All day I’ve pondered what to write, ad have come close to not posting anything at all. but rather than allow perfect to be the obstacle of good, I am going to post a few personal thoughts on this December 1, 2010, World AIDS Day.

There is nothing that I can write that will capture my feelings or thoughts about AIDS, all of which fill all of my being today. It is like the time I first photographed the Quilt, in October 1987. It was so big and powerful that I took barely 8 frames of film. I was so in awe, that I had no ability to do more than simply be in awe. All morning I thought about friends who have died, and what I would write about them. I thought about picking 3 people to write about, and what 3? So many amazing men and women have touched my life and left me changed because of my interactions with them. Some are men I have loved, though I have never had a boyfriend or lover who was ill when we were together. Jeffrey was the first guy I dated who told me he was positive. We didn’t date long, although his status had absolutely nothing to do with breaking up, and we remained friends after. I saw Jeffrey a few years ago- at a march in DC. He was living in Florida and looked great. The first person I ever knew who had AIDS never admitted to me that he did. Danny, who was living in Steubenville Ohio, but had recently returned there from Florida. Danny had KS lesions all over, but admitting that it was HIV was more than he could do at that point. Danny was an amazing and complex person, and he and others like him taught me much about what people faced when they became ill and often had to move home. Sometimes to small towns where life was hell for them. After I left Steubenville, and came to Pittsburgh, I forgot about Danny, until one year at the Pittsburgh Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, I saw a short documentary that was about Danny. I was there with a guy I had just started dating (also named Danny, who told me after we got home that his previous lover had died of AIDS.

There were two people who stick out in my mind from video work I did called, “Label of AIDS.” The piece was a performance art/ video work that I developed as a way to explore the stigma attached to being labels with AIDS. I wondered, if everyone could envision themselves as being labeled with AIDS would it affect those who seemed to have no compassion? I would set up a video camera, a TV monitor, and a slide projector and an empty chair.  A person would sit in the chair, and I told them that I’d project a word onto their body, and they would see it in the monitor, and I wanted them to talk about how it felt to see themselves with that word on their body. The video captured was not edited, but simply put together, one interview after another. It wasn’t the easiest video to watch, but the level of genuine feeling and emotions expressed by those who sat for the project was pretty amazing. I was set up at an art opening in NW PA when a woman sat in the chair and identified herself as a person actually living with AIDS. She was the only person I ever taped who disclosed her own status. It was a very powerful sharing, and I was sitting there in awe of her. A male friend had come with her who didn’t want to sit for the camera, but told me under his breath that he hated fags for bringing this disease. Turned my whole world upside down at that moment. The first screening of my video was done as part of a series sponsored by Pittsburgh Filmmakers. It was a fund raiser to raise the money needed to keep working on the project, and a number of local restaurants had donated food for a private reception. The tickets to see the video were cheap, but a VIP ticket provided access to the reception before the screening. A friend of a friend had agreed to serve the food and manage it. After the screening had started I stepped out to say thanks to this guy, only to find he had walked out, leaving all of the clean up undone. Days later I received a letter from him, explaining why he had walked out. He had seen a few minutes at the start of the video, and was outraged. He was real person living with AIDS a,d he didn’t understand why I cared more about what some negative people thought about it instead of what real people living with AIDS thought. I responded to his letter, and I hope I explained why I was doing what I was doing, and I offered to videotape him, but I never got a reply.

Actually most every person I touched with that project or any of my other artwork sticks with me today. And I know how my interactions with them, even when brief touched and changed me. I’d like to think of it as bringing me one step closer to enlightenment, but that is probably a bit arrogant.

Today, especially I remember Kerry Stoner, who I counted as a friend. I will never forget a night we were standing near the lower bar at Pegasus chatting, and a drunk customer was bitching about a container of condoms on the bar- that it took up too much room. The bartender made some asshole comment and went to take the container and sit it behind the bar. Kerry practically jumped over the bar and told him in no uncertain terms that condoms save lives and they should be right out on the bar in everyone’s way until everyone started to use them. This was before I knew Kerry was positive. I remember thinking his anger seemed a bit nuts, but put into that perspoective, made perfect sense to me.

I count myself fortunate that I was sexually active before we knew there was a disease called AIDS, and I often wonder if there ever will be a day when AIDS will be about as devastating as the common cold. I believe AIDS has changed so much of our culture and the way people relate, share intimacy, build relationships and live their lives. But today, I think I’ll stay will simply remembering the many women and men who have touched my life.

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