Just imagine how wonderful our lives as gay men (for those readers who are) could and would be if we practiced what we preached in terms of how we treat one another.
On September 5, 1996, I join several thousand other people for the Boston-NY AIDS Bike Ride. I ride in memory of my dear friend, Van R. Ault, who died of AIDS on April 2, 1996, at the age of 39.
I have done the New York AIDS Walk twice, as well as the Walk in San Francisco, where I also did the local AIDS Bike-A-Thon. At all those events, almost without exception, lesbians and straights were warm, friendly and talkative, while the gay men (and the gay men alone) were cold as ice. When I attended the rider orientation for the Boston-NY AIDS Bike Ride at New York's Lesbian & Gay Community Center, all the women in attendance were, once again, friendly and warm, while the men would not look at or speak to anyone, for any reason. Once again they brought their "Stand and Model" attitude of the bars to an AIDS fundraiser.
I go over in my head other places I have been over the years, where I have seen entire rooms filled with gay men who treated one another this way without exception: gay synagogues, gay churches, bookstores that were gay- but not porn-oriented, coffee shops, and Gay and Lesbian Community Services Centers on both coasts. All of these places have become overrun with gay men who feel that they are simply too fabulous and too gorgeous to speak to one another.
I think of my beloved friend Van Ault (1956-1996), and all the other people I have known who died of AIDS, and I wonder how in the world, under conditions of such widespread disease and death, can we continue to treat one another this way? With so many of us dead or dying, isn't it time we let go of our 1978 disco queen mentality?
ACT UP often talks about quality of life for people with AIDS. Usually they refer to physical quality, but what about emotional quality? It is believed, in medical circles, that the will to live can often make the difference between life and death in cases of terminal illness. Just what are we giving people with AIDS (and everyone else) to live for, when our refusal to be civil to one another becomes the foundation of our culture? I pose this question even though I myself am HIV-negative because the issue in question is not just the quality of my life, but the quality of all our lives.
Just imagine, if you will, how wonderful our lives could be if we viewed one another as human beings, and not as objects to fuck and discard. Just imagine how wonderful and fulfilling our lives would be if we didn't consider lack of sexual attraction to be a valid reason to hold a lifelong grudge . . . if we didn't view rude and vindictive behavior as "camp" . . . if we realized that lesbians are our friends and allies and are not "taking over the community," but are, in fact, wonderful people who were the first volunteer caretakers for people with AIDS. Just imagine how truly fabulous our lives could be if two gay men could sit and talk to each other, and love each other, regardless of whether or not there were sexual feelings between them.
Perhaps such a community would be a place where people with AIDS could feel truly at home, loved and nurtured, and perhaps these feelings would improve the quality of their lives and extend their lives.
Perhaps if we didn't all think that we were so damn piss-elegant and above each other, but showed a little respect towards each other, then the world would have more respect for us.
And perhaps, for everyone in our community, regardless of their HIV status, feeling love, acceptance and nurturing instead of constant rejection would remove the need to abuse alcohol, a trap into which so many of us have fallen.
I ride in the Boston-NY AIDS Bike Ride in memory of Van R. Ault, and I hope that my words will be felt and understood by fellow riders, and by everyone who reads this.
Nineteen seventy-eight is long gone. It's time we learned to love each other while we are still here.
Back to the October 1996 issue of Body Positive magazine.