Death Takes A Holiday | Feature | Chicago Reader

Death Takes A Holiday 

Welcome to the end of the AIDS crisis. No one said it was going to be pretty.

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

About five years ago I had sex with this guy I met at a party. In the bathroom of his apartment I noticed a dozen bottles of pills--all familiar AIDS meds. The fact that he had AIDS wasn't an issue and didn't cause me anxiety, as we didn't do anything unsafe. The sex was fine, but the events before and after were weird, and we didn't speak to each other again. When we would find ourselves standing next to each other in a bar or in line at the grocery store we would pretend not to recognize each other. At those times I would comfort myself by thinking, "Well, he'll be dead soon, and I won't have to deal with this bullshit anymore." And when I did stop seeing him around I assumed he'd died.

Then two weeks ago, at four in the morning, in another time zone, my friend Dave and I were eating pancakes in an all-night restaurant when in walks the guy. We gave each other a look--not that pleasant didn't-you-rim-me-once-nice-to-see-ya nod, but a dark "you again." It was awkward and uncomfortable, and all I could think as we sat there eating was, "Jesus Christ, why aren't you dead?" I felt cheated. Of all the people who'd survived, why him? Now, according to Time and Newsweek, he might live a long life, which could result in the two of us running into each other again and again for 30 years.

Of course I'm not so evil as to wish anyone dead for such a stupid, selfish reason as my emotional comfort. I'm honestly glad this guy isn't dead. Sort of. I only relate this story to illustrate a point: A lot of the things we took for granted during the AIDS crisis, such as the eventual deaths of people with AIDS, are going to have to be revisited.

Why? Because in the last six to ten months everything about AIDS has changed. Because, as you may have already heard, the AIDS crisis is over.

Thanks to new drugs, PWAs--People With AIDS, in case you haven't been paying attention--don't seem to be dying anymore. Men and women near death just a few short months ago are running marathons, dumping boyfriends, being dumped by boyfriends who'd been quietly looking forward to being widows, and checking out of AIDS hospices. Stories proclaiming the end of AIDS have also appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Advocate, the Wall Street Journal, Slate, New York magazine. Even ER has aired a back-from-the-dead episode.

There are people who don't want you to know about this end-of-AIDS business. This kind of talk is premature, they insist, and dangerous. Premature because we don't know enough about the new drugs. And some people can't take them. And most people can't afford them. And we don't know how long people who are able to take them will be able to continue taking them. And nobody knows what will happen once they stop.

If you're a gay man they're afraid you'll read this and stop using condoms (provided you're not among the 30 to 40 percent of gay men who haven't been using condoms anyway). If you're an IV-drug user they're afraid you'll stop seeking out clean needles. If you're not gay or using IV drugs they're afraid you'll stop giving a shit--provided you were giving a shit in the first place. If you're in government they're afraid you'll stop ponying up dough for research and education.

They're right to be afraid. The end of AIDS is going to "impact behavior choices" in bedrooms and legislatures, and alter people's choices when it comes to volunteering their time or donating their money. They're right about something else too, something at once very important and utterly meaningless: AIDS isn't over. People are still getting infected, and the vast majority of people with AIDS are still going to die, drugs or no drugs. But don't be fooled: Even if AIDS isn't over, the AIDS crisis is.

AIDS and the AIDS crisis are not the same thing. In America something isn't a "crisis" unless people are dying--and by "people" we Americans typically mean presentable, well-spoken, middle-class Americans, preferably white. AIDS is a virus that, because of a set of unlucky circumstances, has killed hundreds of thousands of unlucky men and women--mostly gay men, heterosexual IV-drug users, and a smattering of their partners and children--with little regard for race or class.

But it was the deaths of presentable, middle-class, well-spoken white people that made AIDS a crisis--the poster people, gay and straight, who have access to the new drugs, the people who don't seem to be dying anymore.

Dr. David Spach, coeditor of The HIV Manual, a book for clinicians working with people with AIDS, paused after I asked him if the AIDS crisis was over. "I don't think so," he finally said. "The current treatments are going to be good for people in developed countries, but it's going to be very different for people living in Africa and Asia." Which makes AIDS just like a whole lot of other preventable or treatable diseases that kill poor people in the United States and all over the world. Without access to effective treatment, you can be killed by a list of diseases that's endless and not in the least bit glamorous: tuberculosis, syphilis, meningitis, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, cancer, malaria, diphtheria, cholera.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been at the center of the AIDS crisis since it began, since it was known as GRID (Gay Related Immunodeficiency). In the September issue of the Journal of the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care (not on my usual reading list--I spotted this quote in the Reader's City File column) Fauci had this to say: "Take a look at tuberculosis, which kills three million people a year. Three million people a year over a period of 15 years--the length of the AIDS crisis--is 45 million people. Not even a small fraction of that number has died so far from AIDS worldwide. Malaria kills one and a half million people a year, mostly African babies. Most people in the developed world don't care very much about these diseases, [and] there's no reason to believe that once AIDS gets controlled--with drugs, a vaccine, or both--the industrialized countries are going to look at AIDS any differently from the way we look at malaria or tuberculosis."

Access to drugs is now the central controversy. For activists, the fact that "people are dying" is no longer the issue. The issue is that some people are not. At the extreme end, a discredited ACT-UP chapter in San Francisco--one of the few surviving chapters of a once mighty movement--is demanding that people with AIDS reject the new drugs. It can't be because the drugs don't work--the evidence that they do is overwhelming. The only possible reason to urge people to refuse the drugs is so that more will die, thereby keeping the pressure on government and science to produce a one-world solution. If the dying in the West slows or stops, the pressure will ease. ACT-UP--whose very first slogan, before "Silence Equals Death," was "Drugs Into Bodies"--is asking people with AIDS to shut up, refuse drugs, and drop dead.

Welcome to the end of the AIDS crisis. Nobody said it was going to be pretty.

I feel cheated. AIDS stalked me for 15 years, almost the entire time I've been out of the closet. But it never got me. I am still, after more than a decade's worth of calculated risk taking, uninfected. I know my fair share of dead people, but no one I was particularly close to died. A few casual ex-boyfriends checked out, but not until long after we'd lost touch. Their lives had become abstractions to me; why should their deaths have been anything more? I found one ex's name on the Quilt in Washington, D.C., seven years ago. "Wow, Joe died," I thought to myself, looking at his little piece of glory. "Gee, I hadn't heard."

Had a friend or lover gotten sick, I would've been there, I have no doubt. But I couldn't bring myself to glom on to someone I didn't know well just because he was sick. Every time I considered volunteering at a hospice or doing home care I would become suspicious of my own motives. Was I really interested in helping this dying person, or was I about to become another Shanti ghoul, basking in the tragic glamour of "good" AIDS deaths? I opted to wait for the defining experience of modern gay identity to come to me--I waited for AIDS to come into my life in some real and personal way.

AIDS was going to go on forever; it would get to me or mine soon enough. So why rush things? I didn't avoid people with AIDS, and I didn't rule out people with HIV as potential boyfriends. My last serious boyfriend, Michael, was HIV positive. That someone in my immediate circle of friends or lovers was bound to die of this disease seemed inevitable.

Then I got my chance. Michael sat me down and told me he had lymphoma, an often AIDS-related cancer of the lymphatic system, and was going to start chemo. He'd been HIV positive for probably ten years, and shortly before we broke up, all his lymph nodes began to swell. When he finally went for a biopsy they discovered he had cancer. He had a 30 percent chance of survival. And he had thrush. Things didn't look so good.

As we sat crying in the living room of his new apartment, Michael said that he wished he'd gone to see the doctor while we were still together. "If I had lymphoma you never would've been able to dump me," he joked. We both laughed, but it was true. What kind of monster dumps a boyfriend with full-blown AIDS? "Looks like you got out just in time," he said, smiling.

I told him that I would be there, that I would make time, that he could count on me. On the way to my new HIV negative boyfriend's apartment, I thought to myself, "Here we go. This is it, time to earn my AIDS stripes--maybe I should keep a journal." I'd read Paul Monette's On Borrowed Time. I'd seen Longtime Companion four times. I knew what was expected of me, and I was--what? Strangely thrilled? Morbidly excited? Anticipating grief--fantasizing about your own death or the death of a loved one--has an element of heady pleasure to it. I walked home absorbed in a fantasy about Michael's death: As he slowly came apart, I would divide caretaking chores with Michael's best friend (and fellow ex-boyfriend), Philip. I would accompany Michael to the hospital, yell at doctors and nurses, pick up his meds, bring him groceries, sit with him when he was sick and watch videos. I was prepared to wipe shit off Michael's soon-to-be-bone-thin legs, carry him to the shower and the toilet and the couch. And when the time to die came, whether he selected the time or the disease dictated it, I would be there to hold his hand and tell him to let go.

That was almost two years ago. The chemo worked, the cancer is gone. Michael hasn't started the new drugs but is about to. His viral load is high, but he has no infections--no health problems at all, actually--and is as healthy and drop-dead gorgeous as the day we met. Michael isn't going to die.

I recently called him at the salon where he works, pulling him away from a client, and confessed that I left his apartment that night two years ago fantasizing about his death. "That's kind of creepy," he said, laughing. "But it's something you needed to do, I guess, to prepare for the eventuality. Luckily, I never got to the point where you had to carry me to the toilet or wipe shit off me. If I had, it probably wouldn't have been too 'exciting,' you know."

If we'd still been together when he discovered the lymphoma, Michael and I would probably just be breaking up now. So long as there was a light at the end of the tunnel--and Michael was walking briskly toward it--I could have put up with the things that didn't work about our relationship. But given the choice now, when he's alive and well with no end in sight, I would leave him. And no one would think I was a monster.

Amazingly, before we got off the phone, Michael mentioned that he too felt relatively unscathed by the AIDS crisis--this from a man who's technically a PWA, who almost died of lymphoma, a hairdresser who lost every hair on his body during six months of chemotherapy. "Until I was 30 [he's 32 now] I'd never met anyone who later died of AIDS, and even now it's just been a few acquaintances, no close personal friends." Did he feel cheated by the end of the AIDS crisis? "No. I'm glad it's over--if it's over, that is." When I told him that part of me, a small stupid part, still felt cheated out of my caregiver experience by his survival, he laughed and said, "Sorry I cheated you--ha, ha."

So I will never get to wipe shit off his legs, fetch his meds, or hold his hand and say, "Let go." And the new drugs are making it look like I may not get to say that to anyone, not for years and years and years. Not until I'm old, and Michael's old, and Philip's old. Not until we're all ready to say it.

Maybe I should have glommed on to someone who was dying when I had the chance.

In most major urban centers--where the overwhelming majority of people with HIV or AIDS have been, or have been perceived to be, gay men--"community-based organizations" have made it clear that the "community" they're based in is the gay community, at least at fund-raising time. But what's going to happen to these organizations when gay people stop dying, or stop dying in overwhelming numbers? The majority of people with HIV in most urban areas will most likely remain gay men, and our margin may even widen as gay men let their safe-sex guards down. But most gay men will have access to the new drugs. The people dying, gay or straight, will be the poor--and that spells trouble for gay-community-based AIDS organizations.

Drugs or no drugs, the face of AIDS has been slowly changing. Nationally, new HIV infections among gay men leveled off years ago, while infection rates among the poor--primarily IV-drug users and their sex partners--have climbed. With the new drugs, the "trending" of AIDS away from gay men has accelerated, speeding the transformation of AIDS from a disease identified with articulate, presentable, amusing gay white men to one associated with the poor, with drug addicts, with Africa and Asia.

Judy Werle is a close friend of mine who for eight years was the development director of a large AIDS service organization on the west coast. During those eight years she raised, literally, tens of millions of dollars to help people living with AIDS. I asked her if the changing demographics of AIDS are going to have an impact on the fund-raising efforts of gay-identified AIDS organizations. "Absolutely," she said. "It's going to be much harder to raise money if the only people dying are the very poor, or the crazy, or on other continents. Successful AIDS fund-raising has relied on the compassion of people directly affected by the epidemic, people whose sons or neighbors or lovers or hairdressers or employers had died or were very sick. It made people want to get out there and do something about AIDS. All that's going to change."

Christopher Malarky, another friend who's a development director for an AIDS organization, disagreed. "I still think that gays and lesbians are going to want to help their neighbors." When I asked him if his job was about to get tougher he said no. "I'm more hopeful, I guess. I think we all want to help people in need."

Of all the ways in which AIDS has manifested itself in our culture, perhaps the most nauseating has been the proliferation of cheap sentiment: Philadelphia, the Quilt, Love! Valour! Compassion!, AIDS babies, red-ribbon Christmas tree ornaments, tattoos, rhinestone brooches, buttons, cookies, stained-glass windows, neckties. Listening to Christopher reassure me that gay people would care for their "neighbors" the way we cared for our own sounded like more cheap sentiment to me.

Along with the cheap sentiment, Christopher served up a guilt trip: If we gay people turn our attention away from AIDS, we'll be bad neighbors, not interested in helping people in need. But gays and lesbians didn't fight AIDS to take care of our "neighbors"; we fought to take care of our own. And on an even more basic, self-serving level, the ACT-UP/Gay Men's Health Crisis/danceathon deal was "get involved, save yourself." If the new deal is "stay involved, save everybody," AIDS organizations are going to have to sell that to us. Recalling what a hard sell "get involved, save yourself" was, I think selling "stay involved, save everybody" is going to be tough.

And how's this for an awkward, un-PC fact of the matter: Gay people should no more be faulted for gradually turning our attention from AIDS than we should for not having ever turned our attention to those 1.5 million annual malaria deaths in Africa. As AIDS gradually becomes the problem of other communities, gays and lesbians will have not only the opportunity but the responsibility to turn our attention to other problems facing "our own." For instance, some of the gay community's time and money will have to be directed toward services for a soon-to-emerge class of gay and lesbian elderly. A guy who came out during the Stonewall riots at age 30 is now a gay person pushing 60. In ten years he'll be 70. Are gays and lesbians living lives made possible by the Stonewall generation going to stand by and do nothing while these same men and women are packed off to old folks' homes, many of which are run by churches, where their emotional and social needs won't be met? Or where they may suffer from discrimination? Or abuse?

Gays and lesbians created hundreds of AIDS service organizations all across the country to take care of gay people in need. Either we compel these organizations to redirect their services toward the changing needs of the gay and lesbian community, or we let them go and found and fund new organizations that will. Lots of charities discriminate: there are Jewish organizations that provide services only for Jews, there are old folks' homes that are only for Armenians, or Irish, or actors. Why should gay charitability be held to a higher standard of "neighborliness" than any other minority-identified charitable giving?

I've taken the HIV test almost 20 times. Usually because I was nervous. Concern over possible exposures--a blow job given to a man I knew to be HIV positive, a mouthful of blood sucked out of an HIV positive boyfriend while giving a hickey--would prompt me to call my friend Mark and schedule an appointment. This time is different. When I get to the question on the form you have to fill out about the number of male sex partners you've had over the last 12 months, I make a little black vertical line. One sex partner, 12 months. I've written as many as 27 in that space. But this time it's just one--and not just for the last 12 months, but for the last 24. And I'm not testing this time because I'm nervous. This time I'm testing because my boyfriend and I have decided to stop using condoms.

Eesh. I wrote that seven months ago. I get the same feeling reading it now that I got reading the 1979 edition of The Joy of Gay Sex in 1984--it's ancient history. A lot has changed in the last seven months, and if I weren't such a poky writer maybe I could've gotten it into the paper before the decision to stop using condoms no longer seemed like a matter of life and death. Maybe I could've finished it while it still warranted the melodramatic setup.

Terry and I stopped using condoms about eight months ago. We lost the faith after a late-night conversation. We were both negative and not sleeping with anyone else, so why were we still using condoms? In that moment complete condom fatigue commenced. I didn't want them in the house. I was sick of looking at them, sick of smelling them, sick of "eroticizing" them. Sick of condoms. One day I found a handful in a dresser drawer and, without saying anything to Terry, threw them away. I couldn't stand the sight of them.

And so we stopped butt fucking. For months we would say, "Let's get tested," but we never quite got around to making appointments. I wanted to do it right, I told Terry. I wanted to write about it. I needed to do some research about it before we tested, I told him. And I kept not starting the research and kept putting Terry off. Fact is, I was scared. It had been a decade since I'd had butt sex without a condom and more than 12 years since anyone had come in my mouth. I've been pushing condoms for five years in my column, Savage Love, ripping up anyone--but especially gay men--so stupid as to have unprotected anal sex in the middle of the AIDS crisis. I didn't know if after all this time I would even be able to have unsafe sex. I'd so internalized the "Unsafe Sex Equals Death for Fags" message that I'd probably lose my erection. And if I did get infected, if Terry gave me HIV, I would feel like a fool.

When AIDS educators working with gay men in Australia began pushing "negotiated safety"--sex without condoms within a monogamous relationship in which both men have tested negative--AIDS educators in the United States pointed to men infected by supposedly monogamous partners. Me too. When the subject came up I would ask guys whether they'd ever been lied to by their boyfriends. Trust is risky, gay men were told, and safe sex is about risk reduction. So don't trust.

I finally got tested. The results were negative. We were, according to the negotiated-safety program, both supposed to test, then wait three months, test again, and see a couples counselor for a little chat (extra credit). Only then were we going to start having anal sex without condoms. If we were going to do it I was committed to following the program to the letter, to being a good boy--and to writing about what good boys we'd been.

I said earlier in this piece that the new drugs have impacted behavior, and here's how they've impacted mine: Terry and I started fucking without condoms before he got tested, before counseling, without waiting three months and testing again. What happened? Andrew Sullivan's piece in the New York Times Magazine. The cover of Newsweek. "Lazarus syndrome." The end of AIDS happened.

Doing it "right" just didn't seem as important anymore. The consequences weren't so dire: if we messed up we probably weren't going to die or kill each other. We would just have to take a lot of pills, maybe forever. Diabetes, not death sentences. That was a risk I was willing to take to not have to use condoms anymore. The AIDS crisis ended for me the first time Terry came in my mouth.

In his groundbreaking study of HIV negative gay men, In the Shadow of the Epidemic, psychologist Walt Odet condemns AIDS-prevention efforts that promote "half-truths and untruths [which] cannot change the way a person experiences and thinks about his life, and therefore cannot change important behavior." The emergence of new, effective treatments is undermining AIDS ed's central premise: "Have anal sex without condoms equals get HIV equals die an ugly death." Well, that isn't the case anymore.

Some have argued that it never really was, that it was an insulting oversimplification that beat out more complex messages because it fit on buttons, T-shirts, and posters. With unsafe-sex-equals-death messages denied them, AIDS educators can either start telling more complex truths, truths that may not fit on buttons, or keep telling half-truths and untruths. If gay men need to continue using condoms under any and all circumstances, despite the less-deadly consequences of unsafe sex, AIDS educators must construct new messages that address AIDS in the here and now--new treatments, lower viral loads, and PWAs who aren't sick or dying. What they absolutely should not be doing is, well, exactly what most will probably do: pump out the same old unsafe-sex-equals-death messages, exhorting us to use condoms for AIDS-crisis-era reasons.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying people should stop using condoms. If I were single I would still be using them. If my present relationship ends I will begin using condoms again. Even if HIV does become a "chronic manageable illness," the drugs don't work for some and, as an AIDS-ed pal sums it up, "It will be in people's best interest [to avoid infection], because, though it's better than death, a life of toxic medication and debilitating side effects is still something to be avoided." These new arguments aren't making it into AIDS-ed materials--none that I've seen anyway. If the end of AIDS is being dealt with by the fictional docs on ER, why isn't it being tackled by actual AIDS educators?

Change is scary, and we're entering a period that involves not just the facts of this particular virus, or of one particular sex act, or what needs to be on the buttons, but the very identities gay men have constructed around AIDS in order to survive: HIV negative, HIV positive, PWA, AIDS activist, AIDS educator, service provider, fund-raiser. Are these identities still relevant? What does it mean to be a Person With AIDS who isn't sick, or to be HIV positive if the virus can't be found in your blood? What does it mean to have "unsafe" sex if you're not risking death? How are these new realities going to affect not just our sex lives but every other aspect of our lives?

Eric Rofes, author of Reviving the Tribe: Regenerating Gay Men's Sexuality and Culture in the Ongoing Epidemic, isn't surprised that AIDS educators aren't communicating with gay men about the changing AIDS landscape. In a conversation just before Christmas he told me, "The epidemic as it emerged in the early 80s, as defined by gay men, meant three things: a quick ugly death, an end to the sexual revolution, and all your friends would be dead in ten years. Well, none of those three things is true anymore: AIDS has not meant a quick ugly death for a while. The sexual revolution may have ended, but sex culture has come vividly alive as of 1990. And all your friends won't be dead in ten years--all your friends will be dead in 35 years, maybe. AIDS as we knew it is over."

In Rofes's view, we're not hearing from AIDS, Inc., because we're stuck with "AIDS leadership that responds to changes in treatments as if it were 1985--that is, extremely conservatively, putting out cautious messages which often do not reflect the actual experiences gay men are having. Prevention organizations feel like they have to play this moralistic Chicken Little role to get us to panic and put the condoms back on."

To some extent Rofes believes the gay community should demand that AIDS organizations adapt to the changing realities of AIDS. And he believes we could do that by being more aggressive about holding them accountable. "But I'm not convinced it would be worth the effort. Maybe we should give up and say these organizations are trapped in funding dilemmas and Paleolithic paradigms, as well as their own misgivings about sex. We could demand change, but why bother?

"AIDS organizations continue to operate out of a crisis mentality that visits on gay men a horrible quality of life that we don't need to be living nowadays. People tell me I shouldn't say that, because fewer people will come to the AIDS walk. Well, let's have less people at the AIDS walk, less funding for things that were appropriate in '88 but are not appropriate now. When people continue to live in a crisis mode 15 years into an epidemic there is a deterioration of the human spirit that makes people into victims. Messages put out in '85 are not only inappropriate for '97, they're a scandal. They're harmful."

The end of the AIDS crisis has changed my life. Primarily it has changed my sex life. And it's saved some of my friends' lives--depriving me of the ennobling experience of escorting a loved one to an early but glamorous death. The end of AIDS has also probably saved my life. So not only have I been deprived of the caregiver experience, but I've also cheated others out of that same experience--by not doing my duty, by not dying myself.

The members of my family are very supportive, hypersupportive. They're wonderful, and I'm the envy of many of my friends, gay and straight, who have less than civil relations with their families. There was a time in my life when they weren't so wonderful though, a time when they were responsible for making me miserable, largely through no fault of their own. When I was young and painfully aware of my sexuality and not out, what could they do? Ask if I was gay? That would've been worse than what they did do, which was to ignore the obvious: not the obvious fact that I was gay, but the obvious pain I was in.

Since I came out, my family have done all they can to demonstrate that they love me, that they support me--especially my mother. Sometimes her support can feel forced, as if she's trying to make it up to me for the pain she might have caused me in my adolescence. And what better way to demonstrate her love and support than to love and support me while I wasted away and died of a disease that the very source of my pain had put me in the path of?

In the middle of the night while writing this, I called my mother to ask her if she ever hoped in secret that I would get AIDS.

"Did I ever hope you would get sick?" she said, startled into full consciousness. "Not that I know of. I have wondered, you know, thought about what would happen if you got sick." What did she imagine? "I thought that I would come out there, that I would take care of you. When I watch a story about AIDS on TV I've often wondered if that would become our life, yours and mine."

Nursing me through my illness, to my death, would have brought us closer together. It would have been, I tell her, a special time for us. Did she dread this special time, or long for it?

"Yeah, I guess, but--I don't know. Just because I thought about it doesn't mean I want it to happen."

Would she have made a panel for the AIDS Memorial Quilt in my memory? "I know that you didn't have much respect for the quilt, but I respect that it helps the survivors grieve, and that's important. So would I have made one? Probably, but more for myself than for you, because I know how you felt about it."

My mother hadn't heard much about the end of AIDS. She had heard about "new drugs, or something, that were working, but I didn't know that people were getting better." How does the news that even if I were to get HIV now I probably wouldn't die affect her? "When you say the end of AIDS I think, thank God he's gotten this far without anything happening, and maybe soon there's going to be a cure and you're not going to die."

My mother was asleep when I called her, which wasn't entirely fair, but it was interesting how she phrased that response: "Maybe there's going to be a cure and you're not going to die." My mother did seem to have been operating under the assumption that I would get AIDS, that it was really only a matter of time before she could take care of me, before our special time. Did she really think I was going to get it? "Sometimes. You're so vocal about safe sex, but I sometimes wondered if you were really living what you were saying, or if it was all just words."

My mom asked me to read her what I'm writing, so she'd have some idea of the context of this late-night ambush. When I read her the part about being miserable, about my family making me miserable, she broke in: "I wish it could have been different, but I don't know how it could be. I don't think that anybody can say anything until the kid with AIDS--I mean the kid who's gay--says, I'm gay. But the kid has to initiate it. What could I do?"

When I read her the part about Terry and me not using condoms anymore, she interrupted: "Oh, Danny." Then there was a long silence. I finally had to say "Mom?" She slowly and carefully said, "That frightens me. I don't want you to end up like your Aunt Judy. She's spent her life dealing with having gotten polio just before the polio vaccine came along." And if I did get infected now? "I think I'd be angry." Why? "Because it would be the result of a stupid decision." What would she have me do instead? "Wait till there is a cure, not just a treatment. And then--go for it."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): collage by Rebecca Jane Gleason.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Dan Savage

Agenda Teaser

Music
November 15
Performing Arts
Frankenstein Theater Wit
October 24

Tabbed Event Search

Popular Stories