Thursday, December 01, 2016

"When We Rise" and World AIDS Day

Cleve Jones (above at right) begins his new memoir, "When We Rise: My Life in the Movement," with this sentence --- "I was born into the last generation of homosexual people who grew up not knowing if there was anyone else on the entire planet who felt the way that we felt." 

He is 62 now and I am 70, so we share that. But little else. He moved to San Francisco soon after turning 18, became a protege of Harvey Milk and an activist in his own right after Milk's assassination, co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and founded The Names Project --- AIDS Memorial Quilt.

He also has lived with HIV/AIDS for more than 30 years, most likely since the late 1970s although diagnostic testing was not available until 1985.

On the other hand, I'm a lifelong Iowan and in no sense an activist who stepped out of the closet --- beyond family and a few others who had known since college days --- voluntarily only when it became evident that acquaintances, friends and the occasional lover were dying of AIDS and it seemed that the least one could do to honor them was to become visible.


Actually, I hadn't planned to order the book --- but the stars aligned themselves this week: A conversation with a friend about the challenges gay children still face in a seemingly archetypal Iowa family; the news that an AIDS Memorial Quilt panel was being created for an acquaintance who died a year or so ago after living with AIDS for many years; renewed contact with another friend still recovering from the wounds inflicted by an aggressively "Christian" family.

And today, Dec. 1, is World AIDS Day, first observed in 1988 to warn, advocate for a cure and mourn.

So I ordered a copy yesterday, the day after it premiered in book stores, and am looking forward to its arrival (besides, I get a kick out of tracking Amazon packages --- a cheap thrill for someone who entertains easily).

The following interview with Jones, conducted by Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air, was broadcast on Tuessday. Feel free to listen.

Come February, ABC will broadcast an eight-hour, seven-part miniseries of the same title, written by Dustin Lance Black (who won an Emmy for his Milk screenplay) and directed by Gus Van Sant. I'll tune into that, too.


Now I'm going to go try to find the battered red-enameled brass ribbon that I wore on a lapel for many years and put it on again.

I've been thinking about candlelight vigils on cold December nights on the grounds of Hospice of North Iowa. 

And remembering for some reason the explosive gut-wrenching realization that came at me out of the blue while working at my desk one evening a quarter century ago that this guy I knew, who had been ill, was in fact dying of AIDS. Why that memory, among others, stands out I cannot say.

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