Surviving a Plague … Again
The year is 2021, I am 47, and I’m a 15-year survivor of the first plague of Generation X. Every part of that sentence makes me feel some kind of way. First of all … FORTY-SEVEN! I’m not one of those forever-young queens, so I’m very excited to be alive and grown and OUT! Everyday, I thank my God for who I am, where I am, and all I get to do.
Not that I never thought I’d make it to 47, but I’m just grateful that I’m finally grown and self-actualized. Second of all … there’s the Generation X part. Yes, I’m a child of the 80s and 90s and it blows me away that many of my peers are now grandparents. GRANDPARENTS!!!! I’ll just leave that right there.
What I really want us to reflect upon is “the first plague.” I’m sure you know where I’m going here. The use of the term “first'' infers a “second.” We’ll get to that later. Suffice it to say, today’s casual association with HIV and AIDS in the age of PrEP, U=U, and the one-pill regimen that many swallow without skipping a beat … removes many of us from the reality that AIDS was an actual plague by any definition. But this definition seems most appropriate, “a contagious disease that spreads rapidly and kills many people.” That I actually have to spell this out says a lot about the controversy that surrounds HIV and AIDS, even to this day. Those of us who have survived and even thrived, despite our diagnosis, must be reminded that even if we do not have a friend or relative lying in a grave, cursed and scorned by their survivors—or even survived with wasted face and expanded abdominals—we too have survived a plague by the skin of our teeth.
What we mostly survived was fear. Every same-sex encounter in my teens and twenties as a closeted Black twink … left me consumed with fear and dread. Fear of death. Dread of being found out. Thinking back, I probably would have chosen death over survival pre-2000, as I did not have the tools necessary to survive the shame of my family, gloom of the hospital visits, the answers demanded about my unconventional sexual exploits. I’m sure I would have preferred death over such a life.
Fast forward to 2006. My umpteenth visit to public health would be longer than all the previous visits. The plague had at long last arrived at my threshold. My crippling fear was alleviated by relief. The fantasy of killing myself immediately succumbed to the courage to come clean about everything. I knew if I were to live, it would not be because of the newly prescribed one-pill regimen, but because of the truth. I began to tell the truth about my body, the truth about my passions, the truth about my lies I had been telling for 32 years. I’m gay. I’ve always been gay. I’m HIV positive … to my wife, my mother, my father, myself. That first plague was lifted.
Now about this second plague, COVID-19. If the first plague was cured by the end of silence, I’m beginning to believe this second plague will not come to an end until we all achieve some silence … from the insidious lies and political propaganda. Here these two plagues converge. It’s the same lies, the cultural factions, the suspicion of science, the foolishness of faith, and the contempt of those who don’t look like you, think like you, or live like you.
That is what has caused 700,000 souls to die in under two years in the U.S. Approximately the same number that have died from AIDS in the U.S. in 20 years. Perhaps this is an unfair comparison, but it shows that as the lives of people living with HIV and AIDS in America have improved, the same culture of dissension and hate that led to the spread of a deadly plague has metastasized. While the science of these deadly viruses is vastly different, the moral depravity of the culture that it seeks to destroy has drastically worsened. Just as delusion and denial has led to the death of 36 million worldwide, the same will be true of COVID-19.
Today, I got my third shot. A booster recommended for those 65 and older and/or living with a chronic medical condition. Alas, living with HIV just might allow me to survive a plague … again.