And fix almost everything wrong with the world!
Last Friday, amongst the fears of what was unfolding regarding the disastrous fate the Malaysian Airlines flight headed for the World AIDS Conference, I stumbled across a guy named Robert Brandon Sandor via Social Media. Sandor’s website is dedicated to the mission of ending HIV through sero-sorting, a term that is used to describe the practice of negative and/or positive people limiting their sexual partners to people of the same status. He has a plan to reach out to youth to take a pledge, which made me laugh, because I grew up in a school with an abstinence club, whose leader was sleeping around and kept the position to fool her parents. Sandor hopes to eradicate AIDS by promoting sero-sorting. Never mind that he overlooks the question of whether or not an entire population will have the capacity to be honest about what they do, my first thought was that his plan relies on the kind of separation tactics that have led to such stellar moments in history as US Japanese Internment Camps and star-wearing peoples of 1940's Germany. After looking at his materials, I was to ready post a completely negative blog in response to his case, pointing out the faulty scientific and moral assumptions Sandor uses. I was ready to compare Sandor’s methods to fascism.
But that night, before I could write about how much Sandor had offended me, my friends picked up The Lego Movie with the intent of getting stoned and having a few laughs. This was not on my list of things to do, I had no plans to see the movie, and my first thought was to keep working on a Sandor blasting blog as they watched. But they pressured me to relax and join them, and so I did. I sat with them and watched the movie, suffering through the first hour of average animation, bad puns, and rehashed movie one-liners. But I was enjoying the laughter of my friends, as their intoxication made all the mediocre jokes seem incredibly funny to them. They became entertaining enough for me to stick it out.
About an hour into the movie something remarkable happened. The movie stopped being animated and became live action. Until this moment, the story we had been watching was in the imagination of a boy playing with his father’s off-limits, intricate Lego models. But the imaginary story was interrupted; the boy was caught in the act. Dad was pissed. And in turn, so was the boy. Slowly, as the boy explained the story he had been playacting, dad comes to see his work through his son’s eyes, and something new was born. They begin to build on each other’s ideas, and together, they make something even more special than either could have made alone.
Throughout the movie something Sanger said was resonating with me strongly, and the movie helped me realize that in my intense desire to point out where he was wrong, I was overlooking where he was right. In his homepage video, Sanger plainly says we don’t do enough to support the choice of you men who want to stay negative. While I can find almost nothing else in Sanger’s work to agree with, I can agree with that. Too often we react to HIV-phobia strongly and without compassion, judging it solely as fear-based ignorance instead of as a choice of self-preservation. These facts began to click into place, and I realized that while The Lego Movie was designed as a message for parents and kids to build cooperative skills, its simple lessons could go a long way in healing our fractured community. I dismissed the thought of writing about this idea, as I was sure it would open me up for too much ridicule in our overly jaded community.
The next morning I woke to this moving blog by Laurie Garrett about her relationship with Joep Lange, the AIDS researcher who perished on the Malaysian Airlines flight. Her recounting of their final conversation and her assertion of her own wrongness, made it clear to me that I needed to write this. I couldn't help but wonder if Garrett's expressed regret could have been avoided if we had all taught each other how to play better in the sandbox. But, unfortunately for us the AIDS movement is largely populated by academics and activists. Neither group has a particularly great track record on the topic co-operation.
In a recent book appearance, I talked about how I came of age in a community that felt united. I expressed a feeling of loss about those days. And the feedback from some older men suggested that my youthful, rose-colored perception of a united focus on AIDS, had missed the fact that there was still division and strife in our community when it came to philosophy and strategy. I had failed to notice that we have always subdivided and disavowed each other in gay politics, because when I came of age, we all just wanted the dying to stop.
Today, I see us taking a vast toolbox of AIDS prevention methods and turning them into simplistic arguments. It has become condoms versus pills. But we will succeed only when we accept that all approaches are valid. No one answer will ever work for everyone. If it did, condoms would have stopped AIDS 30 years ago. Each person needs to be empowered to find and educate him or herself to the method of prevention that works best for them. And when we say prevention, we must include the proper assessment and treatment of positive people to keep them from spreading the disease. We need to stop making noise and focus our energy on a holistic approach that provides a methodology for each individual to plug themselves into the spectrum of options. Because our in inherent negativity is being lost on the masses. Many people are as unaware and afraid of HIV as they were the 80’s, not because people dies like they did then, but because the general population doesn’t know who or what of our messages to trust. People don’t trust us because we don’t act like we trust ourselves. We can’t work together. We bicker. We point fingers. We are not a community looking out for the best interest of all it's members. And so, our messages are turned off and ignored. My Fabulous Disease’s, Mark S. King said it best, “If there’s one thing we have learned from years of dealing with the virus, it’s that when we argue over what people “should” be doing, the only thing that wins that argument is HIV.”
So today, instead of only pointing out where he is wrong, I also choose to validate where Sanger is right. Our community needs to do more to support all HIV negative people in their choice to stay negative, because if anything is worth a phobia, its AIDS. Sanger’s approach and his conclusions may be flawed, but at the heart of it, he’s on to something. He is the result of a community divided. Personally, I believe his methods would divide us further. But that is just my opinion. In spite of that opinion, because of a silly kids movie, I can also say there is a kernel of truth in his message that everyone in the HIV/AIDS community can use, no matter how offensive it is. If we can all just start there, we just might win.