Saturday, December 1, 2012

World AIDS Day

When I was a teen, I spent a good bit of time in various gay bars in Northern Utah.  My sister was flirting with that sort of thing, and she dragged me along for reasons I don't even dare explore.  Probably her way of taking the heat off herself.  I don't know.  Sad that she might have felt the need. 

What I do know?

I met some of the most amazing, kind, welcoming, generous people.  With few exceptions, they were, men and women, warm, accepting, and perfectly okay with the little straight girl hanging out.  And the men?

Oh, handsome.  Handsome, immensely amenable to dancing with the little straight girl, and safe.  Oh, so safe.  I'd had some pretty awful experiences with men, and to have handsome, funny, sweet men fawn over me without threatening?  I really do think it healed me, saved me from a lifelong fearfulness.  They were friends, confidants, party-mates, and all-around terrific folk.

When it came to dancing, there was always one.  One very special man.  His name was Kregg, and he was . . . an Adonis.  Dark, wavy hair, amazingly deep eyes, beautiful skin with a perpetual shadow at the jawline that made him look a whole lot more rugged than he was.  In reality, he was an incredibly gentle soul.  A little goofy, a little hyper, incredibly caring.  And every time Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell" came on, we would set off in search of each other and tear up that dance floor. 

I remember sitting in the dark of a friend's living room late one night in 1984-85 (the years aren't as clearly delineated as they once were).  We were drinking beer and wishing Kregg a safe journey to New York City.  He had landed a modeling contract, was moving.  Had a place lined up in Connecticut.  I took him by the hand and implored him--please, PLEASE be safe.  Please use condoms.  Kregg, please.

He smiled, shook his head, and said, "Babe, I'm sure I've already got it."

He was right.  He did already have it.  He came back home to die eight years later.  His aunt wouldn't let any of his old friends near him--she was a very devout Catholic, and he was finally too weak to fight through her to be himself.  He died in September of 1995.  As far as I'm concerned, he died alone. 

Kregg wasn't the only one who died that way--in a haze of denial and shame.  Lester's parents, who had disowned him in life, grabbed his corpse in death and proclaimed in his obituary that he had died of totally non-AIDs-type causes.  Steve's mom, the self-proclaimed QUEEN of the gay community, turned tail in his obituary and proclaimed his death a "heart attack."  Ronnie?  Dallas?  The same, though Ronnie's obit did list Dallas as his "brother."  It was a sick conspiracy of silence and shame.

I lost so many people who meant so much to me.  Even my now-late brother-in-law, Kevin.  Alcoholism compounded Kevin's devastating downfall.  Alcoholism and a destructive mean streak a mile wide.  One passed down to him by his alcoholic, drug-addled mother.  Kevin spent his last years grinding his way through friends until he finally wound up living in his storage shed.  I spent years trying to find him, but no one knew where he was.  Finally, in his last months, he was tracked down by his oldest, best friend who moved him south to Arizona and provided for him until he died.  Of AIDS.

Poor Kevin.

AIDS isn't over.  I live just miles from Washington DC, where the HIV rate among African Americans (especially heterosexual women) is astounding.  The CDC just days ago stated that most young homosexual victims are unaware of their own infection status.  I think the greatest danger to everyone, HIV-wise, is the idea that, because it's not all over the news anymore, because that desperate sense of urgency is dulled, we're somehow not at risk.  The idea that, if you're not a gay male, an intravenous drug user, or a black woman, you're safe.  This isn't the case--we're all at risk

Today is World AIDS day.  Do something.  Even something small like teaching your kids to use condoms or refraining from having unprotected sex.  Spread correct information, be a source of wisdom and accurate, helpful advice.  Yes, there are novel treatments in the works, there are promising new medications and possible future vaccines, but the very best cure for AIDS is to not get it, not transmit it, and help others to not contract it.  Do those things. 

And remember Kregg, huh?

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