I haven't cried like this at a movie ever.
I was a toddler when the AIDS epidemic got into full swing. I was halfway through middle school when the first PIs came out and AIDS stopped being an automatic death sentence. Through that time, AIDS was nothing more than a remote and mysterious disease that hadn't affected but one person I only vaguely knew. It wasn't even on my radar.
During High School, I started to struggle with the idea that I might be gay, and HIV/AIDS emerged on my consciousness in a new and shameful way: as an inescapable corruption that lurked around the corner, waiting to strike the instant I dared to explore the (at the time, very unwanted) feelings I had towards other men. If I was gay, it meant I was cursed.
I went to a very gay-affirming private high school with several out faculty. I am a child of educated, socially liberal parents. Coming out, to those around me, was a non-event. But I can say with conviction that the idea that "Gay = AIDS" was a powerful motivator to avoid accepting that very essential fact about myself.
The only option available, it seemed to me, would be to do everything possible to convince people I was something else; to assume an alternative identity that was so overpowering that nobody would dare question my sexuality, lest they find something out about me that I was not yet ready to confront myself. I found this in raving and drugs; not only in the activity, but in the identity, the clothing, the style of speech: anything to help people conveniently put me in a box so they could stop asking further questions.
It worked. At my 10-year high school reunion, people were happy to find out I was alive. But only because they were worried I would have died, by then, of an overdose. That I was gay was a surprise to nearly everyone.
It's only in sobriety that I've grown into a healthy perspective around my sexuality, and around HIV. I am grateful today to be HIV-negative, and to have been more or less untouched by the storm that consumed entire generations before me, even if the psychological wreckage still found a way to make a mess of my teenage mind.
This film made me realize just how much I've taken for granted. It made me realize just how horrifying things were for the first millions of victims, when seemingly every institution turned a blind eye to the plague, and many actively wished and cheered the deaths of gay men. If I think I had it bad, I've got another thing coming. The very ground that I walk on was paved by men who never had a chance to survive AIDS, and who laid their very lives down to fight homophobia, unequal access to health care, and the indifference of the medical establishment. The changes they brought about were truly revolutionary. I had no idea.
I was reminded immediately of the words of Thandiswa, singing of the generation born after another revolution (specifically, that which brought about the fall of Apartheid in South Africa). The song is called "Nizalwa Ngobani":
And the children forget
the Ghetto is our first love
And our dreams are
drenched in gold
We don't even cry
We don't even cry about it
know it no more
are the beautiful ones really dead
I am of the generation after a storm. I am of the generation that can waste its time on trifling things. I am of the generation that is no longer fighting to stay alive. It is such a gift to know where I come from, and such a calling to continue the fight for justice in this world.
I want to thank the brave men and women of ACT UP, and the talented filmmakers who finally brought their story to the screen. Everyone should see this movie. Everyone.Movie Site • Showtimes