I would like to speak to my younger Queer community. Those of you who weren't around during the darkest times of the AIDS plague. Some of you call me elder. It's a title I often want to run from. It scares me. Most often because I will have to live up to any advice I give you.
Since the outcome of the election I've been in a dark place. I'm scared, I'm reduced to tears at times. My hands shake. I want to hide in my house with the doors locked. I'm in pieces. Yet through my own grief and fear I see you. Your faces come to me, some familiar some unknown. I see your pain and fear and they are valid. They are not imaginary. The threat is real. I want to comfort you and tell you things will be alright but I'm not sure of this.
Many of you are estranged or have a tenuous connection with your birth family because you are Queer or HIV positive or because of this last election or other circumstances. Many of you don't have an elder to turn to. Many of you feel alone.
I've been waiting to feel stronger or whole or for when my thoughts are more organised to speak to you but I'm unsure of when that will be. One thing I do have to share with you now is my experience.
I've been in this dark place a number of times before. One of those times was during the mid 80s through early 90s. AIDS was decimating our community. Loved ones, friends, strangers and ourselves were suffering and dying from this horrible disease.
I , myself tested positive for HIV in 1985. I cried, I hid, I spun around and around. Effective treatment was still about 9 years away. I thought I had 2 years to live tops. Luckily I had the support of the Queer recovery community and the larger Queer community in Seattle.
The government was doing nothing to stop the spread of AIDS. Some so called Christians were calling for mass internment for people with AIDS, telling us that we should die and go to hell. Even some medical professionals were refusing to touch patients. Families were torn apart and sons and daughters were abandoned, stigmatized and left to die alone.
Our community members were broken physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. We were in pieces.
We started taking care of ourselves and each other. We didn't have time to wait to feel better or get ourselves together. We took care of each other the best we could. We used the skills we had. We built community using the broken pieces of ourselves. Many new skills were learned by doing. We made mistakes, we cried, we grieved, we buried our loved ones, we kept going somehow.
I had an elder who would often say " Do the next obvious thing", I had just gotten my massage license and decided to volunteer. I started massaging one or two patients in my home once a week and eventually joined the massage team that went into Seattle hospitals and hospice to comfort the sick and dying. I massaged emaciated bodies some covered with KS lesions. My fingers still hold the vivid memory of what that feels like. I did things I didn't think I was capable of doing.
Sometimes these people were loved ones but often they were strangers. Some had no birth family support others did. There were mothers and fathers and siblings that took care of their loved ones amid the fear and stigma. Some died alone. We tried to catch the ones falling through the cracks. We often failed.
From this basis of love and care organisations sprung up. We washed dishes, cleaned houses, wiped asses, made food and fed each other. We organised protests and actions to bring attention to the lack of government response. Real people of faith came forward and helped. Some of us ran for political office.
I tell you these things not because I want to be called hero or feed my ego but to give you the benefit of my experience. Many others did a lot more than I did in the face of greater fear. I went to the hospital to comfort a dying friend and instead he was the one comforting me. He died clean and sober and faced his death with grace. He was a hero.
I cannot talk about these times without acknowledging the women that came forward to help. They were the backbone of this movement. A lot of us men were broken and sick . Many times I fell into the arms of women who were there doing the work. They literally held me up at times. We came together from different gender identities, color and economic background.
Though the circumstances are different today I see many similarities. Hate is hate and fear is fear. Hate is a powerful dark spell fed by more hate. Try not to feed it. This thing called courage is not something I carry around with me that I can give. Real courage comes from within oneself at the time it is needed. It doesn't come with flags waving and trumpets blaring that is something else. It often comes with tears and shaking and the urge to run and hide. Courage isn't the absence of fear.
I see you, the younger members of my communities and I am given hope. You are bright, strong, energetic and loving. I am honored by your presence in my life. I see the work you do and the risks you take and I am humbled. I have often looked at you and have seen the faces of Queer ancestors I have known. Your Queer ancestors are with you in Spirit and also in more tangible ways. They survive in the rights and organizations we benefit from today.
This is a stressful time. The pull of addictions is strong. If you need help, get it. It is there. I love you. We need you. Mend your broken fences, We need everyone. Take good care of yourself and others, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Strengthen those bonds. The work will present itself. If you are feeling down look around you. There is always someone else hurting more than you, Reach out to them.
Other communities are under attack. I cannot speak for them. I can only tell my story. You can find their stories elsewhere.
I offer you these words and the broken pieces of myself. It's all I have.