I was recently honored for my birthday with an all-star reading of my play “The Destiny of Me.” It was obviously a very emotional experience for me. I’m supposed to be dead by now. Most of the guys who got infected with H.I.V. in the 1980s are long dead.
The play is about a middle-aged man infected with H.I.V. undergoing an experimental treatment at the National Institutes of Health. In his hospital room he finds himself remembering his life since childhood. He realizes his entire life has been one long battle to be accepted as a homosexual:
“Every social structure I’m supposed to be a part of — my family, my religion, my straight friends, my university, my city, my state, my country, my government, my newspaper, my TV, my many shrinks … tells me over and over and over that what I feel and see and think and do is sick.”
We’ve come a certain distance from such a blanket suffocation.
But by the time a modicum of acceptance by the outside world starts to arrive, we are visited with a plague. It is a plague of disease, and with our new president it continues to be a plague of hate. There is not one cabinet member who has supportive or welcoming words for us. Every week, it seems, Mr. Trump appoints another judge who is on record as hating us. They will serve for many years. A new Supreme Court will further echo this disdain.
Meanwhile, Ronald Reagan’s astonishing negligence regarding the crisis back in the ’80s undoubtedly contributed to H.I.V. infections and deaths ballooning into a worldwide plague.
I know I’m lucky to be alive. I have fought very hard to get here. I have had a liver transplant. I’ve lived long enough to see an anti-retroviral therapy became available. I have been able to legally marry the man I’ve loved for many years.
Why then do I still feel so destitute and abandoned? Surely all gay people fall into the same category as I.
I know I am getting closer to death and this frightens me. I still have too much work to do. I know one is meant to wake up each day with the positive thought of gratitude that I’m still here for another day. But I wake up each day and realize that I am sad.
I am constantly being thanked, even by people in the street stopping me, for what I have done to save my people. Such thanks make me uncomfortable. I don’t think I have done anything that any gay person could not also have done. Throughout the worst of these plague years we had at the most only several thousand of us fighting all over the country. Out of some 20 million or so of us.
Act Up, one of the organizations I helped start, fought for the drugs to save us, and we got them. (Drugs, I might add, that have many side effects and are prohibitively expensive.) Once we got the life-extending medicines, most of my fellow warriors returned to their lives of trying to be happy, and invisible.
I have never been able to answer one question: Why have relatively few of us — out of so many millions — been willing to fight for their lives? I still can’t answer it and I continue to be very sad because of it. And the biggest fight for our lives is ahead of us.
I still can’t see enough of us, in all our numbers and our splendor and our magnificence. Our activist organizations are a diminished presence. We still have no respected and accepted leaders who can speak for us as a people. And what little power we do have, lobbying or otherwise, in Washington or anywhere else, is woefully inadequate. Our billionaires are funding concert halls and public parks and retirement homes for primates, but not gay rights. If it weren’t for such stalwart defenders as Lambda Legal Defense and the A.C.L.U., we’d probably be jailed by our enemies.
The enemies that the leading character in “The Destiny of Me” rails against have never gone away. And they never will. We will always have enemies. Is that why we’re so invisible as a powerful fighting force? Because too many of us are still afraid to be seen or heard?
Millions of women and straight people are marching on Washington and in other cities and towns and protesting in the offices of elected officials every week of the year. Where are the millions of gay people being angry and vocal and visibly fighting back?
Are we prepared to fight the many fights piling up against us?
Right now, I don’t think so. The worst is yet to come. Again. Yes, it makes me very sad.
And still imploringly angry.
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