Monday, 1 April 2013

Growing up scared

I realized some of my sexuality, like most people, in my pre-teen years. I have a hunch it's more of a realization for people who don't identify as straight; because it's the sudden discovery of a way you're different. (I had plenty of those, so another was hardly a shock to me.) But around 10-11 I had this nagging sense that I thought about boys the same way I thought about girls, nothing concrete, just a gut feeling.

I have to say, the thought made me very uncomfortable, and now how you might expect. I wasn't grappling with any sense of "wrongness," I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that, for all their faults, were incredibly open minded about such things.

No, I was scared because I thought I was going to die. Because in 1991 that's what happened to Freddie Mercury, and he was the only non-straight person I knew. Queen was about the only music my family could agree on, it was one of the only tapes in our car, and I listened to the Queen: Greatest Hits album on an almost constant loop. So when Freddie died I was heartbroken, but when I learned more I was afraid. The only thing I knew was there was this disease, and it killed gay people.

In the early 90's people were just dying in terrifying numbers, despite us having a better idea of what AIDS was, we still didn't seem to have any real hope of slowing the deaths. This was what we all grew up scared of, not the cold war, not terrorists, my generations specter was AIDS.

So today as I sat and tried to watch the fantastic documentary "How to Survive a Plague" I found myself weeping. Not just for the amazing work of Act Up, who I will always feel indebted to, but because I flash back to childhood fears. I am sure it was less scary for me, as a pre-teen growing up in the far-cast shadow of it, than to actually be on the front line trenches watching your friends die. I regularly read Joe Jervis' "I will hold you ten times" and wonder at the fear and heartbreak it captures. But for me, AIDS was the terrible boogeyman that was going to kill me.

But I also cry with relief, because thanks to so much work, especially by the Act Up protesters who refused to let this epidemic go unwatched, I can look at my two sons and know that their chance of dying of Aids is far smaller than mine was growing up. I also know that should one of them turn out to be gay or bi, they will never see a world where human beings are willing to sit by and watch them die, because of who they choose to love.

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