We're at the point in history where HIV, and the thing we call "AIDS," is becoming increasingly memorialized, remembered, and critiqued in a range of venues. In the process, it has moved out of the silo of people directly affected by HIV: those living with HIV, their communities, and the small bubble of public health researchers, care providers, community-based organizations, and niche publications like TheBody that serve this silo.
Much like it did during the early part of the epidemic, HIV has again moved into the cultural imagination in the U.S.
Some of this began nearly a decade ago, when films like United in Anger and How to Survive a Plague helped expose a new generation to the activism of ACT UP. But much of it is taking place now thanks to the voices of people of color.
A new generation of black gay intellectuals and artists have taken up the charge of rescuing the legacies of black gay activists and artists who died of AIDS, including Melvin Dixon, Marlon Riggs, and Joseph Beam. They are writing books, hosting community events, and making clothing to uplift their legacies.
Books like Stephen G. Fullwood and Charles Stephens' anthology Black Gay Genius: Answering Joseph Beam's Call or Darius Bost's new book Evidence of Being: The Black Gay Cultural Renaissance and the Politics of Violence have given voice to an often-ignored part of AIDS activist history. Celeste Watkins-Hayes' new book Remaking a Life: How Women Living With HIV/AIDS Confront Inequality is helping to center the roles of cisgender women in organizing for their own needs in the wake of an epidemic whose response has often treated them as an afterthought.
On the screen, the web series Poz Roz has helped bring to life what it's like for young, cisgender black women living with HIV who are trying to thrive despite stigma and discrimination. And of course, the FX hit series Pose brings the experience of AIDS -- as seen through the lives of black and Latinx trans women, as well as gay and bisexual men -- in the late '80s/early '90s ballroom community into view for a mass audience.
As a response to this moment, TheBody decided to do a special collection of stories to commemorate World AIDS Day. We expect World AIDS Day to be filled with new research and news reports detailing where we are on various biomedical and epidemiological metrics: reports about testing, the importance of people knowing their status, how many people have achieved viral suppression, and who is or isn't on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). These are all important -- but we're choosing to take another route with our reporting this year. We're calling it: "Doin' It for the Culture."
We're in a cultural rebirth of HIV. Instead of the virus being relegated to the traditional realms of biomedicine and public health, it's currently being re-centered as an epidemic that fundamentally changed the course of human history, including the American social, cultural, political, and economic landscape of the last four decades.
We will be releasing stories in this series, through the rest of 2019, that speak to what we see as this shift. We hope you'll share these stores with the hashtag #fortheculture, and help us create conversations about how, as Prince put it, the "big disease with a little name" continues to shape society and culture -- and how our society and culture have also continued to define HIV/AIDS, for better or for worse.
We know that we won't be able to cover every angle of culture in this series, or acknowledge everything that's happening related to HIV in the arts. But we hope to spotlight as diverse a set of histories, voices, forms of performance, and visual culture as possible.
We're doing this World AIDS Day for the culture. We're not ignoring science and medicine: A critical part of our ability to end HIV will come from those fields. But if we don't understand, shape, engage with, and transform our social and cultural meanings of HIV/AIDS, we will miss an opportunity to end the kinds of issues that helped turn a virus into a pandemic: Racism. Homo- and transphobia. Poverty. Criminalization of communities, including the homeless, sex workers, and people who use drugs.
Follow our World AIDS Day journey here in this collection. Share it on social media with family, friends, and lovers.
Do it for you.
Do it for the people not here.
Do it for those of us who are still alive.
Do it #fortheculture.
Read the entire World AIDS Day Collection here.