We’ll Journey Together
A&U celebrates its 250th issue with a rebroadcast of some of the voices that still resonate today
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]&U started as Art & Understanding in 1991, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine. At the start, the magazine sought to archive the cultural output of those who were dying of AIDS-related causes or who had already died. It was a space where marginalized voices could be heard—vital words and visual arts brought to the center of the public conversation, issue by issue. It’s a space that is still needed.
Individuals living with HIV/AIDS are still stymied by stigma, discrimination, criminalization, and barriers to healthcare and emotional well-being.
On the limits of other media to represent HIV/AIDS and engage an audience, A&U’s founder, publisher and editor-in-chief David Waggoner opined in the October/November 1993 issue: “What I think Art & Understanding is able to accomplish that TV can’t and the movies don’t, is speak honestly. A magazine of literature and art about AIDS personalizes the pandemic in a manner and a medium that is appealing, imaginative and doesn’t have to compete with Roseanne for the ratings.”
As we celebrate our 250th issue, join us in revisiting some of those who imagined a world beyond the
AIDS status quo of inaction and apathy, who gave voice to what connects us and what drives us apart, who advocated for the specific needs of individuals living with HIV/AIDS that were often brushed aside, and who shared their journey so far of living with HIV.
“I think I can fathom saying goodbye to any of my friends. I can fathom saying goodbye to the ocean, to career, and even doing so peacefully. But at this point I am not at a place where I can imagine saying goodbye to that child,” said actor Michael Kearns and person living with HIV about his newly adopted daughter, Tia, in a November 1998 interview. When A&U interviewed him years later, featured in the September 2013 issue, he had this to say: “I think HIV/AIDS is the most important thing that happened to me and it certainly formed me—and I don’t just mean my diagnosis. I mean, in many ways, the whole AIDS epidemic is who I am.”
Interviewed about Presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush before the 2000 election, activist, writer and artist Mary Fisher [February 2001] offered: “I’ll tell you that I am a one-issue person at this point. Maybe two issues. I am for serious, progressive AIDS policy and for nondiscrimination. Who does more of that?….Who will stick up for me? Who will stick up for my sons? How will they be treated? Will they be respected?”
“I think [AIDS is] bringing poetry back to what it should be. Did you hear my reading at The Pink Triangle? My voice was getting spent, because I kept crying. So I don’t really write anything which doesn’t make me cry. AIDS is a subject you can’t write about weeping,” shared writer Edward Field in the May/June 1993 issue.
“Over several recent years, we have focused on injection drug users, through the support and evaluation of needle exchange programs,” said Dr. Mathilde Krim [December 2001] about the work of amfAR. “We are at war with Congress on this issue; needle exchange works and does not encourage drug use, but Congress still won’t help. Yet.”
“I think you can’t underestimate the value of living in the moment and letting go of self-sabotage. Those things are as important as any medication. You will not survive unless you believe you’ll survive,” shared author Joel Rothschild [October 2003] about living with HIV. On coming out about his HIV status, he noted encouragingly: “Each time we share our truth, we change the world. I have been open and honest about my HIV status from the first day. I think it is very important and healthy.”
Shared artist and advocate Joyce McDonald [July 2012]: “I survived the most embarrassing, humiliating, stressful time in 2009 that I’ve ever experienced since my HIV diagnosis. My low immune system was very low and the stress attacked my body really bad. I developed shingles and nerve damage. I experienced thirty-nine bouts of a shocking fireball that without a moment’s notice would
shoot through my legs; I would scream out my lungs for Jesus to help me as my then-eighty-three year-old mother, a cancer survivor, would run and throw ice all over my legs. I was living a physically tortured life for three months; this ordeal left burn marks that scarred my legs. When I finally came out I knew I had survived the fire by praising God. Between the screams I did art. I have a whole collection.”
In our June 2004 cover story interview, actor, photographer and playwright Ntare Mwine crystallized what we all know: “Perseverance is what fighting AIDS is all about.”
“Fighting back against the pandemic was certainly the greatest challenge facing my generation of gay men. HIV/AIDS has affected every aspect of our lives,” Cleve Jones [October 2008] said, weighing in about the impact of AIDS and the ways we began to address it, such as his creation of The NAMES Project/AIDS Memorial Quilt. “The Quilt provided our community with a mechanism to grieve collectively during a period of really staggering loss. It linked us together in a creative expression that enabled a lot of families to heal.”
South African supreme justice Edwin Cameron [December 2005], and author of Witness to AIDS explained his own struggle with living with the virus: “Living with AIDS is almost like a second career.”
“We may not know how to cure AIDS, but we sure know how to stop the transmission of HIV. If we’d stop lying to ourselves and denying the facts we know about AIDS, we could go a long way toward ending the epidemic, at least in this country. Martin Luther King [Jr.] once said something to the effect that ‘Nothing pains some people more than having to think.’ But if we don’t do some hard thinking about AIDS and our own responsibility in this crisis, a bad situation is only going to get worse. The demon we need to fight is AIDS, not each other,” writer and activist Keith Boykin shared in his January 2005 cover story interview about the potential of “down low” explanations to demonize Black men.
“Many Hispanics see it as a moral disease, and that it is a curse from God. Because of these stigmas and myths people infected with HIV in the Latin community choose to live in shame and hiding and that’s why I am putting my face out there. I want to show people there is another face of HIV, a Hispanic female, one that is Catholic and lesbian, too, by the way,” shared activist Maria Mejia about breaking down stereotypes in the October 2011 issue.
On God, bullying, self-harm, and HIV/AIDS, author and public speaker Scott Fried [July 2014] commented: “So, it’s not just about HIV. It’s about the risks that we take in order to feel that we’re safe in the world or that we have a place in the world.”
“We have a deeply moral obligation. [AIDS] is genocide of global proportions. It is devastating the
infrastructure of countries. And we spend four times more on a civil war in Colombia than to save forty million people from AIDS….We spend equal to two jet fighters now on global AIDS…,” political strategist David Mixner pointed out about funding priorities in the July 2002 cover story.
It’s most often ordinary resources that have initiated and/or inspired some of the most extraordinary change,” noted Kenneth Cole [November 2011], about how every individual can make a difference in the fight against AIDS.
“Don’t ever think that it’s a death sentence. Do what you can! Don’t ever let it be in control,” advised Patti LaBelle [June 2005], using her experience living with diabetes as a way to encourage those living with HIV.
“Enough time has passed though since the crisis began that we as a culture can now pull it out and look at it. Yes, we can have our shame and outrage over it, but we can also start to integrate the experience into us in a more wholesome way,” noted Mark Ruffalo [May, 2014], actor and star of one of the biggest cultural events in recent years, HBO’s The Normal Heart.
“There has been such a lack of research done on HIV and women. Women tend to be diagnosed later because doctors still don’t recognize female symptoms,” noted actress Morgan Fairchild [December 1997] about the gender gap in AIDS research and treatment.
Karen Pearl [May 2015], President and CEO of God’s Love We Deliver talked about the dedication we all strive for: “We completely embrace the hope for an AIDS-free generation, and we’ll always be there for people who’re living with HIV and AIDS, and who need our help. The core operating principle is that we will never turn anybody away who needs us. If that changes tomorrow or in a year or ten years, we will be there, however long it takes.”
In the Spring 1992 issue, we published an excerpt from a journal kept by deceased AIDS activist Reverend Daniel Ritchie:
“Do not patronize me, no gooey sentimentality. I am not dead. I’m living with AIDS.
“I breathe and feel just as you do. My life goes on even with limitations increasing with the disease.
“Be honest with me. Tell me the truth. If I must fail let me fail with dignity. Do not rob me anymore by making me a victim. Rather empower me, encourage me to risk beyond all our fears.
“To love once again and go on living. If you really care we’ll journey together. If not, then already our relationship’s dead.”
Quotes compiled from interviews by Chip Alfred, Cristina Beato-Lanz, Sean Black, Dann Dulin, Chris Hewitt, Chael Needle, Alina Oswald, B. Andrew Plant, Dale Reynolds, and Lester Strong.