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I Had AIDS Before It Was Cool

Look, I had AIDS before it was the happeningest, hippest virus on the planet. This means before the newsmagazine covers; before the red-ribbon couture; before the black-tie benefits with Madonna; before the pop-rock-stars-for-AIDS CD compilations; before the slick black-and-white full-page advertisements in glossy fashion mags starring twentysomething AIDS victims; before Keith Haring and Greg Louganis; before Benetton; before they designed it in all the hip, modern typestyles; and before it was a cool cause on college campuses. I was a pioneer, but I don't get any credit for it. And that pisses me off!

When I got the disease it was actually difficult to get. I not only had to go abroad, but I had to have sex with animals. A lot of animals. Now, it's about as hard to find the HIV as it is to find a Smashing Pumpkins album. There's no challenge anymore. Have sex with your neighbor, have sex with someone you meet at a bar, go to a seedy dentist, and chances are you'll sooner rather than later contract AIDS. It's no feat. The kids today don't have to work for it, not like I did.

And when I got the disease there was no support network, no marches, no quilts, no research, no nothing. I was leaping into an abyss. Now, if you get AIDS you're guaranteed at least a spot on the AIDS quilt, maybe a candle in some shimmering memorial somewhere, or an ad campaign or magazine feature about you, or maybe even a private luncheon with somebody like Ethan Hawke, who might be studying you to portray an AIDS victim in an upcoming hit movie. If you get AIDS now you can write your own ticket. You're a martyr. You're a real angel in America. Not when I got it. AIDS meant only two things when I came down with it: premature coolness and premature death.

All the hype has compromised the integrity of AIDS. Now, in addition to the agonies of the disease itself, I have to suffer by being lumped in with the rest of the mindless bandwagon-hoppers who took the disease on after they knew it was a sure thing. Who knows how many dorks have contracted the disease in a pathetic attempt to attain hipness? The question makes me shudder. I assure you, I am not one of those dorks. I had AIDS before it was cool.

Now Nike attaches "Just Do It" to AIDS. Now, a few more people buy shoes, and a few more people see the disease as something cool to have. That's exactly the kind of publicity I don't need. I will not be out-cooled. What I need is to catch an even trendier disease well before it becomes trendy. Maybe I'll bring polio back. Or else I'll spend some time in the biology lab creating a new disease, a new plague more devastating, more terrifying, more mysterious and, most of all, more cool than AIDS.

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