Friday, October 26, 2012


It's not hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that there are people running for public office with whom I have greatly differing ideologies. Not only have we not yet fully recovered from a devastating recession, but having had a black man in the White House these past four years has rallied momentum in the extreme far-right edges of the Republican party, and has been the catalyst for some of the most offensive and divisive language in US political History. Leading up to a general election, heated discourse, impassioned rhetoric and loudly differing opinions have generally been how the two party system has worked in this country. No surprise. The information rolling in that shows half of the country supporting a candidate whose social policies would have seemed extreme to Herbert Hoover, however, is baffling to me. I'm not even touching on his glaring lack of foreign policy experience, his Cayman Island bank accounts, various foreign tax shelters, lack of tax returns, leaked videos, or his history of being on every conceivable side of any given issue.

While Willard 'Mitt' Romney has been spectacularly successful as a cutthroat titan of industry, a paragon of capitalist greed, dismantling businesses for profit and outsourcing jobs to other nations to the tune of billions, he's also been a failure as Governor of Massachusetts (look at his polling numbers in that state). He's a ruthless, ambitious, egomaniacal sociopath whose tenacity knows no bounds. Even so, we've somehow gotten used to seeing these kinds of men competing for positions of power. His arrogance is not anything new. His inability to hide it, however, is notable.

Romney is unlikable. His palpable smug Mormon superiority exudes in every interview, every television appearance, and every news photo. His demeanor shouts "I am chosen, you are not. I am above you, I rightly deserve to serve as your leader. And, I always get what I want." His entitled condescension to everybody, and his disrespect and insolence, even to (perhaps especially to) the President confirm this.

His wife Ann's media appearances, intended to soften his message and to appeal to women voters, have only seemed to backfire by reaffirming the Romney brand of supremacy and entitlement. Most notably when asked about the family's conspicuously absent tax returns by ABC's Robin Roberts, Ann responded, "We've given you people all you need to know about our finances." and again on ABC's "The View," when she likened Mormon missionary work to military service. Of course, there was also Mrs. Romney's convention speech when she nostalgically reminisced about how, as young marrieds, she and Mitt were so poor they were forced to eat tuna and spaghetti - never mind the fact that there are countless Americans living in poverty who dream of being able to eat tuna and spaghetti, but I'm sure that the Romney response would be their laziness and lack of personal responsibility are what prevents them that luxury.

Don't think the arrogance stops with Ma and Pa Romney. The night of the second debate, the town hall-styled shindig moderated by Candy Crowley where the President clearly whupped some ass, Tagg, one of the Romney boys, told members of the press that he felt like taking a swing at the President. Nice. Respectful.

Yes, the Romneys are unlikable; entitled, out-of-touch, arrogant, pompous, and all-around odious. Yet half the country plans on voting for this portentous prig anyway. I am confounded and infuriated.

"But I support his economic policies."

Bullshit. The only economic policy Willard is proposing is to continue Bush's pandering to corporate interests, further disassembling social safety nets, and mollycoddling the wealthy, namely his own personal investors. Additionally, Willard, ambitious blowhard that he is, has sworn that on day one of his Presidency he'll end funding to Planned Parenthood, initiate the end of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), approve the Keystone Pipeline, cut off funding for the United Nations Population Fund, reverse every single Obama regulation that attacks our religious liberty and threatens innocent life, begin turning the economy around with a plan for the middle class (though he hasn't said what that plan is), and stand up to China. (Sounds like a busy day.) He's also said he's going to create twelve million jobs, cut funding to PBS, and promises to sign a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

And while my civil rights get ripped away, while people go broke and lose their healthcare benefits and hospital visitation rights, while seniors struggle to eat and pay for their housing and medication, while public education continues to rank among the lowest of the world's developed nations, while young girls are forced to carry their rapists' babies to term or die from botched illegal abortions, while corrections facilities fill to capacity with poor, young men of color like the bellies of so many slave ships, half of the country believes these things are of little or no consequence because Romney has sound business credentials. Well guess what?


Today, I'm embarrassed for my country. I'm embarrassed by half of its population who will selfishly vote with their pocketbooks. I'm embarrassed by the slew of racially coded overtones that get repeated daily in the media. The President is a constitutional law scholar and was the president of the Harvard Law Review, yet somehow it's okay to insinuate that he's Muslim or socialist. Somehow it's okay to call into question his heritage and his patriotism. Somehow it's okay for Romney to joke: "No one's ever asked to see MY birth certificate." Somehow it's okay for a party platform to claim "he's not one of us," or for him to be called the "food stamp President," or for Republicans to want to "take our country back."

That President Obama is a moderate makes things even more confusing. Alas, Obama's brand of bipartisanship was never going to work in a congress whose sole motivation was to make him a one term President.

Please believe me when I say that I am not blindly following the great Obama into the sunset. He is not my personal hero. I disagree with any number of the things he's done, or hasn't done, since he's taken office (i.e., drone strikes, Guantanamo, etc.). He continues to be a key player in the overarching hegemonic machine that systematically keeps things the way that they are. But, he is better than most. He's certainly better than the immediate alternative. I'd like to take a moment to remember that on his first day in office, Obama signed the Lilly Leadbetter Fairpay act for women. He's also done more for LGBT civil rights legislation than any other president, possibly any other elected official, ever. 

So if you feel your taxes are more important than civil rights, I'd like to leave you with just a few words: rape, rape, rape, rape, rape, rape, rape, rape... fuck you, Republican party.

Monday, October 8, 2012

i'm still here

Concordant with the 30th anniversary of AIDS, there has been a renewed interest in the subject, especially in arts and media. Last year, Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart" (1985) had a successful Broadway run and won the 2011 Tony award for best revival of a play. I didn't see it. Also last year, included in several film critic's Top Ten Films of the Year lists was "We Were Here" (2011), a documentary focusing on the impact of AIDS in San Francisco's gay community in the 1980s. I didn't see it. Released just a few weeks ago, "How to Survive a Plague" (2012) is a documentary detailing the formation of ACT UP, and the righteous anger and activism that this group of brave young people harnessed to create advances in AIDS treatment and legislation. I saw it.

The human mind possesses remarkable defense mechanisms - oftentimes I feel as if I'm remembering only parts of a bad dream, as if nothing bad has happened at all. Mostly, I walk through life with an unspoken understanding that I carry within me a history of loss and personal trauma, but those feelings are usually emotionally distant, remote. For many years, I used alcohol and drugs to anesthetize myself until I was unable to feel anything at all. Eventually, when I stopped drinking and drugging, feelings I'd been suppressing began to bubble to the surface. It was no longer possible to avoid the truth of my past or the implication of my health status. It became necessary to mourn, to make sense of all the loss I'd experienced, and to come to terms with  the significance of my condition. Even with the slow development of a few emotional and psychological tools that I use to cope with the challenges of my life experience, it is often easier to avoid or ignore the unpleasantries of reality. 
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a frequently debilitating psychological disorder stemming from experiencing or witnessing traumatic events. In a 2010 U.K. study published in the August 16 issue of AIDS Patient Care and STDs, one third of HIV positive men participating in the study met the criteria for an HIV-related diagnosis of PTSD. Numerous studies have examined whether HIV-related experiences, such as threat of illness or death due to disease, or threat of social rejection due to a person’s HIV status can increase the risk of developing PTSD. It is believed that rates of PTSD in people with HIV have ranged from 13 to 64 percent, depending on the group being studied.

I was diagnosed with HIV in 1995 or 96 (hard to pinpoint the exact year; memories of that entire decade reside in the recesses of my mind behind a drug induced haze), sixteen or seventeen years ago. It's hard to imagine how it has been possible for me to downplay and minimize the ramifications of my status for so long with all of the ensuing particulars necessary for long-term HIV treatment, but that is exactly what I've done. Regular blood-draws, doctor visits, insurance nightmares, handful after handful of pills: three pills two hours before meals, two right after, one upon awakening, refrigerated liquids, injections, growth hormones, anti-depressants, increased blood pressure and cholesterol, neuropathy, lipodystrophy, diet restrictions, et cetera, et cetera. Even with all of that, I'd managed to trick myself into believing that these treatments were mere inconveniences; that my life was perfectly manageable and was barely affected by my condition. Mostly, this was true. The exceedingly strict drug regiments of the late 90s gave way as newer, more effective and less toxic classes of drugs came on the market making daily living even more seemingly normal. The only times that I had to concede my utter dissimilarity to others was related to dating and sex. Most painful was the time I disclosed my status to someone I was romantically interested in, only to have him reject me because of it. Now, those hurt feelings and rancor only stir when I see someone on an online sex site use the word 'clean' to describe themselves as negative. This insensitive, ignorant language that implicates anyone being HIV positive as being 'dirty' has seeped into the online sex vernacular, and is a sharp reminder of my distinct difference.

While I have never received a medical diagnosis of PTSD, I don't believe I've ever been specifically tested for it either. Understanding that some of the symptoms include re-experiencing traumatic events through distressing thoughts or nightmares, excessive and prolonged emotional hypersensitivity (irritability, angry outbursts, insomnia, etc.), and avoidance of places, thoughts, or situations that may be reminders of traumatic events, it fits that I would be a candidate for a positive diagnosis having exhibited some or all of those symptoms at different times. 

What proved most difficult for me while watching the documentary yesterday (which I fully recommend as essential viewing for anyone concerned with HIV/AIDS or community activism), was the flooding back of memories that have been either bottled up or neatly circumvented for the past 30 years. Catching glimpses of people I knew who are no longer here - the rush of subsequent memories of others who are gone - seeing moving images of people I know now as they were then; young and beautiful, as I must've been too - the reminder, the evidence of loss and decay - it's almost too much for me to wrap my mind around.

I'm not suffering survivor guilt, I'm just sad. I miss what I never had; what could have been. I love my life and I'm moving forward as best I can. I'm grateful to have lived long enough to see the development of protease inhibitors and the subsequent classes of antiviral drugs that have made HIV a chronic yet more manageable condition rather than the death sentence it once was. I'm happy for the strides that have been made in regards to LGBT legislation, marriage equality, DADT, etc. We are living in a new century, and the luxury of hammering out civil rights issues without the urgency of a dying community is something emerging generations will never fully understand. But, the immeasurable suffering and personal loss; the historical context of people being sentenced to die because of their behavior, orientation, or social classification as academic modern history or contemporary anthropological study rather than a story that hasn't ended yet is disturbing to me. Yes, we were here, some of us still are. What happens next? I don't know. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

stormin' mormon

No doubt about it - they're partying on planet Kolob this morning. Last night's debate was painful. While the President brought his usual reserved cool demeanor and a plenitude of facts to backup his arguments, Romney was aggressive, passionate, animated, even shouty - steamrolling and bullying Jim Lehrer (Gwen Ifill wouldn't have put up with that shit from mean ol' Daddy Warbucks). Unfortunately the President's calm read as detached and academic while Elder Romey's bellicosity clearly indicated that he'd done his homework and, facts-be-damned, he was ready to rumble. The lies freely bubbled forth from the man in the magic underpants with seemingly little rebuttal. Where was the mention of the 47 percent? Bain? Outsourcing? Tax-returns? Cayman island accounts? It's not like there's not an abundance of Romey's own puke piles to rub his face in. This whole temperate professor thing ain't gonna work, Mr. President! 

I have to trust that the President and his army of advisers are seasoned political animals and are way smarter than me. I'm not a boxing fan, but I do understand what a rope-a-dope strategy is. What I'm hoping is that this first debate was setting a sober and Presidential tone for Obama, and that he'll use the next two debates as opportunities to surgically open his opponent's jugular by exposing his lies and his utter contempt for workers and the middle class.  

I confess I'm more than a little nervous here. If Willard actually wins this thing, the full-fledged dismantling of our democracy will have commenced.