Aids Is Aids

A guest blogger shares his thought on what HIV/AIDS means to him.

Today I’m going to open a new document, and I’m going to start writing a story that includes the phrase, “…the illustrator Antonio, who died of AIDS in 1987 at age 44….” And I am going to think, while I am writing, of many facts about myself that relate to this short phrase.

The number “44” sticks in my mind, because I am 42, because when Antonio died, he was an internationally known fashion artist who was trying, with all his might and mixed success, to become a fine artist, because I wanted to become a different sort of person than I am now, a different sort of writer, a published and recognized writer of fiction instead of an anonymous writer of magazine profiles and essays, because Antonio is dead and I am alive, although part of me is dying. This isn’t self-pity; it’s a bland fact. Lots of writers are, and I am not special in that way.

The word AIDS (I paused here for a long time; writing that word sends me down a rabbit-hole of memory to the first time I heard it, in a sex-education class in my Episcopal high school in 1983 when I was 12. Mike Waters, a classmate, probably also 12: “What is AIDS?” The teacher: “AIDS is what happens when your penis touches shit.” I’ve never stopped being angry over this misinformation. You could fuck piles and piles of HIV-infected fecal matter and walk away scot-free. If you don’t know something, educators, try using this handy expression: “I don’t know.”)…the word AIDS relates to 1983 for me, and, by extension, 2012. I turned 13 in 1983, and I’m 42 today, and because of AIDS, through that entire span of years, my sex life has been mediated through a thin layer of latex. Well, no; no, not entirely.

In 2009, I met a man I liked, “Hugo,” and a few months into the relationship, after we both tested negative, he started fucking me without a condom. I became greedy for his sperm. Having him away from me, not having his warm unsheathed penis inside my body, was torture. I counted the minutes until I could feel him ejaculate inside me again. (Actually, his spurts didn’t feel like anything; it was his happiness, the joyful noises he made when he came, the sense I had of helping him reach that state, that I loved. I couldn’t love him, but I loved the transgression. Once, after he came, he dug his semen out of my ass, and fed it to me.) But this situation spiraled out of control—drugs were involved—and I had to end it. A paradox: I was afraid of contracting HIV, I was afraid of illness and death, so I ended it. But that felt a little like dying, and what has followed feels like death. Being fucked in the ass is the purest expression of my homosexuality. It’s when I am the most gay that I can be. And it’s impossible for me now.

Recently, at a Visual AIDS workshop, I was asked to complete the statement, “AIDS is…” I struggled to put my 30 years of being angry into words. But now I can say: AIDS is unrealized feelings, thwarted desires, imprisonment. It’s enduring little deaths in order to avoid the bigger one. I loved you the best I could, Hugo, and I’m sorry I had to send you away.