BWW Review: THE AIDS GENERATION: STORIES OF SURVIVAL AND RESILIENCE by Perry N. Halkitis
AIDS is no big deal anymore.
One of the most powerful movements within the HIV/AIDS community in recent years is that of the long-term survivors. When the anti-retroviral drug "cocktail" was introduced in 1996, savings lives and making an HIV diagnosis at least theoretically manageable, the general public stopped thinking about AIDS. No longer were the newspapers - gay or mainstream - filled with obituaries. But Perry N. Halkitis' book, The AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival and Resilience, put a group of people in the spotlight for the first time: long-term survivors.
Halkitis, Professor of Applied Psychology and Public Health, and Population Health at NYU, gathers a group of HIV-positive gay men who have survived decades. His interviews with them - interspersed with some rather dry academic research - are powerful and touching. The result is the first serious look at the physical and emotional challenges faced by those who survived the early days of the epidemic.
Don't be put off by the academic focus of some of the chapters. The research conducted by Halkitis and others is critical for the development of support services for this unique group of gay men. You'll see just how important those services are. for their physical and emotional well-being. And while there are long-term survivors who are transgender, straight and female, the truth of the epidemic is that in the US, gay men continue to be the group most at risk.
These are men who are middle aged or close to it. They were infected decades ago. And while they consider themselves lucky to be alive, there was a heavy price to pay. Some turned to drugs, alcohol or casual sex to numb the pain. Others lost their jobs, their lives savings, their homes. Even after their overall health improved, they were faced with lives that had been shattered. All of them lost dozens, if not hundreds, of friends.
But as the subtitle suggests, these are men who are not content to survive. They are facing normal aging issues that are often accelerated by their HIV status and the long-term effects of the powerful drugs that keep them alive.
That's not to say that the stories in this book - Halkitis' included - are hopeless. They are far from hopeless. You may feel sadness or anger well up in you - and you may laugh out loud from time to time - but you will not feel pity. You will only feel admiration for a group of people who not only survived against the odds, but inspire others with their willingness to celebrate life.
They share their fears and hopes, many for the first time, because isolation is so prevalent. Suicides are on the rise. Survivor guilt has weighed on them now for decades. And they watch with disbelief and anger as young gay men today often regard an HIV-positive diagnosis as "no big deal".
But they keep fighting. And that should be an inspiration to all of us.