I’ll have to take you back, a bit.
I spent most of the 1970’s, as a high-schooler, taking the train at all available opportunities to hang out in Philadelphia at gay-positive locations. They were mostly around South Street, although the “Hasty Tasty” (a restaurant whose fabulous waiters wore tight t-shirts that said ‘The Hasty Tasty, please try our buns’) was later renamed “Windows on 12th”, by which I deduce it was on 12th street. Myself and my BFF Carole, who had an actually, kinda sorta, probably gay cousin, went up and wandered around, on the fairly reasonable premise that there would be more to see in the grotty alternative neighborhood there than at the local mall. Oh, we were rebels, lol.
Raised in the theatre, I knew a LOT of gay people, although, as adults, they had nothing to say to me, and a few teens that everyone figured would come out eventually. But those clubs and bookstores and head shops were a world apart, and I needed to know everything about them. Fortunately for me, they often featured small community newspapers and pamphlets, which I collected, if they were free.
I’m kind of a data gal. In the back of those papers, and, increasingly, in pamphlets, they were asking for people to join in research on “Gay Cancer.” You could see the frequency increase, as we moved towards the 80’s. I’m also the typical INTJ who is willing to share info, if asked. So I worked to become more informed on this thing that was traveling through the community I loved. I got stuff sent on interlibrary loan, and everything I read alarmed me.
The topic of “Cancer” became even more important in my senior year, when my mother died suddenly of pancreatic cancer, while I was away at school. By the time I graduated high school, in 1978, I was the biggest advocate of condoms and sex ed in the Mid-Atlantic, I’m sure. Because, in my head, I could see that graph going up, even though the official story still counted “being Haitian” as a risk factor.
By 1980 I was working in Colorado as a field associate for the Gay Rights National Lobby. Essentially, that meant I got mail asking me to take a clipboard around to bars and gay events for people to ask for AIDS funding, under the Reagan administration. I have to say the relentless emphasis on AIDS, without any acknowledgement of women’s issues like custody problems (which I saw all the time) pissed me off. By then, however, I’d been to the Castro, and to big city gay life. I had a friend who was one of those hundred sexual contacts a week guys, in West Hollywood. I could see the graph go up.
In Colorado I also worked for a crisis line that covered a several state area, and I took the “emergency gay calls,” which covered quite the wide topic list, since the freshmen psych students who answered the phone were easily freaked out by anything. They were worried about AIDS, which might be caused by popper use?(wrong) Or couldn’t be transmitted if you were the active partner? (wrong) Or wasn’t a possibility if you only have oral sex (don’t count on that.) It terrified me to think that my slim store of information, and my damn clipboard, might be the only thing standing between these boys and getting something they’d die from.
I was Carrie frigging Nation in a disco.
And I pestered the University to run a women’s health program, where we tried to give those young women accurate information and a space to talk about their reproductive systems and THAT was a whole new kettle of fish.
And women could get and transmit AIDS, too. Talking to them was the same as talking to the boys a few years before. I knew where the graph was going.
Things are a whole lot better now. The medical approaches to treating AIDS are ridiculously better. Where once knowing a friend was positive was the same as marking your calendar for their move into Hospice, now it’s more… well, I don’t know what it’s more. I damn well haven’t gotten to the point when I’m willing to cede the space to this damn disease by referring to it as ‘routine” or even ‘chronic.’
Inform yourself. Buy product RED products for your holidays and otherwise. And talk to your children about safe sex.
Please. Kill my graph.