I'm sitting here on a break from my PhD writing and once again thinking to myself "Why the fuck did I decide to write a PhD about HIV? Why?"
I ask the question because it takes up so much space in my life anyhow, so having to read and think and write about it as well in an academic way may not have been the best move for my sanity.
The answer is obivous of course. It matters. What HIV does to the men I count as my community matters - the stories that poz guys have so generously entrusted to me about their own experiences matter and deserve to be heard and to feed into our work on controlling the spread of it. They also simply deserve to be heard, and I hope I can help do that. This morning I was re-reading the interview I did with a young guy who died earlier this year.
We just had the annual Candlelight Memorial here in New Zealand - I used to go to them but I don't any more. I feel like I remember the dead on a daily basis, and a gathering like this doesn't do it for me any more. I don't wear a Red fribbon much these days either, unless I'm doing something "official", but I used to have one pinned to my coat all the time. I just don't need to be reminded of it all the time now - I don't want or need HIV to take up so much space in my life.
But it still does of course. every day I take my meds, morning and night, and I know if I stop, I die. It's that simple.
As soon as I read these words by Marguerite Yourcenar, from her work "The Memoirs of Hadrian", I fell in love with them, they moved me and spoke to me:
“To say that my days are numbered signifies nothing; they always were, and are so for us all…
Like a traveller sailing the Archipelago who sees the luminous mists lift towards evening, and little by little makes out the shore, I begin to discern the profile of my death”
That has been part of the mystery - we all die - but we pretend we won't. Trying to look at our own death is like trying to look into the sun - we can't do it - but as my friends died around me, and as I got sick, yes, I began to see the profile of my death.
When I look around my living room, I see some of my dead friends. Glenn Morris, who set up the old NZ Countrymen's Institute (a sauna) looks down at me from a work done by the artist Alan Brown. We were all friends - I met them when I was about 17 I guess, they would have been in their early 20s. They were both mentors of mine, like big gay brothers, who looked after me and showed me so much. I took my first acid trip with Alan. In fact, I think anyone who knew him would say life with Alan was like being on acid anyhow whether you were or not. he was just such fun, so naughty and mischevious.
Glenn and I flatted together in Herne Bay in the 80s, before it was "nice" - we called ourselves "The Empresses in Exile of Sodom and Gomorrah" and called the house "The Palace of the Red Queen". We had such great times there, and he really was such a wonderful man, loving, kind, gentle and wise. Glenn died in 1993, and Alan died, I think, in 2002, but I could be wrong on that. Even the dates of the important deaths start to blur in my mind.Alan made the portrait from a photo - people always notice it and ask if it's me.
Steven Lovett is another old friend, and a wonderful artist - one who is thankfully still here and HIV negative, but he did a beautiful work of a friend of ours from our youth, dear Tintin - we used to sneak into the loos at Alfies and get stoned. Tintin died of AIDS in 1989, I think.
Mike Creelman - when I first met him He was Alan's lover - God he was handsome. He died back in the mid-80s in SF. He was ex-NZ Air-Force, tall, muscly, and camp as a row of frilly pink tents at times. One thing I recall is how he cut my hair a few times, sweet intimate moments of fun and friendship. I used to fancy him so much, but never had the nerve to try and make a move.
I could go on. So many men I know who died from this. Men I'm sure who are loved and remembered by their families, often families I never met, because back in those days being gay often meant some form of exile from the rest of our world.
Thinking of them as I sit here writing does bring tears to my eyes, it makes me cry, sitting here in my office remembering them all, and then thinking of the millions around the world who have died of this terrible, disgusting plague. But I don't let myself cry too often. Probably not enough.
This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all, and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won't die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.
That comes from Tony Kuschner's Angels in America - watch it if you can.
It all makes me sad, but it makes me angry too. Angry at the ignorance and fear that still surrounds us so often; angry at the empty, pompous, ignorant pontificating of authorities who think they know better. Angry at the cruelty and sorrow that has been inflicted on so many of us, straight or gay, men women or children, here and everywhere on this planet. So many lives damaged and lost. So much pain. So much death.
So yes, writing my PhD is hard work, I try and pretend otherwise at times, but it's deeply personal, and it's confronting and exhausting. But I believe it's worth it - I hope it will be when I get there, though some days I want to walk away from it all.
So I don't go to Candlelight, I don't wear a Red Ribbon much, I don't feel the need. But I remember you, I miss you, and I love you. And I still don't understand why I have survived and you didn't, and fuck how I wish you were still here and now I'm crying again.
And these are some final words, not mine, not even about us, but to me they speak so eloquently and truly.
I have dreamed vividly of you – I have walked with, spoken to, loved your shadow so often, so much, that nothing else remains of you – nothing remains for me but to be a shadow among shadows, the shadow who will come and come again into your sun-drenched life. ~ Robert Desnos, engraved on the interior walls of the monument honouring those deported during the Nazi occupation of France