Generations of HIV

Published: December 4, 2014

The Huffington Post
Alex Garner
Original Article:

Each generation of gay men has the distinct experience of being uniquely impacted by HIV. One of the best-understood and often explored generational experiences of HIV is the early years — a time when the disease violently and unexpectedly emerged in the community. For those of us who come of age after those events, HIV didn’t arrive to alter the world, as we knew it. It was the world, as we knew it. For our entire experience, HIV has been incidental to our lives.

The AIDS generation endured unimaginable horrors. I still marvel that they kept our culture and community alive through those war years. That really is the only way I can think to describe it- war years. Many, many lives were lost, incalculable pain was endured, and the injustices of the world were magnified. But the war wasn’t won it was simply transformed.

I am part of the gay post-war generations. Only this wasn’t the post war years of GI Bills, swimming pools, and shiny new cars. It was more like post war East Berlin — a world of guard towers, barbed wire, and machine guns. These were our cold war years living under the specter of a totalitarian regime and fearing death, not from secret police or nuclear annihilation, but from a raging epidemic. That was our daily life. It was less a life of resistance and more one of co-existence.

Growing up, I knew fear all too well. When I was 12 I saw one of the first TV movies about gay men and AIDS, As Is. I attentively watched the gay men in the film and while I didn’t call myself gay then, I knew that I liked other boys and that this story was about me. In a pivotal scene, one man discovers a KS lesion on the back of his lover and they realized the impending horror. Immediately, I went to the bathroom to frantically examine my back for KS. I hadn’t even has sex yet but I understood a very simple fact. I was like those men and AIDS is what happens to those men, to men like me.

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