Twenty-two years after the first World AIDS Day was organized, the words HIV and AIDS still scare the crap out of me. Back then, when I was just out of college and unmarried, the first thought-to-be facts about HIV/AIDS were just coming out in the media:
- HIV/AIDS was initially reported to be a disease that only affected gay men because gay men were the first group known to get sick with HIV.
- Then, needle injecting drug users were added to that group.
- After that, hemophiliacs who needed repeat blood transfusions and received infected blood started increasing in numbers.
- And then finally, it was proven that the disease didn’t discriminate. Not against gay men or heterosexual women. The rich or the poor. It was an equal opportunity infection. Anyone could get it.
A few years later, as a 20-something-year-old living in NYC in the early 1990s, I was well aware of the reach of HIV/AIDS.
On the evening of November 7, 1991, I was getting ready to go out on what I thought would be the date of my life, with a boy I really, really wanted to get it on with. The evening was cut short when my date found out that Magic Johnson had just announced that he was HIV positive. My date was devastated. Magic had been his hero. Magic was a lot of people's hero. And he put a very public face on the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Fast forward to the present:
Magic Johnson is living with HIV. He's very active with his work promoting HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention through his various charities. And recently received the inaugural World AIDS Day Magic Award from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
I’ve been married, divorced, and remarried. In between my first and second marriages, I dated and, yes, was intimate with a few men. But I practiced safe sex. Fear is a pretty persuasive voice in my head. When I started dating the man who was to become my second husband, we talked about safe sex. After a while, when we decided to make a commitment to each other, we were tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. All of our tests were negative. And we threw away the condoms.
I’m happy in my monogamous marriage. But I’m not done with worrying about HIV/AIDS.
Because there’s a whole new generation of kids who are growing up without the fear. I use the term kids loosely and am referring to anyone under the age of 30. And I think that unfortunately, it’s the fear that reminds someone to use a condom and reminds someone to practice safe sex. Because even though we’ve come a long way with awareness, prevention, and even treatment, HIV/AIDS is still a very real, deadly threat.
Practicing safe sex is non-negotiable. And it’s irresponsible to be any other way.
The AIDS.gov website is a good resource for information about the disease and about World AIDS Day.
Image via US Embassy New Delhi/Flickr