Saturday, December 01, 2012

Oh-shit moments and World AIDS Day

Thinking back to World AIDS Day programs and vigils of previous lives, I've been remembering a cold December night and lighting the flame of my candle from the flame of a candle held by a guy I'd just run into --- boyfriend of a friend --- one of the last people, for various reasons, I'd expected to see. Then the oh-shit moment, and clarity. Within weeks, the friend was dead; months farther on, boyfriend, too. It used to happen like that.

Plunging headlong into geezerness now, surprised by life and grateful for it --- most of the time --- I doubt I'll be in Des Moines for this year's 6 p.m. Rally of Remembrance at the Capitol. It'll be dark outside by then and I don't relish the drive home after, dodging deer. Getting older. I'll just light a candle or two. I know a lot of people who are dead.

Dug out the obit the other day of an acquaintance, clipped and filed away, who died of a euphemism rather than complications of AIDs --- if you believe what you read. His family, deeply shamed, had claimed the body, then recreated son and brother. There was a paragraph about how he'd found Jesus at age 12; nothing about how he found life at age 22, lived it fully, experienced love and acceptance within a self-created and non-biologically family and then died in the arms of others.

This is the 25th year for World AIDS day, 30 years into a pandemic. According to best estimates, 25 million have died worldwide since 1981; 34 million currently live with HIV/AIDS (1.2 million at least in the United States), 1.7 million were infected during 2011. An alarming percentage of the infected is unaware of the infection; alarming percentages receive inadequate, or no, care --- especially in places like Africa.

We've all heard a lot lately about same-sex marriage --- and that's fine --- but less about AIDS, and that isn't. There seems to be a feeling out there, in this country at least, that AIDS is not something that needs to be worried too much about any more.  Medication, you know, can't cure but can control --- much of the time. We need to listen more carefully to those living with HIV/AIDS about that.

Recent studies suggest that infection rates are up among young people, that roughly a thousand people age 13-24 become infected with HIV in the United States every month. That's an oh-shit piece of information if ever there was one. The overwhelming source of the infection is sex. Seventy-two percent of the new infections involve young men who have sex with other men. Eight-six percent of infected young women are exposed during heterosexual sex.

Preaching abstinence is all very well and good, but young people will have sex with whomever they are so-inclined no matter what; to believe otherwise is delusional. Awareness needs to be raised, instruction in safe sex provided, condoms made readily available and screening for HIV/AIDS should be a matter of routine.

Iowa can be an aw-shucks kind of place --- "aw shucks, that's not a problem here." Isn't true now, wasn't true 30 years ago --- and I can take you to some of the graves that prove it.

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