Age Is Just a Number


by David Waggoner

David Waggoner[dropcap]J[/dropcap]ustice comes in many forms, and one of them, dare I say, is aging well with HIV. When I think back on all the activism of the eighties and nineties and the push for fast-tracking lifesaving medications, I think of those individuals for whom we were fighting—sometimes our friends or relatives, sometimes our lovers, sometimes strangers continents away, sometimes ourselves. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into our collective response to indifference—and it paid off. Many were able to die knowing they were loved and not forgotten. Many were able to survive, to revive, to come back from the brink of death. Wouldn’t it be a shame then if individuals living with HIV/AIDS, who made it through that postern of fate, were not supported in their later years? We didn’t fight after all for just life, but rather all that it meant—to live in order to fulfill our human potential.

This is why, by the way, I detest modern horror movies. In my younger days, the hero (and maybe a few companions) would survive the Jaws of death. Nowadays, horror movies are very pessimistic. The hero struggles, fights back, finds a way out—and then ends up in the final minute vanquished by the villain. Have we become that fatalistic? I hate to think this kind of attitude feeds into the apathy around HIV/AIDS. Although sometimes the pandemic feels like a horror movie, it is something that can be changed. Lifesaving medications can be distributed to all in need. Research into next-generation treatments can be funded. Prevention efforts can stop the virus in its tracks. And long-term survivors can age well with HIV.

The idea of aging well is not new. Look at any copy of AARP’s magazine—graying hair is no longer a signal to sit in a rocker on a porch. No, Baby Boomers are not going quietly into that good night. Individuals aging with HIV do have many additional factors to contend with, including managing comorbidities, seeking out new medications, and battling isolation, among others, but our pocket calendars need not be a series of blank days interrupted only by doctor’s appointments. As a tribute to ourselves and others who fought so hard to extend the possibility of living, our days might be filled with the joys of living. We have a special knowledge about what it means to be alive. Let’s not horde it. Let’s encourage ourselves and others to stay active, eat right, work on our crafts, seek out a new vocation. Personally, I want to live as fully a life as Elizabeth Taylor [A&U, February 2003] did. Right up to her last days she was raising awareness about AIDS, and through her foundation, which is supported by her estate into the far future, her legacy lives on. She is one of those who gave us a fund for life.

That’s why I’m honored to feature the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation managing director Joel Goldman in our cover story interview. As Dann Dulin discovered, Goldman, who has been living with HIV for decades now, is eager to keep the conversation and the fight going: “One of my goals is to use our assets to help reinvigorate this necessary conversation. The annual new HIV infection rate has stayed the same for the past two decades. We have the tools, the technology, and the science to change this. But we’ve become complacent.”

I’m also glad this month we are featuring advocates like Tez Anderson and activists like the Tacoma Action Collective, who are certainly not being complacent about the visibility of aging with HIV and representation of Black artists in a popular AIDS exhibit, respectively. Singers Linda Clifford and Tara Kulbatski, both of whom lost close family members to AIDS, are still lending their voices to awareness. And even though he is no longer with us, artist Robert Mapplethorpe proves that ideas and feelings have legs, if you only care to compose them carefully enough. As we mark, this month, the thirty-fifth anniversary of the CDC’s first reporting of AIDS, let’s be emboldened by how far we’ve come and redouble our efforts to age well with HIV.


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