Arts & Entertainment
Memento Mori Pt. 2
By Charles Alexander
Originally printed 9/12/2013 (Issue 2137 - Between The Lines News)
Though perhaps unspoken among gay men and doctors thirty years ago when the AIDS crisis started, the presumption of a death sentence was understood.
When the HIV-3 retrovirus was identified and infection modes publicized: unprotected oral and anal sex, drug usage, multiple partners, STDs, over reliance on therapeutic antibiotics, gay men were told if they tested positive it was time to get personal effects in order.
AZT was the first powerhouse drug offered, hopefully to extend life expectancy for a few precious months, perhaps a year, often just weeks. AZT was developed at Detroit's Cancer Center, used briefly for cancer patients but soon abandoned because of highly toxic side effects; iatrogenic pathologies that mirrored, or, some pharmacists maintained, caused all of the AIDS-related symptoms . . .radical weight loss, pneumocystis pneumonia, purple lesions, dementia, low platelet counts . . AZT was the drug-of-choice. Take it or leave it! How many gay men died of doing just that is a legitimate question. In spite of the physician's Hippocratic Oath to "do no harm," AZT was scripted. (The chemist who invented AZT lived in the same Cultural Center apartment building where I lived for 24 years. He was gay, had an extensive classical music collection, frequently quarreled with his much younger partner.)
The stigma of being HIV positive or, dramatically worse, of exhibiting unmistakable AIDS symptoms like Kaposi sarcoma contributed to a mutual silence of shame among gay men. The Reagan White House saw the pandemic as unfortunately deserved. If gay men weren't so promiscuous they wouldn't be dying by the thousands.
(Hollywood name star Rock Hudson, who died of AIDS in 1985, was a personal friend of First Lady Nancy Reagan. Other prominent personalities who received "hush hush" treatment include attorney Roy Cohen and Liberace. They were deemed acceptable persons, even though they just might happen to be, well, er, you know, gay.)
For conservative politicians, AIDS was putting a dramatic end to the Gay Power Liberation Movement and in-America's-face leather militancy exhibited in places like San Francisco, New York, Chicago, cities with large gay populations. "AIDS will shove them back into the closet or, better still into an early grave!"
There is in currency an AIDS genocide conspiracy theory: that the retrovirus, or a lethal variant, was introduced during the mid-1970s hepatitis inoculation programs in the East and West coasts. Documentation for this alarming so-called "biowarfare" viewpoint can be read in "The Secret AIDS Genocide," by Alan Cantwell, M.D. Cantwell is himself gay. Equally controversial is his expose "Queer Blood."
(A recent meningitis inoculation program - "get inoculated before 2013 Pride Celebrations " - for New York and San Francisco gay men raises fear and concern among those who subscribe to AIDS conspiracy theories, such as those advocated by Dr. Cantwell.)
During the early decades of the AIDS crisis the government initiated little public support or funding. It wasn't until AIDS activists became loudly vocal, demanding, marching, staging sit-ins, that things changed. Gays, lesbians, straight allies took charge, developing education and testing programs, buddy one-on-one systems, safe-sex strategies, fund-raisers, shelters for AIDS care; and, importantly, offering loving support with requisite human dignity.
Memento mori. Lest we forget. Dare we?