Stories I Lived to Tell
World AIDS Day 2013! I'm still here, blessed with perfect health. A miracle.
This picture with my friends was taken in 1980, Halloween night celebrating at The Ritz in NYC. Robcyn, a couple of "lipstick lesbians" (language of the day -- does anyone say that anymore?); Richard Cheney, fashion designer and my best friend and his lover Ron; Brian and Luigi, up-and-coming fashion designers (died); Raul, who coined himself the Puerto Rican Marilyn Monroe, a fabulous hair stylist (died); and my friend Zara. My boyfriend and musical partner in GET WET, Zecca (blue wig, a throwback from his real blue hair in his punk days) and me in my red hair wig -- center stage, of course.
These were my dearest friends. Truly. We saw each other every day, or were in contact in one form or another -- before Facebook, texts or cell phones! We talked about everything -- before 12-step meetings when strangers became friends you hadn't met yet. They are irreplaceable friendships.
I was 25 years old in this picture. My beautiful friends one by one died, with the exception of Zecca. (I will kill him if he dies! The heartbreak will be unimaginable.) Five out of 10 in this picture perished from AIDS only a few years after this fabulous night. I've been telling their stories for over 28 years now.
Peace to my dear departed friends whose last time on this earth was in their youth. They were artists. Society is so busy labeling and shame-blaming their being gay without acknowledging that fact that they were artists. Imagine what the world would have looked like if they had lived and continued to create. Fashion designers, hair stylists, photographers, dancers, rockers -- the list goes on and on. Many we all know of: the talented Michael Bennett, choreographer of A Chorus Line. The young sweet boy Ryan White, whose mother came to events I was speaking at to honor her son. Elizabeth Glaser and her fight for life for babies and children with AIDS before her death -- after the death of her own precious baby girl -- teaching the medical establishment about women and AIDS long before they would have noticed it wasn't just a gay white man's disease. There is not enough space left on the White House lawn to put the ever growing AIDS Quilt.
I lived through the '80s as a straight girl in a queer world, when women weren't diagnosed with HIV -- as if it was impossible: AIDS' darkest years of ignorance, terror, death, hopelessness, despair, stigma, hate and no treatments. I lived through the '90s with no effective treatment while more died, and I became an activist using my voice as a performer to carry the message, public speaking, counseling and testing, which so many of us that could would. I lived using alternative healing treatments and miraculously remained zero symptomatic and declared in good health without the use of the medications like AZT that were ineffective as monotherapy.
AIDS babies, IV drug users and death. I lived. I lived in Cambridge, Mass., where I got to hear Anthony Fauci speak regularly about AIDS and treatments -- a new kind of rock star in this new HIV world I was living in. I got to work at Harvard and met my doctor who was in residency there, now my doctor in L.A. We have shared our journey as women and the doctor-patient relationship for almost 30 years now. Judy, aka Dr. Judith Currier, has become one of the leading HIV specialists with a focus on women's health.
I lived to remember. I have embraced my life and my blessings. I have finally overcome my survivor's guilt. Yes, it was a dark time. Now I get to live in the light and share that light of love and hope with all who want it. I am forever in gratitude for my life.
Peace, love, harmony and happiness. Remember to laugh. Remember to dance. Remember to sing that song in your heart and follow your dreams. Remember to dream. Remember to love, love, love. May peace be with you my friends, lost and found. Know you are loved. Amen.
But you got to have friends
-- Written by Buzzy Linhart
A veteran performer and noted speaker, Sherri Beachfront Lewis was diagnosed HIV positive in 1987; she was one of the first women to be diagnosed with HIV in the U.S. and still be alive and well. In the past 20-plus years, Sherri has worked with and coordinated numerous HIV/AIDS research, advocacy and media efforts.
Read Sherri's blog, HIV DIVA.