Take My Body – HIV and the Power of Ideas

By Brook Biggin

I find myself far less concerned with bodies as I age. Bodies get buried; scattered across landscapes; trapped within decorative pieces which sit atop mantles. They are sold on the black-market, abused by those in power, and torn apart by pieces of metal, whether by accident or act of war. You can pump them up at the gym and pump them full of kale. You can treat cigarettes and soda pop as if they are the devil’s food and water. But still, your body, like all of the other bodies out there, is not much more than a sack of organic material, moving from one location to the next, awaiting that fateful day when its number is up.

12038014_10153524556376628_229815609815003684_nThat might sound depressing to you. In full honesty, you wouldn’t be the first to accuse me of being a “joy-kill”. Prime example: that time I watched “The Cove” and decided to explain to my family that Flipper committed suicide due to the emotional stress of captivity… as they were getting ready to go swimming with dolphins in Mexico (I, of course, protested by staying at the resort and sunbathing, drink firmly in hand).

But don’t get me wrong. I do value bodies. I find them to be quite beautiful actually. But what I’m really getting at is the fact that I find something else to be more valuable: Our ideas.

Unlike our bodies which are so at the mercy of external elements – whether we live in a place of war or peace, famine or abundance, health or disease – ideas can transcend the most restrictive and dire of contexts. Some of the most inspirational and captivating ideas which have changed entire communities and nations have, in fact, been birthed amidst great adversity. Adversity such as that faced by those living with HIV.

Over the past thirty-plus years, since the advent of the AIDS crisis, we have buried, scattered, or placed within urns, tens of millions of bodies belonging to people who have lost their physical battle with HIV. In the major urban centres of North America many were not unlike me: a young gay man in his twenties trying to discover himself and who he is in relation to the world. And although they are no longer physically with us and we have lost that ability we so treasure to reach out and touch them, what we have not lost are their ideas.

Take some time and watch some of the films that document the early days of the AIDS movement (“How to Survive a Plague” and “United in Anger” are great places to start). Watch as early AIDS activists from groups like ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power-now that’s a name!) lay their bodies across the aisles of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to protest the Catholic Church’s public stand against AIDS education and condom distribution. See as they shut down FDA headquarters in response to an unnecessarily long drug approval process amongst a list of other failures in responding to the needs of people dying of AIDS-related illnesses. Watch. And then try to tell me that their ideas do not palpably permeate the very inside of your being.

Those ideas, woven into a long white thread that pulls through to today, continue to move members of our movement into action. The idea that we as humans deserve equitable access to effective HIV treatment and prevention tools; that we should not be discriminated against, that our bodies should not be stigmatized, that our actions of intimacy should not be criminalized because our blood is HIV-positive blood. And the list continues.

So, in this world we currently live in where young gay men are led to believe that HIV is the worst thing that could happen to them on this side of death: I call bullshit. I am living with HIV. There is a virus living inside of my body; a virus which, if it were not for some of the advances in medication that people living with HIV fought for, would eventually take my body. But don’t cry for me. For, our bodies do not leave legacies. Our ideas do. And just like those who’ve come before me, I’ve got a shitload of those.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to learn more about the power of ideas and the early days of the AIDS movement, make sure to check out Science in the Cinema on November 12th at Metro Cinema. They will be showing Dallas Buyer’s Club, set in the mid-1980’s, during the hight of the AIDS crisis.

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