Communities left behind

Aging is hard. And not for the reasons I used to think when I was younger. I’m not talking (necessarily) about the skin tags or body changes, the lapses in memory, or the (sometimes) decreased sex drive. I’ll save those for another column.

No, the hard part of aging for me lately has been the loss of friends and acquaintances, or the anticipated loss. In the last few months, several people I know and am close to are experiencing serious health challenges. The rational part of my brain says that some of this is just a natural part of aging, which I guess it is, if you are lucky enough to have survived into your sixties, with or without HIV. But the emotional part of me is, well, emotional at times. Add to that an entire generation of gay men of a certain age, like me, as well as many straight folks, many of whom never had children, and it’s downright scary. Who will care for us as we age?

We need an HIV and aging infrastructure plan. Many of our community-based organizations and AIDS service organizations are aging and ailing themselves, and in dire need of an infusion of funding, expertise, and innovative ways of thinking and approaching the many challenges we face as a community. COVID has permanently altered the landscape, in ways that we are only just beginning to see and understand. One example is telehealth and telemedicine—we talk about hybrid services but are ill-equipped individually, as organizations, and as a community to plan, design, and deliver quality services that combine in-person appointments, meetings, and events with technology that will enhance those experiences. There are varying levels of comfort among people with meeting in person, and some of us have realized that we can be just as productive, if not more so, working remotely and using technology as being in an office every day. But there is nothing like coming together and interacting socially with each other and in groups in certain instances. How do we find a way to use technology to our advantage, and at an affordable price, rather than wait passively until technology finds a way to use us (Facebook algorithms anyone?).

Aging has never been prioritized by the policies we put in place or by the culture we live in, and yet it’s what we all strive for, right? To make it to a point where we can look back and reflect, and take time for ourselves to do the things we enjoy. To discover the wisdom that comes with age. At least that’s what’s been drilled into us for most of our lives. What if, what if, we did something radical, like look inward and reflect now, and take the time to do the things we enjoy most now. To tell the people we love and care for the things we appreciate and love about them most, and what they truly mean to us. As life shows us, and this latest pandemic has taught us all, nothing in life is guaranteed. Take nothing and no one for granted—our time here is short.

Just as the aging community has in many ways been left behind, there are entire communities that have been left behind and overlooked in our fight against HIV. In this issue you’ll learn about four people who are straight who have overcome immense odds to live a better life with HIV, even when there weren’t always services geared toward them. People involved with the criminal justice system are often left out of the conversation, and the Prison Journalism Project is working to change that. You’ll read about some amazing women of trans experience, and why it’s necessary to have people with lived experience leading the efforts to end the epidemic in their communities. If we are ever going to end the HIV epidemic, we will need to employ (literally) those who are most disproportionately affected.

This issue also features Positively Aware’s annual A Day with HIV anti-stigma campaign, now in its 12th year. The idea is to take a photo and include a caption that captures a moment in one day to show what it means to live in a world with HIV, and once again it inspired hundreds of submissions from around the globe. Among the four different covers created for this issue, one is special to me, and makes me smile. It’s the one featuring Baby Zuri, who was born on September 22, 2021, A Day with HIV. Zuri is pictured in her crib, swaddled in a blanket and cute cap, on one of the four foldout covers alongside Maurice Greenham, celebrating his 80th birthday as a 37-year long-term survivor.

Wow, how far we have come, and yet how far we have to go. But through sharing our stories of survival, resilience, and rebirth, we will get through this, together—and will be better for it.

Take care of yourself, and each other.

Jeff Berry

P.S. This issue also highlights Positively Aware’s annual appeal, and this year there is a new way to give! Just text ISupportPA to 44-321, and enter the amount you’d like to donate along with your credit card information; or you can donate online at positivelyaware.com/donate. Your support will help enable us to continue to share inspiring stories like these for many years to come.