05/30/2014 01:12 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Conditional Heart of HIV America


Sandwiched between my two gay uncles watching The Normal Heart over the weekend brought much to light. Being 31 years old, I wasn't alive at the epicenter of Gay Cancer, GRID or HIV/AIDS and, in fact, I've never known a life without it being a topic of discussion. Safe-sex was promoted throughout the school system and the sexual revolution wasn't so much as referenced in Wethersfield, Connecticut. Brush your teeth, make sure you look both ways before crossing the street, wear a condom...those were three messages repeated throughout my upbringing (minus the condom, that was a PSA tape that ran through all of our little heads for the day when we would, eventually, have to adhere to the MTV messages).

Yes, I said MTV. I didn't know a world without MTV either. Shocking, but some of us do exist. We're like unicorns.

But I digress. My own experiences eclipse those of my more mature counterparts only in the effect that they are mine. When discussing one's value in the world in relation to one's experiences, which history is more revered: a world in which HIV/AIDS broke through the sexual revolution to become the biggest health problem of our time, or the one in which it seemed to always "simply exist?" Which category earns you the most brownie points in discussions with scholars?

Consider this: The generation behind us may know a lifetime without marriage discrimination. The Windsor case may simply be a chapter in U.S. History 101 when our children reach middle school. Comparing HIV/AIDS to marriage equality is akin to comparing a kiwi to an apple, but the message is clear: Time stops for no one.

In the room with us during The Normal Heart screening was a man from Uganda. Now, I know what you're thinking: "How did Sarah squeeze in a man from Uganda? She must have invited him so that she could include him in an editorial for the Huffington Post." How our Ugandan friend appeared in the room (and in this story) is irrelevant.

"You all suffered here in America, but in my country, it was worse," he said. "So many people dying every day with no help."

I couldn't argue with that assessment. Still, after conducting a gaggle of interviews spanning nine months for Windy City Times' AIDS @ 30 series (spearheaded by the unbreakable Tracy Baim), there were certain parts of the film that shocked even me. Now, I'd interviewed and profiled everyone and everything from White House politicians to sex workers in the series, but the sheer lack of compassion and infighting within our community made my head spin.

If we had just worked together from the beginning, might we have had a chance to stop the infections? Such a notion could quite possibly be considered naïve or without merit, but it's a simple question. Had we worked together as opposed to thinking only of ourselves during the health world's time of need, could we have sideswiped the enormous blow of the epidemic?

What lessons from this timeframe can we extract for future generations? Is there anything we can teach them? Will they even listen to our concerns?

Barebacking and bug chasing are still commonplace practices in 2014. Bug chasing is where gay men seek out other gay men who are infected with the HIV virus in hopes of having unprotected sex and contracting the virus. This act is often done at what some refer to as "Conversion Parties"... and it's just as it sounds. The overall theory is that the current generation will eventually become infected with the HIV virus anyway, so why not speed up the process and get on the appropriate meds to "maintain" it? This is really occurring.

The theory that protected sex will eliminate HIV/AIDS in future generations is a wash in the circumstance previously noted because so many individuals are doing just the opposite on purpose.

How do you wage a war in which all parties want to lose?

Generally speaking, as human beings we are prone to thinking of ourselves and our survival, even if that means creating a threat to maintain the illusion of safety. Our hearts may be normal, but they are also conditional based on our own personal histories and illusions of reality.