ACT UP, The Little Mermaid, Undesirables, and Structural Violence: World AIDS Day

I have a very hard time talking about World AIDS Day, and as I said a post ago, I’m in a semi-hiatus, but I have an equally hard time not talking about World AIDS Day.


It’s only been in the past year or so that I’ve begun to wake up to what the history and present of HIV/AIDS means for queer people in America, and “undesirables” worldwide.  (This was in large part thanks to Dan Fishback, by the way, and his piece Thirtynothing, which you should probably see if you happen to be a person.)  Here’s what happened in the 80s under Ronald Reagan, and to an extent is still happening today:


The US government knew queers were dying of HIV/AIDS.  The US government let them keep dying, because they were queers, and their lives did not have value.  The US government quickly realized that HIV/AIDS could end more lives that they considered valueless–not just queer lives, but straight black lives, straight Latino/a lives, and more.


Negligence about HIV/AIDS is a way for the kyriarchy to kill undesirables without having to fire the gun.


The next time you hear a conservative politician lionize Reagan and the Reagan administration, think about what Reagan did to queers.  What kind of a country is this where we are capable of forgetting this much?


As I said, this is very hard for me to talk about.  A generation of queer men before me was in large part systematically destroyed.  How am I supposed to feel like I can ever live in this country?  How do I make contact with the generation before me?  How do we communicate?  How am I ever going to understand their experience when I have never had to attend a funeral every other weekend?  If we can’t communicate over the boundary of all that atrocity, how are we going to pass down knowledge across the generational boundary and help build a radical institutional memory?


Did you know that the lyricist who wrote the songs for The Little Mermaid died of AIDS-related complications?  So did Alvin Ailey, my favorite modern dance choreographer, and Keith Haring, whose art is my desktop background right now, and many creative and brilliant men who were friends of my family, who I could have had the opportunity to meet but never did.  These people who died as a direct result of the US government’s actions were not the non-persons that we are taught to believe they were–they were not nameless, faceless, statistics.  They left legacies and those legacies are all around us.


Today, please take a moment to think about the brave queers and allies who make up and made up ACT UP.  These days, the mainstream media would have you believe they’ve always been all for the heroes of ACT UP, but it wasn’t always so.  These people are and were fucking heroes.  If it weren’t for them I have no idea what kind of world I’d be living in as a young gay guy.  Probably a very scary one.


According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force,  1 in 4 black trans people is living with AIDS.  If you want a sharp reminder of why the queer movement needs to recognize intersectionality and why its white members need to shut up and listen to POC–myself included–there’s one.


This violence is structural and systemic.  As Audre Lorde once said, we were never meant to survive.  The system isn’t broken; it was made this way.


Get tested today!  If you’re anywhere near NYC, head to Callen Lorde Community Health Center, where you can get genuinely affordable healthcare and you will be treated like a human being, not shamed for your sexual practices or dehumanized for your gender identity.  (I don’t know about you, but I dread conventional doctors for that reason.)


Please, know your status.  I know there is stigma attached even to getting tested, because it implies you think you might be positive, but if someone pulls that shit, tell them that the idea the being positive is shameful is part of what’s killing people worldwide.  And then demand they buy you a free fucking coffee because they are an asshole.


Play safe!  I know it can be really hard to find good safe sex resources when you’re trans, especially if you’re trans and gay/bi/pan/not straight in whatever sense.  Here is a fabulous safe sex resource for trans men who fuck other men and the cis men who love us


Also, please stay alive.

11 Responses to “ACT UP, The Little Mermaid, Undesirables, and Structural Violence: World AIDS Day”

  1. 2 Mitzi December 3, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    Now look, people know how to be safe if they want. You are very young. so much stuff has gone on in the last god 30 years. i remember when politicians wouldn’t even say “AIDS”. i cant believe you’re suddenly concerned. how old are you anyway?

    • 3 Stephen December 3, 2011 at 9:58 pm

      I’m pretty stunned by this comment. My age makes it unacceptable for me to grieve for tragedy and advocate for safer sex? My concern about HIV/AIDS is somehow “sudden”? People “know how to be safe if they want to” and we shouldn’t bother with education? I mean, what?

      • 4 amy December 4, 2011 at 4:38 am

        Ahhhhh “education”…..riddle me this…..what if someone is educated and still continues to ignore that which they know. In some areas it is called denial. In others it is just simply “don’t give a fuck period”…..I am dying to know what to do with that conundrum. The crisis of this disease has a long dirty history. Don’t take what people say personally which you did. How on Earth could you “know”? You are young. Embrace it and enjoy it.

        • 5 David December 4, 2011 at 10:27 am

          I don’t know where to start. Why shouldn’t he take it personally? “I cant believe you’re suddenly concerned. how old are you anyway?” Sounds pretty personal to me.

          People don’t automatically know how to be safe. And yes, there are people who, despite their knowledge, choose unsafe behavior in many ways. That doesn’t mean that we should give up sharing how to be safe.

          Please… Stephen’s age has little if any bearing on this discussion. One does not need to live through an experience to learn from it. (Or to teach about it, for that matter.)

          Personally, I am grateful for Stephen’s keen awareness of that which divides us, and his pursuit of empowering those who, traditionally, have been lost.

          • 6 Stephen December 4, 2011 at 7:16 pm

            Whew, thanks for this.

            It’s weird to me how often people feel the need to bring my age into a conversation. I mean, if because of my age, my thoughts are so inherently flawed, why is it necessary to bring up my age in order to discredit those thoughts? Wouldn’t you just be able to engage with them and discredit them on their own?

      • 7 Ginevra December 4, 2011 at 1:10 pm

        I appreciate SI’s outrage, however, also understand M’s reply which I read as an attempt to suggest that there have been improvements over the last 30 years in the way in which successive administrations deal with AIDS/HIV.
        Precedents go as far back as the pilgrims giving blankets smeared with chicken pox virus…. Not usually included in Thanksgiving remembrances.
        Or, currently – availability of drugs to urban/minority/poor resulting in addiction/incarceration/disease/death. A travesty!
        I read Belly of the Beast at an impressionable age .
        Question for SI:
        For the life of me I do no understand why you preoccupied with names and labels, and for that matter disassociation.
        That said, I sense a profound kindness and gentleness to your spirit that is so appealing.
        If I had a word for you, it would be “sweetheart”

        • 8 Stephen December 4, 2011 at 7:13 pm

          Ha, thanks for the comment. I figure M can probably express that the US’s policies w/r/t HIV/AIDS have improved without disrespecting the somber tone of World AIDS Day and the tone in which my post was written.

          I’m focused on language–what you’re terming “names and labels”–because I believe language is what makes the world. I have a background in linguistic anthropology, where we spend a lot of time thinking and talking about how language affects our lives. Check out wikipedia’s article on linguistic relativity–it’s a good starting point.

          • 9 Ginevra December 4, 2011 at 10:43 pm

            WOW! (William of Wales). 🙂
            Very interesting that you studied linguistic anthropology!!!!
            I agree that words shape thoughts which is why I sometimes distrust them! When I get upset or angry, I often speak in French… Not necessarily in “excuse my French” though at times I have been known to swear like a sailor, but more because I like how the words feel – for example “Je suis craveat”….which is great cuz my co-workers rarely know what I am saying!

            • 10 Stephen December 4, 2011 at 11:00 pm

              Studied and am studying! My college doesn’t have majors, but in conventional language I’m basically double majoring in anthropology on the one hand, writing and literature on the other.

  1. 1 On the issues « Ben Douwsma Trackback on December 5, 2011 at 9:08 pm

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