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The Face of AIDS on Fire Island

A reflection by Michael Safdiah

March/April 2002

Article: The Last Word: The Face of AIDS on Fire Island
Art by Robert Leach

The first time I saw Fire Island was in 1969, the year of Stonewall, in which I was an unwitting participant. I saw Paradise and took a job as a waiter the very next summer at The Sandpiper. I fell in love with The Pines and decided then and there that one day it would be my home, and now it is. The face of AIDS on Fire Island is much the same as in any predominantly gay community anywhere. The Pines and Cherry Grove are just microcosms of the gay world. In any of them you look and see that an entire generation is missing: mine.

I have advanced AIDS. I've looked right up the asshole of Death and saw the face of AIDS up close and laughed at it. I've seen tens of dozens of my friends and loved ones die while politicos and religious leaders watched with mock concern and did nothing. I'm certain I'm not alone in this and it's what has made our communities get angry and rise to act. There are dozens of fund-raisers every summer to help in some way to combat the ravages of this plague. That's obvious to anyone who is here. Still, one cannot help but wonder why, in spite of all this, activities which continue to spread this transmittable disease are rampant. AIDS is transmittable. It's not, as some quacks claim, caused by parasites or drugs or disco music. Most of us here got it the same way, by sexual transmission, and even though I've been infected since 1984, I still see men sero-converting nowadays.

Mass marketers of immune products are leaving samples of pills, shakes, hormones and steroids at the gate of every household here. No one can be unaware there's a situation. Yet drugs, unsafe sex and stupidity abound, and the new infection rate and death rate continue to rise. I believe that gay pride has fallen down here. It has taught young people to be unashamed to dance, be openly queer, and love out in the open. But no pride group has yet taught us the real meaning of pride, which is that each of is precious and has great value, and we must preserve ourselves by insisting that we and our partners respect ourselves while having sex. It conflicts with the concept of "being cool."

Self esteem is the one missing element in the island communities. I've heard it time and again "I'm not worth much to anybody, why bother." Blame society, blame the schools, the religious groups, the Boy Scouts. It doesn't matter who you blame, the answer lies in making young people not believe they are less worthy than anyone else, and that they -- we -- are worth as much as any other human life.

The author lives at Fire Island Pines and New York City, and writes, cooks and celebrates life every day.

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