Fear of AIDS Worse Than AIDS

RECEIVED Thu., April 28, 2005

Dear Chronicle,
    While I appreciate Sandy Bartlett's willingness to open dialogue on topics around causes and treatment of AIDS, I am offended by 1) his/her presumed characterization of myself as "Young Mr. Rock" [“Postmarks,” April 22] – a dismissal intended perhaps to paint me as inexperienced and naive – I'm not; 2) his/her misapplication of the term "AIDS denialist.”
    FYI, Sandy, I am 36 years old and have lived through this entire horror from the Eighties to the present. I'm the son of a nurse, grew up reading medical textbooks for pleasure, and capable of weighing facts as I receive them. I have had friends die ... not from PCP or KS or “AIDS diseases,” but from the clear side effects of toxic drugs like AZT and protease inhibitors. I am angry that generations have had their experience of sexuality scarred by clarion calls of sex = HIV = AIDS = death and wolf-cries that everyone is at risk, when only the original “risk groups” remain statistically susceptible. A couple years ago I almost died, literally, due to fear of AIDS. No more. Fear is the mind-killer. The spirit-killer.
    I do not deny that there is something that makes gay men sick under certain conditions – I do not "deny AIDS.” That's a red herring strapped to the back of a straw man. Questioning the orthodox – literally – reasoning behind what "experts" believe to be the cause of a phenomenon is not a denial of the phenomenon.
    I deserve an apology for these two dismissive, condescending, and presumptive characterizations.
    You said: “I seek only to have people, especially HIV-positive people, know as much as possible so they can make the best choices possible. Their lives may depend on it” [“About AIDS,” April 22].
    We seem to be aimed toward the same goal on that point, Sandy.
Michael Rock
   [Sandy Bartlett responds: Given Mike Rock’s letter, yes, I stereotypically cast him as young and should not have. However, at age 59, anything under 40 is young! If “young” is insulting, I apologize; it doesn’t hold that connotation for me. “AIDS denialist” is a general characterization of belief, like conservative or liberal, even if one does not subscribe to every tenet; it is not a condescension. Mr. Rock promotes the views of a well-known and self-touted AIDS denialist, so what else would one likely conclude? I didn’t invent the term and, given Mr. Rock’s own statements, stand by its use. No one claims HIV drugs don’t have toxicity problems. I reaffirm that in talks every day, and my April client education topic was meds-related heart disease. But, correctly done, they work, even if not as well yet as we’d like. Most modern medicines have some level of toxicity. (Denialists still rant about evil AZT, circa 1987. This is 2005.) The key is patients making knowledgeable decisions which work for them, in partnership with their doctors. To claim that it’s actually the medications that are deadly, not AIDS, is irresponsible and an insult to the memory of those, including my closest friends, who died before such drugs even existed. It also demeans the careful choices of millions of HIV-infected people using treatment today. I’m glad we share the estimable goal of having affected people be as educated as possible. Beyond that, perhaps we differ regarding outcomes. I support individuals in whatever informed, thoughtful choices they make, including the decision to forego treatment. But I don’t limit my support only to choices which exclude the HIV drugs.]
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