“If the sky could dream, it would dream of dragons."
Ilona Andrews, Fate's Edge
I am a self-proclaimed dinosaur. I know that many people think using the term “dinosaur” implies that I see myself as one of a group of useless old people with little value other than being in some interesting museum displays.
But when I look into the etiology of the word, it changes for me. “Dino” is from a Latin base meaning “terrible” or “terrifying”; “Saur” comes from a word meaning “lizard”. “Lizard” is from a word meaning “serpent with legs attached”. Given the size of many dinosaurs I like to think of them being viewed as “terrifying dragons”.
For those of us who lived in the early years of AIDS (when we were young) and survived until now, we see things from a vastly different perspective than those of us diagnosed since 1996. We saw death after death of brilliant men and women, inadequate or no treatment, the rumours of illness in our friends and the questions about where it all came from. We saw government inaction, doctors who didn’t want to treat us, family that rejected us outright, and some in society that called AIDS “God’s punishment”.
We helped a movement take shape, we started up support groups with those who loved us, we rattled cages and we educated people wherever we could about what HIV was and was not.
Now, things are different. People with HIV live longer, medications continue to be improved upon and the movement has grown into something that is less grass roots and more sophisticated (I debate whether or not that’s a good thing).
Youth today do not have the experience of the past, and probably can’t relate to it well: their world includes better and more treatments, PreP, social media and more opportunities for connection, as well as the continued stigma that has plagued us since the 80s. And for us dinosaurs, we too have more opportunities and we’re increasingly dying as old men and women – and dealing with all the aches and pains that aging brings.
Dinosaurs need to be proud that we’ve lived through so much pain and come out the other end relatively intact. We may still have those flashes of PTSD that wrench us into terrible memories and bouts of weeping uncontrollably (at least I do), and we may still carry the anger of the past into our present, but hopefully we also bring the wisdom we’ve gathered and put it to good use.
This is not about an intergenerational split. I think that youth have their own challenges to face – certainly the stigma and fear that seem inseparable from HIV is still extant and the ways in which we “activate” are always evolving. There is benefit to the movement that youth bring different ways of seeing things from their own perspectives.
I think that marrying the wisdom from the elders in the HIV community with the exuberance and energy of the young would bring the whole picture together.
When we learn about the past – the Stonewall, early AIDS, even the civil and women’s rights movements, we begin to see that where we are now started with those who stood up long ago and said “no – this isn’t right”.
The past can inform the present and the future and the dinosaurs, the terrifying dragons, carry the knowledge and experience that can assist in moving things forward in a different direction. Grasping the power of the old dragons and passing on that power to the younger dragons can enliven the movement. We dinosaurs may die off slowly, but there is an important awareness borne in us that needs to live on.
And after all, the youth of today will be the dinosaurs in years to come.