I recently read an article in New York magazine. It addressed the distinct difference between gay men of a certain age and the younger generation who view them as dinosaurs. The column focused on the seemingly outdated, social consciousness of an era that has perhaps passed, and the perceived absence of conscious among those in their twenties. Personally, I have the precarious privilege of being somewhere in between or, for lack of a better term, middle aged.
I did not grow up in a time where I watched my friends dying of AIDS. I was a child when I first heard about the “gay cancer” and, being from Kansas, I was also then exposed to Fred Phelps. He picketed the funerals of those who had died from the disease. I would come of age and move to a large city in the early 90’s. I would receive my own positive diagnosis in 1996 during the genesis of the breakthrough treatments that would save so many lives. I knew enough to know how deadly the illness could be, but I didn’t have to endure the dire consequences of losing countless friends or lovers. However, I did respect the hard earned privileges given to me by those who had gone before. They had endured sometimes deadly, often useless mono-therapy and been human guinea pigs in countless clinical trials. I knew that these men and women were the reason that I was able to receive the treatment that kept me alive. I knew the devastation caused by AIDS was far-reaching. I was fearful and, in turn, respectful of HIV.
I have recently heard more than one younger man in the community reveal something quite telling. They have shared with me, in various social settings, that they have been cutting their HIV treatment in half to reduce side effects. A one pill, once a day regimen, that is being cut IN HALF? I was stunned. They all claim that it works just fine. As I write this I can feel the rage rising within me. I stared at each of them with utter disbelief. None of them flinched. They seem to have no concept of how, only a few years ago, people had to take 40 or 50 pills a day, some pills had to be taken with food, some without, most with lots of water, most with crippling side effects. I didn’t share this with them. In turn, I assume they went on with their day, and presumably their treatment, in blissful ignorance. I don’t know if they would have received what I had to say, but I believe I should have offered it anyway. My choice to say nothing does, in fact, say something. I was unable or unwilling to share my knowledge with them. I must have been changing my status on Facebook.
An older friend of mine once referred to my generation as distracted geniuses. I took that to mean that we cannot possibly know the bright minds of our contemporaries. We are not allowed time to think, to process, let alone to reflect. We are a species blinded by sensory bombardment. What do we value? What are we fighting for and is it worth it? Are we standing up for injustice, battling against misinformation, dragging the real issues to the forefront? Do we even acknowledge HIV in the gay community at large? I don’t think so. Instead we are a texting, Twittering, entitled lot that collectively seem to have no concept of consequence. If that is how I view my peers, why should I expect a guy in his twenties to know any better?
I have lamented about this before, but it seems some points must be hammered home again and again. It is impossible to know our true potential if we are forever seeking the approval of cyber friends. We need to feel we are witty or smart or valued or loved or validated in such a temporary way. We seek infinity in a finite world. I find it ironic that we are a society that fights so fiercely for our “individual” selves, yet we are such obvious conformists. It is this absence of an authentic sense of self that has led us to blindly accepting whatever is put in front of us. We don’t want to acknowledge ANY uncomfortable truth, let alone tackle pressing social issues such as healthcare.
The government makes daily decisions about our health based on what THEY deem important. It has nothing to do with patient advocacy and education. Why would anyone want to empower the people? It really doesn’t seem as though the people want to be empowered. We are too distracted to care, or to even know that we should care. Believe me, when we no longer receive drug or housing assistance, a whole lot of people will look up over their monitors, exposing their glazed stupor and claim they had no idea something like this could happen. They will complain and cry and demand justice. They will likely refuse to look at themselves as part of the problem.
Religion was once referred to by Karl Marx as “the sigh of the oppressed…the opiate of the people”. I believe that it is fair to say that technology has replaced it. Still, many in my generation and in my vocation like to blame Christianity for any and all of our social woes. In reality, we are the ones making the detrimental decisions by deciding to do nothing. We choose to busy ourselves with the seemingly mundane, inconsequential ramblings of co-workers or friends. We blame and pigeonhole any religious institution, or individual, with differing ideas on how to approach the AIDS crisis, or any social issue. In marginalizing their views, we are no better than the countless times we ourselves have been discounted. We are oppressing ourselves in ways far greater than any organized religion could ever dream of.
We are being watered down. The days of the AIDS activist have all but ended. In fact, activism of any kind seems to be viewed as an archaic concept. It feels as though we have become so complacent, so entitled that we have lost sight of the big picture. We have no concept of balance. No recognition and honor for what has passed, while in turn passing our knowledge on to future generations. We have forgotten how many people had to fight for the rights that we currently have. We have forgotten how many lives were lost to get us to where we are today. We continue to allow HIV to be branded by drug companies. We cow to the whims of government. We rationalize doing what federal epidemiologists tell us to, when really we just want to keep our jobs. We are choosing to let this crisis be corporate and cold. I sometimes wonder why I choose to fight at all.
It may be impossible to bridge the gap between generations. I feel that my generation IS the gap. We can hear the clarion call for action, loud and clear, but we are choosing to drown it out.