March 11 – 2020. We’ve all been here before. There are important lessons to learn.
Every day tells a story about moments in time. Stories about moments in history illustrate the time we spend during our days. Lately I have begun to wonder if we (or I) am not spending my time well or not savoring the illustrations illuminated by our days.
Corona Virus and the illness Covid-19 has tapped a nerve. Generally I am inclined to minimize risk and hope to avoid and ignore it. “I’ll be fine”, I think. I’m probably not unlike many others in this way. This viral scare- it’s tapping a collective nerve. I hear of news fatigue, information overload and suspicion that this virus not nearly as big a deal as it is being made out to be. I hear “This will actually not impact me and only impact others.” We will be fine. But then I think of others- my family members others with lung issues (one even has had transplanted lungs….), the 80+ and lively but vulnerable others- and I accept that this shit is serious. I love the others. You probably do too.
I have been here before. My queer community has been here before. HIV did something very similar to us. AIDS created a scare, a panic, caution, conspiracy theories, death, anxiety and fear.
You all now have afrAIDS.
In 1993-1994 there was little hope for people living with HIV or AIDS. Back then treatments had only just begun to stave off infections and prolong life, but the inevitable was clear. Many of us would die. As an AIDS educator and as a formerly closeted Catholic, I stood in denial and shock in the shadow of what stood before me. Nearly half of my new found community was infected, most of whom (it was predicted) would die. I stood with friends at the crowd’s precipice and a street fair thinking “1/2 of this community is dead” Throughout the throngs, along the edges you could find the evidence, the gaunt, the frail- young gay men looking elderly as they were ravaged by a virus. It was our struggle, but we were still going to celebrate. Virus be damned with us. It was my struggle too – I wanted intimacy and connection – and I didn’t want to die. I still don’t. You probably don’t either.
This Corona outbreak has tapped a nerve. It’s tapping a collective nerve, so far as I can tell. Our policies and politics are so contentious that the President can’t even speak on this topic without it fanning flames. Let us just keep calm and wash our hands, vigorously. (Use warm water and lather up really well for 20-30 seconds). Me? I’m just glad he’s saying SOMETHING. Maybe we are all just acting out our frustrations and acting up? In my community ActUP made a huge difference with AIDS policy so maybe now we can channel our passion, drop the vitriol and come together in response?
So what, he’s not terribly articulate… at least he’s shining a light. Viruses die under bright lights. People living with AIDS had to wait nearly 15 years until a president would utter the word, so although I’m a hater and I find him detestable- we have Corona and at least we are talking about it. Yes, this is serious, but not nearly as serious as the early days of HIV – or “gay cancer”- was. We’ll learn some lessons if history is illustrative.
Here are some things I learned as a gay man in a community struggling with a fatal, contagious virus:
- Our healthcare system learns when patients stand up for their rights and demand fair treatment.
- Politicians will eventually do the right thing if they hear our personal stories and learn what we need.
- Protective gear can be awkward but it help when used properly. Having a healthy baseline also contributes to overall efficacy over time- so stay fit and healthy on all levels.
- Women and those that stand up for the poor, the downtrodden, the sick will do the lion’s share of the work, make the most change and get the least amount of credit.
- No, we are not all going to get it and there are really clear and actionable steps we can take to make sure we don’t. We are not victims.
- We can go on and live our lives, but we do so knowing we have responsibilities for others as we protect ourselves. This lesson is not just limited to virus transmissions or body fluids either.
- Responding in community makes us stronger and we recover more quickly. Indeed, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
- Wash your hands properly and you don’t have to go all in- elbow taps, bows and hello can be wonderfully intimate and you don’t have to go all the way home base for a handshake.
More than half of the friends I made in my 20’s are gone. Our global reaction in the 80s and 90s was slow. Let that be a lesson learned. You have AIDS now and you will not have to endure the holocaust we did. People are talking, this virus is novel, but known. Our global reaction is swift. There are now and will be more inadequacies to the response. Today my friends and family with HIV get treatment, live well and manage a chronic illness. Today we are dealing with Corona – so we need to keep calm, wash our hands (often and vigorously) and take care of one another. This is an emerging emergency, it doesn’t have to be a tragedy.