The New 60
BY Robert Levithan
October 11 2010 6:35 PM ET
I have outlived myself. Fifteen years ago today my T-cell count was 22. The other day my doctor told me my last count was 822. What a difference 800 makes. It’s like money in the bank. Even better!
October 11, 1995, is the day I began an antiretroviral cocktail that I got by winning a lottery under a “compassionate access” program. Compassionate access translates in the pharmaceutical world as “you are so close to death that we don’t follow all the rules.”
The lottery existed because my friend Brenda, a passionate AIDS activist, had sat down a month earlier with the president of Merck, the maker of Crixivan, and when told that it worked, but we’d have to wait, she replied, “My son Brett died five years ago. My son Michael is dying now. I cannot wait.” A lottery was created, and I was a winner (of the 100 people in my doctor’s office who entered, three of us won). Now I know that I would have gotten the meds within a few months, but then it was like winning $10 million.
This column is my response to still being here. I am halfway, exactly, between my 59th and my 60th birthdays. What do I need to say that is still unsaid? You are helping.
Reader comments have been insightful (when not annoying or cloying): Recently I was chided for what I was leaving out. A lot of what I leave out is about sex and sexuality and sexual healing.
As a therapist, as a gay man, as an American, I have internalized a lot of prejudices about sexual expression. I like to think of myself as the “guilt-free” therapist: able to hold most anything my clients put before me with compassion, curiosity ... without judgment. Again and again, the most liberal and socially conscious people still judge the sexual behavior of others and/or themselves. This is sad. If my silence is complicity, it is even sadder.
I have worked to free myself of a good deal of inhibition. I enjoy my body. I enjoy sex. I enjoy sex with other men.
I have been advised by well-meaning friends who read my columns in draft to tone down the sex: “A little sex goes a long way.” Perhaps, and maybe that is just a subtle way of holding back, of not acknowledging who I am and what I really do.
It’s pretty simple: I have more sex than most of my friends and acquaintances (and the quality of it seems to be higher as well, in many cases). I expect to be attacked for this statement (as before in this forum): ”You are tall and thin and blah blah blah ... ”