A Tribute to Women in the Early Days of AIDS
Special thanks to Becka of the Frank Sinatra School in New York City, NY, USA, for the artwork entitled "Lovers" contributed for the International Carnival of Pozitivities.
In the earliest days of HIV/AIDS, the victims of this disease represented the greatest fear of a generation of gay men and a few select others: death from an unknown source. The victims of the disease were seen as pariahs and misunderstanding about HIV/AIDS was the norm. We did not know how the disease was spread, and as such, the victims were seen as potential sources of infection by society. People were afraid to hold, hug, shake hands with, feed, change diapers for, sit near, or even talk with the emaciated, purplish-splotched men who were gasping for air as they lay dying of AIDS. Only the closest of friends and future friends overcame their fears to offer their love and support for the dying lonely. Often, victims who were single died alone and those with partners felt isolated by their families, friends and acquaintances that stopped visiting. It was an ugly disease and one that frightened many more people than it infected. And why not…when the disease caused the most alienating of reactions from society at large, who would want to risk infection? We just didn’t know that the disease had already taken hold in our communities and that we were silent carriers for the disease that we did not understand.
In that time, women, as a rule, were not seen as at-risk for HIV/AIDS, but no one was sure. We only knew that the 4-Hs were the groups that showed infection: homosexual men, hemophiliacs (male and female), Haitians and heroin-users. The only women who were showing up in the rolls of the infected were those who had received “tainted” blood or who had injected street drugs. Luckily for some gay men, including myself, it was this apparent invincibility to AIDS that brought us unexpected comfort from our female friends and allies. In my case, it was the forging of intense bonds with my “sisters”—my lesbian friends--that got me through some very tough times.
In all fairness, it was truly women in general who came to the plate and offered their support. My doctor at the time happened to be a lesbian. My closest friends were women, both straight and lesbian, and I confided in them first. It is an unfair statement to say that only lesbian women came to our aid…it was the compassion of women, in general, that gave me the strength to carry on after I learned of my own diagnosis. I have to say, though, that I was aware of the fear and anxiety around my disease state and I picked those to whom I revealed my status very carefully. Most frequently, this involved my closest straight friends and most of my lesbian friends.
So, I want to take this time to thank the many wonderful souls, gay and straight and all female who supported me in the time of greatest uncertainty. Their courage, at a time when their risk of infection was unclear, was greater than I had within my own soul when I feared my symptomatic gay male friends. Women came to our aid…as doctors, as nurses, as caregivers, as confidants and even as fishing buddies. Bonnie, Shari, Joyce, Julie, Lisa, Florence, Jane, Lynne, Joan, Hermine, Peggy, Cyndi, Pat, Soozie and many more…your love helped me survive when others around did not. Thank you.
I feel obligated to point out that this disease has taken a turn that is truly sad. Women, particularly heterosexual women of African-American, African or Latina descent between the ages of 25-44, now represent the demographic groups whose infection rates have soared the highest. It is time for us to return the favor of the early days to our female counterparts by spreading this news loudly. We need to prevent future infections by empowering our female friends to control those aspects of their lives that might lead to infection. If that means that a woman has to have the right to tell her philandering husband to wear a condom every single time he wants sex from her, then let it be. If that means granting divorce to a woman whose husband cheats, then let there be divorce. If it means educating people that raping a virgin is not a cure for AIDS, then we need to be in the teaching trenches every single day, screaming at the idiots who believe in such nonsense. So, although this is a piece about gratitude to my female friends, it is also a plea to educate about the new phase of HIV/AIDS. Our female friends are at risk, whether they are the “virgin” lesbians who are raped by an HIV+ male who believes their virginity will cure him or the wives who unwittingly sleep with every partner their husband has ever had when they sleep with their husbands.
Get tested. Get educated. Get smart!! Above all, show compassion for your fellow humans, no matter what their gender or sexual orientation. We are now, truly, all in this together and we can help one another with just the right gesture of loving compassion.
Categories: HIV AIDS HIV/AIDS women female lesbian role artwork Becka The+Frank+Sinatra+School NYC