 (give or take a few years along with my terrible mathematics skills).
They didn't grow up knowing the same consequences that we did. They didn't live during "Silence = Death." They'd be hard-pressed to define ACT UP! They had no idea that President Ronald Reagan didn't utter the word AIDS until May 31, 1987 (near the end of his second term), at the Third International Conference on AIDS in Washington. When he spoke, 36,058 Americans had been diagnosed with AIDS and 20,849 had died. The disease had spread to 113 countries, with more than 50,000 cases.
We both shook our heads at the ignorance of the current generation behaving like a generation before them; invincible and perhaps viewing HIV as a controllable STD.
These young people were infiltrating bathhouses and websites and glorifying bareback sex. He recounted a past three week love affair when the object of his desire said, "by the way, I'm HIV+, and I don't like to use condoms." What started as a horny dalliance turned into a three week program of anti-HIV drugs along with a tortuous period of waiting until he could learn the results of his blood test.
This World AIDS Day also marks a decade of learning of the HIV status of two incredibly important people to me. One has been positive for only this past ten years; the other has been positive for approximately 15 years.
One takes medication; one does not. They are only 5 years apart in age.
What lesson can we share? We're so engulfed in marriage equality, but there are so many issues at stake.
As a middle-aged man, I often witness the joy and ribaldry of youth and I think to myself, "you're welcome," because if it weren't for me and for the generation before me, they couldn't behave the way they do, but what are we --as in MY generation-- teaching these kids about protecting themselves?
Far too little, obviously.