Remember how dreadful high school was? Blegh.
I remember roaming packs of teenagers, all trying to fit in by dressing and behaving alike, while still fiercely trying to figure out who they were as individuals. I remember dozens of groups and packs: Stoners, Preppies, Bandies -- endless arrays of angst. Survival involved aligning yourself with a group, because there was safety in numbers. It was easier to hide in the masses, and safer to be surrounded by people fighting a battle similar to your own.
My crowd was the drama kids. We were the ones trying hardest to hide, probably. It was our mission as the official actors and actresses of the school to try on different personalities, and we were applauded for pretending to be people we weren't. We spent hours perfecting different identities, and hiding who we really were. As a result, there were plenty of misfits in my circle, and we accepted each other without much trouble. I've no doubt each of us was actually hiding something specific: pain, loneliness, family difficulties -- any number of things. We never really acknowledged our freakdom, we just embraced anyone who managed to find their way to us, and carried on.
One of my friends from those days was named David. He's still a friend, actually. Perhaps strangely, many of the people from that difficult part of my life still are.
Back when I first met David, he was a nervous, skinny and polite young man. He started off as a Bandie, where he played clarinet for the school's marching band. There was a pretty consistent rivalry between the Bandies and the drama kids, so how he ended up with us I'm not quite sure. We rarely had crossovers.
But there he was. He showed up, I guess, for some tryout, and was suddenly just part of us.
I never really knew his private struggles, just as he never knew mine. We just... accepted each other, and moved on. Same as everyone else in our exotic crowd.
It wasn't until later, much later, that I learned David was gay.
Today, that's probably not that big of a deal. Schools, businesses, municipalities -- everyone is getting on board with homosexuality and its various subdivisions. Not to say it isn't difficult now, but back then, it was a whole different world.
In the early 1980s, there was rampant bullying and abuse. The internet wasn't around, so people didn't hide when they bullied you -- they just slammed you into a locker, laughed and walked away. It was impossible to shut off the laptop and retreat from the hostility then -- it followed you in a physical form everywhere you went.
David and my other gay friends from that time had to balance the abuse coming from the outside, while still struggling with their attempts at self-identity and awareness, just like the rest of us. I won't pretend to know what it was like for him, or any of my other gay friends. I can only assume it was horrible.
The 80s were a hard time for the gay community in another way: the AIDS epidemic. AIDS really got it's foothold in our world during that decade, and it seems some of my younger friends today think its risk has gone away.
Trust me, friend-- HIV/AIDS it's not a distant possibility. It's still out there, and it's a monster.
Sadly, my beloved friend David knows this better than any of us, because he is HIV positive.
I wept when I learned this.
I still weep when I consider it, and I'm beginning to weep now, as I talk to you about his status.
For you see, my friend David doesn't deserve this. No one does.
Over these years, I have been at bedsides where my loved one was dying of this horror, and I have seen this suffering up close. I want you to learn from my personal experiences that your sexuality doesn't matter when it comes to HIV. Sexuality is only one part of who you are, so it makes sense that sexuality is only one way you can contract this virus. There are others.
It's important to not only make sure you understand as much about the virus as you can, but to not shun or bully the people who are already positive among us. Many of them are children, or mothers, or deceived men and women of all orientations who felt the person allowed into their bedroom merited trust. Some with HIV are critically ill patients, who depended upon a blood supply that wasn't as stringently tested back then as it is now. They now have to fight a second battle, in addition to their primary illness.
Sadly, there are endless reasons someone may have become HIV positive, but there are also endless ways you can help them.
First -- help yourself. Get tested. Here is a link with information about testing sites and other resources. If you wish to speak to someone in person, here is a link with a phone number for each of our fifty states. You will not be judged, but welcomed.
Second -- help others. If you feel personally called to volunteer with those affected, contact your local chapter of the United Way. They will refer you to your local HIV/AIDS agency.
If you're not personally called to help HIV/AIDS, that's okay. Your life's journey has prepared you to focus on other things. Our world is a broken place, so follow your heart, and serve where you feel you can do the most good. As you do that, though -- remember my friend David, and others like him. Remember to be kind. Remember to be respectful. Remember that David's struggles are no better, and no worse, than your own.
They're just different.
And aren't we all? Different, that is? Honestly... the only thing any of us wants is somebody to love.
*Featured in this video is the lead singer of Queen , Freddie Mercury. He died of AIDS in 1991.
**Chanler Jeffers is an adventurer, survivor, overachiever and advocate of kindness in all instances. She has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE), and is a member of their Circle of Champions. She has had the good fortune to live and travel all over the world, grew up as a military dependent and was a single parent for many years. She has also survived cancer and gently shaped countless people over her years on this little planet we call home. Follow her at www.TeamJeffers.com as she shares her knowledge, her experience and her love. Oh, by the way--one more thing. She's married to a Bass playing rock star, lucky girl.