I wanted to do something that made a difference, and that’s why I took the job for Mayor Daley as his representative to the gay & lesbian community. A spokesman for one of the radical groups said I was too old to represent gays and lesbians. You have this ageism in the community — it’s so youth-oriented, you don’t feel welcome. As if you turn 40 and you turn straight or something. I can assure you that didn’t happen.
I ran for office, which was pretty grueling. There wasn’t a closet big enough for me to go back into. The big issue in terms of my supporters was that this would be the first time an openly gay man ran for state office. But the local newspaper comes up and says: “Well, I understand you’re HIV positive.” Some of my supporters took a walk: “Bad enough you’re queer, but now you got AIDS.”
But I had people who I didn’t even know – heterosexuals who were survivors of breast cancer, or prostate cancer, or cervical cancer – slap me on the back, you know, “Atta boy!” I always told people: living with AIDS is not much different from living with cancer. We’re all living one day at a time.
I think as we age we sort of simplify things a lot, but it takes a few years, 30, 40, 50 years to figure that out. You have different priorities, different needs. If you’re not in a relationship, who’s gonna take care of you? When I was struggling with cancer, there were 15, 20 people taking off work, taking me to radiation therapy, helping me clean my apartment, going grocery shopping.
I stopped taking my HIV meds while I was going through chemo. I had a tough time getting back onto my regimen. Right now none of my drugs work, so I’m gonna be making some major changes. And then you go through 2 or 3 months of the severe side effects, and that’ll settle down as the body acclimates itself.
There are certain diseases from heart disease to prostate cancer to other cancers that manifest themselves as you move from middle age to maturity. It becomes a real issue of outreach — getting service providers to recognize there are people in their 50s, 60s and 70s that are struggling with HIV. You gotta be very careful what you prescribe because of interaction effects and so forth. You need chemo docs, radiation docs that understand the complications that HIV brings to the table. They need to have some access to someone who says: “No, you can’t give him that drug.”
It’s been about 20 years since I’ve known I was HIV-positive, so I’m considered a long-term survivor. In many ways it’s a transformation, a conversion kind of experience. How have I lived my life? It’s not necessarily about material things, it’s just: “Have I made a difference?”
And I think that’s what a lot of us think about when we get into maturity: “Did my life contribute anything?”