1996

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Dan Savage asked me to write about the turning point of 1996 in the HIV epidemic in the US for the gay pride issue of the Stranger. My attempt to celebrate that success was lambasted by the usual suspects. Gabriel Rotello has written yet another screed attacking me, with the charming slur that I don't actually care about anyone with HIV apart from myself. Here's my effort. Make your mind up if you think it celebrates HIV-transmission, or conveys the impression that I do not care about other people with HIV:

Here's what you need to know about what gay life was like before 1996, before life-saving treatments for HIV came online: that it was fucking hell on earth; that gay men lived through a virtual holocaust; that death was everywhere, and before death, there was total, enervating, soul-destroying fear.

I meet young gay guys today and they don't know what it's like to watch your best friend pound the floor with his fist in agony because the pain won't stop; to pick up a buddy off the carpet when you drop by after work, and see his brittle bones covered in fresh gray diarrhea; to see a friend wake up one day and be unable to tie his shoelaces because toxoplasmosis had eaten half his brain away; to have your shirt cuff brush past a friend's skin and have him scream in agony because of neuropathy; to dance on a disco floor next to a rail-thin guy covered in KS lesions who knows this is the last time he'll dance to anything; to open up the local gay rag and find 10 pages of obits where the real estate ads now sit; to hear a friend speak of watching as a needle is pushed into his open eyeball to alleviate the threat of CMV; to see your date consume two handfuls of toxic drugs twice a day to do something about a virus that would nevertheless kill him at the age of 29; to hear of couples torn apart and bereaved lovers thrown out of their homes because their in-laws hate them and their husbands just died; to scan the eyes of a doctor to see if he's lying to you about your prognosis; to catch the face of an old man on the street and realize seconds later that he was a friend who looked 25 only a few months before; to attend more funeral services than happy hours; to feel shame because of an illness; and to endure sickness knowing that there is no end or future except pain and death.

The rest is here. Rotello's much-predicted second wave of deadly HIV has yet to materialize.

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