30 years of AIDS

(Not about language, but about my life.)

It’s all over the papers, this anniversary, both mournful and hopeful: a case report issued on June 5, 1981, about five young gay men with a rare pneumonia.

One of my good friends at Princeton — a man who managed to pull off being fabulously gay in a homophobic place and time, a man who lit up any space he was in (he once turned up for a party in my room with an antique chamberpot, all porcelain roses, full of martinis) — was one of the first to die, before the disease had a name, before it was even GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency).

And then the plague.

It swept my world. Young men withered and died. My friends withered and died.

In an NPR interview on the subject, Michael Cunningham, asked about the role of AIDS in his novels, said that of course he folded AIDS into his stories; it was a central fact about modern life. But in general public experience it isn’t; most people don’t feel they’re at all touched by AIDS or concerned with it, since it’s a disease of queers, drug users, and Africans, and they aren’t any of those.

There’s a rich vein of AIDS art (literary and visual), with, to my mind, two masterpieces: Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (high art) and the AIDS Memorial Quilt (folk art).

My man Jacques  — we are just past the 8th anniversary of his death — and I, having escaped the plague by dumb luck, saw pieces of the quilt in several places, including at Ohio State, where we got to stare, weeping, at a panel for a young man, a dancer we had both tricked with in Columbus, a nice man we remembered fondly.

As far as I know, Jacques never got to see Angels in America (the tv miniseries version came out the year he died) — he would have loved it — but we did the quilt together, most remarkably on the Mall in Washington, where it was simply overwhelming.

So now I watch Angels, in memory of my man. A fabulous, funny, angry, transfiguration of death.

 

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