Friday, December 01, 2017

Memories of the AIDS plague

Written on World AIDS day 2017

I was most involved with the NZ male gay scene during the late 1970s and 1980s. I wasn't gay and didn't have much sex, but it was a safe place for me to be so I chose to be there.

In those days when men came out after years or decades of repressing their sexuality many (most) of them understandably went wild and spent 2 or 3 years having as much sex as possible before they calmed down and formed stable relationships. Back then even casual sex was normally unprotected and it was common for these men to go for a holiday to San Francisco for 2 weeks of casual sex with random men in the bath houses.

"So many men, so little time" was their mantra.

Then AIDS happened.

At first there was not only no treatment for AIDS but no test for HIV and initially no understanding of the long latency period of the virus. Some "Experts" were even claiming that it was caused by the use of amyl nitrate poppers as an orgasm intensifier.

I lost friends to AIDS but lost more friends to suicide because they had or feared they had AIDS. Some of these were young men who had holidayed in San Francisco or had sex with those who had, then they got man flu and convinced themselves that they had it. Based on what we now know, they probably didn't have it.

My friends were scared. Many people only talked about the suicides quietly in small closed groups. Those with AIDS found out who really were their friends. My own social network was largely men who had been through their wild years before this all happened but even we were scared. My friend Tom McLean's book on dying of AIDS "If I Should Die" was launched three days before he died of AIDS in 1989. I remember years earlier talking with him in my living room about AIDS before he had the disease. He was intelligent, articulate, and older than most yet he still caught it.

That was over 30 years ago. Today is World AIDS day, a good day to to remember them and think of the future.

Now we understand HIV and have treatments to suppress HIV it is no longer the certain death it was was. Today the fight is to promote the use of medications like Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to stop the virus spreading. I don't have links with the current cohort but I hope they succeed.

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