Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Remembering the Epidemic: AIDS in the Village

This was a bit misleading. I came to this talk at the LGBT Center in Chelsea on Tuesday night with a wad of tissues in my pocket, totally expecting to bawl like a lost kitten over tales of death and loss in the early days of the AIDS epidemic in New York's gay community. Instead, three doctors--one of whom treated the very first AIDS sufferer in the city--gave a college-worthy talk on the various aspects of HIV epidemiology (hope I spelled that right). Demographics, statistics, public perception, even a progression of the medical community's understanding of the disease. Did you know, for instance, that HIV was initially called GRID (Gay Related Immuno-Deficiency)? Or that the research for cures and treatments was held up for months because of a bragging-rights struggle between the French and American doctors who each claimed to have discovered the virus?

Other factoids: the fastest-growing demographic for new HIV cases is under 25s and over 55s. Under 25s, not hard to figure out, they think they're young and invincible and perceive HIV not as a death sentence but a chronic, manageable condition. Over 55s, bit more of a head-scratcher, but the doctors think it has something to do with the availability of Viagra--that's not a joke, though it sounds like one--and possibly with the fact that many gay men want to have a little fun while they still look good and "can still get vertical," a quote that's a lot funnier than it should be, in my mind. But the really tragic bit about the over 55s is that a lot of those new cases are straight women. One doctor said that he took a survey among over 55s and found that while 30% of the men had been tested for HIV, none of the women had ever been tested. That statistic made me took a look around the room and realize that of the 40 people attending the talk, maybe 8 or 10 of us were female (and all of us were white). This highlighted--highlit?--for me ongoing issues about outreach and awareness.

Now seems the appropriate time to remind everyone to get tested regularly for HIV, always practice safe sex, and get lots of practice.

Since I'm not doing the Village Voice street teamstering anymore, my social life has shrunk considerably, but I like to think that I'm making up for that by going to events that actually interest me. The classic quality for quantity switch, if you will. This talk may not have been as exciting for my readers as the Electric Zoo fiasco, but I felt like a more well-rounded human being for having attended it. And really, isn't my smug sense of self-satisfaction what this is all about?

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