It has taken me a long time to say this, but it's
time: I'm sorry.
It's been almost 12 years since I became
infected with HIV, and I haven't died yet. I
haven't even had the decency to get sick. I am a
walking, talking advertisement for why HIV seems not
such a big deal to the younger generation--and
indeed, many in my own age bracket. I know this is a
terrible thing, and I promise in the future to do better. As
gay activist Michelangelo Signorile recently told
The New York Times, "If everyone in
your group is beautiful, taking steroids, barebacking,
and HIV-positive, having the virus doesn't seem
like such a bad thing."
I'm sorry. At the tender age of
41--a year longer than I once thought I would
live--I have never felt better. HIV transformed my
life, made me a better and braver writer, prompted me
to write the first big book pushing marriage rights,
got me to take better care of my health, improved my sex
life, and deepened my spirituality.
I'm sorry. I'll try to do better.
Yes, I take testosterone and human growth
hormone, and I now weigh 190 pounds. I discovered a
couple of abs in my midsection the other day. I'll
try to disguise them. Do they sell burkas online?
I've even enjoyed sex more since I became
positive--more depth, more intimacy, more appreciation
of life itself. Sorry.
I look physically and mentally healthier than
ever. Sorry again. I know that by just going daily to
the gym, walking on the beach, or dancing at the
occasional circuit party, I am the cause of more people
getting infected with HIV. I have helped persuade them
by my very existence that HIV isn't such a
curse, that it can be survived, that it can be treated
effectively, that you can live well and long with HIV if you
look after yourself and stay alert and informed.
I'm sorry. I'm almost as bad as those
damn drug ads showing people with HIV triumphing over adversity.
In the future I'll try to look sicker. Or
I'll stay home more. Promise. I'll try
to get depressed. I won't work out. I'll stay
off TV. I will never tell anyone that treatments are
far less onerous than they used to be (and I went
through medication hell for several years in the 1990s).
I'll even repeat the lie that HIV transmission rates
are exploding because of people like me, even though
the latest solid data show HIV rates to be stabilizing
or even declining in many cities. (A decline in
infection rates in New York City last year! Sorry again.
I shouldn't have told you that. It will
make you less scared.) If all else fails, I'll
tell people I may have gotten "super-AIDS," an
old, extremely rare, now debunked viral strain that is
being successfully treated in one gay man in New York
I'd even be prepared to stop taking my
meds if that would help. The trouble is, like many
other people with HIV, I did that three years ago. My
CD4 count remained virtually unchanged, and only recently
have I had to go back on meds. Five pills once a day.
No side effects to speak of. I know that others go
through far worse, and I don't mean to minimize their
trials. But the bottom line is that HIV is fast becoming
You can see the symptoms. Far fewer gay men are
dying of AIDS anymore. Sometimes local gay papers have
no AIDS obits for weeks on end. C'mon, pozzies.
You can do better than that!
Do you have no sense of social responsibility?
Young negative men need to see more of us keeling over
in the streets, or they won't be scared enough
to avoid a disease that may, in the very distant future,
kill them off. You know, like any number of other
diseases might. They may even stop believing that this
is a huge, escalating crisis, threatening to wipe out
homosexual life on this planet.
What are those happy HIV-positive men thinking
of? Die, damn it.
Of course, we could always be thrilled that so
many people are living longer and better lives with
HIV. We could celebrate our reclaiming of sexuality
after years of terror. We could even try new strategies for
risk reduction among gay men--strategies that
emphasize positive ways to care for our health rather
than negative ways to scare the bejeezus out of
everyone. But then we'd have no more people to
scapegoat and blame, would we?