Michael Harris is the same age, 31, as the AIDS epidemic, he writes in "Life After Death," his essay for The Walrus on the generational shift in the cultural experience of the disease among gay men.
Harris writes that he and his cohort, unlike men just ten years older, have come of age amid antiretroviral drugs and an expectation of survivability — and therefore not with the same trauma of those who felt the first onrush of the disease, as an unimpeded avalanche. While that trauma is not desirable, some of the reactions it spawned were good ones, Harris argues, notably aggressive public health education efforts. Without a similar sense of incipient danger, safety slips. Rates of HIV infection have never again fallen as low as they were in 2000, the year Harris came out to his parents. The paradox is a dangerous one; HIV and AIDS don't feel as immediate a threat to some younger people (gay and straight alike) and in the process, the danger of infection grows.
The whole essay is worth reading; it ends with a startling metaphor, about the way AIDS still manages to isolate the individual, and to "damn gay men to abbreviated lives."
The best way I can describe our predicament to someone outside our culture is to call up the sensation of orgasm. You lose control of your destiny, and you are grateful for the loss. Time dissolves. Nothing that came before matters. You lose all sense of consequences and would sacrifice anything to safeguard the moment.
Then, just seconds later, the blighted past and an uncertain future rush back in to drown you.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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