by David Waggoner
Summer is over and I am sure it was not the summer we wanted. The lockdown eased up in various parts of the country and some of my friends visited the beach or the mountains, but many stayed home and made the most out of a dip in the city pool and reading under a shady tree. Some stayed close to home, with purse strings tightened, and their gardens thanked them for it! All in all, we made adjustments—we didn’t ask for ice cream in a time of frozen yogurt!
On the news, I have seen some people in deep denial, trying to live life pre-COVID. They attend weddings and motorcycle rallies, throwing caution to the wind. Unfortunately, infections spike from events like these and that momentary feeling of freedom they sought is often followed by infection. They didn’t want to adjust and they put their very own survival at stake.
Learning how to adjust to a new circumstance is key to resilience, and people living with HIV/AIDS have all had to make adjustments when they found out they were positive.
I asked some of our editors and writers to chime in about what those adjustments were.
Senior Editor Hank Trout responded, “I had been observing safe sex practices ever since they said the virus was transmitted by sex. But once I was diagnosed (and pre-PrEP), I stopped having sex at all except with other poz guys.”
Corey Saucier, who writes A&U’s Brave New World column, shared this: “One major [adjustment] was to get my life to a stable enough place (with housing and lifestyle) so that I could take my medications regularly. It took several years, but eventually I was emotionally and economically stable enough to be able to take my HIV drugs. Whereas before I was wild and crazy and didn’t even have a place to keep them.”
Columnist John Francis Leonard, who pens Bright Light, Small City, offered, “It made me almost automatically intimate with potential sexual partners whereas before, I strove for as little intimacy as possible. I had to disclose a very personal thing about myself and risk rejection which made me vulnerable and exposed. I could no longer merely project some man’s fantasy which, in turn, made my sexuality much more mature.”
Philip F. Clark, who is joining our team as Poetry Editor next month, said, “I would say that the main thing I did was try to overcome my fear of letting family members, and family know—certainly any people I was actively in a relationship with. I immediately started having discussions by myself, ‘practice’ for revealing my status. I sought help from colleagues and medical information on how to begin the process of revealing this information. A large part of my immediate concern was to begin care with new prescriptions and to know what I might best be helped with. I did all of this in the midst of psychological stress. But starting with the words, verbalizing ‘I am HIV+’, was what I first had to do. It was a long process, but that verbalization was the only way to begin.”
Nonfiction Editor Jay Vithalani said, “I started going to the gym more and visiting online discussion boards like AIDSMeds.org.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has invited us all to make adjustments and learn new ways of living. When actor Lou Liberatore, our cover story subject, could not tread the boards—“I’ve lost two gigs, or as I prefer to say, they’ve been postponed”—he found work online in a virtual production of Men from the Boys (and interviewer John Francis Leonard gave it a rave review!). Lou, who is living with HIV, took it all in stride. This is not his first pandemic, as many in the HIV community have been saying. Make sure to check out the story, brilliantly photographed by Stephen Churchill Downes.
The September issue has much more to offer, as well: poetry by Jeni Booker Senter; fiction by Harry F. Rey; artists Lester Blum and Vladimir Rios. We also feature great interviews with country music singer Drake Jensen, legal eagle and Kinsey Sicks cofounder Ben Schatz, and actor/filmmaker Todd Lien.
And as I introduce yet another issue, I am reminded of another adjustment—one I made.
Around the time of my own diagnosis, everyone, including my caseworker, suggested I face the fact that AIDS was a death sentence and that I should put my affairs in order and that I should consider closing the magazine because in her opinion such a major stress was not a good thing. But, if anything, running A&U was a good stress in my life and forced me not to feel sorry for myself. So the change was to take my diagnosis less personally and publicly come out of the HIV closet and dedicate my life to destigmatizing the AIDS pandemic.
Adjustments may mean we suffer loss, but they can also mean we gain. Standing still could be fatal. So, please, work on resiliency. Rise to the challenge and adjust. The world needs your contribution!
David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.