01 December 2008
World AIDS Day + 20
Can it really be 20 years we've been commemorating World AIDS Day? Sweet Heavens....
In honor of the day, and of the brave, openly gay men who marched in Haiti today (thanks Rod 2.0), I offer this excerpt from poet Kwame Dawes' work on AIDS in Jamaica, parts of which appeared in the Spring 2008 edition of Virginia Quarterly Review
...For Jamaicans survival has always been a delicate and necessary art of deflection. We hear about a murder and go through a series of questions. Where was the person killed? The farther away from where we live, the better. Did the person fight back? Because I would never do that. Did the person have a big car the killer may have wanted? Was it the middle of the night? And the list goes on. Eventually, we find a reason why what happened could not happen to us. That’s not me; that could never be me.
The same has been true for HIV/AIDS. As long as it was seen as a gay disease, heterosexuals could ignore the deaths. It could never happen to them. When news came that heterosexuals were dying as well, we came up with new questions. Did the person frequent prostitutes? Did he have sex abroad, or here with someone foreign? Was he promiscuous? Who exactly did she sleep with? Was it rough sex? Were they somehow perverse? Anything to keep the disease far away, to pretend it could never reach us. But I can no longer live this way. In the months I have spent traveling around the island, this other Jamaica, going to towns I have not visited in years, meeting and listening to countless people, I have made friends—and now I have to accept that HIV/AIDS is a part of my life. I know that in time, I will hear of someone’s passing. I will hear of someone’s succumbing to the illness. I now live with it as a constant presence, not something I can simply deflect. And, fortunately, it has not destroyed the humanity of the people I now call my friends, but rather it taught all of us something about the frailty of human life—and something of our capacity to find hope in the midst of such struggle.
I also want to join the call for President-Elect Obama to appoint an "AIDS Czar" to create a national strategy in the government's fight against the disease. Either of the names mentioned in the Bay Area Reporter article linked above would be great (Dr. Helene Gayle, or Jesse Milan Jr), although, I think appointing the married, openly gay, HIV+ Mr. Milan would be extraordinary and be a pronounced break with the past on many levels.