Op-ed: AIDS/LifeCyclers Tell it Like It Is

Four riders share their personal experiences and photos from this year's AIDS/LifeCycle.

BY Advocate.com Editors

June 15 2012 6:12 PM ET

Tracy Gilchrist, Editor for SheWired.com: Just over a week ago I endeavored to ride my bike from San Francisco to Los Angeles over the course of seven days to raise funds for programs that provide HIV/AIDS education, prevention, research and medical services, medication and counseling for those who seek help at the LA Gay and Lesbian Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.  At my not-so tender age of 44 the decision to take on the AIDS/LifeCycle for a third time felt incredibly daunting despite the many mornings this winter and spring that I spent training — in and out of arm and knee warmers (depending on the weather), lathered in sun screen and sporting heavily-padded spandex that still failed to save my back end from the evil doings of the bike seat. All of the training in the world could hardly prepare one for the physical and emotional roller coaster that is ALC. And that’s just part of why I’m so drawn to it.

I grew up and came out in the age of AIDS. The first time I recall being aware of HIV/AIDS was during a conversation that took place among coworkers at my first job at a family-owned bakery in the rather tiny town of Plainville, Conn. I was 16 and it was 1984. With no malice or ill-will the people at my job in my suburban town truly pondered if any of us was at risk from HIV/AIDS simply from touching a doorknob or sitting on a toilet seat. The science that disproved such assumptions may have been out there but in our little world we didn’t know it. So much fear accompanied the word AIDS.

A few years later I came out, and the shaping of my lesbian identity very much hinged on trips I took to New York City, particularly those visits that took me to my first Pride parades at which AIDS activism was front and center. The immediacy to not merely end the epidemic but to understand it and to force the government to acknowledge there even was one (President Reagan had still not uttered the words HIV or AIDS publicly at that point) was more powerful than anything I’d known prior or since those nascent days.

At the time I was visiting the city fairly frequently my friends Ron and Mac lived in artists’ housing at Manhattan Plaza on 42nd between 9th and 10th. It was 1987, and for the first time in decades the wait list for apartments there had dwindled to nothing. The residents – actors, dancers, choreographers, writers, musicians—were dying, and there were apartments available. Four years later Mac died too. Later, I would lose another actor / artist friend, Michael, to AIDS. Even as a young lesbian, for whom there were literally no statistics about infection rates, my youth was shaped by those who were sick and those we all lost.

Today, several of my friends are positive, including my two best friends. Thanks to research, education, meds and access to medical services theirs is not a death sentence, although they were diagnosed nearly 20 years ago. Still, stigma abounds around HIV/AIDS.  While immeasurable progress has been made in the 31 years since the first infection was documented, there is still so much more to be done.

I rode in my first LifeCycle in 2008 for the challenge — to push my limits and myself. But beyond that I rode and raised funds to give back, to honor those I’d known and lost, and in some ways, to honor my youth. I returned to LifeCycle in 2011, and before I left closing ceremonies I signed up for this year. After rolling into ceremonies just a few days ago, I stepped up to the registration tent and signed up for next year’s LifeCycle. It’s just a part of me now. It’s what I do.

Read Diaries from Tracy (pictured at left) on SheWired:

- Days 1 and 2

- Days 3 and 4

- Days 5, 6 and 7

Tags: Health

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