Can you imagine us years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange to be seventy
Today I turn 70. Seventy may not seem that old. It certainly doesn’t seem old to me…anymore. But when Simon and Garfunkel’s album “Bookends” was released I was not quite 17 years old and 70 seemed unimaginably ancient to me. At the time I took it for granted that the song must neatly describe the experience of still being alive after six decades. I had already lost three of my four grandparents and while they were, being New Yorkers, used to taking walks all the time they still seemed frail even before they passed away and the idea of actual organized exercise was utterly foreign to them.
The real reason I’m posting this story is that it’s a fundraiser. Some folks here on Daily Kos won’t be surprised by that. I raise money to help fight HIV and AIDS. I usually post at least one fundraising story each year, right around my birthday and this year is no exception. It’s a good cause and one I’ve been involved with for some time and I want your support. But please read on.
At the end of 1980, not long before my 30th birthday I unknowingly contracted HIV. I found out in 1985 that I had it, I found out in 1987 approximately how long I’d been infected and thanks to the lucky circumstances that allowed me to get that information and even luckier recollections of what happened right after Thanksgiving of that year I was able to piece together with reasonable certainty precisely when I had contracted HIV and who had, equally unknowingly, infected me. He was someone who I’d run into fairly regularly going forward and at some point he mentioned he had tested positive for HIV as I had as well.
When I was young I might have envisioned myself at my current age sitting on a park bench, content to be sedentary and presumably incapable of anything remotely strenuous. I never saw myself as being at all athletic. Even though I loved baseball as a kid and was a pretty decent player, and even though I always owned a bicycle, there were certain stereotypes about gay kids that I conformed to and one of those was not seeing sports as part of my life. I didn’t realize I was gay until I was about 20 years old but the consciousness must have been there at some level. In high school I did everything I could to avoid phys ed and in college I met the phys ed requirement with two semesters of bowling. Not exactly the sort of thing a jock would do.
But in 1983 I succumbed to the later set of stereotypes about gay men and joined a gym. I discovered that I actually enjoyed working out. Around that time I undertook a day-long bike trip from downtown DC to Harpers Ferry, WV and back. Don’t know how long the ride was; I don’t recall being notably fatigued afterwards but of course I was only in my early 30s.
In 1998 I contracted viral pneumonia and was quite sick for a few weeks. A friend of mine had for several years been bugging me about joining him on a bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, called the California AIDS Ride, that raised money for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center (now known as the Los Angeles LGBT Center). After having blown him off for a couple of years getting sick and then getting better reminded me that I was in fact mortal and that I had been living with HIV for almost 18 years (at that time I assumed I had contracted HIV in April 1981 though I had none of the symptoms that often accompany new infection, as opposed to the horrible flu I had had the previous December which was the eventual giveaway). I was still alive but for how long. I signed up to ride in 1999 and found out that my friend had actually passed away from an HIV-related condition early in ‘98.
And so it has gone. I’ve biked from San Francisco to Los Angeles virtually every year since then. I should mention that contrary to most of my forebears my mother is still alive and pretty well at 95. And a half. Our birthdays are precisely six months apart.
Mom walks daily. And before she stopped ten years ago she participated in 22 consecutive San Francisco AIDS Walks.
So here I am. A 70-year-old HIV-positive jock. And under normal conditions I’d be getting ready to once again ride my bike from San Francisco to Los Angeles on what, since 2002, has been called AIDS/LifeCycle. Same ride as it was when it was called California AIDS Ride, but produced by the beneficiaries rather than by a for-profit company (that’s a story in and of itself). But conditions aren’t normal. Instead of a ride to Los Angeles there is a substitute event called TogetheRide. It has its advantages. No minimum fundraising in order to be able to ride, no hotel and flight to book at the end (or at the beginning if you don’t live in the Bay Area), not motels to book along the route if you need to sleep in a bed occasionally which I do. You don’t even have to be 18 to participate since there are no overnight stays anywhere. We just bike as many miles as we can and call it an event. But still fundraise. So that’s what I’m doing, fundraising. My reasons?
I began losing friends to AIDS in 1983 or so. I lost two partners and well over 150 others. And I want to deal with the grief that continues to this day.
Also I am still alive and well while having HIV for more than 40 years. My best guess is that perhaps 5% of people who were infect when I was are still alive (I know a few). I’m still around and I need to keep carry the flame for those who were less fortunate.
There is still plenty of stigma involved in having HIV. I want to dispel that stigma.
Associated with the stigma surrounding HIV there is plenty of homophobia, bi-phobia and transphobia. I aim to dispel that too.
The just like the coronavirus pandemic has, the AIDS epidemic highlighted the consequences of unequal access to health care. Achieving health care equity has become an additional goal of the benefiting organizations and I support that.
And that’s why, for my birthday, I’d like you to donate to TogetheRide.
I’m being taken out to lunch for my today so I may not be able to respond to questions right away.