The Pandemic of AIDS in the 1980's - 1990's
The Gay culture lost much of the wisdom passed generationally; an impact still exists
When I turned 19 in 1978, I "came out" (of the closet). It was a rather difficult transition as I had always been presented with the idea that gay men only consisted of the more "obvious ilk". These were the men pointed out to me in public by many adults (fortunately, these 'adults' were not my parents) as effeminate 'queers' who frequented secret clubs. These 'clubs' were rat-infested, filthy places where only the unwanted gathered. As a child and throughout my teenage years, I was an impressive child who garnered a lot more information out of a side comment than most others. I observed, analyzed, and concluded many verboten subjects that a 'child' would very well dismiss, yet, I 'drank' everything in. Gay culture (as it was an oxymoron then) was not my only area of observation. I wanted to know everything.
So, back to 1978. First year of college in a small rural town. Wonderful. I quickly learned that Junior High School was the same as college with some small exceptions. Instead of putting gum in my hair and smashing me into a locker in Junior High, the cowardly college brats always rode by my campus apartment my sophomore year only to scream "FAGGOT" at the top of their lungs. Strange observation made then and still true today: Why are these cowards always in a car with four occupants? Is it against some unspoken, male, heterosexual moral code to drive alone, or, heaven forbid, two boys (How queer is THAT?) in a car, and yell "FAGGOT"?
I was fortunate during those first few years and to escaped to Washington, D.C. for the odd weekend during the school year, and work there during the summers. These are the times I met many 'older' gay men in their late 20's, 30's, 40's who often took me under their collective wings and presented me with a code of honor, brotherhood, respect, dignity, and camaraderie.
Among these, brotherhood and camaraderie are what have been largely lost in these past three decades. At my "ripe old age" of 51, I am many times "befuddled" when a younger man shows interest and respect to me for my experience and knowledge. His gift is one of listening, should he choose. I am by no means the be all and end all concerning gat culture from "back then" much less the present! I have had the recent fortune of meeting such a young man. He has hinted at some experiences at his age that have left me wanting to know why he was so wounded by one of our tribe. He understands why leatherfolk and drag queens respect and suport each other. Leather IS drag! Within the gay culture we are blessed with the ability (learned often at a young age) to "assimilate" and show our masked identidies. As we age and hopefully become wiser men, we adopt this gift and use it to our advantage. I am often told I don't "ACT" gay. HUH? When I tell people that for a year I was a West Hollywood Cheerleader, many do not ask or understand. Yes, it was fun. Yes, it was irreverent. BUT, we rasied much needed cash for our own who were so ill and needed rent or food. Anyone who has been close to or has lost their roof or been hungry will understand. Many gays couples are "DINKS" (Double income, no kids)...or were before "gaybies" (OK, that was un-PC of me...I happen to love kids)...vacations, circuit parties, cruises, etc., yet, the "Us/Them" menatlity that presnted itself at the beginning of AIDS PISSED ME OFF! How could anyone just walk away from a real, true friend? When I found out I have AIDS (not HIV however, I am as healthy as a horse-fly now) in 2001, I "lost" long time friends. Two who I considered a brother and a sister. "Sorry. Go away, You don't exist." It took me some time yet I found that facing these overwhelming emotions all at once was like shooting out of a cannon...I landed gracefully!
I wish to share so many experiences - personal and learned - and I will do so in a continued blog where I welcome comments and questions. I wish for our next generation to know where we came from so perhaps 'they' can be stronger, and the bullying that still takes place may once again, be put in its proper place of ignorance. No one should be made to feel s worthless that they kill themselves. It is time to gather our tribe and be strong for yourself, and each other.