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Sex, diversity and disease In January, 1986, I lost a friend to Aids. I weigh these words carefully, as I weigh my sense of loss, and my motives for writing this book. My died from one of the many opportunistic infections to which the body is prey when its defensive immune system has been extensively damaged. As the writer Iris Murdoch, whom he much admired, has observed: "The careful responsible skilful use of words is our highest instrument of thought and one of our highest modes of being: an idea which might seem obvious but is not now by any means universally accepted."1 Bruno died in France, in hospital, with his father who had looked after him in his last few weeks of life. He had not contacted anyone from his old circle of close gay friends in England. His funeral took place in an ancient Norman church on the outskirts of London. No mention was made of Aids. Bruno had died, bravely, of an unspecified disease. In the congregation of some forty people there were two other gay men besides myself, both of whom had been his lover. They had been far closer to Bruno than anyone else present, except his parents. Yet their grief had to be contained within the confines of manly acceptability. The irony of the difference between the suffocating life of the suburbs where we found ourselves, and our knowledge of the world in which Bruno had actually lived, as a magnificently affirmative and lifeenhancing gay man, was all but unbearable. After the funeral we all retired to his parents' home, a group of relativesand old friends. It was evident that whilst his mother and father had been able, in private, to accept Bruno's sexual identity, they could not begin to handle the enormity, as they saw it,of Aids. They were thus unable to share his death either with their relatives or nearest friends. Least of all could they share their grief with their next-doorneighbours . They were afraid. Not of a virus, but of a scandal more terrible even than the fact of homosexuality. They had been condemned to silence, to euphemism, to the shame of guilt by association, in this the mostdevastating moment of their lives as parents. I was, of course, deeply moved and shaken by their plight, and decided there and then that I would write a book on the subject of Aids. Not a medical book, but one which would try to make some I 7 POLICING DESIRE kind of sense of what had been done to these people. My friend was not called Bruno. His father asked me not to use his real name. And so the anonymity is complete. The garrulous babble of commentary on Aids constructs yet another "victim". It is this babblewhich is my subject matter, the cacophony of voices which sounds through every institution of our society on the subject of Aids - the voices of doctors, priests, teachers, politicians, newsreaders, journalists, lawyers, feminists, nurses, firemen, children, actors and, out on the very fringes of social audibility, the voices of people with Aids (PWAs)themselves. Four months after Bruno's death the Centers for Disease Control in the United States announced that 20,000 Americans had been diagnosed with Aids. Of these, nearly 11,000 were already dead. In Britain, as I write, there have been approximately 900 cases, of whom, as elsewhere, more than half have died. No ordinary calculus of grief can measure the worldwide map of tragedy and loss and anger on the part of those directly touched by the catastrophe. Yet this catastrophe is unique, in that it has been systematically denied the status of either tragedy or natural disaster for the vast majority of those it most immediately affects. We are all victimised by the discourse of "victims" which dominates the entire social profile of Aids, a discourse characterised by an initial and enormously significant reversal whereby, as Jeffrey Weeks has pointed out, most people with Aids are themselves blamed for the illness.2 It is a commonplace of medical history that every epidemic proceeds from an initially vulnerable community. The HIV virus has manifested itself in three constituencies which are already feared and marginalised in the West blacks , intravenous drug-users, and gay men. The presence of Aids in these groups is generally perceived not as accidental but as a symbolic extension of some imagined inner essence of being, manifesting itself as disease. Further, in different ways...


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MARC Record
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