A new AIDS documentary, United in Anger, traces the history of the AIDS Coalition from its beginnings in 1987 to the present. It It highlights how the disease was misrepresented and untreated, and how abandoned people with AIDS felt. It also highlight Generation X and AIDS, as Gen-Xers were coming of age and entering adolescence and adulthood when the disease began to spread.
Reading about this made me remember an old friend of mine that I have not seen in at least 20 years. I’ll call her Lynette, but that was not her real name.
I met Lynette when we were both in our early 20s. She was the absolute picture of innocence. She was about 5 feet tall and weighed about 95 pounds. She had a round, cherubic face and a faintly sweet and apologetic voice. We spent a fair amount of time together doing mission work on another continent as well as at the City Rescue Mission here in Oklahoma City. Lynette was one of the most loving people I have ever known.
She had been the victim of statutory rape as a teenager. Her perpetrator was a member of the clergy; someone she had deeply admired. The grief and sorrow over the loss of her innocence; her shame, regrets and ultimate rejection by friends and family, morphed into rampant promiscuity.
She slept with almost anyone.
Promiscuity in the Age of AIDS
This was so not a good idea since it was 1987 and we were at the height of the AIDS epidemic. She bragged about not using protection the way some people brag about Russian Roulette.
I really thought she wanted to die.
Interestingly, Lynette became a pioneer in AIDS ministry in Oklahoma City. She had many gay friends, many of whom suffered with the disease. She visited them in the hospital every day. She held their hands, kissed their cheeks and loved them. She never wore gloves or masks, and she was with a few patients when they died. She even helped loved ones through the grieving process.
I could not fully appreciate any of this back in the 1980s, when most of us were scared to be anywhere near someone who had AIDS. I also struggled to reconcile her promiscuity with her Christ-likeness. Gratefully, the paradigm in which she operated became less and less mysterious to me as I grew older. In knowing her I more fully understood characteristics of God. I understood that our frailties did not negate our strengths.
It would take many, many more years before I came to understand and accept these words of Christ:
“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Generation X and AIDS
AIDS is always listed among the major events that shaped Generation X. Gen Xers came of age with the notion that sex could kill them. Once the epidemic subsided, they expressed regrets over wild oats they didn’t sow. Hopefully, these feelings are short-lived, and we’re free to focus on something else much more important like the call for an AIDS-free generation.