Good Evening Darlings,
I must preface this entry by saying that what I am writing about tonight is just me opining about something that I consider incredibly serious. Some of my millennial peers may disagree, but for some reason, I have always considered it close.
Today is world AIDs day. And by coincidence or not, we went to see “Dallas Buyers Club,” the new true life film about Ron Woodroof – a heterosexual male who was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1985 – and the lengths that he goes to first protect himself from this death sentence and then to protect those around him as well. The story is that of many places around the country during the infancy of HIV. There were few drugs, few hospital beds and fewer expectations. This was a time where doctors wore mouth and nose masks to check in on their patients. A time when there was no reason, no hope and little understanding.
People like Ron Woodroof took it upon themselves to change the conversation about the treatment disease that was likely to take their lives. The doses of AZT (which was the first government approved treatment for HIV, would later become one of the first real drugs to quell the disease) that were being administered in trials were far too large, and were making people more sickly and speeding the process of malaise along. A little research into the world of treatment outside our fine country’s borders and Woodroof found that there were other options. Many other options.
And so, like others around the country, Woodroof ended up creating a “buyers club” where he would essentially smuggle treatments from other countries into the states and have willing and able patients pay a membership fee. It was in this sleuthy way that buyers clubs became a legal-ish way to supply those who wanted other options. Of course, you could not “sell” these treatments, but you could share them with members of your club. These existed all over the states and although not entirely kosher – it is my understanding that they were more or less left alone by the FDA in large part due to pressure from groups like ACT UP.
Woodroof took his 30 day life expectancy and grew it to seven more years of life. In those seven years, he did what he could to heal an affliction that he found himself a part of. The movie was incredible – the acting really was amazing and I feel like feature films surrounding HIV and AIDs are sometimes weepy (as they should be) – but this was so strong. The film asked it’s viewers to do a few things. It asked that we don’t take things at face value, it asked that we ask questions and understand the world around us, and it asked us to not forget what once was and what could always be lurking around the corner.
I think for me, one thing that stood out was that the protaganist was a heterosexual male. It is strangely unusual to watch and/or read anything about the virus from the perspective of an infected heterosexual. So much of the plight of HIV was that it was believed to and really for the most part did live within the gay community – a community who was already fighting an uphill battle just to be who they were. It was and remains a tragedy associated very much with the community.
This film is about a man who gets HIV through heterosexual unprotected sex.
This film is about a homophobic man who gets HIV through heterosexual unprotected sex.
This film is about a homophobic man who gets HIV through heterosexual unprotected sex and eventually realizes that the disease affects all and it has nothing to do with gender or sexuality, it has to do with the choices you’ve made before you really knew there were any choices at all.
It is in so many ways, a beautiful story of someone realizing that all life is delicate and that there is no one that is better than the next. It is also in so many ways a cautionary tale for all of us to take heed.
You know, HIV is something that I never remember not being here. My generation is really the first generation to grow up knowing about and being educated about HIV. Personally, it has always been something that I have been both overly interested in and completely scared of.
From the time I was 11 – we watched a movie about Ali Gertz (starring Molly Ringwald, of course) in health class and that was it. I wanted to know everything about the disease. I wanted to watch all the movies and read all the books and understand the cultural relevance and everything. I wanted to know why it was considered at once a “gay disease” and how it was transmitted and what would happen if an HIV positive mother gave birth to a child. I wanted to know about Ryan White and Ali Gertz and Freddy Mercury and all of the people who it affected.
I wanted to understand why I felt so much more interested in knowing about this as opposed to anything else. I have come to understand that part of the reason that I wanted to know so much is because it has had an effect on society like no other disease has. It is a constant conversation. A string of ideas that keep changing. A topic so full of politics that it seems like every article, every opinion, every piece of the puzzle is just so different than the next. It’s a disease that people fear not only because of the disease itself but because of the social stigmas attached.
I feared getting HIV through the entirety of my pre-married years, and thus I took caution. And lots of my friends thought I was crazy for it. For being so concerned. For being a straight woman who was in relationships with college educated, non IV drug using men. And what’s so crazy to me is that WE ARE the first generation to grow up KNOWING how to protect ourselves, but for some reason – gay, straight, who cares – not all of us do, and I know people have their own reasons for it, but it hurts my heart.
It hurts my heart because so many people didn’t have the same choices to make that our generation does. Because free love was the apex of understanding and beauty and intimacy until it wasn’t, until it became saying goodbye to friends who left the earth before their time, to marching against the FDA and their stupid stupid rules and to learning to understand that free love was about educating and protecting yourself.
Look – I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there in the hospitals, I wasn’t there in the Haight and I wasn’t even really on the earth yet when all of this started happening, so in no way am I any kind of authority on the subject. What I do know is that every month, for the price of a latte or two, I contribute, in the little way that I can to a world that is not necessarily (but hopefully someday) without AIDS, but one that is without the stigma surrounding it.
We all should learn to love a little more than we do. And understand a little more than we do. And just all be a little bit better to the person next to us than we usually are.
And just like that, I’m off topic again.
Sorry for getting so serious. But it means a lot to me. And if not today, when?