Of late, I have been considering how the trauma of living through the AIDS crisis in the 1980s will influence gay men during the COVID-19 outbreak.
One might assume because of our experience watching our brothers die; we will be better prepared to watch others die. As if we all have a Ph.D. in death and dying, we will be able to weather the coming storm of a mutating virus that kills people. We will also be able to support others who are grieving because we deeply understand grief. One could also assume that we will be the people that rise about social fears and serve as role models for a loving community: because we had to, and we know how important it is! It is reasonably safe to assume that, because of our familiarity with living on the fringes of social acceptance, we will see those among society who are now living on the edges. We will recognize those who are fearful, anxious, depressed, and hanging by a thread: and we will open our arms in honor and service to each other and the greater community. We can assume that we will also be people who can show others hope. Think about it; each one of us knows the struggle and how to rise like a phoenix when life feels bleak. Perhaps our purpose is to be agents of hope? Most importantly, it is safe to assume that we will be people who stand together as a community. Little more than 35 years ago, we banded together as brothers who looked after each other. Now, more than ever, we need to connect. The cautionary aspect of this writing is that if we allow our fears, triggered memories, and painful experiences to dictate how we "show up" now, we might fuck things up. If we allow our traumatic and painful memories to drive the bus, we are on a crash course for misery. Some of us may isolate ourselves in fear and compound the insidious loneliness that is pervasive among gay men. If we do this collectively, some of our brothers will die: and many of them will be by suicide. Some of us might become overwhelmed by the grief we see around us and dive head-first into a bottle or meth pipe. With every death we see on the news, we will drive ourselves deeper into a sense of powerlessness and depression. If we do this collectively, we will destroy ourselves from the inside out. Some of us could fixate on looking for someone to blame for, yet another, struggle we have to endure. In this pursuit to place blame, we will build a fountain of rage within our souls that we will turn against ourselves and others. If we do this collectively, society will no longer have the beauty we offer the world through all our creative forms of expression: art, music, theatre, design, compassion, love for animals, and the example of personal freedom we represent. It is even possible that some of us could allow our anxiety and depression to drive us to instant moments of "arranged" intimacy, and we will drive ourselves deeper into a hollow pit of longing to simply "be seen." If we do this collectively, we will reinforce the narrative of shame many of us have battled for a lifetime. I PROFOUNDLY HOPE
I hope that we will quickly face our fears, remind ourselves that we are remarkable, creative, courageous, and capable of managing the challenges of life. I hope that rather than looking at our present moment with fear, we choose to be role models for community, inclusivity, service, and humility. I hope that we will be men who demonstrate love: bold love, big love! My greatest hope is that each gay man realizes that every moment of pain you have ever endured has been a lesson in how to alleviate pain for others. I hope we rise above our wounds and embrace the idea that we are "way-showers" of hope, courage, and strength. If we do all this "collectively," we will change our future for the positive. What choice are you going to make?