Published in 1989 by Susan Sontag, the longtime partner of portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz (most recently known for her work with Vanity Fair and Caitlyn Jenner), AIDS and Its Metaphors changed my understanding of AIDS, in that it challenges the many unexamined ways in which we’ve come to talk about HIV and people living with AIDS.
I started organizing for the LGBTQ community when I was 17, and for many years I was convinced HIV and AIDS were the problem of a previous generation. It wasn’t until I enrolled at Arizona State University that I began to realize how wrong I was. A handful of acquaintances and even a friend or two would “catch the bug” each year, and some even left the state when word got out they were sick.
My best friend was diagnosed the summer after our junior year, and I’ll always remember the day he told me. I was devastated. He was stoic as a Greek sculpture, at least until I collapsed in his arms.
My understanding of the global AIDS crisis expanded tremendously while at ASU. I celebrated World AIDS Day on campus each year, and I began to see how communities outside my own were affected by this disease. I organized an AIDS film series and facilitated discussions with students about rebuilding these communities in spite of challenges to sexual health and autonomy across the globe. I worked to discover ways to move our communities forward when so many of our elders were no longer around to guide the youth they spent decades inspiring.
I now have the privilege of serving the LGBTQ community every day. These are my people. We are many tribes united by a common outlook: We live with Pride. It’s not our deadly sin, it’s our redeeming virtue.
Although the entirety of my time isn’t spent on HIV education or AIDS advocacy, I’m lucky to have the opportunities I do to continue serving the portion of this community who live and survive with HIV today.
Free testing, free condoms, free food, and free education. There’s a wealth of resources available today related to HIV/AIDS (if you know where to find them). So much has changed since Susan Sontag wrote AIDS and Its Metaphors. We’ve come a long way from the world of GRID the “gay cancer,” when so little was known about HIV and so much was feared.
I wasn’t there myself, but I’m honored to know many who were. I work each day with folks who lost loved ones to AIDS; heroes who have dedicated their lives to stopping the spread. My office is down the hall from the largest LGBT library in Arizona, named for a woman who risked everything to keep our people alive at the height of the epidemic here in Phoenix.
June is recognized as Pride month, and June 27th is National HIV Testing Day. Please: Get tested. It’s imperative that you know your status. You can’t plan for what’s next if you don’t know where you’re starting from. Visit AIDS.gov to find the nearest place to get tested, and if you’re in Phoenix I can recommend a place or two.
One day we will make AIDS history.