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Editor's Note

"You'll Shoot Your Eye Out!"

July/August 2005

Jeff Berry
One of my favorite holiday movies is "A Christmas Story", based on Jean Shepherd's memoir of growing up in the 1940's and desperately wanting a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. His mother tells him that he can't have the gun because he's too young and it's much too dangerous, and continually admonishes him, "You'll shoot your eye out!"

His father secretly buys him the gun and stashes it under the tree. On Christmas Day, he rips it open, and with warnings from his mother to be careful, he runs into the back yard, fires the BB gun, breaks his eyeglasses, and is thrown to the ground with a huge gash above his eye.

While his mother surely had the best of intentions, her methods ultimately failed to prevent her son from coming into harm's way.

The planning for this issue of Positively Aware began in September of 2004 -- the theme, "Defining and Defending Harm Reduction." Since then, countless reports of crystal methamphetamine use, especially in the gay community, have been making the local and national headlines with increasing frequency and a sense of urgency.

In between the evening news sound bites and the attention-grabbing headlines, for a brief, fleeting moment, I actually considered pulling the entire issue and changing its focus -- for several reasons.

First, I didn't want it to seem that it was just a knee-jerk reaction, and that we were jumping on the crystal meth bandwagon.

Second, with the stories that were being plastered all over the papers and strewn across the airwaves, I didn't want an issue of Positively Aware as important as this one to get lost amidst all the chatter and clutter.

Third, with a community up in arms and trying to fend off all of those who were wagging their fingers in disapproval, I didn't want our readers, or anyone else for that matter, to think that we were sanctioning or condoning the use of illicit drugs, especially for those living with HIV.

And finally, I thought that perhaps the timing might be misconstrued by some as perhaps just a tad insensitive or a bit inappropriate -- so maybe, just maybe, I would push the issue back a couple of months, until after the angel dust had settled and the meth-steria subsided.

But then, it suddenly dawned on me. With the newswires still sizzling with slanted stories about superbugs and sex parties, needle exchange laws and broken virginity pledges, what better opportunity than right here, right now to try to help dispel the myths and break the silence?

There are a whole lot of misconceptions out there about what harm reduction really is. And whether you realize it or not, you more than likely already practice harm reduction.

Every time you look both ways before you cross the street, or clasp your child's hand as you leave the Wal-mart, or shove your money into your front pocket when you suddenly find yourself in a strange, crowded subway, or put on a condom or dental dam before having sex, you are choosing to reduce the risk or potential for harm.

That's really what it's all about. It's not about running blindly out into the street in front of a bus, anytime you feel like it. And it's okay if you realize that you actually kind of like it on your side of the street, and choose to stay put. You may even decide that you never want to cross the street. And that is entirely your choice.

But if the person next to you decides to cross, that is their choice.

You can warn others about the dangers of crossing, or if a bus is coming. But you will never be able to stop everyone from crossing the street, every time, no matter how hard you try. In fact, your best-intentioned efforts may inadvertently drive them further into the street, in their haste to get away.

What you can do is to educate yourself and others about all of the risks, be aware of the consequences of your actions, and learn everything you can about what can be done to minimize harm, in an effort to keep yourself and others as safe as humanly possible.

Test Positive Aware Network has always been on the forefront of harm reduction in Chicago. We've seen it at work firsthand -- it saves lives and prevents infections -- and so we will continue to distribute condoms, clean needles and accurate information in a straightforward and non-judgmental manner, for as long as we possibly can.

Harm reduction programs and their proponents come in many shapes, colors and sizes. I truly hope that the stories on the following pages can begin to open all of our hearts and minds to the possibility, perhaps someday even the reality, of a safer and saner world.

Take care of yourself, and each other.

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This article was provided by Positively Aware. It is a part of the publication Positively Aware. Visit Positively Aware's website to find out more about the publication.