Since the AIDS crisis began in the early 1980s, one group of people swept up
in the calamity has most captured our attention and deep empathy: those who were in their 20s during the dawn of the epidemic, whose lives were upended or cut short by the emerging plague.
Through the years, we have watched them face tragedy, minister to the sick and dying, organize a response, and eventually rebound with new medications. It has been a heartbreaking and captivating journey to witness.
As this group now enters middle age and comes under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “older adult” umbrella of 50 and older, the media has responded with a proliferation of stories on HIV and aging that typically focus on preparing to age—rather than on those who are already experiencing it.
As guest editors of this special issue of POSITIVELY AWARE, one of us is a survivor and chronicler of the “AIDS generation.” The other, as a queer black woman who came of age in the ’90s, approaches HIV from multiple intersecting communities. We have both spent most of our adult lives immersed in narratives of the epidemic—often working together, and always learning from one another.
We believe that the story of aging and HIV must include people who were in their 30s and beyond when the epidemic began, as well as those diagnosed when they were already over 50 (who now account for roughly 1 in 6 new HIV cases). Those who have surpassed retirement age have been largely absent from the conversation and media coverage of HIV/AIDS.
The more we considered this, the more we became committed to sharing the stories and lived experience of elder people with HIV for this issue, “Our Golden Years.”
A recurring theme in this issue has been a sense of wonder, balanced with consternation, for having lived to experience life stages like menopause; negotiating love and sex after 60; making plans for the end of a life that may well span many more years; or mentoring youth, whether beside a sun-dappled pool or in the thick of building an intersectional movement.
You may also notice, as we did, that issues surrounding aging itself often outweigh HIV in the lives of those we spotlight on these pages. So, too, may HIV be a low priority for people facing high levels of violence, poverty, or discrimination that do not stop as the years accrue. We have also attempted to share narratives and conversations that cross the porous boundaries that often separate people living with HIV by race, age, gender, and HIV experience.
We have been privileged to bring this project to light, with the guidance of the superb staff of Positively Aware, and by drawing upon some of the most insightful writers and advocates working in HIV today.
So many cultures throughout human civilization have bestowed great honor and value upon their most senior members. We believe it is inherent upon us all, as people who care deeply about a health crisis that impacts us socially as much as medically, to do the same.
Welcome to our golden years.
Olivia G. Ford is a freelance editor and writer who has been engaged with HIV-related media and communications since 2007. She has held leadership positions with Positive Women’s Network-USA and at TheBody.com, where she remains a contributing editor.
Mark S. King is a longtime HIV survivor and writer best known for his award-winning blog, MyFabulousDisease.com.