I made a horrendous mistake last night. Mr. G loves to watch the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. I do love being with Mr. G, but I don’t love the shows the way he does. Since it’s become part of our evening unwinding routine, I typically grab a tablet and goof around online so I can half watch the show without being bored out of my mind. I want to be with my husband. I like him.
In any event, I’d noticed that How To Survive a Plague was on Netflix so I decided to pop in some earbuds and be not-quite-present but rather sit next to Mr. G while he watched his show and I’d watch How to Survive a Plague on the tablet. I figured I’d get in 40 minutes and watch the last hour bit by bit during the next week or so.
Do not make the mistake I made. Do not trick yourself into believing that you can watch this movie in pieces. It’s engrossing, infuriating and if, like me, you came of age in the late 80’s it will have you flashing back to die in’s you’d tried to forget and queer bills that your friends would pass around town. Watching Pat Buchanan and Jesse Helms say that gay men deserved to die sent my blood pressure skyrocketing and police officers with rubber gloves combined with hospitals turning patients away reminded me of details that I’d tried to forget.
Someday I’ll talk about the funerals I attended. There were so many of them, too many. I’ll talk about ribbons and how much that red ribbon meant because people with ARC and AIDS were treated much like Polio patients in the early days. Delivering meals with Project Angel Food turned me into a different person, and I’ll never have the words required to articulate how profound those changes were.
So I sat up late last night and watched How To Survive a Plague and I sobbed and I cheered and I remembered how incredibly powerless and powerful that whole moment in time was for both the gay community and communities like my own that bordered West Hollywood and relied on the gay community for art, joy, love, and freedom.
And I look at organizations like Aids Project LA and Project Angel Food that once loomed large in my life. When Steven was dying, APLA walked me through tremendous amounts of paperwork and held my hand while we cleared legal hurdles. Project Angel Food helped Gene stay home so he could die in his bed, on his terms. PAF delivered nutritious and delicious meals to my friends and to strangers, they work with nutritionists and master chefs so that the food with both sustain and delight their clients. They are angels on earth.
I have a few friends left who are positive. They have well-controlled diseases, and we don’t talk about it much anymore because we have the feeling (and feelings are very different than knowledge) that they can keep their disease under control until there is a cure. My kids know AIDS, they’ve watched men disappear. They’ve watched vibrant men grow gaunt first and then quiet. Shortly thereafter they’re gone forever but even with that, teens and young adults are notoriously unreliable and I know that when I look at Jane and Alexander and all their friends one or more of those girls will be accidentally pregnant, a handful of them will have an STD, 10% of them will be homosexual and more than 10% will be unsure for at least a moment in their lifetime.
Everything about this panics me. When Bush drew a line in the sand and my brother made noises about enlisting my mother dissolved into a puddle talking about Vietnam and the body bags that came home. When I hear that young men are barebacking and the HIV infection rate is rising in minority communities, I flash back to my young adult years when having sex felt a little like Russian Roulette, and even your married (female) neighbor died from it. It was our Vietnam War, but they hid the body bags.
I’d urge you to watch How To Survive A Plague in part because it’s a story that must be told, and it’s a moment in time where ordinary people came together to make extraordinary progress.