Magazine article The Spectator

From a Plague to a Disease

Magazine article The Spectator

From a Plague to a Disease

Article excerpt


by Andrew Sullivan

Chatto, 12.99, pp. 252

The first of the three essays which make up this strenuously argued, eloquently expressed and often moving book takes as its starting point that moment two years ago when the author suddenly realised, among many other people who were also HIV positive, that the prescription of new protease inhibitors along with older drugs had had the effect of turning Aids from a plague into merely another disease. This disease, like diabetes or MS, was not yet curable, but at least it was controllable, so that its sufferers were not doomed to a certain death within a cruelly short space of time.

The effect of this knowledge on stricken homosexuals was, as he shows, not always entirely welcome, as one might have supposed. Some patients refused to bombard the virus with a huge battery of pills, preferring the familiarity of illness to the unfamiliarity of the world which they would be obliged to re-enter once they were well. Some felt that the solidarity which the disease had created among its victims would now dissipate. Some even feared the loss of state support.

In discussing the whole concept of a `gay plague', Sullivan makes the important point that Aids could only be so described in Europe, North America and Australasia. In the world as a whole, as distinct from our privileged area of it, far, far more heterosexuals than homosexuals have perished. In that privileged area, he sees the 'plague' as having the same effect on attitudes to homosexuals as the Holocaust had on attitudes to the Jews. Horrendous victimisation, by the Nazis in the case of the Jews and by a no less horrendous disease in the case of homosexuals, undercut victimisations of more subtle kinds. Both groups, previously thought to be powerful in their clannishness and cliqueishness, were now seen to be powerless before forces over which they could exert no control.

The second essay tackles the question of the 'normality' of homosexuals; and here I wish that Sullivan had at the start made clear that to ascribe to the majority of homosexuals all sorts of character traits, most of them undesirable, from which the majority of heterosexuals are assumed to be immune, is something which is largely confined to our JudaeoChristian culture. …

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