When I last saw my physician, I left his office buoyed by a quiet feeling of mild reassurance. Unfortunately, that feeling was delicately placed over a massive, deafening anxiety that assured me I was dying from a large assortment of diseases living inside my penis.
I entered the doctor's office thinking, AIDS! GONORRHEA! EPIDIDYMITIS! STERILITY! COCK SPORES!! By the time I left, I was slightly cooled down, and was thinking only, STERILITY? HEART DISEASE? AIDS!! Now, with all of my test results back, I am officially clean inside and out, with regards to matters of the penis. It's almost disappointing, if only because I spent a great deal of time convinced of my various illnesses and behaved accordingly. Medicine has always been subordinate to superstition in my self-diagnoses.
Here's the thing about AIDS: I will say, without a doubt, that I have no interest in contracting the disease. (so please cool it with cold calls and direct mail "FREE AIDS" coupons.) However, I have fantasized about it in my most self-piteous moments. [disclaimer: i am fully aware AIDS is a serious disease, lest anyone think i take it lightly. i've friends who died from it, and others upon whom i've wished it.] While I was attending college during the early nineties, I became convinced that Iíd contracted AIDS; just as every semi-sexually active person in my generation was sure AIDS would strike each one of us dead just for brushing up against a woman at a party or using a Port Authority toilet. AIDS was the serial killer in an epic slasher film that found all young, unmarried people stumbling through the woods shrieking, snagging their tanktops on sharp dead branches as they went.
(as a kid i was fairly obsessed with ghoulish rubber cinema creatures and cheap slasher films. The serial killer on-the-loose films gripped me with fear, but i always felt comforted by the specificity of the killerís victims. to ensure my personal safety, i used to maintain a running list of potential victim categories from which i had immunity: bride-to-be; babysitter; horny camp counselor; prom queen nominee; grave robber; naturalist. the media, however, [falsely] portrayed AIDS as the all-encompassing serial killer, attacking anyone that harbored a lascivious thought, or donated some plasma. i could no longer keep myself off my own "potential victims" list, which was an extremely unsettling feeling for i had, unfortunately, donated plasma.)
At one point, I was so positive AIDS had claimed me that I steadfastly refused to even go in for testing, as I was already sure I knew the tragic results. I even shook off 20 pounds of pure fear, and the sight of my sharp bones only reinforced my belief that I was dirty and I was dying. I could think of nothing else. Midway through studying Russian writers, I would just curl up into a ball and weep, dead at 21.
During these murky spells, the weirdest delusion would creep through to the surface. After running through a mental dress rehearsal in which I saw myself breaking the news to my parents, professors, religious leaders, and FOUR sexual partners Ė three were virgins before we had sex Ė and then dismissing the notion of suicide because that would only curtail my humiliating public suffering, I actually started to fantasize about the celebrity and fame that would assuredly accompany my brand new AIDS.
MTV was running six AIDS news specials an hour, each with a new clear-skinned college student recounting his or her horrible poz story. (after taping, they were probably escorted from the 1515 Broadway studios with an "I Want My AZT" baseball cap and a sincere hug from Randy of the Redwoods.) These kids always provided the kind of amazing, implausible stories that fueled an entire generationís sexual paranoia. The Girl Who Only Made Love Once, With A Man She Met On A Cross-Continental Flight. The Boy Who Slipped In Some AIDS On The Soccer Field, As He Was Scoring The Winning Goal. The Coed Who Accidentally Drank A Glass Of AIDS At Her First College Keg Party. The Twins Who Gave Each Other Aids From Sharing An Umbrella In Africa. The Tween Who Contracted AIDS From Too Much Zaxxon. The Boy Who Cried AIDS And Then Was Bitten By A Wolf...WITH AIDS.
They were beautiful kids, and we fell in love with them just as surely as we feared them Ė R.I.P. Pedro from MTVís "Real World: San Francisco." I pictured myself as one of those ruined angels, blankly explaining to Tabitha Soren that I should have listened when my friends told me that girl from speech club was a skank. I had no way of substantiating the rumors with a signed confession or DNA samples, but she did wear a front-latch bra and, really, what kind of girl wears those? And, yes, even though we had protected sex and it was over very quickly, I could have contracted full-blown AIDS from letting her wear my Violent Femmes t-shirt to bed and then neglecting to wash it before wearing it again.
In my mind, I looked wonderful on television Ė a teenager who had everything now holding back tears in front of the entire country, contemplating his quick mortality, the hope scooped out of him like melon. It wasn't worth it, but it was.
But Magic Johnson was the canvas for the quintessential AIDS fantasy. After Magic was diagnosed with HIV, there was a brief moment of stunned silence followed by a hundred million parades, a book contract, PSA work, celebrity benefits, talk show appearances, and a veritable shower of AIDS awareness ribbons falling around his feet. It's strange and tragic, but it also started a second public celebrity career for him, just as he was approaching the age when retirement from professional basketball was more or less inevitable anyway. His diagnosis was very unfortunate, but the timing was pretty good.
So, in my spells of pronounced martyrdom, I would think, Maybe, as a middle-class heterosexual with no history of substance abuse, the worldwide AIDS activism community will embrace me (gingerly). I'll be grasping hands with Magic Johnson and that one other guy who admitted he has AIDS, at the Country & Western Grammyís. I'll be seated at the dais for $500-a-plate AIDS charity dinners. Advertisers will put me in their SuperBowl commercials, and remove my sarcoma with CGI to show the world how bright its future can be with the right investment bank. Iíll be waving from the prow of the "AIDS is Everywhere" float in the Macy*s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Sharon Stone will return my calls.
More insane than believing a nineteen year-old heterosexual male with zero history of needle abuse or sex with prostitutes (or even unpaid sex partner, really) is in a serious risk group for AIDS, was believing Iíd be given the Magic treatment the moment my diagnosis went public. The unexpected perquisites associated with Magic Johnsonís HIV+ diagnosis are perfectly in line with the normal benefits of celebrity. In fact, they are no different, except the chocolate ganache at the charity dinners is just a little more bittersweet.
Thatís Magic. We donít get to live as well as Magic, even in Magicís darkest hour. As I see it, the only benefit most people see from AIDS is this: if you have AIDS and ask a friend for a sip of his drink, he will probably let you finish the whole drink yourself. So, if you play your cards right, you might get some free Pepsi. And, as a friend pointed out, youíll probably get a lot more hugs than you were accustomed to, and a lot fewer kisses.
To most people who donít suffer from AIDS and havenít really experienced being around it, hugging an AIDS victim might be their absolute most courageous moment. They will hug you hard and tight, careful to keep their heads turned and their breathing orifices pointed away from yours, and when they release you, if you look very quickly, you will see a quick glimmer in their eyes. That glimmer is not an unspoken blessing of hope, nor is it unconditional love. It is merely a gesture that says, "I did it!!" Itís easy to spot recently-converted AIDS huggers, because theyíre always the ones who stare daggers at you, then roll their eyes in the direction of the AIDS sufferer, silently demanding you hug them. "Donít be so selfish!" their eyes will insist. "He needs this now, and you canít catch AIDS from hugging. Just donít drink from his straw."