Posts Tagged ‘HIV’

Again I apologize for not being more consistent in writing. After fifty years of trying to do every thing myself I have realized that this time I am over my head. I have been depressed before but not like this. I have put on 18 pounds of comfort food since January and spend a great deal of time sitting in a chair in my living room staring at the beach.

I did have a string of good days, four in a row this past week but hit a pothole yesterday. I did get a chance to go to Orlando for a day and spend a great day at Disney Animal Kingdom on a “photo safari.” I have finally let a few friends know the depth of the hole and how close I came to crossing the Rubicon. Now on medication to sleep better and on Testosterone shots. There are many different factors at work in this bout that are causing the perfect storm. My lab work came back much better and that helped. I have come to realize that there is a huge generational gap with respect to AIDS. When I was first infected int he first wave of infections in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s there was not a name for what was killing us. Boyfriends, partners, friends and tricks were healthy one day and dead a week later. There was never a question of “if” it was going to kill us. Only a matter of “when”. for the better part of ten to fifteen years there was no real hope. AZT appeared to be as toxic as the virus.

People today say oh – it’s no big deal anymore. Just take a pill every day and you can live normal. That is like telling a survivor of Iraq or Afghanistan that the pop was just a car backfiring or the transformer explosion is nothing or the knocked over trash can was just a cat there is nothing to worry about. Years of mental programing take years of programing to undo. Even now, the meds only prolong – they do not cure. It is very hard to start living again when I’ve spent so long getting ready to die. And to that the drive to succeed that becomes hindered and blocked by the medical condition life is frustrating at best. Then there are the chemical changes the body encounters as it grows older.

Each of these is now being felt with. I will say I spent several months actively damaging relationships and professional licensing in an attempt to make sure there was nothing keeping me tied down here. I have begun the journey of repairing them but it will be awhile. As the quote goes. Life does not come with a remote. Ya gotta get up and change it yourself!

July 2012, Washington DC is hosting the International Conference on AIDS. The Names Project Foundation, which takes care of all the Quilt Panels is trying to ‘blanket DC’ with all the Quilt Panels. The Quilt has been to DC in 1987, 88, 89, 92 and 1996. Some of the Quilt were included in President Clinton’s Inauguration Parade. The Quilt was also nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. It is the single largest community project in the World to this day.

The Quilt continues to grow as HIV/AIDS takes more lives. The Quilt now has over 47,000+ panels, weighs over 54 tons and has over 92,000+ names listed. Some famous names include: Arthur Ashe, Eazy E (rapper), Perry Ellis, Rock Hudson, Richard Hunt (muppeteer), Liberace, Freddie Mercury, Tim Richmond (Nascar), Robert Reed (Brady Bunch), Anthony Perkins (Psycho), Max Robinson (ABC News anchor), Jerry Smith (Redskin Football player), Ricky Wilson (B-52 band), Ryan White, Rudolf Nureyev, just to name a few…

According to POZ magazine, the  AIDS Memorial Quilt will be displayed in its entirety for the first time since 1996 in multiple key locations on and around Capitol Hill and throughout metropolitan Washington, DC. from July 21-24.

Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt is a 1989 documentary film that tells the story of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Narrated by Dustin Hoffman with a musical score written and performed by Bobby McFerrin, the film focuses on several people who are represented by panels in the Quilt, combining personal reminiscences with archive footage of the subjects, along with footage of various politicians, health professionals and other people with AIDS.  One of those focused in the film was an ex of mine Tracy Torrey. Part of me want to go to DC to see the quilt, but after all this time and all those deaths and all those funerals, not sure I could handle it.  One of those focused in the film was an ex of mine Tracy Torrey. Part of me want to go to DC to see the quilt, but after all this time and all those deaths and all those funerals, not sure I could handle it.

This week, The Canadian Supreme Court heard an appeal involving a people living with the human immunodeficiency virus, who recently were acquitted by provincial appeal courts of aggravated assault and sexual assault charges for not disclosing their HIV status. The convictions hinged on their failure to inform his sexual partners that they have HIV.

In the first case, Mabior was convicted in 2008 of aggravated assault for having sex with six women without disclosing his status, but two years later he was acquitted on appeal. The Manitoba Court of Appeal ruled if an HIV-positive person wears a condom or has a low viral load and, therefore, a low risk of transmitting the virus, having sex does not pose a risk of serious bodily harm.

In the second case, a Quebec woman did not disclose her HIV-positive status to her former spouse. In neither case did the “victim” contract AIDS. In 1997, Florida legislators made it a felony for an HIV-infected person to have “sexual intercourse” without informing the partner of their infected status, adding the virus to a list of established STDs like gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis.

But Florida statutes specifically define sexual intercourse only as vaginal sex between a man and a woman meaning — “the penetration of the female sex organ by the male sex organ.” Therefor gays and lesbians cannot be charged. The question before the courts and legislatures needs to be decided on legal and not moral grounds.

For the vast majority of people living with HIV, preventing others from becoming infected with the virus is a primary concern. HIV positive individuals are aware of just how difficult it is to live with the illness.

Not all HIV positive people take the precautions that they perhaps should. Some people, angry at their plight or just plain crazy, “deliberately or recklessly transmit the virus” to others. Some of the individuals concerned have even been criminally charged for their actions. To some it might seem obvious to prosecute someone for recklessly or intentionally infecting another with an ultimately fatal virus.  I personally oppose this position for several reasons.

As I have stated earlier, I have been infected with the HIV virus since December 1980.  I personal feel it is my duty to tell people up front about it before there is any intimate contact that could cause exposure. I do not however think that it relives the other person from being responsible for his or her own protection. Unless a person has been home schooled or worse, they should know that every person is a possible carrier of HIV, Herpes or other STD’s. Each person is responsible for his or her own protection. By criminalizing the status of the person with HIV for not telling and not criminalizing the “negative” person for not inquiring, is wrong. It is the same as making the actions of a drug dealer criminal but not the actions of the person buying drugs.

It also becomes a dis-incentive to getting testing and treatment. More important it is impossible to defend against.

Let’s start by using the case of the woman accused of not telling her ex-husband. What was to stop him for saying he was not told simply as a way of getting back at her for cheating or other perceived malfeasance during the marriage. It becomes a he said she said. If it is a case of a trick in the bar, or an ex boyfriend, this becomes a matter of ones word against another. We all know hell has no fury like a scorned queen!

Second if the “victim’ is exposed, it needs to be proven that the accused was definitely the source of the accuser’s HIV. This would involve a range of evidence including sexual history, testing history and scientific evidence in the form of phylogenetics. This compares the DNA of the virus. If they are completely different then it means that the accusers almost certainly did not acquire HIV from the accused. If the strains are very similar, however, it is possible, though not conclusive, that the accused infected the accusers. Phylogenetics cannot reliably estimate the direction of transmission and therefore it is possible that the accusers infected the accused. Furthermore, the same third party, or different third parties who shared similar strains of HIV could have infected both.

Then there is the issue of informed consent. Can you really have informed consent after 4,6,8 drinks on a Saturday night? Being under the influence is a legal justification for getting out of contracts.  Do people need to start carrying informed consent contracts to the bars at night in case they get laid? The most bizarre aspect of the entire thing is that if an HIV person is raped and does not inform the rapist that they are positive, the rape victim is then guilty of a felony. This is a very real scenario in our prison system.

These laws don’t necessarily provide the public with any additional protection, and it may in fact provide the public with a false sense of security because people may have unprotected sex, presuming their partner must be HIV negative because a criminal offense has been created. Do not confuse moral with legal when it comes to obligations. We should not criminalize status.

Happy holidays and sorry for the lack of blogging. Between cleaning and shopping and depression writing has been thin. There are several things about this time of year that make it my least favorite. The first would be my birthday.

My birthday, celebrated last week, has always been a time of angsts for me. When I was young, my friends and family would say that they got me one big present instead of two little ones. They would try to get out of buying me both a Christmas present and birthday present by trying to sell me a load of  bull. I knew, kids know when you are feeding them crap. I knew what they spent on my brothers’ presents and saw what they got him for Christmas. I was getting short changed. Damn it, I was the oldest, I should be getting more, not less!

Then the actual birthday celebrations always seam to fizzle. Our family would go get a Christmas tree on my birthday and that would be part of the tradition. It never failed that there would be some argument about the size or cost or type of tree that killed the “festive” mood. Then there was the year that my father was going to pick me up after school and we were going to Shakey’s for pizza. It was pouring rain and cold so that was a great relief to me. I waited at the school and waited and waited. After about an hour I started walking in the cold rain. My dad finally found me and I crawled into his car. He was soaked too. He had a flat tire and had to change it in the rain. We got back to the house, cold, wet and miserable, only to find my mother emptying the contents of the refrigerator into coolers and moving them downstairs to the garage. The refrigerator had died and the garage was the coldest place to store food until a new one could be delivered.

When we entered the house and shut the door, the vibration caused the top shelf in the living room to fall on to each of the shelves below leaving a huge mess. My brother (who had stayed home sick that day, my birthday, while I had to go to school) dealt with that while my parents handled the kitchen.  After all of that had been dealt with and we started to relax, and got ready for pizza, we realized that the dog was missing. We though that maybe she walked out the garage while the doors were open. My dad and I got in the car to drive around looking for her. My mom found her deep under the stairs with a new litter of puppies. Only one made it. We named him Jinx.

As I got older things did not get much better. In 1980, I spent my birthday being poke and prodded at the National Institute of Health with what I later learned was my sero-conversion of HIV. Other years my birthday usually fell during finals week and such. In the past few years’ things have gotten better though, although the last two years they were spent in the ER with friends. Even if the day itself is pleasant, to me it is the official beginning of the Christmas push.

The Christmas push is the window where presents need to be mailed and final gifts need to be secured. I always worry that I am not going to make the impact I want with a gift. Something special that is remembered. I know I create a lot of the stress myself but I don’t know how to not worry.

Then there is Christmas day itself. When I was younger and then in my “religion” stage it held a magical time. Now it’s just another day. I was talking with a friend last night about Christmas. He is going to spend it at a casino with an ex-girlfriend from 25-30 years ago, his sister-in-law and her sister. Scott, much like myself, enjoys solitude. For some reason however we are both putting together “family  groups” that would not normally be people we want to spend time with, because of some deep seeded need to find a community or place to belong.

Ed is working on Christmas day although we will have Christmas Eve together. He said that on Christmas day, the ER fills with lonely people from the nursing homes who want company and the suicide attempts of the more mobile members of the lonely community.  Why on Christmas do we feel this need to be around friends and family more so than other times? Is there something deep in our soul or have we been so brainwashed by media, movies and Kodak advertising to feel that we are lees than normal if we cannot recreate a Norman Rockwell print. I don’t know. Maybe we always have hat need and the seasonal displays make it harder to mask. Sound good to me.

This past week I posted what I thought would be a cute innocuous blurb about Christmas. It simply said that “December 25: That awkward day when God is reminded that He slept with His own mother to conceive Himself!”

I thought it was cute but by reading some of the responses, you would think that I attacked the Holy Mother Church during the height of the Inquisition. People were responding about the bible saying this and that and others were urging me to stop my attacks on Christians especially at this time of year. I finally responded back by saying that these people had no room to speak of attacks. I feel that it needs a bit more explanation of my spiritual journey.

I was raised Catholic. Elementary school, middle school, graduate school and law school. During my time at the University of Maryland, I got sucked into Campus Crusade for Christ and the now infamous “Family” of “C-Street” fame who tried to “Pray the Gay Away”. From early on I questioned Dogma and theology. I asked the nuns in school how god could die on a cross and if he was really dead who raised him, or the salvation of the Indians in America while Jesus was alive in the Middle East, and other scenarios. After years and years of dogma dumped into my head, and developing a self loathing trying to resolve the “gay-issue” I looked to the evangelical movement. During this time I was never able to stop acting on my gayness. I only knew that one had to win over the other.

While I was living in the “Cornerstone House”, a home managed by “The Family” of  Jim Hiskey, Chuck Colson and The Coe’s (Father and sons), I was involved with Campus Crusade for Crist. After talking to the director, Dan Mosley, his wife told me point blank that she was; ”going to pray that the lord take me before I had a chance to sin again.” Yes she was going to pray for my death. This caused me even more confusion and anxiety since I was having sex with several of the other men at the house involved at Cornerstone and with “The Family”. I knew that something was very wrong with this situation. The Christians I met were either hateful or hypocrites. Often both. After trying several different types of counseling and often having sex with these counselors I made a clean break.

Once outside this environment I realize more and more how it was like a cult. So many people try to rationalize how to square biblical interpretations and religious doctrine with the reality of their life. I went a different rout. I question the bases of the foundation or their arguments. I looked at the validity of the “New Testament” as the word of god. I saw that the story of god coming to earth, having a son with a mortal woman who was to save the world, has played out time and again. It is the story of Zeus and Hercules. It is the story of Isis and Ra. It could also be the story of Odin and Thor. It is a story that repeats through history. The names change but the themes remain the same. It is in a writing that is done decades or even centuries after events in a time with no hard records. In short, it is a belief system base ancient myths that are reworded and refitted for a different time and period. These are nothing more than stories parents used to frighten their children and that the rich embrace to enslave the poor and keep them under control. Even the bible itself says men are but sheep being lead to the slaughter.

One of my favorite lines recently is that if the US got rid of all atheists, it would lose 93% of the National Academy of Sciences but less than 1% of the prison population. I could live with that. I would like to live someplace sane! As we get more into the Christmas season the evangelicals complain about this fictions war on Christmas is destroying the holiday. That somehow stopping government from sapling nativity sets on public land is a slap at Christmas. Or using Happy Holidays is destroying the institution. I would simply say that before they worry about keeping Christ in Xmas, they should try putting him in their religion first.  Mahatma Gandhi said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”

That was never more evident that during the beginning of the AIDS crisis. Instead of helping the sick and dying, the Christians were advocating a roundup and death camps for people with AIDS. Instead of caring for the sick, the Catholic Church in Washington DC ordered an AIDS support group in their parish to cease and desist using the church basement for meeting. Jerry Farwell declared AIDS “God’s wrath on homosexuals. Christians used AIDS to justify hatred and fear of gays instead of caring for the sick and dying. Indeed and thought and action, the Christians were very un-christ like. It was not until the early 1990’s, some 45,000 deaths later, that the mainstream churches began actually helping instead of demonizing. That is unforgivable.

I have no need for a life based on mythos and I have no room in my heart for forgiveness. That is my position on Christians.

This past week I have been skiing for the first time ever.  Another item off the bucket list! One of the more interesting events of the week had nothing to do with skiing but was a friend request on Facebook. The request came from a law school classmate who I have not spoken with in over twenty years. I have not written much about law school except for my reasons for applying. One reason for why I ignored those three years is that they were hellish.

Creighton Law School - 1987-1990

They were not hellish in the “always studying, never playing, never socializing way”. I could live with that. They were hellish in the “having a horrible relationship while doing experimental drug protocols and living in a backwater hell hole called Omaha while going to a conservative Jesuit law School and trying to keep it all hidden from public view while living with a selfish stoner of a boyfriend” kind of way.

What made the friend request interesting was that it was from a classmate whom I had little interaction with, but carried a schoolboy crush for. Attached to the Facebook request he indicated that although he married out of school he and his wife had split and he had “come out”. He explained what triggered his search for me was reading a book that mentioned the Bowers v Hardwick decision (A case involving criminalization of homosexual activity). He remembered an incident in Constitutional law class when Professor Shugrue, after deriding the legitimacy of gay relationships, asked for my reaction.

To understand Professor Shugrue think Hobbit meets The Paper Chase. He thought of himself as a modern day Charles Kingsfield but looked like a hobbit with a skin condition. The first day of classes we were to be ready to discuss the classic case of Marbury v. Madison. True to the Socratic method of teaching, Shugrue called on me to analyze the case. I cannot remember what I said exactly but I’m sure it was insightful and elegant. I did however say Marshall instead of Justice Marshall. Shugrue jumped all over that omission saying, “Although you may be on a first name basis with the Justices, in the class we will refer to them as Justice Marshall or Chief Justice Marshall. I found out that Shugrue was on the admission committee and was privy to my application and personal reference letters. Justice Thurgood Marshall, Justice Byron White and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) wrote the personal reference letters. I had worked for all three in one capacity or another. Apparently I intimidated the good professor and he was going to try to put me in my place. We spent the next hour in a spirited discussion and in the end I had established myself as one who could not be intimidated and come hell or high water I was going to piss high than him!

Moving forward a couple months the discussion was about the Bowers/Hardwick decision concerning sodomy. Shugrue took the position that sodomy was not natural and should not be given protection and other conservative-babble not related to the law. I realize that this probably not his true position on the matter since he did not include any legal arguments in his discussion, but at 8 AM on a Monday morning, after a weekend of partying and fighting with Steven, I was in no mood. I raised my hand and went into a full throttle defense of gays, gay life styles, bath houses, leather and SM and relationships finally closing by saying that my other half and I had been together 6 years at that point (five and a half to many) but that we were more long term than most of my fraternity brothers from undergrad. Many of who were already on their second marriage. I kicked open the closet door and came flying out like the Tasmanian Devil. There appeared to be a stunned silence in the lecture hall. I think many expected me to go storming out of the room but I stood defiant, arrogant and emotionally drained.  After a bit the discussion continued. Shugrue moved on to another student and I sat. I soon saw the fallout. Many of my classmates who played racquetball with me or studied with me now avoided me. Small-minded America had reared it ugly face. I did however find a circle of friends. They included the few progressives in the school, and surprisingly, a couple of Mormon students who were incredibly nonjudgmental.

The isolation was actually a godsend in that I did not feel the need to integrate myself into the typical student social scene. Although the gay scene in Omaha was abysmal, I made due with it and the bookstores across the river in Council Bluffs IA. I also had the Iowa caucuses to keep me busy. I helped organize for Senator Paul Simon of IL, the bow tie guy, and did advance for him in Iowa.  A picture from one of my events was featured in Time Magazine. I had a great eye for photo ops. It was my second political campaign in Iowa. The first one being the Harkin Senate race in 1984.  Although I was out of the closet as a gay student, I still hid my medical secret close to my vest. If anyone at the school found out that I had AIDS I probably would have been separated from the rest of the students. I continued my bi-weekly visits to NIH for lab work and follow-up while testing new drugs. I was emotionally and physically a wreck. I stayed in a relationship with Steven because I thought it better to die in a miserable relationship than to die alone. It did not dawn on me that the relationship was doing more to kill me. We finally parted ways a couple months after graduation.

I’m sure there were some good times in law school. But right now I can’t really think of any. Well except my first jailhouse sex. But that’s a story for another day.

World AIDS day is upon us. That magical time of year when we celebrate…. What?

For as long as I have been active in the AIDS community, 30 years in one capacity or another, I never understood what exactly World AIDS Day is about. I went to Wikipedia for the answer.

According to Wikipedia World AIDS Day, observed December 1 each year, is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. It is common to hold memorials to honor persons who have died from HIV/AIDS on this day. Government and health officials also observe the event, often with speeches or forums on the AIDS topics. Since 1995, the President of the United States has made an official proclamation on World AIDS Day. Governments of other nations have followed suit and issued similar announcements.

OK – nice start. But what has it become. The first thing to greet me, as a visitor to the official World AIDS Day site, was an ad to purchase a “limited edition sparkly red ribbon.” Wow! What a great way to show solidarity with the dead and dying. Be all sparkly and happy. “See I support you!” I really don’t need that kind of support. I could order a box of red ribbons for 30£. And that helps me how? In my mail over the past month, I have more than a hand full of invitations to fundraisers. I am surprised Hallmark does not have a line of cards out. The smallest box on the front page of their web site is dedicated to “getting involved.”

I think it is clear that we have gotten off topic. World AIDS day was created to honor the dead and prod governments into action. It is still a pandemic and the there is much to be taught to friends and co-workers and most important, to government officials who control the purse strings. At least once a week I get a question about how I can be Positive and my partner is still negative after almost 19 years. My partner gets asked regularly, “how could he have sex with someone who is positive?” The lack of knowledge within the GLBT community is breathtaking. Maybe because we are in the south where schools are forbidden from having frank discussions about sex, but we as a society are setting ourselves up for an epic fail in protecting the next generation.

Every few years the virus has been shown to mutate. The virus is getting stronger and more and more resistant to medications. People are going to start dying again. Having gone through Kaposi Sarcoma myself and having had patients with Pneumocystis pneumonia die in my arms, I can tell you that it not pretty. It is not dignified. It is not painless. There was never a time in my life that I was negative. From the first month the test was available I flunked. There is no reason another person in Florida should get infected if we were doing our job, our obligation, to learn and teach about AIDS.

This year nationally is becoming a year of political action driven by the Occupy Wall Street movement. We need to recommit ourselves as a community to political action. One of the causalities of the past decade of budget cuts to support the wealthy and corporations is that many AIDS and public health groups have been force to close or cut back on services. So yes, we need to dig deep and give. Not just money. We need to give of our time and talents. We also need to focus on direct political action. We need to develop a new generation of leaders who understand what we have been through and have a desire to stop it from being repeated. We need to lobby for more money or at the very least not to loose any more. Most importantly we need to stop acting so corporate in our response. We need to start acting locally and maybe take a lesson from ACT-UP about direct political action. Locally we have some very good people on the school board and a few on the county commission. We need to support them and talk to the others. We need to recommit ourselves to the original goals of the World AIDS Day founders. At the same time we should not forget that some times direct political action is necessary. The world’s spotlight will be on Tampa next summer when the Republican circus comes to town. We need to let them know that it is not ok to lie to the children about AIDS and gays. Neither is “curable” and only one needs to be treated.

I have been asked more than once about the longevity of our relationship. Ed and I will celebrate (I hope) 19 years in April. I usually have a flippant answer like wine or great drugs. In reality what works for us works for us. I will be glad to share my thoughts but to me they are as obvious as the secretes of loosing weight (Burn more calories than you consume.
First and foremost – Don’t go to bed mad. You’ll spend the entire night plotting revenge. Seriously. The mind wanders and you fall asleep thinking about how angry you are. When you wake up you have difficulty separating dreams from reality and the day starts off as bad as it ended.

Second, but maybe more important, ask yourself as the fight is starting; “Am I better off with or with out that person.” If you decide that this fight is not going to break you up. Then why fight. Make the point you want to make. Then hope the other person accepts you side or at least acknowledges the validity of your statements. You must be willing to do the same.
Most important, if your dating someone because the “sex is phenomenal”, you are destined to fail. A relationship built around the physical will not work. Maybe not at first, things can stay fresh for period of time. Eventually the thrill will be gone and then what do you have the other 23 ½ hours a day. One reason I believe that Ed and I have lasted so long is that it is by far and away one of the most intelligent men I have ever met. We can have discussions ranging from quantum physics to current political events to zombies and then back again. For me personally, a relationship needs to be between 2 people who have respect on the physical and intellectual level for each other.

Most important, in your heart you must believe that the other wants only what’s good for you. And you must firmly have your partners’ best interest at heart.
I have seen to many relationships where one person holds some advantage over the other. Sometimes its earnings, sometimes it’s education, sometimes it’s physical. Whatever it is, if there is a disparity, it should never be used as a wedge or a way of keeping the other one down. Like iron sharpening iron a couple together for the long term must be willing to help that person become who they could be with out trying to remake them to their own personal preference.
Last but not least there must be agreement on the rules of the relationship and then commitment to keep them. Do not promise or demand more than you’re capable of giving. Accept the fact that men are pigs and decide in advance how to deal with indiscretions. Some partners really don’t want to know and don’t care. Other partners want to know so they don’t get blindsided when someone comes to them with a rumor or accusation, as people are prone to do. In one sense it’s kind of like writing a will. No one wants to get sick, but you need to plan for the worst in order to make the eventuality of the event easier. If you have these discussions early on, never assume it will be the only time you have those discussions. As time grows and people become more accustomed to each other things change. Be willing to accept the fact the relationships change.
Our relationship has gone from closed to open, open with rules and back again. To go back to my comment about a relationship built on the physical, the most important thing to remember then, and during periods of indiscretions, is that sex and love are 2 different things. To quote the old joke, “what do you call sex without love?” Answer, exercise!
Please don’t get me wrong when I talk about sex not being the focus of a relationship. I promise you, after almost 19 years, I still often get aroused when I look at Ed. THe most difficult thing for me was to enter into a relationship with someone who was negative. Ed had no problems dating someone positive. Even back then.

Also, a marine sandwich always adds some spice.