Idée Fixe

Not long after my return from self-imposed exile, my biggest fear was realized and the life I would live was determined.  I had just moved from Silverlake to a little apartment on San Vicente Boulevard.  A block to the south was probably the gayest corner in America:  San Vicente and Santa Monica celebrated by West Hollywood’s famous rainbow crosswalks on the street that Sheryl Crow memorialized in song — Santa Monica Boulevard…

We are drinking beer at noon on Tuesday, in a bar that faces a giant car wash; the good people of the world are washing their cars on their lunch break, hosing and scrubbing as best they can in skirts and suits.

It was Friday.  It wasn’t noon and it wasn’t Tuesday and I wasn’t drinking beer.  I was at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center’s McDonald/Wright building at 1625 N. Schrader Boulevard, the world's largest provider of programs and services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.  None of us had heard the names Monica Lewinsky or Matthew Shepard yet, though Monica was mere months away and Matthew had a little over fourteen months to live.  It was around 3:30 in the afternoon; I parked on the street and looked up at the rainbow flag fluttering in a gentle afternoon breeze.  I thought to myself about how far we as queers had come just to have the name of our community on the side of a building — when your life, out of necessity, is a secret from your family, your friends, your coworkers, when you lie, but not maliciously, in the break room on a Monday morning about what you did over the weekend, when you learn how to pronoun-shift without ever thinking about how you are putting yourself down with each little self-hating deception, visibility is not just a matter of pride, not just a statement… it is a long-awaited liberation.

I walked in the front door one man.  I left another.  At that moment, I had no idea my life was about to change course — dramatically, forever.  When you are young — I was a mere 31 years-old — you think you are invincible and the status quo will go on forever; this hubris can be your downfall if you don’t get it under control.  I’d never had much more than a cold; well, okay, and one STI.  But nothing a little hot and sour soup from Thai Palace or a two-week course of antibiotics couldn’t cure.

I checked-in at the front desk, and rather than having me take a seat in the waiting area off the main lobby a nice young man, smartly dressed and just a little-bit flirty, ushered me into a lovely room decorated in very subtle hues that to this day remind me of the chill of an autumn breeze.   One of those indoor zen waterfalls gently trickled as I settled in to a big chair with overstuffed cushions that wrapped around my body like a tortilla around a burrito as I sunk into them.  The nice young man asked me if I’d like something to drink… some water.  The sorrow in his eyes, the crackle in his voice like a teenage boy going through puberty — I’m sure he didn’t mean to… but that is how I found out I had it.  I could have gotten up then and left without ever seeing the nurse or the social worker.

The day suddenly had an air of inevitability about it.  I barely flinched at the news.  In fact, when they came in, sat down, and officially told me I was HIV positive, the social worker wasn’t going to let me leave because she said I wasn’t reacting “appropriately.”  But I had things to do; so I said, “would it help if I hug my knees and rock back and forth while muttering incoherently under my sobs?”

I didn’t regret my past nor grieve my future.  When I got up the next day, it was a crisp, bright sun-shinny Saturday morning but I was somehow different.  I knew the social tribalism of my gay identity was about to take a back seat as I refocused on what would become an existential issue for me — the ignorance, indifference, intolerance, and hatefulness surrounding AIDS.  In the 80’s, President Reagan did not even mention the word AIDS until 1987, six years after it was first reported, and by then nearly forty thousand Americans had been diagnosed with HIV — its cause; now I was one of them.  His silence allowed an intolerable prejudice to bubble to the surface and, while gay men were not the only ones infected, that bias perpetuated our exclusion, now not from the mainstream but from the compassion which sufferers of other illnesses were automatically afforded.  We were victims of our own crime, less sick than guilty.

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