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June 1997

The Miracle Cocktail--No good ship
lollipop

Even as I, a recorder of our struggle for more than a decade, write this, a clique of white, gay, middle-class, HIV-positive professionals are declaring me as obsolete as Shirley Temple.

(Even though I too am a white, gay, middle-class, HIV-positive professional playwright.)

Fade in:
A well-known gay writer asks in that elite rag POZ, "What will gay writers write about when our epidemic is over?" Yeah, like Jews stopped writing about the Holocaust after 1945? And in Key West, an entire conference, is held to ask, "Will AIDS writing survive?" as though the writing had AIDS. Is La Traviata called the TB Opera? I thought all true works about the human condition had survived.

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Even as you, newly diagnosed or long stuck in a bed, read this, they are declaring you as obsolete as Shirley Temple. Will those of you who do not find a miracle in protease inhibitors become an invisible minority -- never to appear on 60 Minutes or the front page of The New York Times? Have we come full circle? Will the wasting syndrome be a crime? PCP a sin? A low T-cell count beyond the pale?

Even as this magazine goes to print, it is declared as obsolete as Shirley Temple. The magazine of the future, predicated on the testimonies of all these reborn now-negative men will be called Undetectable. (No firsthand stories about fatigue, nausea, blindness, depression, insanity, or death, please. And, for sure, no photos of anyone, even famous, with KS.)

Fade in:
My well-off friend who has called me every Christmas for the past 10 years to rattle off AIDS service organizations, seeking my insider's advice on which should get the biggest slice of her pie, did not call me this year. However, she did send me every article she could find about the end of the epidemic or the return of unsafe sex among gays. How -- I wonder -- representative is she? How true are the rumors I hear about donations to our services falling off? Job layoffs? Closings?

Protease inhibitors have not stopped my need for God's Love We Deliver. Nor my need for a part-time home aide. And certainly not ADAP. As all these professionals speak out on television and in print about new hope, going back to work, getting off benefits, what class of people do we as long-time survivors surviving in spite our damned debilitating symptoms become? Failures? Unclean? Tough-luckers? Poor?

Fade in:
A well-known keynote speaker at a conference on AIDS and bereavement spent most of his time shouting he had been reborn, filled with hope -- a poster boy for the new drugs. How relevant was he to our ongoing grief process? Will he turn up next at a conference on breast cancer? Ironically, the services many of us depend on, both private and governmentally funded, were begun by men very much like the men now heavily insured for this experiment, making the public at large think we are no longer in need.

Why am I not happier for these men? More optimistic about this "miracle?" Will I prove unfaithful to the more than 100 needless deaths I witnessed in the past 15 years? Am I jealous because the protease inhibitors probably came along too late for me? Because I am afraid of losing benefits during the time I have left? Yes -- but there is more.

Fade in:
I was there in the beginning of AZT. The 15 tablets a day, the gruesome overdosing until a liveable dose was found, maybe. Now, seeing men (never women) downing dozens of pills a day, myself over 20, I cannot help wondering if the protease inhibitors aren't our Shirley Temple.

Generations brought up on Carol Burnett's insipid rendering of Temple's coyness missed the whole point. Housebound, I have seen during the past year every picture the short-dressed, thigh-revealing, stomach-rubbing, puckered-lipped Lolita made. Her songs are incidental, though some will amaze you with their seductiveness. For what we see in almost every one of her films made during the Great Depression is a background of adults in terrible trouble.

Fade in:
Hungry, destitute, lost, separated, thieving, even dying. It was not merely Miss Temple's six-year-old ass shaking that brought in the audience but their identification with the doom and gloom surrounding her. Her films were not for children. Blissfully, though, all of her films had a happy song-and-dance ending, usually showing her panties, blotting out the unemployed, starving, and suicidal of the 1930s.

I hope the protease inhibitors don't sing and dance so loud that the rest of us just fade out. God forgive me my history and my caution, but I don't think our "cocktail" is as perfect as a "Shirley Temple" -- nor are we on "The Good Ship Lollipop!


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