Im not writing a World AIDS Day column this year

I’m not.

I wrote a column last year, and I think it’s still completely relevant- with only a few updates of statistics, world aids day(1).jpggeographic and demographic trends.

I’m not going to talk about the rash of new HIV infections among young men, nor am I going to write about my suspicion that 8 years of Bush era abstinence-only education is probably fueling this epidemic among our youth and twenty-somethings.

I’m not going to discuss the massive saturation of HIV in gay/bi men in this country. How we are not working to support each other in getting tested and getting into care and reducing the amount of the virus that can possibly be spread.

I’m not going to harp about the same old shit that gets ignored every year. About how HIV is crippling our communities, draining our resources, affecting our self-esteem and still causing death.

I’m not.

Instead I’m going to concentrate on a few good things that I think may have been overlooked.

I am grateful for the way the women saved us back in the eighties and nineties by stepping up as activists, caregivers and friends. I’m grateful for my lesbian and transgendered sisters/brothers who bravely stood in the face of obstinate refusal by the government to take meaningful action. They still inspire me.

I’m grateful for the medications that have stemmed the flood of funerals that carried away so many lovely human beings. I’m grateful for the drug side-effects that are still better for me than an early death. I’m grateful for the way that my illness has allowed me to prioritize my life, helping me put aside pride, fear and shame to live as honestly and with as much integrity as I can muster. HIV, ironically, has made me look at my life and create it more closely in the image of my true values.

I’m not writing the normal column this year. Instead, I’m going to put on a red ribbon and go to an AIDS Day service. I’m going to gather with other people and remember that we still have work to do. I’m going to remember some very painful moments-and some very beautiful ones. I’m going to bring to mind some people that I haven’t thought about all year and breathe a prayer of thanks for their place in my life. I’m going to hold the hand of a stranger, I’m going to light a candle and sing my gratitude and resolve to whoever it is that is listening.

And as I leave, I’m going to resolve to work harder this year to make life easier for people with HIV and to work harder so people won’t get HIV.

And I know I won’t be alone. That beats any column I could write.

 

World AIDS Day: A Need To Remember

Because I think it’s still relevant, I’m reprinting (with a few updates) my column for World AIDS Day from last year. I may just continue to do so as long as it still makes sense….


Remember when World AIDS Day used to be important?

I do.

I remember December 1st as a day when people gathered in terror and grief with candles and tears listening to words that couldn’t begin to touch the pain and anger and sadness.

I remember when it was a time for all kinds of people to gather together, people that probably wouldn’t be in the same room for any other reason. At World AIDS Day services in the early Nineties, I remember seeing queer activists, quietly closeted gay men and women, Episcopal and Catholic priests, Native American leaders, Protestant ministers, atheists, nuns and agnostics. I saw elected officials, Republicans and Democrats, wheelchair-bound elderly, parents, children, nurses, doctors, cowboys, lawyers, accountants, little old ladies and, once, a rodeo clown. All coming together, all looking for comfort and hope and compassion among others who could maybe understand.

We don’t really do that now. And maybe it’s okay that we don’t.
Maybe it’s good that the terror I remember so vividly on the faces of  friends and complete strangers is no longer there. Maybe it’s good that people aren’t dying so fast and so painfully, isolated and afraid. Maybe it’s good that we’re not so traumatized by fear and grief and anger.

Maybe.

Is terror a good thing? Is a painful death beneficial? Is emotional trauma something to be longed for?

No. But I have to say, those scenes of suffering and bravery certainly helped capture the zeitgeist of the Eighties and Nineties. It helped keep AIDS in our collective consciousness. Drama and fear and compassion fueled activism and grassroots movements and the formation of community-based organizations. AIDS was overwhelmingly real. It was dramatic. It went to the Oscars, the Emmys, the Grammys and the Tonys. And it won. More than once.

So I’m not sure if it’s a good thing that HIV isn’t such a drama queen anymore. Not to say that I want people to suffer needlessly. I don’t. I just happen to think we’re not paying attention because it’s no longer hip, sexy, avant-garde and noble to do so. I think that our short attention spans need to be constantly reminded. And, there’s really not a lot of spectacular theatrics to grab our attention today. Well, not compared to the past.

But, trust me, it’s still there. There are some rather dramatic facts to consider:

  • People are still being infected. In the U.S. there are over fifty thousand new diagnoses a year. The CDC estimates that one in five persons with HIV doesn’t know it. That means they may not be protecting their sexual partners out of ignorance. That means more HIV.
  • Gay men, and/or Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) account for more than half of all new infections each year, and MSM is the only risk group in the country whose infections are increasing. MSM account for nearly half of all persons living with HIV in the United States today. Nearly half. And those are just the ones we know about. That means that for all the talk we hear about “AIDS is not a gay disease,” it is. That means sexually active MSM are having sex with HIV+ partners statistically more often than any other members of the general population- and being infected. HIV significantly and dramatically lives in the bodies of gay men.
  • HIV strains the budget of every state in the Union. So much so, that states have cut or are considering cuts in funding to drug assistance programs and other HIV support and prevention services. These services keep people alive at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. More money is needed with every new infection. That money comes out of your taxes.
  • People are still dying. Yes, the drugs help, and people with HIV are living longer lives, but the drugs don’t always work, and HIV mutates. Our immune systems are under a great deal of strain and one serious opportunistic infection can kill. I lost a friend just this year.
  • It’s not over. Families are still being traumatized and our community is being hurt by this epidemic. Here in Montana, with its relatively miniscule gay population, new members joined my HIV+ support group this year,  most are gay men in their twenties- kids, really. All facing a lifetime radically different than they had hoped for.

And those are just some of the many points to consider.

Is it good that people are no longer dying and suffering in such huge numbers? Yes.
Is it good that we no longer gather in great numbers, sharing strong emotions, standing hopefully resolute in the face of pain and suffering and memory? I don’t think so.

Personally, I need to remember these facts and these people, because they’re part of my history, my community, my country and my world. I need to be reminded that my compassion, my voice and my heart are all still relevant. I need to be reminded that I’m not alone, I need to remind others of the same thing. And I think doing it once a year is the least I can do.

That’s why I’ll be going to a World AIDS Day service this year. That’s why I’ll be wearing a red ribbon, holding a candle in the dark, listening to words of grief, bravery and encouragement. To remember, to remind, to regroup.

Because I still think it’s important.

Death Be Not Proud

As a prelude to my talk on December 1st, (World AIDS Day) at AIDSPirit in Billings, I offer this:

Holy Sonnet X
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy'or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
~John Donne

For an explanation and integration, please join us at Grace United Methodist Church, Billings, at 7pm.

My Poor Seattle Peeps

…so not used to snow and ice.

Be Your Guest

I’m not cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year.

For the first time in over a decade, I am not hosting my cadre of family- chosen and biological, to partake of the fruits of a month’s worth of careful planning, shopping and calculated cooking. I am not obsessing about cooking times, allergies, social tensions, wine, vegan alternatives, keeping children occupied, allowing for left-handed eaters, children, pets and making sure to allow for fluctuations in the weather. I don’t have to worry about having enough toilet paper, serving dishes, utensils and glasses. I don’t have to remind myself to breathe. I don’t have to do a NATO-style diplomatic seating chart, wonder about people being left out or included or hit on. I’m not making my famous fig stuffing, cooking a 22 lb turkey, mashing cranberries, potatoes and making that gravy right after the bird comes out. I’m not enjoying the crazy, wide, beautiful variety of my people from the comfort of my own home. 

I’m not doing any of it this year. And, as much as I love all of the above, I’m kind of glad about it.

I’m ready to take a year off and celebrate the blessings in my life with someone else doing all the fussing (my sister’s mother-in-law). I’ll watch football (blankly, I’ll admit), swap stories with my brother-in-law, talk to my Dad about the weather and my Mom about the hell of growing old. My sister and I will catch each other’s eyes at exactly the same time after a crazy comment at the table. There will be other in-laws and outlaws talking delightfully about their childhoods and how kids used to be, while completely fawning over the kids that are there. There will be wonderful smells and  sights and tastes and touches and sounds. I’ll probably eat too much and have dessert anyway. I won’t be alone in that.

I’m going to mindfully, gratefully take it all in. Every cheesy, predictable, ordinary moment of it.

Time was, I never thought I’d live this long. I also didn’t think my family would be so fantastic to me and the man I’ve chosen. I’ve suffered through so many of my own misconceptions, misperceptions and straight-up craziness that now I’m simply deciding to pay attention to the truth: the beauty of my life, my family and the ordinary ways I am loved- without working for it.

It can get lost sometimes, in the craziness. The love of being the perfect host/cook/cruise director is still there, but I think I need the reminder of being the guest in order to appreciate the fulness of life. I want to experience the other side. I remember a saying I once saw in a bed and breakfast:

“It is the host’s responsibility to make their guests feel at home.
It is the guest’s responsibility to remember that they are not.”

There’s graciousness involved on both sides. I think I know how to be a host. It’s time to learn how to be a better guest. Because really, like it or not, it’s actually my primary role. I’m a guest in so many different ways every day of my life- we all are.

And a little practice couldn’t hurt.

I wish you all a very beautiful Thanksgiving.

SameSexSunday

LGBT COMMUNITY EMBRACES NEW WEEKLY POLITICS PANEL

“SAMESEXSUNDAY” REACHES 5000 iTUNES SUBSCRIBERS AFTER 25 SHOWS

“This is just the beginning,” promise hosts and producers

Washington DC, November 21, 2010- In a growing climate of concern about the future of lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender (LGBT) community media, SameSexSunday is an engaging, smart and insightful public affairs round table now attracting 5000 iTunes subscriber hits a month.  Modeled after the Sunday morning politics talk shows, SameSexSunday, offers a diverse, lively and topical discussion of the week’s event in the LGBT on a wide array of political, cultural and community topics.  

Partnering with Bilerico Project, the web’s largest queer political group blog, Phil Reese and Joe Mirabella launched the show in Spring of 2010 to an audience eager for serious political discussion, covering strategy, politics, policy, legislation and litigation with some of the brightest minds and provocative personalities in the LGBT and ally community.  By July, iTunes had already selected SameSexSunday as one of its “New and Noteworthy” podcast picks.

“Same Sex Sunday is one of the most thoughtful and relevant broadcast spaces on the Internet for discussion of LGBT issues,” says LGBT movement leader and media strategist, Cathy Renna. “Simply put, it is our community’s version of “Meet the Press” Renna is a Managing Partner of the LGBT focused communications firm Renna Communications and longtime media activist and a guest on the new round table regularly, joining dozens of leaders, movers and shakers from the LGBT equality movement.

In its first 25 episodes, the panel has attracted the a wide array of  political strategists and leaders from inside and outside of the LGBT equality movement; from Diego Sanchez, Steve Ralls, Rea Carey, Karl Frisch, Michael Crawford, Rick Jacobs and Chris Barron to Michael J Wilson, Jarrod Chlapowski, JD Smith, Meghan Stabler, Casey Pick and R. Clarke Cooper.  Even California Senator Roy Ashburn joined the discussion this summer.

Regular SameSexSunday law expert and journalist, Chris Geidner, describes the show as “a great opportunity to hear the people who are reporting on and working toward LGBT equality every day talking about topics that matter to LGBT people. There is no other place to hear so many informed people talking about so many LGBT issues each weekend.”

“We want listeners to get an inside look at the latest news and issues facing the LGBT community, and what’s on the horizon for the LGBT movement,” says show co-host, Phil Reese, who records from Champaign, IL with panelists from the across the country. “We offer dynamic panels that take seriously both the right and left side of the political spectrum.”

Hundreds of listeners every week are discovering the most insightful LGBT public affairs show and clicking “subscribe.”  Since June of 2010, the show has been downloaded nearly 20,000 times.  With 1500 Facebook fans, it’s no wonder SameSexSunday is growing so fast.

Bil Browning, founder and Editor-In-Chief of Bilerico Project, is very proud of SameSexSunday’s success. “While the conversation can get heated as panelists debate today’s hottest LGBT issues, the quality of the program is consistently excellent. You can get a good idea of what’s coming up in LGBT politics and issues by listening to the show. SameSexSunday’s expert guests are the same people deciding the focus of advocacy and reporting for the queer community.” Leaders know SameSexSunday doesn’t just keep pace with the LGBT news cycle, but sets it. “This isn’t your typical shout-fest of talking heads. This is intelligent conversation for the modern queer.”

SameSexSudnay was launched in 2010 as the web’s only weekly LGBT public affairs and politics round table discussion.  LGBT leaders, strategists and movement icons from around America gather every Sunday to discuss litigation, litigation, policy and strategy.

Another Mom Speaks

From Momastery, a really beautiful letter from the mother we all wish we had, to her son.

Excerpt:

And I don’t mean, Chase, that we would be tolerant of you and your sexuality. If our goal is to be tolerant of people who are different than we are, Chase, than we really are aiming quite low. Traffic jams are to be tolerated. People are to be celebrated.

Read the rest here.