In the Summer of 1981 I was dating a woman , who lived on Delores Street in San Francisco across from Mission-Delores Park.
It was just a few months into the Reagan Regime and the war between sex positive and pro-censorship lesbians was just on the horizon. I was going to school in Santa Rosa and would hang out with her on the weekends as well run around with a gay male friend of mine who lived up on Twin Peaks.
It was a hedonistic time. I was still in Shane mode (L-Word reference) and loving freely. I was having unprotected sex with one sister who was a sex worker and another sister who was also promiscious, mostly with women. My main girlfriend had been in a relationship with Kim, a sister I knew from the days we were both in the program at Stanford. If this all sounds like the plot to a Michelle Tea book… Well.. Valencia Street is only a couple of blocks away from where my girlfriend lived.
That summer gay men started getting sick, by fall they were dying of a disease that had no name. One of the men who lived down stairs from her died and his partner was dying.
As summer faded the few cases turned into many cases and as winter set in they started calling it “the gay cancer”. Soon it would become GRID or (Gay Related Immune Deficiency).
By Pride Day 1982 I would be more or less celibate, yet marching bare breasted in S/M leather with the women of Samois, a sex positive lesbian group that both opposed censorship and was at that point just about the only lesbian group that was openly supportive of women born transsexual. My leather was more punk than S/M but the defiance was the same.
“And the Band Played On” (see both the Randy Shilts book and the film). As the number of deaths passed a thousand gay men still fought to defend the hard won sexual freedom of the 1970s. And President Reagan never uttered the word AIDS as the disease had come to be named.
By 1985/86, San Francisco had become like Camus’ Oran, a city of Plague where death walked stealing friends and co-workers, leaving those who were HIV- with address books filled with scratched out names. A city of mourning, yet the research dollars trickled instead of flowing.
A grim joke at the time was, “What is the hardest part of having AIDS? Convincing your parents you are Haitian.” Because AIDS was never only a gay male disease. Haitians, drug users, hemophiliacs and women, people who had blood transfusions.
Yet I would go to offices to service computers and ask where so and so was only to hear he had died. I stopped asking and started drinking more often. A sign in the Metro said “We all have AIDS Now”. I tried to deny that one, but then I one gray day I saw a group of men gathered around one of their friends who had collapsed in the street and died, just as the rescue crew was arriving.
I fled the City for Los Angeles. San Francisco’s compactness had made it all too claustrophobic, in LA even though there were far more people with AIDS the size of the city meant that it was less concentrated. I still got the phone calls. Bear died, Kim too. In LA it seemed as though half the queens I had known who were sex workers or performers at the C’est la Vie were either sick or dead. But mostly though it seemed as though post-SRS women had by and large escaped the disease, at least among my circle of friends.
Now we have lived with AIDS for nearly 30 years. It isn’t an automatic death sentence. It is “manageable” for those who can pay the thousands for the “cocktail”. Some times it seems as though Larry Kramer is the only angry prophet left voicing outrage at how this disease has become yet one more profit stream for the drug corporations to use as an instrument of control.
Perhaps we need to ask some Krameresque questions: Who is being controlled, and who is doing the controlling? Who is profiting? Why? Who is still dying? Why?
Why does it seem as though every disaster becomes a corporate money stream?