The Church of Act Up

I’ve been thinking a lot about the AIDS crisis in terms of the Trump/GOP coup. We are in a moment in which our ostensibly elected leaders are hanging women and queers and people of color and Muslims and Jews and immigrants out to dry. Actually, that’s the best way to phrase it. The worst is that they are hanging us out to die.

I was in elementary school when AIDS first became nationally recognized, and a teenager when ACT UP first came on the scene; I remember joining the Philadelphia chapter and waking the fuck up because you couldn’t not the minute you entered those meetings. I graduated from college and moved to New York City, where so many beautiful young gay men wore stocking caps and four coats in the middle of summer, were covered in black sores, were walking skeleteons held together by scotch tape and four kinds of antibiotics and a strong community of love. I lived in the West Village back then, and my writing classes and coffee shops and laundromats were filled with twentysomething and thirtysomething living ghosts with looming eyes and long stories that were about to be never be heard again. I got here when the gay sexual revolution–the beautiful young gay men lining the streets and the baths and the beaches so insouciantly–was in the rearview mirror and gay marriage still seemed as unlikely as mobile videophones and Trump as president. When the LGBT center (as it was then called) was essentially a triage center.

How did we get from the eradication of a generation to legal gay marriage? How did we get to a cocktail that rendered HIV more like diabetes than a death sentence? To a Fire Island once again filled with young, beautiful, healthy gay men? To the rise and recognition of transgender people’s rights? To a queer lifestyle more about parties and registries and children than wakes and hospitals and death, as it was by the mid-1980s? Not by expecting the government and its acolytes and apologists to have our best interests in mind like they were our mommies and daddies, that’s for sure. Not by having polite discourse and placing polite calls to our reps as if they were going to do shit. ACT UP was messy and furious and unrelenting, and its model of resistance is profoundly useful today. We saw that dying multitudes were not enough to veer our elected leaders from their public self-service, and so we organized and radicalized as if in wartime. Because it was. As it is now.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy