13 August 2009

sex ed/AIDS

Having just read AND THE BAND PLAYED ON, I'm remembering and thinking about sex ed and AIDS education. I was a kid at just the right (or wrong?) time - when national discourse about AIDS was really in full swing, and no longer limited to just the "gay plague," being ignored by journalists and the federal government (and a whole host of other people). I was in sixth grade in 1989, right around the time the school started with basic sex ed.

I remember having the bejesus scared out of me throughout my junior high/high school years. we were taken to the AIDS quilt when it visited our area. We had guest speakers with AIDS. we were taught over and over about "the exchange of bodily fluids." I recently watched some, er, illicit copies of the MTV show THE STATE, episodes that aired in the mid-90s; there are a whole slew of commercial intermingled, put out my MTV and telling us to be informed, to use condoms, to be informed of the dangers of unprotected sex. I frankly don't remember ever learning about any other specific risks (other than pregnancy); just a sort of miscellaneous variety of STDs. I DO recall being taught the phrase "VD," and I DO have a very, very vague recollection of some kind of herpes education, but mostly, they scared us with AIDS.

Later, of course, I realized there are a gazillion of creepy things one can pick up, but none will kill you like AIDS will. When I was getting my sex ed, the treatments for AIDS/HIV were pretty shoddy; AZT was around, I think, and the "cocktail," but everyone knew those were pretty temporary and would just make dying a little easier.

We were scared into believing that unprotected sex could kill you, and kill you quickly.

I wonder if this is how HIV/AIDS/sex ed is taught now. I wonder if my students, 10 years or so younger than me, had the same kind of education. Do they know who Ryan White is, I wonder? Do they remember those ads and discussions, those serious, earnest MTV reporters telling us to KNOW, to be informed, to educate and protect ourselves, or die?

Or has that kind of intense, fear-based education backed off? (not that it necessarily should; people should have some fear around the kinds of diseases you can get from lack of protection). Do most people now think of AIDS as a "global" problem, something that happens mostly in Africa, or maybe southeast Asia?

I checked the numbers, earlier tonight. Last year, in 2008, the US "came in" 25th-highest deaths from AIDS/AIDS related illness. It was around 17,000 people, I think. There were over 75 countries on the list. The highest-risk populations here seem to have shifted from gay white men to poor black heteros (and drug users) - another population the country, as a whole, doesn't care a whole lot about.

AND THE BAND PLAYED ON wraps up in 1987. The epilogue discusses, briefly, efforts at vaccines, and treatments. That was 22 years ago.

There are no totally effective treatments that will cure you of AIDS. There is no vaccine. It is not the death sentence (and rapid, excruciating death) that it was in the 80s, but it is no walk in the park, either.

It's more chic now to support cancer research, I guess, especially if it means you can buy pink microwaves and talk about being a warrior who fought breast cancer, or if you can wear a rubber bracelet and LIVE STRONG and do athletics.

The AIDS quilt still exists. There are more than 91,000 names on the Quilt. according to their website, the names on The Quilt represent approximately 17.5% of all U.S. AIDS deaths.

There's a list of "names you might recognize." There were some on there, reading tonight, that I hadn't known about.
Sylvester, singer of "You make me feel mighty real," a song that is ALWAYS in my iPod. Eazy E (I had no idea he was an AIDS-related death). Richard Hunt, a Muppeteer (responsible for Scooter and Janice, among others). Arnold Lobel, the children's author/illustrator who brought us FROG AND TOAD ARE FRIENDS.

In the current hubbub of anxiety and reassurance over swine flu, reading about ANY epidemic is pretty terrifying, and edifying. Diseases are scary. And in the case of AIDS, the way we, collectively, respond to diseases is even scarier.

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