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Safer representations Personal reactions to having Aids are unpredictable. An Aids diagnosis may lead to an immediate sense of relief that things are out in the open, named and therefore resistable, or to an equally immediate sense of stark, paralysing terror. From somewhere between the two a close friend wrote to me: "Overall, I have good days and bad days, mentally. . . it's like a nightmare, I'm mostly anguished by a sense of complete unbelievability. I keep wanting to wake up and it's June again and none of this has happened - because 'of course' only nightmares are like this." Edmund White has described how, after taking the HIV antibody test with his boyfriend, he was told he was "positive" and his boyfriend "negative": "We then went off for a romantic trip to Vienna which had already been planned. I just wept the whole time. I didn't want him to go through it all, felt I was being irrational, would get up, go to the bathroom, cry and then come back. Finally he realised what was happening and was sweet and reassuring. . . Every gay couple I know is going through something like this. I know we're not alone in this kind of suffering."1 White, however, is unusual in so far as he has chosen to go "public", unlike any other gay celebrity whose reputation extends beyond the territory of gay culture. This is not to imply that anyone should necessarily "come out" as antibody-positive. It is obviously a complex and extremely difficult personal decision, and an attack on the late Michel Foucault in the New York Native for not having "come out" with Aids before he died was as insensitive to the situation of all other people with Aids as it was morally indefensible in relation to Foucault. The vast majority of gay people with Aids have no hope, however, of penetrating the thick carapace established throughout the mass media in the form of the agenda set for what people with Aids are like 122 7 SAFER REPRESENTATIONS - who they are, where they come from, how they live, and what they think and feel. The fetishising of monogamy as the "answer" to Aids ensures the representational obliteration of lives which do not accept the terms of the host cultures which silence them. In this respect a discourse of punitive fidelity has been imposed in the name of monogamy on those whose sexuality eludes the restrictive model of marriage as a sacrament, binding on individuals regardless of all ethical, psychic, social or sexual factors. This discourse of punitive fidelity constructs three pictures of people with Aids. On the one hand we hear repeatedly of "Aids victims" who have been abandoned by their families, but more especially by gay friends and lovers. Whilst it would be pointless to pretend that this has never happened, it nonetheless remains intensely significant that one of the only ways in which we are invited to think of the situation of gay people with Aids is as victims of one another, or of their own communities. Thus attention is deflected away from the real rejection on the part of governments, hospitals, welfare organisations, as well as the mass media. Secondly, we are presented with the figure of the "irresponsible" gay man, stalking out into the night to put other men at risk. These are the gay men who allegedly "refuse" the warnings so kindly offered by the press and on television, and who are unwilling to "change their ways". Lastly, we are offered the whispered voices of broken men, disclosed in lonely bedsits and hospital isolation wards, hoarsely and desperately repeating the "need" for monogamy, in tones of deep regret and not infrequently of self-recrimination and blame. These constitute the saddest spectacle, men who have been recruited to accept the status of the "guilty victim". Their exploitation is all the more unpleasant since they are invariably used in place of the majority of unapologetic and affirmatively identified people with Aids who so courageously reject the imagery of hopelessness. These are the figures who mediate Aids to the rest of the population, the motifs which represent the syndrome and supposedly reflect its "truth" in the public places of the mass communications industry. However, as Stuart Hall argues, "representation is a very different notion from that of reflection. It implies the active work of selectingand presenting, of structuring and shaping: not merely the transmitting of already-existingmeaning, but the more active labour of...


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MARC Record
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