Add to My MSN

Coming of Age in the Shadow of HIV

12/1/2011 12:10:43 PM

Tags: World AIDS Day, gay culture, HIV, AIDS, mind and body, The Walrus, Danielle Magnuson

AIDS ribbonMichael 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. 



Related Content

How to Preserve Your Virtual Soul

After you die, what happens to your online life? A digital death industry wants to wrap up your elec...

Are You Smarter Than Your Siblings?

Research suggests that personalities are the result of birth order. Or, the study of birth order cou...

Volunteer Leaves Water for Migrants in the Desert and Gets Ticketed for Littering

When Dan Millis stumbled upon the dead body of 14-year-old Salvadoran migrant Josseline Hernandez Qu...

When Success Doesn’t End the Struggle

Social work for the affluent: sounds like an oxymoron, right? But down in Chicago, a therapist is ca...

Content Tools




Post a comment below.

 



Pay Now & Save $5!
First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $31.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!