By Kelly Jean Cogswell
World AIDS day, walking around New York in the rain, I spent a minute thinking of people I knew who had died from it.
There were just a handful, which is strange, considering that the three gay black men I knew from the neighborhood have all died in the last two or three years, but none from AIDS, though that was supposedly their demographic fate.
The Big C got Al, and Ernesto, too. Every time I'd see him at the Laundromat, he'd lost another chunk of his guts to cancer. Then there was that choreographer with dreds that got a blood clot or something in his brain.
I was closest to Al. When he and Ernesto got together, they'd swap lies about all the men they screwed, and drugs they used to do, big lines of coke, bales of weed, and pills by the handful.
"Remember the time that guy slipped you a mickey and you fell right off the stool? I had to sling you over my shoulder and carry you home."
They should have been dead when HIV first hit the community. But they were just too mean, I guess. Pulled a nasty face and scared it off. And they were smart enough that when the news broke about how you got it, they started using condoms.
They certainly didn't cross their legs and give up sex. Al could barely walk, worn out from chemo, and his legs all messed up from diabetes, but he'd still bring home tricks. He loved men. And boys, too. He felt like their protector.
He'd been a medic in the army, and it was his thing to give health lectures. Young males, gay or straight, got buttonholed on safe sex and personal hygiene. Afterwards, he'd mutter about how ignorant the little bastards were, "Twenty years old and don't even know how to wash their own dicks. None of 'em do."
Or, "Guy came to me, thought he was gonna die because he had crabs. Never heard of that before. Whipped it out on the verge of tears. A boy like that's not gonna live long."
Young black and Latino fags got to him most, the ignorance, and often self-hate. They broke his heart. Maybe because he had his own problems in the ego department.
You had to wonder when Al, a diabetic, stuffed himself with candy and sweetened ice tea. Do you want to have another stroke, or what? He also hooked up with some neo-Nazi kid. I expected to hear any day his black ass'd been slaughtered. Even cancer was better.
My point here is that he knew what would hurt him, but he did some of it anyway. Information wasn't the main factor. Hardly ever is, not in America.
Like when TV and newspapers whine about obesity. Information is always the focus, as if poor people stuck with it didn't know big chunks of lard were bad for you.
Sitting in the Laundromat, no Club Med, half the conversations are about nutrition, chicken -- good, red meat -- bad. Gotta watch the cholesterol. There's a sale on hens at Key Foods.
Every time I open a bag of Cheese Doodles, or have a soda, while I'm waiting to put my clothes in the dryer, one skinny, older woman warns me they're bad for me -- then goes outside for another cigarette.
My aunts used to sit around and have the same kind of conversations, blood sugar this, cholesterol that. They knew plenty, but one still ended up in the hospital from diabetes, her legs cut off, hooked up to machines for weeks before she died. It was horrible.
We trust too much in information. Even gay liberation, the antidote to queer self-destruction, and the only thing that will erase the stigma of HIV for closet cases and heterosexuals so they can at least get the information through their thick skulls, isn't enough.
Our health is also tied to class and race. Organic milk is four bucks a half gallon, and who has time to cook when you're working two jobs? If you do have time, you want to do comfort food. It was pornographic the way Al and I used to moan about biscuits and sausage gravy.
Better just to drop by McDonald's and stuff yourself for five bucks. What've you got to live for, anyway, just more work, with no cushy retirement at the end?
American culture makes it worse, that self-reliant, anti-authority, individualist "don't tread on me" tradition. We even rebel against governing ourselves when it comes to Super-Sizing and condom use.
Then remember America's nice wide puritanical strain, and add guilt to the mix. Vast mountains of it. And feeling crappy for doing what we know is bad for us, what do we do? Screw if we can. If not, eat.