Thursday, December 01, 2011 12:10 PM
Michael Harris’s beautiful personal essay “Life after Death,” published in The Walrus (Sept 2011), crystallizes the history of HIV through the lens of one who has grown up with the virus as an ever-present force:
I’m the same age as the epidemic. By my first birthday, eight young gay guys in New York had developed purple tumours on their skin, which turned out to be a rare cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma. Those boys had AIDS, though there wasn’t a name for it yet.
That year, 1981, an unknowable number of men slept (shamefully or shamelessly) with each other and unwittingly consigned themselves to early deaths…. That year, my future best friends and I, seemingly far removed from AIDS and from each other, learned to crawl in the undestroyed homes of our parents.
Harris moves deftly through the years and the changing stories of HIV: the shift from death sentence to chronic condition as treatments improved; the modern-day shock he experienced when he realized “that people still suffered, even died, from this virus”; and how fiercely young gay men have tried to put the plague of AIDS behind them. These shifting realities are captured when Harris comes out to his mother at the age of 20:
She mostly said the right things. But when I came home later that day, she was slumped on the stairs beside a forgotten load of laundry. “I just worry,” she kept saying. “I worry for your health.” We both knew what she was talking about.
While she was wise to worry, I thought she was terribly misinformed. The year was 2000, infection rates had been dropping steadily. I expected a vaccine to be discovered any day. But infections mysteriously began to rise after that; they have never again been as low as they were the year I came out. And I’m still waiting on that vaccine.
The right thing to do when confronted with a crying mother is to hold her, reassure her. Instead, I was furious. “You’re stuck in the 1980s,” I told her. “It’s actually really offensive.” I was determined to create something new with my life, something unfettered by the ugly, death-fuelled narrative that seemed to consume gay culture. I wanted an ordinary life with an ordinary man and an ordinary golden retriever. And my mother’s worry precluded all that, consigning me to a dated pessimism that I hoped to outrun.
Visit The Walrus to read the rest of Harris’s insightful essay. And learn more about the facts and stats of AIDS and how you can get involved on World AIDS Day.
Source: The Walrus
Image by Trygve.u, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011 3:29 PM
“The ocean’s power is so big,” writes The Smart Set’s Stefany Anne Goldberg, “that it not only generates our worst disasters, it recycles our tragedies for later consideration, just when the whole fuss finally starts to die down.”
What is more expensive: to send a criminal to prison or to send a student to Princeton?
When Pleasanton mom Siah Fried and her co-author wrote Tales from Swankville, a book about hyper-competitive parenting in suburbia, they didn’t expect their neighbors to take it so personally.
See the 30-year history of the AIDS epidemic as portrayed through public health campaign posters.
Funny Honey: “More than three-fourths of the honey sold in U.S. grocery stores isn’t exactly what the bees produce,” according to Food Safety News. Pollen is frequently filtered out, which would make the nectar flunk the quality standards set by most of the world’s food safety agencies.
Here’s a helpful guide for what to say when people ask why you’re still single. One solution: “Tell them how terrible your personality is, you even use the word ‘irregardless’ and have no idea the difference between ‘then’ and ‘than.’”
What states let you take a gun to happy hour? What about Saturday evening mass? A map from Mother Jones lays it out.
As belts get tighter, philanthropy gets tougher. Now you can donate to charity without even trying.
For the love of Suess, what have they done to the Lorax?
Learn why old books smell so good.
A spectacular sight in the sky over the River Shannon: a murmuration of starlings.
If you care about the environment, writes federal prisoner and Utne Reader visionary Tim DeChristopher, it’s time to play dirty.
Donating a lifetime of comic books.
A blog about bystander intervention in cases of sexual assault, all the more relevant given the Penn State Sandusky scandal.
Smuggling pecans and canned pumpkin into Italy for an expat Thanksgiving.
Americans are packing more heat than ever thanks to a nationwide parade of looser gun laws.
Image by Yashna M, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011 12:19 PM
When you think of the pinnacle of African beauty, culture, and struggle, chances are you’re not imagining Gwyneth Paltrow, Liv Tyler, or David Bowie. But that’s the controversial angle taken by Keep a Child Alive, whose HIV/AIDS-in-Africa awareness campaign called “I Am African”—which features celebrities, both white and black, in vaguely traditional African garb and face paint above the words “I am African”—is swiftly spreading across city billboards and the internet. (Note: The campaign, started in 2006, has been recently resurrected.) So what’s Keep a Child Alive’s rationale? According to the organization’s website, “Each and every one of us contains DNA that can be traced back to our African ancestors. These amazing people traveled far and wide. Now they need our help.”
Needless to say, dolling up Elijah Wood with yellow paint and bead necklaces is drawing sharp, new criticism.
“For starters, why is it necessary to pose a formulaic African aesthetic in order to be compassionate?” wonders Geneva S. Thomas of Black Spin.
The campaign’s art direction is coherent, yet desperately forced—Sarah Jessica Parker just looks confused made up with the purple fertility line traditionally worn by women in eastern Africa.
“I Am African” ads have been sighted in urban spaces throughout the U.S., particularly in New York City, where thousands of African immigrants live and who, one can only imagine, may not be in the mood while waiting on the subway platform to take in an image of privileged celebrities who have the luxury of walking in and out of an African identity whenever’s clever.
Jenée Desmond-Harris also takes issue:
The angle that the organization has chosen to bring attention to this important issue is nothing short of bizarre. The strongest critics will likely call it disrespectful of African culture. But our only issue is that it seems to require a lot of unnecessary mental gymnastics to connect “We all have African DNA. Even white people. Check out my facepaint!” to “So we have a good reason to care about AIDS in Africa” to “So, let’s help people there get the medication they need.”
How about skipping all that and giving people credit for caring about other human beings—no other genetic link required? “I am human” would have worked just fine.
“But guess what? The campaign is getting attention” Desmond-Harris concedes. “And if it takes blond Gwyneth Paltrow with a blue stripe down her cheek and a giant necklace to make us do a double take, pay attention and hopefully take action, then so be it.”
Sources: Black Spin, The Root
Images by Keep a Child Alive photographer Michael Thompson.
Friday, February 04, 2011 3:18 PM
Ethical coffee drinkers unite! This fair trade coffee status report just might make you a better person.
America’s Adopt-a-Highway program has inspired more people than you might think, from the writers of Seinfeld to the KKK.
In a haunting photo essay, Darcy Padilla chronicles the life of a woman who lived for 18 years with AIDS.
The most resolute fiscal conservatives call themselves deficit hawks. Maybe adamant environmentalists should rebrand themselves as “climate hawks.”
If you’ve ever read Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel Oryx & Crake, her description of ChickieNobs—chicken breasts grown on building-sized, genetically modified hens—probably stuck with you. Well, it looks like we’ve caught up with the future, folks. Good reports on the burgeoning market for “beaker bacon, petri pork, and cultured chicken.”
Now that we’ve conquered every last patch of land, let’s colonize the sea!
Bike bloggers don’t get much bigger than BikeSnobNYC, but there’s a reason he’s got a new book and a column in Bicycling magazine: Dude is consistently funnier than hell and spares few targets with his alley-cat humor.
Thursday, August 12, 2010 9:30 AM
The American Life League (ALL) has seized upon the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) latest teen sex stats as proof that kids don’t need sex ed after all. The data show that 58 percent of girls and 57 percent of boys between the ages of 15 and 19 report that they had never had intercourse. According to the ALL, these stats somehow prove that sex ed is a waste of time.
Amanda Marcotte of RH Reality Check argues that ALL is disingenuously lumping all non-sexually active teens together: A 15-year-old virgin is not necessarily a committed proponent of abstinence. The CDC data suggest that many teens of these erstwhile virgins are doing their best to shed their virginity. Marcotte notes than only about 12 percent of teens are interested abstinence messages, and presumably, an even smaller percentage of those kids will live up to their ideals. What the study really shows is that nearly half of teenagers are already having sex, and many others are doing their best to get in on the action. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect audience for comprehensive sex ed.
Protecting sex workers
Scientists, policy-makers, and activists gathered in Vienna last week for the International AIDS Conference. The conference is supposed to be a global meeting of the minds, but some groups feel left out of the discussion. Sex workers are on the global front lines of the battle against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Yet, Titania Kumeh reports in Mother Jones that President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a key U.S. program to fund AIDS prevention in the developing world, continues to shut out sex worker activist groups unless they repudiate their clients’ livelihood. As you might expect, denouncing sex work is not an effective way of winning the trust of sex workers.
Kumeh profiles Peninah Mwangi, an AIDS activist and sex worker. She works with several NGOs that have been turned down for PEPFAR funding because they refuse to reject sex work. Mwangi and 100 other sex workers marched outside the International AIDS Conference in Vienna last week to draw attention to PEPFAR’s discriminatory policy against sex workers.
In other HIV prevention news, Lori of Feministing follows up on a blockbuster new study out of South Africa which found that an inexpensive vaginal gel can reduce a woman’s risk of HIV infection by 39% and her risk of contracting herpes by 51%. This is huge news because the gel is a female-controlled protection method. Women apply it before and after sex. They don’t have to negotiate protection with their partners, as they do with condoms.
Putting a pretty face on femicide
High fashion and good taste don’t always go hand-in-hand. Last week, a blogger Jessica Wakeman noticed that MAC cosmetics had teamed up with the house of Rodarte to produce a line of cosmetics inspired by the U.S.-Mexico border. Some of the nail polishes had names like “Factory”, “Juarez”, and “Ghost Town.” One of the collection’s designers gushed that her clothes were inspired by female factory workers trudging to work at four o’clock in the morning, looking like they’d gotten dressed in the dark. The show featured models made up to look like extras from “Pride and Prejudice with Zombies.”
Somehow, despite their fascination with female death, the designers didn’t seem to realize that Juarez has become synonymous with violence against women, many of whom are poor factory workers picked off on their way to work.
Hundreds of women have been kidnapped and killed in Juarez since the early nineties. The situation is so dire that human rights activists brought the Mexican government before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2009 to answer for its inaction in the face of mass slaughter. “This crime had to be named explicitly to make it clear that these women were killed because they were women,” said Mexican researcher Julia Monarrez.
In Working In These Times, I explain some of the social and economic factors that made the dark streets of Juarez ideal hunting grounds for femicidal maniacs.
MAC falls flat
Nicole Guidotti-Hernández of the Ms. Blog brings a unique perspective to the MAC/Rodarte controversy, having worked for a decade as a professional makeup artist before getting her PhD:
Knowing what I know about the industry and who works in it–and knowing that MAC, in particular, markets to women of color a makeup line that caters to their skin tones with multiple pigments–I am appalled by the lack of social awareness that spawned the Rodarte/MAC collaboration.
MAC and Rodarte eventually apologized, agreed to retract the controversial names and made vague promises to donate a percentage of the proceeds to people in need in Juarez. Guidotti-Hernandez is unmoved by the gesture, “It’s hip to personify death in cosmetic colors rather than engage a bleak and violent reality.”
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.
Image by Katherine Garrenson/iStock.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010 4:44 PM
Nearly every one of the 33 million people around the world who are infected with HIV/AIDS are forced to struggle with a stigma surrounding the disease. In the March-April issue of Utne Reader, we reprinted stories that demonstrate the discrimination, shame, isolation, and fear faced by people with HIV/AIDS every day. In the project INFECTED and AFFECTED, photographer Joan L. Brown asks people to show how they would fight, communicate love, and express the sadness surrounding HIV/AIDS stigma. According to the project’s website, “Collectively, these portraits present to the world a mosaic of dignity and courage that challenges stigma.”
We’ve reproduced a few of the photos below:
INFECTED and AFFECTED
All images by Joan L. Brown / www.infectedandaffected.com
Tuesday, November 24, 2009 12:15 PM
Shows like Gossip Girl and Grey’s Anatomy may seem like mindless opiates for the masses, but they could be a potent tool in the fight against AIDS. “Unfortunately, references on TV to condoms and safe-sex messages seem to be going the way of analog broadcast,” according POZ, a magazine about HIV and AIDS. There are plenty of shows that strongly imply sex, but few include reference to sexual risks or responsibilities. When the shows do inform their viewers about safe sex, however, the effect is potent. In an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, where an HIV-positive pregnant woman “is informed that she has a 98 percent chance of giving birth to a healthy, HIV-negative baby, if she takes the proper medication,” POZ reports that 45 percent of the viewers retained the information. POZ hopes that more shows will follow suit and try to include safe-sex messages, and not just mindless entertainment.
, licensed under
Monday, November 24, 2008 2:12 PM
“With HIV, ignorance is not bliss,” said Dr. Veronica Miller, director of the Forum for Collaborative HIV Research, in a statement released during the organization’s national summit last week. Miller’s comments came after new research presented at the summit showed that routine HIV tests are not exactly routine.
Research found a mere 50 to 100 out of 5,000 emergency rooms across the country routinely screen for HIV, even though the percentage of ER visitors who test positive is much greater than the percentage of the general population that’s known to be infected. Another study found that only 4.9 percent of fully insured patients with “a serious illness suggestive of AIDS” got HIV tests, and yet another revealed that only 36 percent of insured patients who sought treatment for other sexually transmitted diseases were tested for HIV, according to the forum’s statement.
Scientific American notes that these findings come two years after the Centers for Disease Control recommended everyone ages 13 to 64 get an HIV test, but that “many doctors are reluctant to offer it because insurers don’t always pay for the screen,” which can cost anywhere from $15 to $120.
Image by Mark Coggins, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, October 06, 2008 3:56 PM
This summer, President Bush reauthorized PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The bill allocates up to $39 billion for AIDS prevention, treatment, and education in 114 countries worldwide, including much of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In order to qualify for the emergency funding, every participating nation must adopt a set of strategic principles, known as the Three Ones: “one national plan, one national coordinating authority, and one national monitoring and evaluation system in each of the host countries in which organizations work.” In other words, they need what’s referred to as a “national AIDS strategy” to see any cash.
But ironically, the United States lacks a unifying AIDS strategy of its own and has allowed funding for domestic AIDS programs to slip. This August the CDC revealed that America’s AIDS infection rates were up 40 percent from their previous estimate. This translates to at least 56,000 new infections each year. John McCain recently voiced his support for a national AIDS strategy, while Barack Obama gave his endorsement last fall. But a mere endorsement is not enough. POZ magazine has put forth seven specific steps to battle AIDS in America, to be executed by the next president during his crucial first 100 days in office.
The steps are straightforward and packed with information, insistent but not preachy or angry. They remind us that while socioeconomic status, gender, geography, and sexual orientation often come into play, AIDS infects indiscriminately. It must be addressed as an epidemic, and every American should have equal access to treatment and education resources.
HIV/AIDS issues may take a back seat to the economic crisis and foreign policy, at least for the time being, but the urgency of the domestic AIDS crisis can’t be ignore for much longer.
For more on Bush's bumbling AIDS policies, both domestic and foreign, read Utne Reader librarian Danielle Maestretti's Shelf Life column, "Bush: The AIDS President?", from our July-August issue.
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