I Remember My Best Friend Tim on December 1st, World AIDS Day
December 1 is World AIDS Day. According to the Canadian site CATIE, "World AIDS Day is a day dedicated to commemorate those who have passed on and to raise awareness about AIDS and the global spread of the HIV virus".
My best friend Tim died of AIDS 20 years ago, December 1997. Tim was a special man, the flower of my generation. He had an enormous capacity for friendship, he was a skilled artist and craftsman, a great Pride Day brunch party thrower (especially when he lived on Yonge, just north of Wellesley with access to the roof), a world traveler and a passionate gardener. He guided me through Europe on my first international travels and we shared a house one year as friends. I loaned him money and he not only paid me back, but added in 4% compounded interest. He had a huge joy filled laugh. He had tattoos and several body piercings at a time when it was still edgy (going through customs with Tim was always eye-opening), a substantial leather collection and was really into kinky sex.
He lived with AIDS for several years but the early drug cocktails and anti-retrovirals that would help so many, just didn't work for him. He gilded the ceiling in his bedroom so it would be like an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus or tomb. I once pretended to be his brother in law, dressed in some serious evening clothes, to extract medical information from the hospital on his condition as he lay ill. And then he died. We took his size 14 boots and winter coats to a men's shelter. He was my hero, my mentor, my disco dancing partner, my rock -- he was the man I wanted to be when I grew up.
I wrote my best friend's obituary with my tears.
There was a time in the late 1980s / early 1990s when an entire wide swath of gay men died in Toronto (and other urban centers). You would get a message or call from someone you didn't know hesitantly saying "Todd" had died and a friend was going through his phone book letting everyone know. Your friends died. Your exes died. The friends of your exes died. You went to apartments and cleaned out the porn and sex toys before parents arrived. Sometimes family took your sick friends away and you never saw or heard of them again. Obituaries would be vague and often not very honest reflections of who someone was. Partners and lovers were often ignored or shut out by families.
Sometimes families rejected their ill gay sons and then friends (including many women - lesbians and straight both), ex-lovers or co-workers would step in and take care of people as they died. We became experts at all kinds of catheters. We became experts in arcane medical knowledge. We dealt with Kaposi's sarcoma, PCP, thrush, night sweats, the costs and side effects of complicated pill regimes and medicines and lipodystrophy. People committed suicide to avoid the pain and stigma. Some people died alone at home, or in hospitals or, if lucky, at Casey House. During this time, people fell sick and looked sick. People often rallied, only to die suddenly.
I went to a lot of funerals. Death was our constant companion. It is only the slightest exaggeration to say most of my friends, exes and the men I danced with all died during this time. Xtra newspaper (like a LGBT Now) used to run memorials, and the paper was full of photos of men (and some women) cut down in the prime of life. In reading about World War I and the death in the trenches, I am often reminded of the similar experience as an entire generation was wiped out -- as well as the impact on those who were left. Then and now, I thought of the poem Howl by Allen Ginsberg "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked".
We protested with AIDS Action Now and ACT-UP and held signs or wore pins that read Silence = Death. We were angry, we were afraid, we grieved loss, we were tired. We wore red ribbons and we spoke about safer sex practices. In 1995, the CDC announced that AIDS had become the leading cause of death among Americans aged 25–44 years. You can look at the Toronto AIDS Memorial and see the deaths peak around 1996. By 1997 the tide had turned for many as new types of drugs significantly reduced the death rate. At the same time, AIDS spread beyond the white male gay community in North America and Europe to women, to Africa, to intravenous drug users, to other (marginalized) populations and it became a global disease.