Confessions of a Miillennial Gay Catholic: HIV/AIDS
* Please read the Twitter link before the rest of the blog post
I overheard a young man on the train on the way home today, talking to another young man. Holding hands. In college, I guessed. About that age anyway. Much younger than I am.
— Tucker Shaw (@tucker_shaw) September 18, 2018
(if there are problems opening the link, please copy the URL above and paste in a new window)
A year or two ago, I found a movie on Netflix called Holding the Man. It’s a biographical drama about two men who meet in high school in Australia and become each other’s love of their lives. I found out that the movie was based on the actual memoire written by Timothy Conigrave, so I decided that I would read the book before I watched the movie.
Eventually this summer, I made it to the book. I learned that Conigrave and his partner John both attended a Jesuit high school in the Melbourne area. I knew that in the end John would die due to complications from HIV/AIDS. As I neared the end of the book, I kept putting it down because I did not want John to die nor did I want Tim to die as well. But, I made my way through the book and finished it. It was so sad. The book, and the movie, are important to me because this HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s is part of my history as a member of the LGBT community.
I feel so distanced and sheltered from this crisis. And HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence like it was for Tim and John. You can have the virus and live a normal life if you stick to your drug regimen so that you become undetectable. Now, there is also a daily pill you can take that can kill the virus (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP). So, even though I am distanced time wise from the crisis, it is important to remember that people are still contracting the virus on a daily basis. It is also important to remember that this is not a gay disease but one, like cancer and others, afflicts people regardless of their sexual orientation. And as someone who lives in Saskatchewan, a province with HIV rates as high or higher than central African countries, I am well aware that this is still a disease with which to concern oneself.
Although the disease knows no sexual orientation, society in the 1980s and 1990s and even in some places today associates HIV/AIDS with being gay. Religious people, unfortunately there are Catholics amongst these people, use the disease as an example to show that gay people are sinners and are going to hell. Well, yes, gays, like straight people, are sinners, but they are no more likely to go to hell than a straight person. It is time we move on from this posturing that certain religious people take and to embrace the model the Jesuits have implemented in Toronto since the 1980s.
Gay Catholics who have HIV/AIDS, like anyone who has cancer or any other life threatening or altering disease, can become scared and seek out solace from traditional places: family, friends, and sometimes the Church or whatever religion this person is. We need to console people, support people, and above all love and accept them for who they are. Our job is not to judge them. Our job is to accept them and help them. We are to live out the Gospel, which tells us that we are to welcome the stranger, the foreigner amongst us.
Therefore, instead of shaming people for a mistake, for a decision made in the heat of the moment, we should embrace them, console them, and help them with their new life because this disease is not going anywhere anytime soon. We also need to educate ourselves. One key area is teaching in Catholic schools, publicly funded or private, comprehensive sexual education. Yes, the Church demands that we have sex for procreation, but it is also endorsed by the Catechism as a way to unify the couple. The problem here is that it limits sex to heterosexual married couples. This is the Church’s right.
But let’s now step into reality where people, married, not married, straight, queer are having sex left, right, and centre. Ok, since we accept this fact, let’s not be prudish and not talk about it. If we accept that our kids are probably going to have sex before marriage, do we not want them to be healthy and safe? Of course we do! So, let’s make sure that they go into the situation with as much knowledge as possible so that we can try and reduce the number of people who contract an STI of any type.
I am sure that some people will not be pleased with what I wrote, but it is the rational thing to do. This approach may stand against certain Church beliefs, but we also need to be realistic and try and promote healthy lives. At the bare minimum, I am calling for the education of our children to include the simple idea that it is better to wrap it up than to not in order to help curb the spread of STIs. This is a useful idea to teach, one much more useful to teach than calculus or algebra when the student is destined to avoid math like the plague such as I did in university!
If you still are not convinced, please make sure you read the Twitter thread linked at the top of the article. Or watch the movie Holding the Man on Netflix. Real life does not always reflect the Catechism, so we must be flexible and think, ultimately, about what God would want us to do. In my heart, I know that God does not want us to be spreading these diseases around. So, using that belief, I arm myself with the necessary tools if I happen to be in such a situation.
If you are interested in learning more about HIV/AIDS, here are some links: