This article by Jon Jay Read first appeared in POZ magazine here.
Yet another of my friends has gone off his HIV medications. I ask, but he doesn’t know why, exactly; or maybe it’s just that he can’t find words more specific than these: “The good news is, AIDS didn’t kill me. The bad news is, AIDS didn’t kill me.”
Twenty-five years with the virus, and for some reason he’s giving up now.
It’s obvious to anyone paying attention that something other than HIV is plaguing many of us long-term survivors. For a decade, if not longer, this insidious thing and its various components—loneliness, disappointment, lack of purpose—have churned at our core. Discussing it effectively is difficult, because the thing itself is so ill-defined and poorly understood; in fact it isn’t one thing at all, but rather a complex of interwoven issues:
1.To begin with, we are traumatized, having lived through what was, in essence, a war. We lost an incomprehensible number of friends, and nursed too many loved ones through the dying process—suspecting all along that their physical and emotional suffering foreshadowed our own. If not for AIDS, those men would now be reminiscing with us over coffee. We’d be pushing one another’s buttons, poking awake long-forgotten grudges, recalling illicit flings, sharing inside jokes. But they are gone, and we are … “old.” Worse yet: Old Gay Men. Might as well say, “spinsters.”
2.We are sinking further and further into poverty, weighed down by menacing piles of documents written in a legalese no normal human can comprehend, and from which we’re certain no happy news will come. Getting our heads above water, financially, is challenging both because we must document our destitution in order to qualify for essential benefits, and because few employers are eager to hire 60-year-old men with 20-year gaps in their resumes.
3.Some of us are experiencing physical maladies one would expect to find in men decades our senior: osteoporosis; cognitive difficulties; heart, liver and kidney disease. It’s not always clear which are caused by medications, which by the virus itself. What is clear, though, is that managing our health keeps us trapped: tied to clock and geography; to pharmaceutical companies who recognize a frightened and desperate cash cow when they see one; and to insurance mega-corporations we know in our marrow would rather we just die and leave them their profits. As a group, we are both lucrative and expensive. Rope in a tug-of-war between boardrooms
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