This Week in the Mercury


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Thirty Years Ago

Posted by Dan Savage on Tue, May 31, 2011 at 10:29 AM

I had sex with another guy—for the first time—in the summer of 1981:

At first it seemed an oddity: a scattering of reports in the spring and early summer of 1981 that young gay men in New York and California were ill with forms of pneumonia and cancer usually seen only in people with severely weakened immune systems. In hindsight, of course, these announcements were the first official harbingers of AIDS—the catastrophic pandemic that would infect more than 60 million people (and counting) worldwide, killing at least half that number....

Patients and doctors feared the disease, often for different reasons. Many doctors, uncertain whether AIDS was an infectious disease, refused to do essential procedures on their patients; sometimes superiors had to order them to.... For doctors, nurses, patients and anyone who might be deemed at risk, the anxiety was pervasive. Might the first coughs or sneezes from a common cold or some other respiratory infection actually be a sign of P.C.P.? Might a small skin blemish represent Kaposi’s sarcoma? ... Some patients were shunned by friends and relatives. Customers avoided restaurants for fear that gay waiters would spread the virus.


The first adult authority figure that I came out to who wasn't a member of my family: my pediatrician. I'd been seeing him since I was a child and he was still my doctor. After my third or fourth visit about "a small skin blemish," he asked me what I was really worried about. I remember what I said to him: "I'm gay and I don't want to have AIDS." I don't remember what he said to me, but I'll never forget the look on his face. It was this combination of pity, panic, disappointment, and judgement. I never saw him again.

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