Remember back in the early 80’s when Wham! went from leather-clad Bad Boys to feather-haired Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go boys in tight Dolfin shorts? The video for WMUBYGG sparked a popular fashion trend with those Katharine Hamnett over-sized t-shirts with large block letter slogans. George Michael wears one in the WMUBYGG video that stated, quite simply, “Choose Life”.
Everyone had one of those shirts. They were so cool, so profound — especially to a young impressionable eighteen-year-old who was dealing with his homosexuality by doing a lot of drugs and trying to sleep with anyone who would pay attention.
But I digress…
Choose Life! What a statement. To me, that was a testament to safe sex. The AIDS crisis was out of control (it was 1984 after all) and the notion that I could choose to live was powerful since, as a self-loathing faggott, I had resigned myself to the fact that I was just going to get AIDS and die like everyone around me.
I grew up in Southern California. By the time I came out and was hitting the clubs in West Hollywood, people were kind of, well, dropping like flies.
I remember seeing my friend Brian at a club. I had not seen him for a while and ran up to say hello. As I got closer, it was clear that something was wrong. He was very thin and the shimmer behind his eyes was that of a 7 watt night-light. To make matters worse, it was clear he was trying hard to look and act normal. His forced smile could not hide his sullen looks. There is no real makeup trick to camouflage sunken eyeballs. With as much dignity intact as possible Brian died a short time later. He was twenty-two.
In the early 80’s at the onset of the AIDS crisis, people — a lot of people — died of HIV related complications. We didn’t know what was going on. It was scary. Every time I sniffled or coughed, the first thing that ran through my head was, “Oh my God!! This is it!!”
For me, safe sex was the only way to have sex — period. There was no question about it. No glove, no love. Over time, I began to relax about the fact that I was probably not going to contract HIV. I got tested regularly and never engaged in risky behavior. Actually, since I was a gangly, shy twink with a taste for the Castro Clone type, I never really had to worry about safe sex because, at least in Los Angeles, Castro Clone types went for other Castro Clones. They sported that look to attract it.
In the early 90’s, I had this friend named Tony. He was Italian and a few years older than me. Aside from being gifted with incredible looks, Tony was one of the most intelligent, funny, musically talented people I have ever known in my life. I was crazy about him.
Tony was like an older brother to me. He constantly encouraged me to sing and took me with him everywhere. He knew everyone! All of his friends were smoking hot and suddenly, they were my friends too.
One day I was returning from a very long trip. Tony came to pick me up from the airport. He put the top down for the ride home (naturally, he had a convertible).
“I have full-blown AIDS” he said.
Talk about a verbal bullet to the brain. I knew several people who died and I’d seen people who looked really sick but this was way too close to home. This was one of my best friends. Over the next two years, my beautiful friend transformed from a rugged Italian stud to a little 80 year old man and then he died.
People seem to forget that HIV doesn’t necessarily kill you, it just destroys your ability to fight off everything. So basically anything kills you. Tony died from not being able to live anymore. I saw it with my own eyes. It’s something that I will never, ever forget. It was the most long drawn out death scene I have ever witnessed.
He died in 94. I still miss him to this day.
Fast forward to today. Not only are a lot of young gay kids are engaging in unsafe sex, older men who have been safe all this time are doing it too. There’s this bizarre mentality that HIV is now just a “thing” you live with — like diabetes. You just take a pill. Have you ever seen the long-term effects of antiretroviral therapy??
I’ll never forget the day I was talking to some young gay guys in Chicago and one of them brought up barebacking and bugchasing/giftgiving. I was in shock. There are people out there who actually want to have unprotected sex with people they know are infected!! Not to mention the fact that there are infected people “giftgiving” their disease knowing full-well that this date is going to be dining, dancing and disease. It’s like the new rite (not right) of passage. Some sort of honor badge.
Stupidity has now become a choice!
People are choosing to be stupid. Not only with sex but politics, denying climate change, following Sarah Palin, believing whatever the media tells them — that goes for all media but yes, FOX is on the top of that list. It’s one thing to watch it, it’s another to believe it. Even science is taking a beating!
To me the big indicator of this new willingness to be stupid are these tea party rallies with signs that are misspelled.
So, is dumb the new black? Not for me.