AIDS in the Mind of America

AIDS in the Mind of America

AIDS in the Mind of America

AIDS in the Mind of America

Excerpt

The full implications of AIDS only hit me when a friend stopped me on Castro Street, in San Francisco, at the end of April 1984. "Paul just died," he said, speaking of someone I didn't know. "He's the fifth friend I've lost this year."

Michael, my friend, is in his early thirties; his own lover died from AIDS the previous fall. For those of us who have grown up in the Western world over the past half century, the experience of losing friends and lovers in large numbers has been confined to old age and war. With the onset of AIDS, familiar faces -- the man in the bookshop, the mailman, casual acquaintances -- began to disappear and funerals became an increasingly frequent part of our lives. That large numbers of able-bodied young men should die from disease in peacetime -- by early 1985 the toll had reached 4,000, two-thirds of them under forty -- despite the best efforts of modern medicine is something for which the only precedent is the epidemics -- smallpox, cholera, the "Spanish" flu of 1919 -- of history.

Of the Vietnam War it was said that only the recognition of American casualties really fired the peace movement and gave it mass support. In the case of AIDS the high concentration of cases among certain groups and localities -- namely, gay men, drug users, Haitians and hemophiliacs in a few urban areas -- means that a few people have felt a disproportionate amount of personal loss. For most people it has been fear of contagion rather than experience of loss that has made the disease a reality. The ability of the media to create panic, not only in the United States but . . .

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