Tomyamaguchi’s Weblog

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AIDS at 30, some personal thoughts

Today is being remembered as the 30th anniversary of the start of the AIDS epidemic. June 5, 1981 was the day the Los Angeles Times reported on the mysterious deaths of gay men by the Center for Disease Control. I seemed to have missed seeing that article though I was a regular reader of the LA Times then. Being in a house of news junkies, 5 daily papers usually ended up at our house every day. It was actually an article in the New York Times that caught my attention. I do not remember the date, but I know it was not long after I moved into my West Berkeley house on June 24 of that year. I was regularly riding my bike to a job I had in Point Richmond and stopped every morning at a newspaper rack on San Pablo Avenue in Albany (that’s Albany, CA) to pick up the national edition of the New York Times. Then I would browse it a bit when I got to work and read it more thoroughly during the morning break.

I was in the closet then and was debating coming out. We had just moved to the Bay Area, and I saw attitudes toward gay people beginning to change. I had a wife and young daughter and did not want to hurt or abandon them. Then I saw the article about a mysterious gay cancer and wondered if living openly as a gay man was such a good idea. As the weeks and months past, I read more stories and became more frightened. I was frightened enough to stay in the closet for the next decade. Keep in mind that how the disease was spread among gay men remained a mystery for several years. No one knew how easy it was to transmit. Staying closeted for me meant staying alive.

The first AIDS death of someone I knew was a neighbor who had worked as a nurse. I am sad to say I did not know him well. Years later, a former housemate died of AIDS. She had serious substance abuse problems, including severe alcoholism. When I started attending New College in 1991, one of my classmates was in the last stages of the disease. I was able to get know him in the last few months of his life. He was one of the founders of the Radical Faeries. When he died, there was a lovely memorial at his flat in the Haight where his ashes were passed around for everyone to hold.

The year before I returned to college was the year I finally had the courage to come out as a gay man. Though I regret my decision to not come out earlier, I have had no regrets since then. In this month of Pride, 2011, it is good to reflect on how far we have come. AIDS still exists, but it is no longer the death sentence it was 30 years ago. It is 100% preventable and eventually will be curable. Of equal importance is the change in social attitudes toward gay people. Both public figures and everyday people are coming out with increasing frequency. Being gay is no longer controversial. Same sex marriage is slowly becoming legal, state by state. What a joy to see this happen in my lifetime.

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June 6, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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