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The Culture of Disease By Harvey Fierstein


This came out recently in the New York Times.  I'd been looking for a copy of it as I've been thinking many of the same things and groping for a way to express them.  As usual, Mr. Fierstein cuts to the quick.  I'm trying to picture him reading this essay aloud and doing so with his distinctive foghorn voice with its New Yawk accent.  As amusing as that might be what he has to say in his essay is hardly the thing of laughter.

Recently I've lost two friends of mine to the Plague.  Both were men who'd been POZ for years and both were on the Cocktail.  In both cases, the Cocktail wore them down and wore them down until their bodies failed and they died.  My world became just that much darker and empty as a result. 

When I look out at the gay community of today I see far too much of this.  I see the effect that the Plague has had on the gay community and I note the changes that have occurred within just the past few years with the advent of protease inhibitors and their "curing" AIDS.  To me, this has led too many in the gay community to think the Plague is no longer there or that it will not claim them no matter the risks they take with themselves nor the risks they expose others to.  I am relieved to finally begin hearing other voices in our community calling this out as well.  Read on.


The Culture of Disease By Harvey Fierstein

Harvey Fierstein, who won the 2003 Tony Award for his performance in "Hairspray," is a commentator on "In the Life," a television series.

There are too many positive gay role models.

In fighting the AIDS crisis over the last 20 years, we have done everything possible to dispel the negative connotations that come with having H.I.V. After all, it's been our brothers and sisters, our boyfriends and girlfriends, and ourselves who have been discriminated against because of a virus.

So we produced advertising, created enlightenment programs, spent endless hours making certain that having AIDS or being H.I.V. positive was nothing to be ashamed of. We did a great job. Maybe too great a job. After all the effort exerted to convince the world that AIDS is not a gay disease, we now have a generation embracing AIDS as its gay birthright.

According to figures just released by the Centers for Disease Control, the number of new AIDS cases rose last year for the first time in a decade. Four Americans now become infected with the disease every hour. Many of our young men see infection as a right of passage, an inevitable coming of age. I hear of them seeking the disease as entree into the cool, queer inner circle that being negative denies them.

In our effort to remove the stigma of having AIDS, have we created a culture of disease? We all see the ads for H.I.V. drugs. They illustrate hot muscular men living life to the fullest thanks to modern science. Other ads show couples holding hands, sending the message that the road to true love and happiness is being H.I.V. positive.

Is that message: You're going to be O.K.? (Which is terrific.) Or is it: You want to be special? Get AIDS. H.I.V. equals popularity and acceptance. (Which would be tragic.)

My heart goes out to all who have the infection. But while I pledge my energies and resources to the fight for a cure, quality care and justice, I still think we need to examine what we're teaching our gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and straight youth. In my opinion, the messages the drug companies are spreading are lies. The truth is that AIDS is not fun.

It's not sexy or manageable. AIDS is a debilitating, deforming, terminal and incurable disease. H.I.V. drugs can bring on heart, kidney and liver disease, as well as a host of daily discomforts.

Unlike the photos in the ads we see, most of my friends who are on drug cocktails are not having the time of their lives. They spend mornings in the bathroom throwing up or suffering from diarrhea. They spend afternoons at doctor's appointments, clinics and pharmacies. And they spend endless evenings planning their estates and trying to make ends meet because they are not well enough to support themselves and their new drug habit. And those are just the friends for whom the drugs work. For many women the cocktails are nothing but a drain on finance, internal organs and stamina.

Even if the drugs were as effective as advertised, should we be creating a community of drug dependency? We have done a terrific job removing the stigma of having AIDS. But in doing so we've failed to eliminate the disease. H.I.V. is an almost completely avoidable infection. You need to be compliant in some very specific behaviors to be at risk. In fact, if every person now infected vowed that the disease ended with him, we could wipe out the ballooning number of new infections.

Instead, we've sold our next generation into drug slavery and their destiny to medical researchers because we'd rather treat each other as sexual objects than as family. Thanks to the drug companies that have made billions of dollars off us, and to the medical community that has gained a captive audience to fill appointment books, and to AIDS charities that have become a career for many, we have created an industry of disease that would crumble if AIDS was cured in our community.

I am calling for us to take back our lives and culture and to stop spreading the virus. I am calling for us to resist the normalization of disease and once again embrace health. I'm calling for an end to the false advertising for drugs and for us to stop minimizing the infection with cute little names like "the gift" or "the bug." I want to see an ad campaign showing a sexy man saying: I don't have H.I.V. I don't want to waste my life and resources on drugs. I am taking charge of my body,  my health and my destiny.

I am a negative gay role model.

Harvey Fierstein

# # #

I have my own thoughts on all this.  I've been kicking this around for some time now and I found that the longer I pushed off dealing with it, the longer I didn't openly express it, the worse it ate at me.  So, I put my thoughts to words and I put those words up on my site.


I wish things were otherwise.  I wish Harvey didn't have reason to write what he has.  I wish I didn't have reason to write what I have.  Sadly, those are just wishes.  The reality of this world is not what we would wish for.



If you would like to learn more about me – just ask!   Drop me a line and we’ll see what happens.  I can be reached
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Until later then,


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This page was last updated on: 19 August 2003