As Long as the Right People Die

Maybe a lot of you are too young or too straight to remember the AIDS crisis. I’m not.

It took my cousin, whom I loved deeply.

He was one of the few people in my life that I felt really understood me. It wasn’t until after he was dead from a horrible disease that I knew why. I named my daughter after him. He meant that much to me. And it took a long time for her to come to terms with being named after a gay man who died from the HIV virus in the 90’s, since we lived for many of her formative years in a small, conservative town in rural Iowa.

You see, a lot of people there didn’t much care that my cousin was dead. Many of them thought that he deserved that horrific end—it wasn’t a pretty one. He didn’t even want us to visit. He didn’t want us to remember him in that state, but to remember him full of life and color and joy. And people thought he deserved to die in such a violent way because he was gay.

Tonight I heard a neighbor outside my window saying some bullshit about more people dying in chihuahua attacks than will from the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. I’m certain that isn’t a true statistic. First, because those are some tiny dogs you could just kick into oblivion. Second, because we have no idea what the ramifications of this illness will be in the end. That is why it is called “novel”. It’s new. We don’t have data that is reliable at this point. We do not understand this virus fully, and we don’t know how many people will lose their lives because of it.

But one thing that I have noticed about the response to this virus, much like the one that took my cousin’s life, is that there are many who don’t seem to care what life is lost, as long as the right people die.

Those that are most susceptible to dying, as far as we can tell, are the old and infirm. Those that are most susceptible to dying, as far as we can tell, are the ones with preexisting conditions. Those that are most susceptible to dying, as far as we can tell, are the ones who are already in the categories that our current society—this consumerist machine we pretend is a democracy—does not value. The right people are dying, for the most part. And as long as that is the case, those that do not value them will not make the changes necessary to safeguard the society as a whole.

It is history repeated, but a different set of people are now waiting for the spin of the barrel, and the fated shot, and the moment to reveal itself. Will they live or will they die?

The lesson, if there is one to be learned, would be that all that death didn’t stop the LGBTQ+ community from thriving. In fact, in some ways, it helped inspire us to rally and organize and become stronger. And that illness didn’t just take gay men. It spread far and wide, becoming a leading cause of death for some time. It is still considered pandemic in some countries, where medications that are easily obtained here are not available. I

t still takes lives, even with all the advances we have made and our current ability to make it undetectable in some. It still frightens us. It is still a threat and a life-altering diagnosis and an automatic disability.

It stopped killing the right people. It started killing everyone.

You might not be a high risk individual. You might not know a high risk individual. You might not care about a high risk individual. But know this: you cannot control this novel thing. It might decide that it kills Tom Hanks as quickly as it kills a homeless diabetic. It might decide that getting it once doesn’t make you immune, but makes you more susceptible to reinfection. It might decide that it gives no care to malaria drugs that Trump likes, or to the economy, or to race, or gender, or age, or preexisting anything. It might mutate again and again, creating countless cycles of death on a yearly basis. It might never leave. We may never find a treatment or a cure or develop a vaccine. We may be at its mercy forever. We simply don’t know.

And if you are counting on this being fine because the right people are dying, then you are a monster who deserves not one death, but a thousand. To decide that you are more valuable than another human—that your pleasure or freedom or agency is more important than their life—is the worst possible thing I can imagine. The most heinous of crimes is to imagine yourself a person of greater importance than another, and to sacrifice them in your service.

I remember when I found out that my cousin was dying. I was grieving and distraught. The few people I told about his contracting the virus all asked the same question first thing, “Is he gay?”

Why did that matter? What was their fascination with his sexuality?

I didn’t really understand the question until today.

I saw the man who lives out behind my apartment complex and he asked if I had anything to eat. I told him to wait while I went inside and bagged up some breakfast bars and crackers and bottles of water—whatever I had around that he could easily transport and keep relatively fresh for a bit. I brought it out and handed it to him. I didn’t hug him like I usually do, because of social distancing, but after I went back inside I cried for the first time since this pandemic began. He is the type of person that so many others are unconcerned with. He is the expendable extraneous drain on society that we can let go.

And so am I.

So was Terry.

So were millions of men and women just a couple decades ago.

And yet, somehow, we have already forgotten that our callous hatred then is a blight on our history that we should not be repeating. We are going out to Spring Break or to see cherry blossoms while we let the right people die.

People asked if my cousin was gay because it justified his death, in their minds. It made it reasonable and righteous that an out of control, unknown virus was ravaging his body. They didn’t need to be afraid of AIDS if it was still letting the right people die.

I was taught to believe in a god by people who don’t care if he lets me live or die, so I’m not sure I am a believer in that, exactly, anymore. But I do have a system of belief that includes a Divine. These days I pray often. But I don’t request what you might imagine—health and for my loved ones to make it through this unscathed. Obviously, I want those things. But I find that I am begging that the Divine have mercy upon us, for allowing this lack of empathy and this sociopathy and selfishness and self-aggrandizement to go on, unchecked, for so many generations. I beg forgiveness that we continue to choose races and classes and groups that we deem expendable, as long as our own needs are met.

There is no person that should be sacrificed for our comfort. We should never be comfortable while others around us are losing their lives or freedom or resources. We should be fighting for their lives as if they were our own.

We are all human and we are all equal.

It is time to start treating one another as such, before there are none of us left to watch the others perish, because our greed has swallowed us all.

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