A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to someone from the NZAF about the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial being held this Sunday night. He told me that youth interest for the event had been declining – we had become complacent because, due to reasons such as improved medical knowledge, there are fewer AIDS and HIV-related deaths per year. I was shocked when I realised it was true. Queer people of my generation are losing touch with an important part of their history.
As for me, I couldn’t even begin to comprehend what it must have been like – the joy of the Homosexual Law Reform in 1986, when you could finally be who you were and do what you wanted – followed by the horror of everyone around you slowly dying. I can’t imagine what it must be like to spend months or even years helplessly watching someone you love deteriorate before your eyes, knowing that only thing you can do is be there to keep them comfortable. That’s why, when a few gay friends of mine flippantly told me they expected to die of AIDS when they were older, I was aghast.
I think the reason they were so blasé about it is because, at our age (around twenty), we usually haven’t had a great deal of contact with death and anguish (the death and anguish of AIDS in particular), so we aren’t really familiar with the concept of staring deep into your lover’s eyes and listening to them tell you they are going to die. If we have any personal knowledge on the subject, it’s usually through the experience of our parents – who may have friends who are suffering from AIDS, or are suffering from it themselves. Indeed, my only experience of it was through my parents. About ten years ago, one of my dad’s good friends (a man he had flatted with at university) died of AIDS-induced pneumonia. While I have no memory of this man, the event is permanently engraved in my mind as the one time in my whole life that I have ever seen my father cry. His group of friends constantly reminisce about him, and last year they arranged a huge reunion to honour what would have been his fiftieth birthday.
People, I implore you – use a condom. Just because the estimated life expectancy from diagnosis has increased from ten to forty years, doesn’t mean you can stop worrying about it and start riding bareback on your fortieth birthday.
Apart from being logically unsound (expensive medicine, painful side effects, wider HIV pool), it is also disrespectful to the thousands of people who have lost their lives or loved ones to AIDS.
The Candlelight Memorial is there to remember those who have been taken by HIV and AIDS (and to express gratitude to those continuing to fight against the virus. It’s on Sunday May 20 at 6:30pm, in the City Gallery.
By the way, the Traffic Light party was awesome. Oh, man! If you weren’t there, you really missed out. No surreptitious yet hilarious photos taken by me this year, though, unfortunately.