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And the Band Played On…


When I was in junior high and high school, my hairdresser was a flaming queen of a man named Rick.  It was the 80s, so he can be forgiven for the bright red jumpsuit and matching cowboy boots ensemble, but for a gay man who lived in West Virginia, he was awfully brave to go riding about town in his convertible corvette and his flamboyant outfit of the day — his be who you are and the hell with who doesn’t like it attitude was infectious.  And just what this shy, lacking in self-confidence girl needed. 

I adored him.  And had the hairstyles to prove it:  the Dorothy Hamel, the flipped back bangs that went on forever, later the shaved out side of my hair over one ear a la Flock of Seagulls, the curly perms, the long straight ironed hair, the big ass late-80s bangs, you name it.

For every academic award that I won, there was a fab new hairstyle for the newspaper photo.  Rick was there for every heartbreak, every dance for which I didn’t have a date, every single achievement and loss.  For the prom my junior year when I stayed home because no one asked me while everyone else had dates, Rick sent me flowers with a note to ease my broken heart.  My senior year, when I got asked to three proms, it was big, big celebration hair and a bottle of sparkling cider to sip while he teased and sprayed.  His partners changed off and on, but Rick never did, and I loved him for too many reasons to detail in a single post here. 

Rick died of AIDS in 1988 while I was away in college.  Part of my heart has been broken ever since.

Part of my funk yesterday was that it was the 25th anniversary of the discovery of AIDS.  The fact that it has been 25 years and that we are still without a cure — despite having great advances in medicine that makes the disease much, much more livable for so many — was just weighing on me yesterday.  NPR had a series of interviews yesterday with caregivers who were on the front lines of the battle in San Francisco when the disease first emerged. 

I heard the entire thing while I was out running errands yesterday, and at one point had to just sit in my car and sob a little as a doctor talked about how lucky he had been to be able to truly live up to his potential as a medical caregiver, to help those people that he was treating to die with some dignity, and another doctor involved talked about how a young man of about 19 years died without his father — a local police chief — ever knowing that he was gay, because the father had told him that he would kill him if he ever found out.  That this boy had to die with that on his mind…just gut-wrenching stuff.

The NPR story tracked what I had previously read and seen in And the Band Played On…if you haven’t seen it, it’s an amazing chronicle of the discovery of AIDS in the US, the bureaucratic infighting, the personal losses.  And it is Ian McKellen at his very best, and that is really saying something considering his depth of acting talent.  If you’ve never lost someone close to you to the AIDS virus, this mini-series comes as close as anything I’ve seen or felt. 

Right now in the United States Senate, lawmakers are debating an amendment to the US Constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman.  It is a law that the GOP knows full well has no chance whatsoever of passing.  We’ve been told that the President really doesn’t give a shit about it — that for him, this amendment is all about politics and pandering to the anti-gay faction in the base — stoking hate and fear instead of compassion.  How Christian, and I mean that in the most sarcastic way I possibly can.  Meanwhile, the nation is going to hell in a handbasket and people are still dying of AIDS here in America and around the world.

What in the hell is going on?  Honestly, I can think of a bazillion problems that are more important than this right now:  Medicare-D and the cost of prescriptions and medical care for seniors on a fixed income who have to choose between eating or their medicine; the mess in Iraq and Afghanistan; the cost of gas; the cost of every other utility; rising interest rates; rising credit card rates; real homeland security and not using it as a political cash cow; and it goes on and on.

The nation deserves real work from its legislators right now — not just a change of subject from all of its many failures. 

(This photo is B.D. Wong in And the Band Played On.)

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com