Today is World AIDS Day.
I don't think anybody who was a teenager or in their twenties during the eighties was unaffected by this disease. As a girl just coming to terms with my burgeoning sexuality and looking at boys more than as just friends, to now be told that you could get a fatal disease if you were to have sex with someone who was infected, affected me deeply. Even though it began as a supposedly 'gay disease' (a horrible and inaccurate term), it soon became apparent that everyone or anyone was at risk. So, not only did I have to worry about pregnancy and common STDs that would cause a temporary embarrassing issue but now I would risk my very life by having sex? I did eventually lose my virginity and have sexual relationships with three different men before committing to my husband, but all involved condoms and one involved requiring my friend to be tested for AIDS before I would do anything with him, since he was quite promiscuous.
My husband had significantly less experience than I did. I asked him once why he hadn't fooled around a bit more and he said, "Are you kidding? I'd always been told that having sex could kill me."
Obviously, the lives of young gay men were affected more severely than ours. Their lovers/friends/partners were actually getting AIDS or dying from it.
In my twenties, I discovered the novels of Paul Monette. Afterlife was the first one I read.
To be honest I was intrigued by the idea of reading about gay men and getting a little glimpse into that lifestyle. The book startled me with its honesty and up front descriptions of three gay men grieving the loss of their partners to AIDS. Even though the book was about such a sad topic, I found it ultimately uplifting and life affirming. I went on to read three or four more of his books. He was a wonderful, evocative and honest writer. He died from complications of the disease in 1995.
Today I remember Paul Monette and the tragedy of his early demise.
For many people, Mr. Monette's memoir and a previous book about nursing a lover who died of AIDS humanized the tragedy of the disease and the torment of denying one's homosexuality, but it also brought to life the rich relationships that some gay men enjoy.
~Esther B. Fein, The New York Times, February 1995