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EDITORIAL: Would you take the cure? Most well-adjusted, self-respecting homos wouldn't take a 'cure' since being gay isn't an illness. It's a lesson to remember, even as we wait to cure that most horrible illness, AIDS.


Washington Blade - June 1, 2006

IN THE LATEST "X-Men" movie, the humans discover a "cure" for the mutant "X gene," and the mutants find themselves at war among themselves over whether to take the bait.

The analogy to homosexuality isn't lost on us gay viewers, since we've all probably thought about whether we'd take "the cure," if there ever were such a thing. Of course the politically correct answer for any well-adjusted, self-respecting homo is that our sexual orientation isn't an illness to be "cured," anymore than heterosexuality would be.

That's certainly what our X-Men heroes would have us believe. The reality, on the other hand, is much messier.

Who among us hasn't explained our lives to a straight friend or family member by arguing we didn't choose to be gay. "After all," we say, "who would choose a life of disapproval and rejection from society?" So if we wouldn't have chosen to be gay at the outset, why would we choose to remain gay if the "cure" were at hand? For those of us in relationships, love and commitment for our partners would be a powerful reason to say no to a cure. For many gay men, the sexual freedom of our culture would be a strong motivation to stay the course. For many lesbians, there's the liberation that comes from living the feminist slogan that, "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." For the religious among us, changing sexual orientations would mess with God's handiwork, although the cure itself would be God's creation as well, so that muddies the waters a bit.

For most of us, there is also the strong bond of "community" - admittedly a very overused word - that comes from a shared culture and sensibility, not to mention the camaraderie born out of being targeted for moral disapproval and discrimination.

FOR ME, HOMOSEXUALITY was the single most important life teacher I ever had, even before I accepted it as a part of who I am. Born white and male into a conservative Republican, upper-middle class family, the rules of American life were set to work in my favor.

Yet for some reason, I became fascinated with the civil rights movement and 1960s counter-culture. Even though all my close friends were white, I helped launch an organization in college to improve the racial environment on my conservative Southern campus. I railed from the editorial pages of the student newspaper about our segregated Greek system.

I'm convinced that my subconscious motivation was a connection I felt with those "on the outside," even though I rejected the idea I might be an outsider myself. I remember someone suggesting my senior year that our racial diversity group work to improve things for gay students as well. I quickly spoke up to squelch the idea.

If I hadn't been gay, I don't know that I ever would have felt that connection, much less known the fulfillment that came from acting on it. Since the rules of American society would be working for me still today, I would have missed out on my most important personal journey.

IF ADVERSITY IS such a wonderful life teacher, maybe that explains why so many deaf people are uninterested in cochlear implants and other medical advances that might allow them to hear. The price would be the lost community with other deaf people and the sign language they use to communicate.

The same does not hold true, of course, for most medical conditions. What person living with HIV or AIDS would turn down "the cure," for instance? Twenty-five years after scientists first identified the illness we now call AIDS, there's still no cure. Hyped talk that the "drug cocktail" might beat HIV into a permanent state of "virtually undetectable" has proven overly optimistic, even as medical treatments have drastically reduced death tolls from the '80s and '90s.

We don't know yet if existing treatments will allow those infected with HIV to live a normal lifespan. Most AIDS experts I've spoken to say that, absent further advances, most of those living with HIV will still die from a condition caused by it.

But even though everyone with HIV might jump at the chance to take the AIDS virus "cure," the X-Men lesson, learned in life from being gay, still applies in part to HIV/AIDS as well.

AIDS has been a powerful, if horrible, life teacher as well. The early days of AIDS made heroes out of untold thousands, as Mark King so eloquently describes on the opposite page. No single other factor is more responsible for joining gay men and lesbians from our very different lives into alliance.

HIV forced not only Rock Hudson out of the closet, but countless more like him, and in solidarity with him. The government's sluggish response to "the gay cancer" in those early days proved the straw that finally broke the closet's back. As activists poured into the streets in a fight for their lives, their visibility and energy was a critical fuel for the gay rights movement as well.

What had been a "gay liberation" movement primarily about sexual freedom drastically changed course, putting the focus instead on the most conservative social institutions: work, military service, marriage - even the Boy Scouts! Only the most extreme and hardened conservative still draws moral conclusions about the method by which HIV is transmitted, but the rules of safe sex can be credited with curbing the hedonism of gay male life in the '70s. In a weird way, the virus played the role most straight men credit to women, influencing gay men in larger numbers to "settle down" and try more meaningful relationships.

With the advent of more effective HIV treatments, gay male sexuality is on the rise again, but at least now we have more experience with relationships, and settling down is a better defined, more accepted lifestyle option.

Finding the cure for AIDS today wouldn't undo those incredibly important lessons, just as it wouldn't bring back the hundreds of thousands we have lost to the pandemic. But as we reflect on the terrible toll of AIDS - past, present and future - we can find some small solace in what we've learned from its devastation.


Copyright © 2006 -The Washington Blade, Publisher. All rights reserved to Washington Blade. Reproduction of this article (other than one copy for personal reference) must be cleared through the Washington Blade.

Information in this article was accurate in June 1, 2006. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.