We Care—We Are the AIDS Community!


by David Waggoner


Thanks for Everything!

David WaggonerNot to be maudlin, but by the first week of October I felt I deserved a pity party or at least a box of Kleenex next to my hospital bed and a marathon of sentimental cinema watching, including that all-time feel bad/feel good movie, To Wong Foo. Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.

After surviving my third date with death (none of which was apparently related to my HIV infection), I felt grateful to be sitting up in my hospital bed and reading the final proofs of this issue. Before putting the magazine to bed—as they say in the business—I was ready for anything that wasn’t written, punctuated, or even close to the subject of death. With three of my carotid arteries permanently closed for business, it took a miracle worker in the person of my neurosurgeon to get the blood flowing to the right side of my brain again. When they showed me the MRIs, I thought I was staring down death for the last time: Half of my brain was sans blood. It was like I was the hollow man, or one of the headless horsemen of some sort of personal apocalypse. You see, it was like I was walking around with one half of a brain; the other half was an empty vessel. Nothing. Nada. I was lucky to have produced but three small strokes. Or better yet, three haikus of physical detachment; my existence but hanging by three clogged arteries; and yet I was able to get to the emergency room without as much as an aspirin for a really bad headache.

Of course nurses, and neurologists, cardioligists and a few friendly hospital bureaucrats tried to make it all seem normal to be alive and somehow surviving with 3,000 triglyceride and 700 cholesterol. Some of the dietician and endocrine folks recommended a low fat diet; some of the nurses naively suggested I stop taking my HIV meds to see if that might do the trick; or that I remove myself from my stressful job and move to Tibet. To all of the cheerleaders I said I didn’t mind being a medical mystery: someone who should be dead, by all accounts, but who could still sign all of the consent forms they put in front of me. Oh well, I didn’t feel like giving in to their emergency room trauma-drama.

I’m thankful for my caregivers close at hand, as I am sure all of us are. But I am also thankful for caregivers far afield, as well. And, here, I am calling a “caregiver” anyone who nurtures the AIDS community. We are sisters and brothers, as close as siblings Julie Newmar and John Newmeyer, who grace this month’s cover. The practice of care is manifest in the forthrightness of Julie Newmar, who sees what needs to be done and does it, and in the steadfastness of John Newmeyer, who for decades brought his expertise to bear on the fight against AIDS on the front lines in San Francisco. In our cover story interview with Julie and John, by A&U’s Dann Dulin, with Hank Trout, the Hollywood icon shares, “John is eight years younger, and in a way he’s my mentor. Everything I know about HIV and AIDS is from his experience. I’m the afterthought.”

Her gratitude is not foreign to the AIDS community. We see positive impacts everywhere. We benefit from non-profit organizations, such as those featured in our fifteenth annual Holiday Gift Guide, whose products are just one of the ways that they raise funds to carry out their HIV-specific missions: deliver meals, search for a cure, make grants. Let’s not forget the importance of caring activists like Jennifer Flynn Walker of VOCAL-NY, interviewed in this issue by Alina Oswald. With this type of advocacy, people living with HIV/AIDS have greater access to housing, treatment, and services. They in turn have more chances to strengthen the well-being of the community. And where would we be without literature and the visual arts, works that invite us to care about ourselves and others? In this issue, we talk with novelist Rabih Alameddine and photographer Thomas McGovern, both of whom offer portraits of earlier days of living with HIV/AIDS. [It’s features like these that especially remind me of the official debut of A&U (formerly Art & Understanding) on November 7, 1992, when I sought to archive cultural responses to the pandemic.] Advocates, activists, health workers, non-profit educators, writers, artists, people living with HIV/AIDS—we care for each other. We keep the blood flowing to where it’s needed.

David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.