Leaving your legacy…..

(The following has been contributed by the author and contains language that may be deemed inappropriate in the opinion of some individuals)

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my life the past several
weeks.  It’s been a time of soul searching for me…thinking about
the present, trying not to dwell too much on the past, but mainly
looking towards the future…

After screwing up as much as I have in
the past few years, it’s difficult to look outside of the cell in
which I now reside.  During this time, it’s been almost inevitable
that I would reflect back on experiences that have greatly influenced
me, and the people that have influenced my life in so many ways.  I
was thinking back to the age of 21.  I was so naive.  I had just
hit the gay scene in Fresno.  I was going out…bar hopping….learning
a lot about the gay culture here.  I soon found out that, though Fresno
is a large city, its gay community is relatively small.  As a young
gay man I was just beginning to find myself.  I had grown up
in a conservative, Christian family for 21 years.  My family was
aware of my homosexuality, but they offered no support to me
whatsoever in pursuing the lifestyle that I finally felt that I fit
into.  I became very reliant on people within the community to guide
me….to accept me….to teach me…to lead me down this path in
which I would learn so much about myself.

During this period of time in my life, I met a gentleman that I
will not name.  He knows who he is, and he is a great friend of
mine to this day.  We met at a bar.  I did not intend to meet
anyone that evening.  I just sat down and he sat down next to me. 
I really never made a habit of talking to older gay men.  I often
got the feeling that they were only concerned with how they could
get me into bed.  This gentleman was different.  I sensed compassion,
a genuineness in him that I had not seen in anyone in
this community thus far.  About five minutes into our conversation,
he revealed to me that he had been HIV positive for over 20 years. 
I fuckin’ freaked out!  I knew this virus had plagued our
community now for many years, but until now, it never had a face. 
It was always that "virus" that happened to other people….not
to people that I knew….not to people that I had ever met
personally. I was very tense after he revealed his HIV status to
me.  I was not educated on the virus, and I kept wondering if I
could catch it by sitting there talking to him.  I started to get
upset…..who the fuck let this guy into the bar anyways!?  I could
tell that he could sense my tension.  He began telling me his
story….how he had lived in San Francisco for many years, and was
deeply ingrained in the "bathhouse" community.  He frequented
places like that often, as they were allowed to be open in the city
at that time.  Whether on not he contracted the virus in that environment
is unknown.  We sat there and talked for what seemed like a few
moments….but moments turned into hours….I sat there talking to
him until the bar finally closed at 2am.  I was amazed how he spoke
so openly about his condition….about the things he had been
through….but at the same time, there seemed to be no anger, no
frustration, no restlessness in this man at all.  He truly was at
peace with himself.  He was a survivor.  I gave him a hug, and told
him thank you for being so open and so honest with me that evening.

I now had an entirely different outlook on life, and on how I
would live mine.  HIV became a very real issue for me (For the record
I am not HIV positive myself if you were wondering).  I continued
to befriend this gentleman, and he continued to share his
experiences with me.  The fear and stereotypes began to
disappear.  I was no longer afraid of him.  I continued to read on
my own, educating myself on the virus.  I surrounded myself with
older gentlemen that taught me so much as a young gay man.  I never
had sex with any of them, and they never tried to pursue that with me either. 
Most of my friends in the beginning were older than me.  I didn’t really get
out and start socializing with younger gay men until I was well into the
ages of 22 and 23.  Immediately, I sensed the shallowness of
the culture surrounding people my age in the community. 
Promiscuity was rampant.  It became apparent that many of these
younger gay men had no regard whatsoever for their lives.  Yes I’ve
had my share of sex, but not like this….not fucking anyone and everyone
in sight like I saw others doing.  Did they not know of this virus called
HIV and how it could so easily invade their lives like it had my friend?

Today, at the age of 27, I watch the younger generation of gay men
when I go out.  Many of them are clueless when it comes to issues
like HIV.  Many of them don’t know that there is literally an
entire generation of gay men that has permanently been wiped out
because of this virus.  It makes me sad as I continue to see
HIV rates rise.  I was looking at statistics the other day, and the
epidemic is actually worse now than it was back in the early 80’s
(www.avert.org).  I can’t understand why so many of our young
people don’t give a fuck about their lives or the lives of others for that matter.

I’m eternally grateful to those older gentlemen that I met in my
early years as a young gay man.  I believe it was those men that
instilled in me the importance of fighting for what I believe is
right.  Today, I’m an activist for HIV prevention, as well as
marriage equality.  I’m not afraid to protest when we need to, and
to speak out against discrimination when appropriate. 
If you are a member of the LGBT community and you’re reading this,
you may feel beaten down, you may feel like your country has turned
against you, you may feel a sense of hopelessness….that we’re never
going to be treated like "them" (heterosexuals).  There is hope, though.
Hope and action are all we have.  

Many have come before us….they have fought hard for equality,
have battled prejudice, and continue to promote tolerance…all of this so that
our community can have such things as gay pride, gay clubs and bars,
anti-discrimination laws, and the ongoing fight for our civil rights.

They have left their legacy, and I plan to leave mine…..


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