by David Waggoner
Do you ever wonder what is missing from the commercialized holidays and all the decorations and store trimmings? It isn’t holiday shoppers; it isn’t holiday gift wrappers at Barnes & Noble raising money for local charities by offering to wrap your literary presents; it isn’t even all the red holiday bows adorning everything from store mannequins at Macy’s to dachshunds at the mall pet store. It’s the fact that just two weeks before World AIDS Day (December 1) I haven’t seen a single store display being put together to commemorate that day when everyone has the opportunity to remember those whom we have lost and whom we have saved. If stores can put out Christmas candy and menorahs in October, why not bring out red ribbons to raise awareness about World AIDS Day earlier and earlier?
Knowing about HIV/AIDS is empowering, but knowing earlier is so much better—to make prevention choices; to go in for a test; to stop disease progression. Knowing earlier is better for the nearly forty million men, women, and children living with (or, alas, dying from) this disease in order for them to link to care, manage the virus, and strive for a normal lifespan. It doesn’t need to be red ribbons; anything visual about AIDS would be nice. It’s almost become an invisible disease. Perhaps that’s good—the extreme weight loss and sunken faces are less common as the newest antiretrovirals are easier to take (lighter pill burden) and with fewer side effects (lipodystrophy and lipoatrophy just two of the more visible changes caused by earlier and more damaging AIDS drugs). Also, an improvement: more HIV-positive Americans are getting tested.
Stay healthy, stay safe, and stay alive is a good motto to live by. But stayin’ alive is not the only thing in life. For the entire HIV community we should share a common goal: to stay connected to the millions worldwide who don’t know where their next meal or mosquito net is coming from—these are the people we all need to stay linked to. Knowing that over half of the world’s HIV community is not receiving proper nutrition, medical care, or medicines to fight the virus, as Americans it is our duty to bring about a more equitable standard of living with HIV throughout the world.
In this issue, A&U’s Dann Dulin talks to George Takei, an out gay man whose family members were among 127,000 Japanese Americans imprisoned during World War II. George Takei is no stranger to putting his star power to work for a good cause. Star Trek’s Lieutenant Sulu has given his boundless energy and fundraising talents to causes such as gay rights and AIDS advocacy. But his most fervent focus is on the dangers that challenge the next generation: caused by their relaxed attitude toward unsafe sex, today’s youth are, in George’s words, in danger of not learning “from history…that’s why a publication like A&U is useful.” In George’s opinion, much of the dangerous flirtation with risk-taking can be linked to one’s own sexuality in a society that still frowns on gay youth. Not trying to sound too strident, the actor, who immortalizes calm determination in the character of Star Trek’s Sulu, states: “I remember being that age and feeling lust and that sense of immortality!”
Granted, it takes time to know the true value of life, but, when it comes to living in a world with HIV, we could strive to make this valuable lesson known earlier. We need a little bit of that warp drive that propels the Enterprise so quickly through space. Women could know earlier the particular social barriers and physiological factors that put their health at risk (see “Sisters Act,” by Larry Buhl, in this issue). Individuals living with HIV/AIDS could know earlier what inspires them to create a better world, as the artists in this month’s Gallery do with painting and drawing. And as singer and actor Levi Kreis suggests in another one of our features, “Playing to Strengths,” everyone could know earlier the power of positive thinking. And maybe the power of “knowing earlier” is something we could claim this season to ensure the best health for the next generation.
David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U.