World AIDS Day 2016


The blank page stares up at me, “World AIDS Day 2016”. That will be Thursday.

It’s not like it used to be when life was much more urgent, desperate. I think of the dead. I still sorely miss my friends, friends from our twenties and thirties. Gone. It’s like Remembrance Day, but I don’t like the war analogies that go along with that. I wonder what they would have been like had they lived with me into my upper fifties. If only treatments could have saved them. It’s been twenty years since the 1996 World AIDS Conference in Vancouver which was bursting with excitement over the promise of new treatments, combination therapies nicknamed “the cocktail”. I was on three, and then four drug combinations as soon as they became available, eliminating ones with severe side effects only to find new side effects with the alternatives. Lipodystrophy – fatty humps – and lipoatrophy – loss of muscle mass in my face, limbs and butt. So I sit on a cushion a lot. It’s chronic but manageable, don’tchaknow? I remember World AIDS Day 1993 when I took a bouquet of wild flowers to the AIDS Memorial. CBC News followed me around as I placed single flowers by the names of individuals I knew until I tearfully ran out of flowers before I had finished. That was the year of Jim’s last Christmas and I went home and wrote the first of many annual holiday letters in hopes of cheering him up. There was the year I put a call out for writers to submit stories of how HIV/AIDS affected them – and was pleasantly surprised with the response.

HIV is still here and, despite some attempts to downplay it, so is AIDS. HIV, and expectations that I would not live long, have rotted my teeth. As a yes-to-life gesture I am endeavouring to get my teeth fixed which will probably be a wholesale replacement with dentures. This is not merely cosmetic, though it is that, too. I am not eating as well as I could were I to have a full mouth of comfortable teeth. So the good folks at the U of T School of Dentistry have begun to fix me up. I can no longer deny that I might live long enough to need these damn teeth. All that remains is to come up with the funds.

My friends didn’t live long enough to have dental problems. I didn’t think I would either. As crises go, I’ll take this one.

Did you see this?


Exciting news from the NIH!

“Scientists from the National Institutes of Health have identified an antibody from an HIV-infected person that potently neutralized 98 percent of HIV isolates tested, including 16 of 20 strains resistant to other antibodies of the same class. The remarkable breadth and potency of this antibody, named N6, make it an attractive candidate for further development to potentially treat or prevent HIV infection, say the researchers.”

“N6 may offer stronger and more durable prevention and treatment benefits, and researchers may be able to administer it subcutaneously (into the fat under the skin) rather than intravenously. In addition, its ability to neutralize nearly all HIV strains would be advantageous for both prevention and treatment strategies.”

1,013 followers – questions?


I don’t know who you all are, but the blog machine tells me there are 1,013 of you following me here.  You can also find me, Kenn Chaplin, on Facebook.

You’ll know that I haven’t been writing much lately so, might I ask, if you have any questions for me?

AIDS is still here but so am I!


Submitted to Aless.ca today

I find the anticipation, whatever the outcome, of World AIDS Day quietly overwhelming.

“Not much,” I replied to a friend asking what plans I had last night.  I might as  well have had dental freezing in my brain, such was the unacknowledged numbness.

When I think of World AIDS Day I think of, as a blur, the forty or, I’m sure, more friends and fellow travelers who died of AIDS long before, and some since, the chance to survive with complex medications existed.

It is such a blur that I do not wish to single any one out.

Nearly six years ago, a blogger friend in California reminded me of something I do not mention much about my family, and then it’s usually “someone else in whose footsteps I was following”. I always respected my brother’s own, non-blog, ways of carrying himself in public.

Let’s just say there was this guy I write about more than anyone else (me) with an older brother who, like me, is gay and has been living with HIV/AIDS since the 1980s. Both are openly loved and accepted by family, close and extended, and many friends.

When I “came out” to my parents in 1981 it was not a complete surprise when they revealed that my older brother had also come out to them a few years earlier. One of the reasons I had not been in on that, however, was the fact that I – at that time – was test-driving ways of suppressing my homosexuality, to the point where I joined a right-of-Baptist, left-of-Pentecostal church for awhile. The test-drive, as evidenced in my subsequent writings, ended in a high-speed crash into a spiritual wall. My internal emotional injuries were very serious.

After I came out to our parents my brother wrote me a letter (in those days before email and long before Facebook), another letter I wish I had kept. In addition to lending support and understanding, I recall the note offering some wise advice about the difficulties inherent in living out one’s sexual orientation in a gay ‘community’ which, at times, can seem like a very cruel world. (Rufus Wainwright, a favourite, profoundly captures this in his song “Poses”.)

To say that Craig and I became closer, after I had withdrawn from my ‘doth-protest-too-much’ stance against homosexuality, would be an understatement. However, to this day, I regret any actions that separated us during those times. The relationship thankfully evolved to being much more comfortable over the years.

I learned in confidence, in the mid 1980s, that Craig had been infected with HIV – news which Craig later shared with other family members.

With all of that background, I vividly recall having a picnic lunch, a few years later, with my Mom and Dad during a brief vacation I had taken deliberately to disclose my HIV-positive status to them.

This being 1990, my medicine bag only had AZT in it and yet it seemed like the heaviest thing in my back-pack that day. Knowing that I would need to take that capsule before the picnic party had returned to Mom and Dad’s home I now only recall these key moments of the conversation.

 Kenn: “When Craig told you he was HIV-positive the best information he had, at that time, was that I was negative.”

Mom (sighing deeply): “Oh, don’t tell me…”

 

That was in the summer of 1990, a little more than a year after routine blood-work had first shown tell-all “counts” in reverse, certainly abnormal, proportions. (Those blood samples, from the spring of 1989, were later tested specifically for HIV and were found to be positive.)

That picnic seems like a lifetime ago. My parents and siblings gradually integrated this overwhelming information and were very accepting as I shared my story publicly, even via television and newspaper media. (One magazine article, originally meant as a simple tribute to my parents’ longstanding involvement in their community, included the traumatic events when my mother barely survived an attack of necrotising fasciitis – ‘flesh-eating disease’ – and how my father suffered a major heart attack as Mom was in the midst of her recuperation at home following more than two months of critical care hospitalization.)

In layer-upon-layer of irony Craig fell in April of 2007 and, tragically, hit his head, suffering irreversible brain damage.  He died a few weeks later just days before what would have been his fifty-second birthday.  Mourners shook our heads as we thought about Craig having survived twenty or more years of HIV/AIDS, quintuple bypass surgery just a year before, only to have a freak fall end his life so horribly.

I still carry Craig with me and, while we shared an AIDS diagnosis as well as our sexual orientation, he was definitely his own man and I miss him as much today as any other.

Toronto AIDS Memorial, 519 Church Street Community Centre


With one eye on the wider world, marking thirty years of AIDS (and hopes that we may be seeing the beginning of the end), my other eye is on memories of friends lost here in Toronto (and hopes that many more may yet survive).

Ambulance chasers aside, World AIDS Day provides an important focus


By “ambulance chasers” I mean media who wish they could report on the illness, the meds, a cure and some drama all in about 52 seconds.  And they try.

This year, rather than run to the annual UNAIDS report on HIV prevalence (good news and bad news as usual), I invested some emotional energy in assembling the stories posted here earlier today.  I’m definitely going to repeat the exercise and maybe, if I ask earlier, I’ll get a greater response.  Not that I’m disappointed, far from it.  Frankly, with most submissions arriving within the last 48 hours (hardly a surprise), it was all I could do to get them out by a decent hour this morning.

After a brief nap, and an even shorter appointment with my dermatologist, I walked over to the AIDS Memorial for some pictures – touchstones, really, of seeing another World AIDS Day in.  I hope I never take years for granted.

A very light snow-rain mix gave a tear-like sheen to some of the photos.  I wandered through again briefly at dusk as hundreds of red lights gave life to an AIDS awareness ribbon at the front of the park.

Earlier I got in a little closer to the names on the monument than I usually do in photos.  It was beautiful to see some fresh flowers, some not so fresh and I was momentarily overcome as, with the day’s “work” complete, I again saw how wide a swath the illness has cut through my circles of friends.  The hundreds and hundreds of names on the plaques from the early-to- mid-nineties here  zoomed my emotional focus out from the very painful, personal losses I have experienced to memories of how doctor’s visits, hospital stays, wakes and funerals overlapped each other at a dizzying pace sometimes.  A deep breath in and I was filled with the satisfaction, with raw emotion certainly, of the survivor that I am (among many), mixed with the profound loss of memories treasured and memories that would now not come into being.

I’m really tired.  Perhaps I’ll mix in some more reflections in this space tomorrow.

Specifically (what would seem like too much for such a day as this, but only added greatness to it) – wrapping up with a small, intimate number of people a short journey together through a bereavement group.

For now, though, more of today’s pictures.

Celebs with $900 sunglasses and Mama’s medicine chest in their undies can be silent today if they want, not me!


I’m all for vaccuous celebrities shutting their yaps today, especially as a fundraiser, but if I don’t tweet or “poke” or “like” it won’t be because I’ve gone silent for World AIDS Day. How many years passed before those in power, like Reagan for example, even mentioned AIDS? And Canada continues to sell out on pacts made for cheap meds in poor countries. Don’t be silent without at least listening!