This week’s Wicked Wednesday focuses on World AIDS Day which was on December 1.
AIDS isn’t something you’ll see me write much about. Not because it doesn’t matter or because I don’t care, but because I’m not sure I have anything to say about it that adds to the conversation.
I know one person (that I’m aware of) who’s living with AIDS – a former co-worker, a gay man. When I found out, my heart broke for him. Because even though I was raised in the day and age of AIDS awareness, I still assumed it was an automatic death sentence. Five years later, he’s still working, dating, and being his kind-of bitchy self (you either love him or hate him, there’s very little in between, and even he admits he’s a total bitch).
I watch the headlines about the “concern” over sex education, the idea that we shouldn’t teach kids about sex (because somehow that prevents them from having sex, as if). And I’m confused. I remember taking “sex ed” in 4th grade.
Okay, so the genders were separated and we concentrated mostly on the upcoming changes to our bodies thanks to puberty. I have a clear memory of the teacher holding up a 2-blade Bic razor and a maxi pad. I didn’t let anyone know that I was already intimately familiar with both, having hit puberty in 3rd grade.
But I also remember learning about condoms and birth control. I was taught no sexual activity should take place without both (not just one or the other, both). I was also taught that the only sure-fire way to prevent babies and disease is not to have sex at all. This lesson might have been in 5th or 6th grade, but I learned it, nonetheless.
AIDS and HIV were part of the conversation. We saw pictures of people who wasted away from the disease. We learned that there was no cure. We learned that it was a sexually transmitted disease but that people also got it through blood transfusions, that medical workers, first responders, and others had to be very careful in their job. We learned that you can’t tell by looking at someone if they have any STD, let alone HIV or AIDS. I remember learning that the two were different but connected. We also learned that you shouldn’t treat anyone with AIDS or HIV differently, but simply take precautions if they were injured and bled.
I also remember moving to Mississippi at the age of 15, and my classmates looking at me in shock when they discovered that I’d taken sex ed. Not just that my education began in 4th grade but that I took it at all. The only “sex ed” we got in high school was the little bit covered in basic biology. I remember laughing (and feeling concerned) that while the commercials I heard on the radio in my home state were all about HIV and AIDS prevention, in Mississippi, they were still talking about syphilis. (I figured out later that I was near a naval base – and it made a little bit more sense…sort of.)
I also remember having unprotected sex a couple of times…and feeling sick to my stomach that I’d ignored the most basic tenets of sex. Protection, protection, protection. To be sure, I was more worried about pregnancy than disease, but I let arrogance and the cockiness of youth get in my way.
I was divorced and on my second post-divorce relationship before I finally had mature conversations about sex with a partner. Even with all that education. Even with all those memories. I was 32 before I was mature enough to participate in the conversation.
Today, AIDS and HIV seems removed from my life. I know it’s still there, but I’m in a steady relationship and we’re both clean so there’s no worries for us. After so many years of living in the Deep South (and I do mean deep), I’m shocked when I see not just a billboard about HIV and AIDS prevention, but that it features two men instead of a heterosexual couple. Part of me celebrates that two men in an embrace would be used in an advertisement of any sort. But a bigger part of me hates that it’s in an ad for what is known (incorrectly) as the gay disease.
It’s not really removed from my life. I have two boys who will most likely have sex of some kind at some point. I’m already committed to the no-grandbabies-until-they’re-30 rule. But I know that’s only half of the equation. They also need to be taught to protect themselves from disease. When I make myself think about it, I’m also committed to the no-STDs-no-dying rule, too.
If my children don’t have access to the sex education they need in school, I’ll provide it, even when it makes me sick to my stomach and my throat dry to imagine talking to my babies about sex.
So while I may not have much to say about AIDS or HIV, it’s not that I ignore it completely. I’m just not sure I’m qualified to talk about it at all.