Wow. Recently I was speaking with a young person. I know young is a relative term, just like “old”. But, for the sake of this conversation, let’s say – under 25.
And, “Jake”, not his real name – was recounting a recent sexual escapade. I didn’t find this particularly shocking or even strikingly interesting. It’s not uncommon for young people to launch into detailed accounts of their personal lives, particularly as it relates to sex.
Hell, when I was under 25, I’m certain – if my recollection allows – that this WAS the forefront of my life. After all, there was no mortgage, no health issues, no other life distractions which come along sometime usually after the late teens, so what else would be the focus??
But at some point in the conversation, when I was admittedly half-paying attention. (Remember, I said it’s not uncommon to have these types of open-frank discussions with young people. I guess my status as now ‘officially’ old enough to be their father, AND being openly gay, AND being in a long-term relationship engenders me some sort of good-listener-potential-good-advice-giver status) Any way – at some point I stopped thinking what I was thinking, doing what I was doing and brought the full force of my attention to the conversation and what this young man was telling me.
I made him repeat what he had just recounted. I don’t know if it was the force of my voice, or the look of my face which was quickly contorting to disapproval against all the efforts I was exerting to remain stoic and unaffected.
“What?” I repeated. Mostly because I needed time to digest what he had just conveyed, rather than not hearing or even disbelieving what the topic had moved to.
It appears that Jake’s boyfriend may have just passed HIV to him. How can that be, I was formulating my question to my lips but he offered that their love-making had been without benefit of protection – as though he were reading my mind or fending off the first volley in a litigious cross examination of how this occurred.
To be fair, to be discreet and to be respectful, I’ll end this portion of my discussion with Jake now. Because I wouldn’t want him to read this and think I’m being disrespectful of our conversation or the implied and explicit discussion that followed about privacy. So from this point forward will just be my view.
Perhaps it’s because of the generation I’m from. Perhaps it’s because I have known what a world with HIV is like before there were drugs and treatments to keep it in check. But, I fear some of our young people don’t have the same approach or hold the same fear over this disease that say someone “old” like me would. I don’t know whether I should be sad, or apalled. I guess some of each. I’m trying to maintain an open mind about such things. Sure. Okay. Yes – there are drugs yes which render the virus nearly a non issue in most people’s lives. And, more and more everywhere I turn, as a gay man, you’re in the minority if you DON’T have the virus. But, this just appears to be fostering an acceptance, if you will, with something I still view as unaccpetable. Accepting that you that you should just go on ahead and have unprotected sex, because A.) it feels better. B.) not doing it might imply you don’t care as much or trust the person you claim to love or C.) you’re going to get it anyway, so what’s the use.
The personal responsibility for one’s health is not something any of us should take lightly or approach with a cavalier attitude (and Jake, I’m NOT just talking about you – I’m talking about me and all of us).
Watching many of my friends die, as young as Jake is right now, in the late 80’s and early 90’s still is seared in my mind. It would appear that it has definitely imprinted it’s impact on my approach to the subject.
I think about my friends who have died. Some who meant, truly a great deal to me. None, who I knew shrugged when they talked about HIV. None, who would not have gone back in time and taken a different approach to sex and their health if science permitted. None, who wouldn’t trade places with any of us to be here with us today. These are people who desperately wanted to live! And at that time, there was no choice. HIV was a preliminary sentence, on the way to AIDS which was a death sentence.
So maybe rather than asking here today that my younger friends try and understand where I’m coming from – maybe I’ll ask myself to try and re-look at the whole topic. I don’t know if I’m out of step, or that folly of youth which fools us into believing we’re invincible because we can’t conceive how much time and life lay ahead. A lifetime of taking drugs to keep a condition in check just can’t be a solution – especially if it’s for something preventable.
Or maybe I should just shrug, like everyone else. Or cry. I can’t decide.