A Letter from a Man with No Kids to Parents of Young’uns Everywhere
Dear Moms and Dads,
I became HIV+ 6 years before the first World AIDS Day. There was little to celebrate on the first one. It was more about trying to fend off ugliness and shame so we could experience sadness and pain.
World AIDS Day 2015 should be oh-so different. The knowledge about how to remain healthy and disease free is everywhere. The precautions are proven and documented. You can incorporate them without barely breaking stride or stroke. So, mom, dad, I ask you this with all the temerity of a married man who has chosen not to have children. Why are your kids so stupid? Perhaps, what really saved me back in the 80’s was that our collective fear created an almost deafening obsession to find out more. We clutched at every piece of info, however faint, and somehow, some of us survived.
But my fear today is due to another reason. Youth makes up 17% of our population, yet it accounts for 26% of the new AIDS infections every year and it’s projected to rise to 29% by the next survey. To give you an idea of how devastating this disease remains and how vulnerable we are, for all the progress research and science has made, there are still 50,000 new cases of HIV in America every year. And that means that over 15,000 of those cases are youths. OK, with 25,000,000 children in America, the odds of infection sure sound small. Only 1 in 1700 kids. So, you want to play them? Do you want your kids to?
Then listen to this: according the most recent Kaiser Family Foundation Survey, of the youth interviewed between the ages of 15-24 who are currently having sex, 40% responded that they have no use for condoms. The majority interviewed said they weren’t concerned with becoming infected. Meanwhile there are over 40,000 young people in America living with HIV and -here comes the left hook- 60% of them don’t know they are infected as opposed to 16% of adults, because your kids don’t get tested, and do as they choose. Please don’t do the math.
But here’s the part that boggles me. HIV’s near surefire preventability is only a click or two away. But have you gotten it yet? Have you gone to a site like The Ali Gertz Foundation and boned up what you need to know? Or did you think you didn’t have to? After all, don’t teachers do this stuff? Try asking your kids about that. Especially if your kids are in private school, there’s a good chance your kids aren’t learning anything in any class about HIV. Unfortunately, too many schools are run by boards that find the subject distasteful – why upset the kids? – so they cast their votes no and then go home to watch Fifty Shades of Grey On Demand. There are exceptions. Some public schools in New York City disseminate the info with the condoms. But in that Kaiser survey, less than 20% of youth interviewed said they learned anything about HIV and AIDS prevention in school.
The other day the son of one of my dearest and smartest friends called her up from school, and told her that he and his girlfriend were having sex and “Ma, the condom broke. Is there any way you can help us get Plan B right away?” How many of you know what Plan B is? (It’s the next iteration of the Morning After Pill. More importantly, how many of you have the kind of relationship with your children where they would feel comfortable enough to ask you?)
Any knowledge that can prolong life is to be grabbed, used, and savored. Today, with the right precautions like Truvada (administered as PREP) even someone like me who is HIV but with an undetectable viral load cannot spread the disease to others. This is incredible news. Do you kids know about it? I’ll bet you a Birkin bag again they don’t. Then you must tell them this.
There is a reason why you were taught family is everything. No one is more influential in educating your kids than you. I know. You don’t really relish the idea of doing it. I mean, can’t they find it online? Yeah, they can. But first they have to curious enough to look. Don’t rely on websites that claim that you can have 4,355 friends – you’re a lucky sonofabitch if you have six you can trust farther than you can throw– to do what you should and can be doing.
You’re the only parents they have. Yeah, they test you and their phone calls are monosyllabic and last about thirty seconds. They cringe each time you hug. But they need you so badly, for guidance, for boundaries, for health, and they will need you for life. I know. I owe my life to mine. I’m asking a lot, which is why if you feel hesitant go immediately to the Alison Gertz Foundation for AIDS Education, the Treatment Action Group (TAG) or ACRIA websites and start reading. Or better still, read about it with your kids and then discuss it with them
Surprisingly, being HIV+ doesn’t really suck most of the time. It prodded me to edit my life, jettison whatever or whoever doesn’t support or uplift, and serves as a constant reminder to waste as little time as possible. So taking from who always hears the ticking clock. Don’t waste any more of yours either. Hug your kids… and then make them smarter.
Lots of love and life,