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Wednesday, 1 December 2010

World AIDS day

Today is World AIDS day. Now normally I don’t have much truck with special days for various reasons (which I will get into another time), but like in many things I am driven to talk about this because of anger.

To me, AIDS is very much a thing of anger. It’s a thing to be utterly enraged about beyond all reason.

AIDS is a story of human failing. It’s a story of human prejudice and bigotry and callousness and ignorance and dogma and cruelty. It is a story of how humanity failed.

When AIDS first arrived it appeared in marginalised areas. It spread in Africa which has never managed to hold the west’s attention for any great lengthy of time, it was written off as one trouble among many troubles, not worth any special attention.

And in the west it arose among drug users and gay men. People who, let’s be brutally frank, the powers that be were merrily happy were dying in droves.

And as the infections spread and the death count mounted the powers that be didn’t care. Because they didn’t care about who was dying. Because they were happy they were dying. Because it was something to celebrate, because it was a social cleansing. Because it made the world better that these people were dying. And the ignorance and the fear and the loss continued and the powers that be, in their prejudice – didn’t care.

And, of course, it raged beyond what anyone could have imagined. Encouraged by ignorance, unrestrained by any kind of real intervention, suddenly we had an epidemic, a pandemic, an oh-shit-what-is-this-emic.

But it was too late. We’ve let bigotry and ignorance reign for too long. Now any attempt to combat AIDS was seen as a “gay issue” and was fought by the usual suspects – people who found hatred and prejudice more important than saving lives or stopping an ever increasing plague. It is clear we’re still very stuck on the idea of AIDS as a gay disease. Various blood banks around the world still refuse blood from gay men – regardless of their circumstances, because gay = AIDS while straight = safe. We still have such luminaries as the head of the Catholic church in Belgium calling AIDS “justice”.

The rhetoric of AIDS = gay is so ingrained in our discourse that it’s impossible to see a straight person with AIDS without looking for a gay man to blame – even when we talk about soaring HIV infection rates among black women we’re looking for a gay man who is causing this! Because it’s easier to believe that isn’t it? Easier to blame someone, easier to pretend you’re safe because you’re straight, easier to make it a gay issue and part of the “special rights” easier to shuffle it under the rug

Of course, fighting HIV/AIDS in the gay community is repeatedly hampered by the undying homophobia that is still happening – so long as people feel the need to hide, so long as people feel the need to lead double lives, so long as people are afraid to go to clinics or to doctors for fear of being outed or for fear of people learning, so long as people are driven into the shadows and the corners of the world and so long as people are repeatedly told that their lives have no value, can there ever be any cure?

And around the rest of the world, dogma and ignorance and cruelty still rules. The Catholic church has the blood of untold millions on their hands for their stance on condoms – a stance they are only now, grudgingly, weakly stepping away from (now becoming the poster child for “too little too late”). Again, ignorance and prejudice abounds, in countries with genocidal policies where being gay carries a prison sentence or worse, you inevitably end up with an under-society that is ideal for spreading disease, with no support or education or help. Scam artists are marketing everything from vitamin C as a cure for AIDS, to sex with a virgin (gods there are still no words for how awful that is). The plague has reached such proportions and such panic that there is even actual denial of the causes and realities of it, doubts that it’s linked to HIV, the peddling of fake cures, anything to stick the head in the sand a little longer and pretend this isn’t happening.

How much of this would have been dispelled if, when the disease first became apparent, there had been a very real effort to examine and educate it? How much of this ignorance and foolishness would have lasted if our prejudice and arrogance hadn’t caused us to ignore it?

Just what kind of golden opportunity did we shit all over in the past?

And further, people living with HIV/AIDS have to deal with the fallout – not just of health, but of attitude.

It enrages me that still today HIV/AIDS is seen more as a failing than as a disease. It enrages me that the language of talking about HIV/AIDS is still the language of blame and stigma. It makes me wonder that if the disease in the west have broke out among a privileged group – or, let’s be frank, if it had been straight western people who were seen dying in such numbers – we would be saddled with this language of blame and shame and shunning?

People living with HIV/AIDS are treated like modern day lepers, despite their having every chance of lead long, fulfilled and wonderful lives. The stigma has lead to treating them like walking bombs, weapons just waiting to go off, a threat to everyone around them

I can’t talk about HIV/AIDS in anything like a calm, rational manner, it is just a subject of so much rage. It is one of the grandest stories we have of human failure in the world today