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March 29th, 2010

We’re AIDS walking “post-crisis.”

AIDS WalkWhile attending the South Florida AIDS Walk yesterday I was struck with the obvious. These walks just aren’t what they used to be, and neither is the HIV/AIDS crisis. In fact, “crisis” is hardly a word to describe it anymore.

This isn’t simply about the fact that, for white gay men like myself, the horror of AIDS has abated and treatment successes have prolonged life. It’s about the world we live in (culture, politics, money) having moved on. The media is so bored with the topic that they responded with a big yawn to two groundbreaking stories this year: a man in Berlin had HIV eradicated from his body (yes, he was “cured”), and for the first time a new vaccine showed promise in clinical trials.

When a gay man has a little extra money in his pocket, he’s more likely to give it to a political candidate than an AIDS agency. He’s more passionate about ending DOMA or Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell than making free HIV testing available. And when he sleeps with someone, he’ll make his decisions about protected sex based more on who’s positive and who’s not, rather than a mortal fear for his life. Funding used to be plentiful, if not always truly enough. But today AIDS service organizations are in real danger of cutting services as fundamental as HIV testing.

american-aids-patientTake a good look at this picture to the left, if you can. When was the last time you saw a friend in this condition? For me, quite some time. That’s progress.

If we accept the fact that science has improved things for those of us with HIV, we must accept the residuals as well. As an aging AIDS activist I must accept not only my good fortune for having survived HIV infection for 30 years, but that younger gay men aren’t that interested in what happened to me a generation ago. Neither are they particularly interested in absolute safer sex messages like “Use a condom every time,” which hasn’t been followed since we were attending funerals for dead friends every weekend. (To watch my point made through pitch-black comedy, check out “AIDS: We did it!” on YouTube.)

If messages about HIV are to remain relevant (and hell, I suppose that includes me as well), then our credibility hinges on reflecting the truth as our community knows it to be: unprotected sex is common, STD rates are up, gay marriage is sexier than condom use, and anyone who is pushing outdated safe sex models looks like an old man with a rake yelling from his front lawn.

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4 Responses to “We’re AIDS walking “post-crisis.””

  1. Carole Ann Kaplan Says:

    March 29th, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    This is a lot to absorb, Mark. From your point of view, progess has to be made in another way for the “Y” generation. Your ideas are substantive, objective and true. Keep writing and educating us all.

  2. Charles Green Says:

    March 30th, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Whoa! This is a keeper. I just had a conversation with an older hetero guy who was shocked SHOCKED that HIV infection rates were creeping up! He couldn’t understand why. Now all I have to do to explain is simply send him your blog.

  3. Randy Prophater Says:

    March 30th, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Thank-you Mark. First and foremost, you are missed in Atlanta. You have provided me with many a conversation that pushes me to continue to think about my own positions on living with HIV. Although you call yourself an aging activist, you inspire then next generation with articles like this.

  4. Dave632 Says:

    October 9th, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Very interesting stuff, how accurate is the current HIV test?

    (Very. Get tested, trust the results, and keep getting tested if you’re sexually active or using needles. — Mark)

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