As World AIDS day approaches I’m in reflection of all the friends I’ve lost over the years.
As a queer man coming out in my 20’s, during the 1980’s, my coming out was significantly affected by HIV/AIDS. I moved to San Francisco from the Midwest in 1982. I remember hearing something about some kind of disease before I moved here, but really didn’t think too much about it. Once I got here, I quickly realized that I was in far over my head for a 21 year old kid.
I remember walking up Castro street when about a third of the people I saw were in wheelchairs or using canes. These men were very ill and not really that much older than I was at the time.
I buried my head and pretended that nothing was going on but didn’t have any sexual interactions with anyone. I was way too scared. As time passed some of my friends started to get sick. I remember how it first happened. I wouldn’t hear from an acquaintance for a while, then find out from someone else that he’s in the hospital. I knew what was coming. I hid more.
After a while I realized that I couldn’t hide anymore. That first hospital visit with a friend is seared in my memory. All those tubes and he was so thin all of a sudden. The memory of witnessing my friends die will never be forgotten.
I’m also aware that many other people still around experienced much more loss that anything I could even imagine. Friends I have now, who were only a bit older than me, recall attending funeral services weekly. Many of my current friends lost friends, lovers and partners.
I reflect on my friends who passed on way too young. I reflect on the friends and lovers of my current friends whom I know only through memories. I reflect on the impact of the loss of a generation of queer men. I reflect on my own shortcomings in not being active enough in helping during that crisis.
Most of all, I do remember and know that, although things have changed, it’s not over.