Saturday, June 21, 2014

Normal Knowledge

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Normal Knowledge
Written by Chris Jarvis (this article was originally published in News Link)

“The Normal Heart” has made a big splash, most importantly to so many people who didn’t live through that part of history and face it first-hand. The film shares the glaring reality of the beginning of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the early 1980’s, and more specifically how Larry Kramer faced it, aggressively, and started the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City. It’s currently playing on HBO and will be out soon on DVD.

It’s not an easy film to watch for a lot of reasons. It’s graphic in its depiction of what AIDS looked like in the early days. It’s such a departure from AIDS today that people have come to me and asked if they exaggerated it for the sake of drama. It wasn’t really that bad was it? Lesions all over the body? Doctors and nurses not wanting to go near patients? Medicine not available? Politicians refusing to speak its name? Yes, it was that bad and much worse. The first 15 years of the AIDS crisis was nothing short of a war zone. Those of us that managed to survive it could talk forever about the devastation.

So why are so many young people so misinformed, or worse, uninformed about HIV and AIDS to this very day?

Through my position at Gay Central Valley and the Fresno LGBT Community Center, I talk to young people all the time, about a wide variety of issues. One thing I tend to always land on is the very thing they’re holding in their hands that they can’t stop looking at every few minutes through any conversation, their cell phone. How is it that we all hold such a powerful tool for information in the palm of our hands and yet we don’t know anything that’s going on outside of Facebook or Snap Chat? I’ve asked young people point blank, how many news stories have you looked at today? None is usually the answer. No, there are too many interesting meme’s out there to share with each other.

Complacency is a terrible thing. It can allow all sorts of tragedy into your life. Every time I’m asked “How do you get it?” or “You can’t get it from one unsafe encounter, can you?” or “Is it okay to use your tongue when kissing?” I’m surprised all over again. In the early 80’s and into the 90’s information was hard to come by, answers were almost nonexistent. Today information is a couple of clicks away, but a Beyonce video is more important. Today, they lack the fear of what we had to go through, waiting 2 weeks for a test result as you watched your friends die all around you. I don’t wish fear on anyone, but let’s face it, it kept many of us alive.

The other amazing thing I hear is that “if you get it, you just have to take a pill”. They’re not interested in the cost of treatment, the side effects of treatment or the emotional toll it takes on you every day as you’re judged by your HIV status and rejected because of it. There’s also the internal struggle as an HIV positive person has to restructure their lives in order to survive. It’s not just a pill, your whole life will change.

The information is available. Don’t know where to start? Then go to Facebook and look for the “Central Valley HIV/AIDS Education and Awareness” group. It’s an open group that anyone can join and there’s a lot of information, news and links to HIV & AIDS websites where the information never stops. Don’t like the price of condoms and lube? Then get them FREE at the Fresno LGBT Community Center and most of the gay bars in town. There are more health links at under resources where you can find the Fresno County Dept of Public Health, The Living Room, Westcare and links to other local resources. FREE testing is available at the Fresno County Dept of Public Health and twice a month at the LGBT Community Center. If you don’t have a computer visit the LGBT Community Center and we can give you information on paper and direct you to local resources. The answers are right in front of you.

So get the information, get tested and play safe. And watch “The Normal Heart”. If you’re too young to have been there for the war, pretend you were as you watch. Get enlightened. There are consequences to complacency. So many of us didn’t survive the war, but many of us did, and you can too.

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