Over and over, footage of Rock Hudson standing next to Doris Day was playing on television, and he looked ghastly. His skin was wrinkled and sunken as if by very old age. It was 1985, and it was one of the last close-up images most of us would ever see of the movie icon. And it was terrifying.
The turning point could be traced to August of 1998. It was the month that, for the first time in well over a decade, the Bay Area Reporter did not have a single AIDS obituary submitted for publication. The promise of protease inhibitor medications had been realized, and it felt for many that our long community nightmare was coming to a close.
For several years now, I've made the occasional pilgrimage to Vero Beach, Florida, to be treated by Dr. Gerald Pierone for facial wasting, or lipoatrophy. And for all of these years, we have battled The Look: the sunken cheeks and sagging face of someone who has been on HIV medications for a long time. In my latest video blog below, you're going to see our progress, step by step.
Our first meeting on-camera was six years ago. The memory of it pains me still, despite my enthusiasm for appearing on national television for any reason whatsoever.
"And how long have you been off drugs?" He asked. The look in his eyes carried a journalist's skepticism. The intense lights of the CNN studio seemed to brighten at the question.
Richard is handsome and adorably shy. His sister began emailing me a few months ago, wondering if her brother might enjoy the HIV Cruise Retreat, because he isn't able to disclose his status comfortably in his fairly small town.
During my new video blog episode, below, someone asks me incredulously if I would actually march down the street telling people I was HIV positive.
Well, actually, I would. And have. Many Gay Pride parades ago, in 1994, I marched while wearing a t-shirt that said "NO ONE KNOWS I'M HIV POSITIVE." This was prior to the advent of protease inhibitors, when many were still dying. The shirt felt like an enormous "screw you" to the virus, to the body count, and to anyone who had a problem with my status.
The seven foot Mexican drag queen handing out condoms springs to mind, of course. And escape artists Daniel Bauer's highly personal show mixing magic with confessions from his life as a gay man living with HIV. Seeing presentations by mentors I admire, such as Sean Strub and Edwin Bernard. The Australian chief justice with a gay partner of 43 years, giving me suggestions on maintaining a long marriage ("give in," he advised).
It's time for a tour of the heart and soul of the International AIDS Conference in D.C.: The Global Village. This massive hall is the only part of the conference open to the public, and it has a grassroots feel, crafted from the love and devotion of hundreds of community groups that are doing "the work on the ground" in cities and small towns throughout the world.
The people included in the video can speak for themselves, and quite eloquently. Maybe it was the emotions of the event -- anger, nervousness, pride -- but it was an exhausting day. I felt the residue of grief for lost friends in a way I haven't experienced in years.
Day Two of the International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) roared through its first full day on Monday, and there are sights to behold. I spent some time in the exhibit hall critiquing the fashions (and the issues) of various attendees with fashion maven Jack Mackenroth; started a YouTube rivalry with inspirational singer Jamar Rogers ("The Voice"); and learned about HIV again from an expert with UK HIV organization the Terrence Higgins Trust. And, with all the talk at the conference about the devastating effects of HIV stigma, I found validation of my own HIV status in the unlikeliest of places: the Gallery Place subway station.