Monday, December 15, 2014

The Window of Mercy

I just finished the memoir Body Counts by Sean Strub (a gay activist who, among other things, founded POZ magazine). After reading this book and seeing powerful movies about the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, I can't help being grateful for where I live.

The upper Midwest might not be glamorous or exciting, and the winters are certainly a bitch to get through, but my place of residence could very well have been a life-saver.

In the late summer/early fall of 1982, I lived and worked in northeastern Wisconsin. Through a gay coworker from Green Bay, I began socializing with a group of twenty-something queer men, including a heterosexually-oriented transman, whom I blogged about last year. (However, that's irrelevant to this particular post.) I not only had a helluva lot of fun with my new friends, I had a brief fling with one who was, I believe, the only bisexual in the group. I'll call him Marty.

On that subtly-shaded orientation spectrum from thoroughly heterosexual to thoroughly homosexual, Marty was only a few, narrow gradations away from the thoroughly-gay end. He was vastly more attracted to men. When I asked him out of curiosity how many male lovers he'd had and how many female, he estimated he'd been intimate with approximately 500 guys and maybe a dozen women.

Marty and I engaged in a range of sexual activity -- if you catch my drift. Since not getting knocked up was my primary concern, I was already on a birth-control regimen. I figured since I had that angle covered, condoms were unnecessary. Besides, certain forms of sex couldn't lead to pregnancy anyway. And besides that, Marty had no STDs. He was, like the others in the group, a profoundly decent, caring man, and I knew he would've told me if he could transmit some unpleasant germ.

Yes. I was inexcusably naive. Or maybe I had that sense of invulnerability the comes with youth.

I don't remember if word of the "gay cancer" had reached the hinterlands by 1982. Possibly, but I don't recall my friends ever talking about it. (The acronym AIDS had only just come into use that same autumn.) If local media outlets covered the story at all, their "coverage" was probably brief and vague. But lack of widespread attention hadn't kept the disease from ravaging the gay populations of New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Given Marty's promiscuity, if he and I had lived in a major urban area, especially along one of the coasts, chances are we both would've become infected.

Our window of mercy certainly didn't stay open very long. Within a handful of years, maybe even months, HIV/AIDS was sweeping the nation. Flyover country certainly didn't get a pass. The virus claimed my housemate's younger brother, who lived in the Milwaukee area, in the early 1990s, just as it claimed a sweet, funny guy who'd been a groomsman at my first wedding.

So, yeah, I was spared the consequences of my reckless behavior -- but just barely. (By the way, I believe Marty was also spared. I don't know if he ever became HIV positive, but I do know he's still alive.)

I only wish -- damn, do I wish -- the millions of lives that were ended by this plague could've had their window of mercy too.

1 comment:

Jesi Lea Ryan said...

First, congrats on dodging that bullet. I grew up in Dubuque, IA, and in my youth, we all assumed there was no HIV/AIDS in Iowa. #Duh And I also was on the pill, so of course I didn't use condoms. Guys would be honest and tell me if they had something, right?

I can't believe how stupid I was, and how I gambled with my health. I talk about condoms to all teens I can now. They need to here this message over and over in order for it to sink in.