#WAD2014 – #Reagan, #AIDS, and ACT-UP

For those of you who don’t understand why I dislike Reagan so much, here’s a poster from 1987 protesting our president’s silence on the deadliest virus that America had seen.

AIDSGATE, 1987, posterThink about that for a minute. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were sick and dying, and the American president was silent!

Ronald Reagan’s silence led to the organizing of LGBT protest/action group, The AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, or “ACT-UP”. Their slogan, “Silence = Death” is based on Reagan’s silence.

AIDSIntroPicSilenceDeathSo the next time a conservative talks about how great a president Reagan was, ask them if they think it’s okay for an American president to ignore the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Ask them if they ever wonder how much closer we might be to finding a cure for HIV had Reagan actually done something.

If it sounds like I’m angry it’s because I AM angry. A whole generation of gay men from artists, writers, athletes, and teachers to doctors, lawyers, friends, lovers, and family, an entire generation was lost because of the callous attitude of Ronald Reagan and his successor, George HW Bush. Those of us who survived watched the ones we loved die all around us.

Gran Fury, The Government Has Blood On Its Hands, 1988, posterBoth Ronnie and Georgie Sr have blood on their hands.

I am dedicating World Aids Day 2014 to the fighters, the people who stand up for justice. From ACT-UP to protesters in Ferguson, we are all fighting for our lives. Never stop fighting. Sometimes shouting is the only way we’re heard.

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Remembering the Everyday Heroes of September 11th

The thing I remember most about that Warm and Beautiful Day in September is people’s unconditional willingness to help one another.

I spent most of the day today trying to come up with something brilliant as a tribute to the memory of the many lives lost in, and those affected by, the 2001 terrorist attacks. I wanted to say something about America’s resilience. But looking back at the past four years of childish political posturing, and the increasing frequency of racist violence perpetrated by those entrusted to protect and serve, it’s hard to imagine that we ever all stood together as one United States.

But we did! I saw it with my own two eyes. People with absolutely nothing offered total strangers food to eat, a place to get cleaned up and rest, or just a safe place to sleep for the night. In my own city, which was not directly affected, everyday people did whatever they could. Some traveled to affected areas to join the rescue effort. These were everyday heroes.

Then on September 13th, just Two Days Later, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson appeared on The 700 Club and claimed that God smote America because of all the “Pagans, Abortionists, Atheists, Feminists, Gays, and Lesbians, the ACLU, and People for the American Way”. What a vile, evil thing for two purported men of God to say.

Why must Americans be so ugly to one another every chance we get?

For a few months following the September 11th attacks, most of us stood together and pitched in where we could. We did it because we cared. We did it to help heal the open wound. We did it because it was the right thing to do.

But why does it have to take a tragedy for us to treat each other like human beings?

Bubbling Anger, a plea for sanity.

Everyone is angry.

I’m sure that you have noticed.

We are all angrier than usual these days.

Everyone is talking.

Loudly.

No one is listening.

Eyes glaze over.

The volume increases.

The cacophony fades like static into the background

as we scream

and shout

desperately seeking to be heard.

But still

no one is listening.

It’s almost like we’re living in some alternate reality

created by Springer

and populated

almost entirely

with Mamma Grizzlies and gun crazy Hee Haws.

Self centered righteous indignation

leads to anger.

Anger breeds more anger.

No one is immune.

Even I have become angry.

It’s scary.

Sometimes I can’t identify the source of my anger.

That makes me uncomfortable because,

if I can’t determine the cause, I risk taking it out on the innocent.

And that is just not right.

So I withdraw

from life

from social interaction

just so I don’t inadvertently unleash my aggression on some poor unsuspecting soul.

Fresh air helps.

…a little.

Music helps.

…a little.

The political climate does not help.

…at all.

Everything

is blown out of proportion.

Everything

is a scandal.

Everything

is an emergency.

How are we to identify real crises when everything demands our immediate attention?

News is no longer balanced.

Facts are twisted.

No one reads past the headlines.

Everyone has an opinion based often, on assumptions.

Never mind discourse.

Never mind trying to understand

another point of view,

another person’s experience

Never mind accepting

another person’s existence.

There’s little common courtesy.

It’s my way or the highway.

If your opinion differs, then you are the enemy.

And every day we get more angry.

So stop!

Please.

Clear you mind.

Breathe.

Turn off the TV.

Put the phone away.

Power down the electronics.

And Listen.

Carefully.

Before

it’s too late.

Dear LGBTQIA…BCDEFG Community,

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex… I’m confused. Is the A for Ally or Asexual?

Can we please do something about this ever expanding alphabet soup of an acronym that we have come to embrace? It’s getting a little confusing and frankly, a little ridiculous. Seriously, every time I turn around it seems like we’ve tacked on another letter! I understand that it’s all part of the inclusiveness that our community is supposed to be embracing — and that’s a beautiful thing — but all it really does is confuse everyone except for those whose letter is represented.

How about choosing one all-inclusive word to encompass everyone? I liked gay but it’s become synonymous with homosexual men. So, it isn’t really all-inclusive anymore.

“Sexual minority” is all encompassing, though probably a little too clinical. You could maybe shorten it to the “SM” community but apparently, there already is an SM community.

Way back in the 1990s, some of the kids reclaimed “queer” but that word still holds negative connotations to me. It’s just as bad as that six letter F word. No, we need something optimistic, something bright, something trendy and cool. Like… The Rainbow Community!” …No? You don’t like it? To be honest, neither do I. It brings to mind Rainbow Brite, My Little Pony, or worse… the Smurfs! Come to think of it, Papa Smurf does have that ‘daddy bear’ vibe. He’d probably fit right in at your friendly neighborhood leather bar.

The thing is, members of the LGBTQIA community come from all walks of life. Every ethnicity and socioeconomic background is represented within our community. We are a microcosm of the world! As such, each subgroup needs to be represented so that young LGBTQIA people don’t feel isolated within their own communities. It’s simpler than it sounds. Growing up gay, lesbian, or trans* can be a very lonely thing. Isolation leads to depression. Depression often leads to suicide. When you recognize the importance of representation, suddenly the alphabet soup doesn’t seem so bad.

So, I guess I can live with the ever expanding, all inclusive, acronym that has come to represent our equally varied and colorful community.

parada gay

 

They say variety is the spice of life.

It certainly makes life more interesting.

Happy Pride Month Everybody!

Saying Goodbye To A Dear Friend.

I had intended a Friday post about my recovery from lithotripsy, which is progressing smoothly and without complications. Unfortunately, Thursday morning I received incredibly sad news. A very close friend lost her battle with uterine cancer. I am heart broken by the loss and angry at the circumstances around which she died. The rest of my day was spent in a fog. After not being able to sleep, I found it helpful to just start writing. The following unorganized mess is more therapy for me than anything else.

In the years that my other half and I have been living on this little South Philly block, we’ve established close friendships with our neighbors. With a few exceptions, we look out for one another.

I met Fran through a friend and neighbor who lived two doors down. She was moving onto our block. With her sharp wit and wicked sense of humor, Fran fit right in. She was the kindest and most generous soul I have ever had the privilege to know. That’s not hyperbole. There was nothing Fran would not do to lend a hand to anyone in need. If it was within her power, it was done.

First Friday Sushi Lunch

A perfect example of our First Friday Sushi events. 🙂

My friendship with Fran developed slowly. We bonded over our Italian heritage, and gastronomic pleasure, which included first Friday lunches with our friend Scott. I’ve often bored you with pictures of sushi and sashimi. Fran was a vegetarian, but that didn’t prevent her from enjoying her sushi. 🙂  She and I had an ongoing dialogue about ways to recreate meat-free versions of childhood dishes. It wasn’t uncommon to see either of us carrying plates of food from one house to another. Fran was the inspiration for some of my favorite epicurean experiments.

About eighteen months ago, Fran began to experience pain and bleeding. She was in her sixties so menstruation was out of the question. After a few months of doctors and tests and more doctors and even more tests, it was determined that Fran had stage 3 uterine cancer. It was emotionally crushing.

Our monthly lunch dates continued even as Fran started chemotherapy, but tapered off as some of her experimental treatments took their toll. She was listening to advice from conflicting sources, and people with no medical training who claimed a certain food, vitamin, or magic root was a cancer cure. She went gluten free, tried a macrobiotic diet, and went to extremes to find and eat only organic fruits and vegetables. Meanwhile, she was asking Scott to pick up bagels from Dunkin’ Donuts.

Now, let me stop here for a minute and assure you that I am in no way blaming Fran for her illness or worse, her death. That would be absurd and cruel. I am Pro-Choice. Being pro-choice means allowing a person autonomy. I’m angry because there is so much misinformation being disseminated out there. She was scared. She was reaching for anything that might give her hope. I feel, however incorrectly, that Fran was taken advantage of. I  mentioned the Dunkin’ Donuts because Fran needed to get food into her body. When you’re perpetually nauseous, any food is better than nothing. We encouraged her to eat whatever she could keep down. You’d be surprised at some of the odd things she craved. Fran had an affinity for pickled cherry peppers stuffed with prosciutto and provolone. We asked if she might not be pregnant. {:-)

Last summer, Fran found out about a Vitamin C therapy. It’s an alternative cancer treatment that involves massive doses of vitamin c administered intravenously. Since it could be administered while a patient was also undergoing chemo, Fran signed up. The treatments were hell. Chemo was bad enough, but on the days she received the vitamin C, she was in bad shape. It often took two days for her to recover from the therapy. By January, the oncologist was refusing to give her chemo because she was too weak. The best they could do was rehydrate her with saline and send her home. The vitamin C had done more harm than good. It was clear that Fran’s time on Earth was limited.

During the worst of her illness, it was Scott who did most of the heavy lifting. When Fran needed something, it was Scott she called. Scott taxied her to doctors, treatments, and trips to the grocery store.  Fran’s illness took it’s toll on him. Her death hit him hard. He’d been through this once before when longtime friend and neighbor Mary Ann died just a few years ago. This time was worse because he and Fran were real close.

Fran was rushed to the ER Tuesday night. She was in pain and having trouble breathing. She was admitted to the hospital, where they treated her pain. There was nothing more they could do. Her siblings took shifts sitting with her in the hospital room. Fran passed away 1:00 am Thursday morning. Her brother and one of her sisters was in the room with her.

There’s going to be a viewing next week, followed by a Wiccan ceremony. Fran was a Wiccan high priestess. I’m so proud of her sister, who is Roman Catholic, for adhering to Fran’s wishes.

I’m not sure how to wrap this meandering mess up, but I suspect you will all understand. This past year has been a rough one. There’s been enough sickness in our little burg. So you’ll forgive me if I tend toward the ridiculous sometimes. It’s a hell of a lot better than dwelling on the sadness. Besides, I’d much rather remember the happy, joyful soul that was Franny T.

World AIDS Day

“There will never be a cure! Big Pharma is making too much money stringing me along from one treatment to another.” – Sam W.

In order to help keep AIDS awareness in the minds of people around me, I thought I’d share some of my personal experiences, and how HIV/AIDS has affected people in my life. The following is pulled together from casual conversations with my friend Sam, whom I’ve known for almost two decades. I’ve entered direct quotes as I remember them. Everything you read here is fact.

Sam, quoted above, has been living with AIDS for a little over twenty years. He tested positive in 1991. His survival, he says, is a double edged sword. He feels fortunate to be alive but, like many LGBT folks our age, most of his close friends are gone. “There’s no one left!” he says. “In the early 90s my friends were dropping like flies, one after the other. I thought I was next. My doctor told my parents to make my final arrangements. I was prepared to die.” Sam told me that when he didn’t die, he went into a depression. Psychologists call it Survivor’s Guilt.

Though ten years younger than Sam, I can easily empathize. At the height of the pandemic, AIDS took most of my friends. But the friends that I lost were relatively new friendships. Sam had known most of his friends for ten, fifteen years. You’re not supposed to lose so many friends at such a young age.

Sam says his biggest lament is the cost of survival. He was fortunate enough to have had a decent enough employer who provided him with healthcare, and who was understanding enough to alter his work schedule as needed. He worked for as long as he could, but by the mid-nineties his health had so declined that he had no choice but to go on Social Security Disability and wait for death. Then Protease Inhibitors came along.

The new drugs that saved his life cost a small fortune. Sam takes three Anti-HIV pills which cost about $900 per bottle, and a handful of medications to handle side effects that cost between $20 and $150 per bottle. And that doesn’t include regular blood tests, doctor visits, and medical procedures.

“Remember the assisted suicide controversy in the 90s?” he asks. “All those conservatives wanted to hang Dr. Kevorkian! Now they want to cut my benefits! (Social Security, Food Stamps, Medicaid, Medicare) Where’s their compassion for the sick and dying, now?? If you don’t want to help me live, then allow me to die!”

Sam assures he doesn’t really want to die. He’s understandably frustrated by a system that has failed him. It would be difficult for him to go back to work. He couldn’t even afford a part time job. If he went back to work, he’d lose his healthcare. If he lost his healthcare, he’d get sick again and most likely die.

In a perfect world, Sam could rejoin the workforce, keep his healthcare, and maybe pay an affordable percentage of his salary back into Medicare. The trouble is the cost of prescriptions. As long as he has to take those expensive medications, he can never leave Social Security.

I reminded him of the recent advancements in developing a vaccine. “There will never be a cure!” he says ” Big Pharma is making too much money stringing me along from one treatment to another! It’s a scam, and the American people are too blind to see it!”

Though careful what I say to him, I can’t help but think perhaps he’s right. There’s no money in cures. The money is in treatment. If you cured cancer tomorrow, all those Cancer Treatment Centers would go bankrupt within months. Susan G Komen would cease to exist. I hate to sound pessimistic, but I have little faith in a system that values money over people.

ribbonflag

The best I can offer is try to educate people around me and hope that they pay attention.

AIDS (Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome) has been around for three decades. Some of the biggest myths about AIDS that still persist today include, “It’s a gay disease” “It can’t happen to me” and “There’s a cure”. AIDS is not a “Gay” disease. It CAN happen to you. There is NO cure.

Treatment has it’s own issues. Side effects of Anti HIV medication include, fatigue, neuropathy, fungal infections, liver damage, heart disease, kidney disease, body fat re-distribution (buffalo hump), chronic headaches, nausea, vomiting, vision loss, blindness, high cholesterol, diarrhea, constipation, dementia, calcium deficiency, loss of bone density, death and more.

  • Sounds fun, right? Especially when you consider prevention is as simple as proper condom use.
  • And ladies, because men are so reluctant to wrap it up, there’s a condom designed just for you. – Introducing… The Female Condom!

Knowing all of this, would you rather protect yourself and your loved ones, or spend the rest of your life at a doctor’s office?

To learn more about HIV/AIDS, check out the NIH AIDS info page.  http://www.aidsinfo.nih.gov/

One Warm And Beautiful Day In September…

Everyone old enough to remember where they were that fateful morning has their story. This one is mine.

One Warm And Beautiful Day In September…

I was jolted awake by the telephone. The breathless voice on the other end didn’t wait for a greeting.

“I’m okay!” It was my partner calling.“Everything’s chaos here. I’m uptown, so I’m okay. ”

“What?” I said. “What’s happening?”

“Turn on the TV.”

“What Channel?”

“It doesn’t matter! Turn. On. The. TV!”

I grabbed the remote, and turned on the set. Images came into focus. It didn’t register that what I was seeing was real.

A plane had hit one of the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center. Was it an accident?

It looked too much like a promotion for the latest Hollywood blockbuster. If so, it was an awfully long commercial.

From the side of the screen, I see movement. Another plane appeared. In slow motion, I watched as the plane hit the second tower. This was no accident.

The phone went dead.

I tried calling him back a few times but could not get through. A mild panic settled in the pit of my stomach. “Wait a minute”, I thought. “He said he was uptown.”

It was little comfort, but it would have to do. I knew I should probably leave the cellular signals free for those who needed it most.

Time slowed. Disjointed images appeared before me through tunneled vision. Horrific images. Smoke. Flames. People covered in ash and debris running for their lives. People jumping from the upper floor windows of the World Trade Center because their only other option was to be burned alive.

All sense of time and space was ripped from my consciousness.

For the next few hours, I joined the rest of America and watched the drama unfold. The Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania followed. The feeling that “this is all unreal” never left me.

I left for work at around noon. I worked at a bar and wasn’t due until 3:00pm, but I couldn’t stay in the house any longer. Maybe the nine block walk would do me good.

The streets were virtually empty. The usual sounds of the city were glaringly absent. I was aware of even the slightest sound; leaves blowing, foot steps, pigeons tapping on the sidewalk. People walked in silence. It was eerie.

The complex mix of emotions on people’s faces was dominated by a collective nervousness. A helicopter rumbled overhead. People glanced up in fear. Some, succumbing to survivalist instincts, ducked for cover. The possibility that Philadelphia could be targeted weighed heavily on the minds of many.

The bar was busy. The saying is true that there’s comfort in numbers. I kept the bar’s televisions on so that everyone could see the latest news. We offered the bar’s land line to anyone who wanted or needed to get in touch with friends or family. By 7:00 PM I received a call from my partner. He would stay in New York City for a few days to help friends.

For the next few weeks I felt as though I was disconnected – like a boat that’s come loose of it’s moorings and floats aimlessly at sea. I was just going through the motions. It’s impossible to remember any of the minutiae that usually bog us down because for the following few weeks we were as one, united against an unknown enemy. Each of us doing what we could to help anyone who needed it.

The most disgusting rhetoric that came out of 9/11/2001 was the assertion by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson that America somehow brought the terrorist attacks upon itself. On September 13, just two days after the terrorist attacks, they appeared on The 700 Club and claimed that God smote America because of all the “Pagans, Abortionists, Atheists, Feminists, Gays, and Lesbians, the ACLU, and People for the American Way”. What?! I thought my head would explode when I heard this. How could purported “Men Of God”, mock the memory of so many innocent lives with such hatred and vileness? I’ll let God settle that one.

Remembering September 11th still puts me in that numb place where time and space mean nothing.

I can’t begin to comprehend what those people in New York City were going through. It would be an insult to them if I said I did. I also can’t imagine what could have transpired on UA flight 93 that made the passengers overtake the hijackers before crashing into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, or the passengers of flight 77 and their families, and those of the Pentagon. I have no frame of reference from which I can compare. The best I can do is empathize.

May the people, and their families, who were affected by the events of that day somehow find the comfort that they need.

Note: “One Warm and Beautiful Day in September” was originally posted Sept 2011 on ADignorantium.tumblr