August 5th, 2014 was the fifth anniversary of my AIDS diagnosis.
That’s right, AIDS. Not some wimpy HIV+ diagnosis made in otherwise perfect health, with T-cells in their hundreds romping merrily around chiseled muscles, under well-tanned skin glowing with health, exfoliated and moisturized into a fair semblance of the angelic or divine.
Nope, four little T-cells lonely in the too-vast milliliter of blood they shared with somewhat over a million boorish copies of the unwelcome viral guest. A collapsing immune system in a body shriveled to a bit over a hundred pounds, and from what I hear, hovering for days in the murky area between alive and dead. I don’t unfortunately remember the precise narrative; dementia will scrape away real experience all the while it conjures gorgeous illusions, your every desire fulfilled in the flickering half-light of your own fading life.
And here I am now, no lasting damage apparent, team T-cell frolicking in its hundreds, up and down depending on circumstance but always a terror in the corridors, the guest shown the doors but still hiding in reservoirs; presumably located in the shadowy part of the house where Dorian’s portrait lurks. All very well and good, right?
Not really. Truth be told, I’m bored. Worse, I bore myself. Here I thought I had a ticket to Götterdämmerung and wound up in a Mean Girls endless-loop matinée instead.
In part, it’s the expected myopia. Sure, HIV is an interesting subject. It’s not however the only topic of conversation under heaven and very certainly not the only one I’m interested in. And no, I wasn’t showered with encyclopedic knowledge about it at the moment of diagnosis either.
Or for that matter with the motherfucking patience it would require to listen to AIDS activists X, Y and Z drone on way past nauseam about PrEP, MSM (or whatever other insider argot gilds the masturbatory rhetoric), directed firmly at, wait for it, other AIDS activists. Because as surely as God made little apples, sweetheart, nobody else cares, certainly not enough to be bored into a stupor.
I’ll give you an example. The other day at Netroots14 – the huge annual conference for America’s lefties – I found myself sitting at a table with perhaps a dozen LGBT activists, talking about PrEP. But not to the dozen or fellow queers seated around the table, why after all bother with amateurs, rather mainly to the other two AIDS activists among the lot.
Until one of the civilians, as it were, raised his hand; the poor lad had no idea what we were talking about with such apparent enthusiasm. Too many acronyms.
It’s not normally advisable to extrapolate vast conclusions from one data point, except of course when it is. As in this instance.
This shouldn’t be all that difficult really: when you’re trying to sell something – which is exactly what activism is – you can either speak the language of your audience, or you can go home.
Don’t believe me? No problem, Mr. Alinsky, take it away.
This failure of many of our younger activists to understand the art of communication has been disastrous. Even the most elementary grasp of the fundamental idea that one communicates within the experience of his audience — and gives full respect to the other’s values — would have ruled out attacks on the American flag.
As an organizer I start where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be — it is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be.
Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals
It would be lovely – and so validating of our experience – if the rest of Greater Gaydom or the world at large were as attuned to HIV the issue as the average poz person is. It would also be lovely if New York City weren’t a fetid stew of armpit sweat and humid crotch this time of year.
That is not the world we live in. All people have lives, struggles of their own, as they should. So here’s an idea: the next time you’re talking to interested outsiders – say, any of the hundreds of millions of Americans, Canadians, British, and so on not directly affected by HIV – don’t use insider gibberish like ‘MSM’. Why?
Common courtesy aside, because there are over two hundred and fifty different things hiding behind those three letters. “Mainstream Media”? “Manhattan School of Music”? “Marketing Strategies Management”? “Married Single Mom”?
Try English instead. It worked for Churchill. He had some experience winning a war if memory serves. If that’s what you think you’re fighting, for the love of God, speak as if you understand that.