Nobody Gets Out of Here Alive

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Gourley and Woodyard started using condoms and made their relationship monogamous. Again, it was with the realization that it was probably too late.

There was no test for AIDS, but Gourley wasn't fooling himself. He had no doubt that he was infected. He hadn't conducted himself any differently from any of the other men who were succumbing to the disease. Woodyard was probably infected, and God only knew how many of his friends and past lovers were as well. Gourley thought about when he might have become infected, recalling his illness after his trip to Aspen in 1980. He didn't blame David -- if it wasn't then, it could have been any one of many other times.

But those concerns seemed of little importance that August when his sister was killed by a drunk driver who plowed head-on into the car she was in. She was only nineteen. For the second time in his life, Gourley had lost someone he loved. It seemed that death was everywhere.

Woodyard had begun the first AIDS support group in the Denver area, holding meetings in their home, calling on his abilities as a minister to help the afflicted realize that they were not alone. Gourley felt the need to reach out in a different way. His writings now concentrated on the disease and its affect on his people.

"It seems that it will be some time yet before the causative agent(s) is found and much longer, perhaps many years, before a 'cure' is available," he wrote in the October 1983 edition of Out Front. "In the meantime, what are we to do to keep from going crazy?

"A first step is to realize that we are not defenseless against AIDS." He argued against those who felt all the money should go to medical research rather than education and self-help programs. "The rationale seems to be that if we just throw enough money at the medical authorities, they will solve the problem for us." He acknowledged that AIDS research was "without a doubt an absolutely necessary component in the overall struggle" and that it had been "very appropriate for us to confront the slow (homophobic) response of federal agencies in allotting monies for AIDS research. The money seems to be flowing a bit more easily today than a year ago, but this has probably been fueled by straight fears that AIDS is crossing over into heterosexual society."

But even if the powers that be were benevolent, not something he expected of the Reagan government, "to leave the task of dealing with AIDS to others would still be a major abdication of responsibility on our part, a move rendering us powerless."

Gays had to look at their own attitudes, at the idea that there was "no need to take responsibility for what you may be doing to your body over the years with unhealthy habits." He knew what kind of reaction that was going to get from the gay community. "Now, before everyone flies off the handle screaming that this business about sexual abstinence and monogamy sounds like homophobic Christian fundamentalist clap trap -- level off!! We need to expand our definition of sexual. We need to continue to be sexual, and I think it is better to be sexual with lots of folks rather than a few. However, take off your strait blinders and begin to explore forms of sexual expression that don't involve the sharing of bodily fluids. Boring, you say, maybe not! ... Touching and cuddling (naked or not) are essential to our well-being. AIDS is not."

Gourley urged his readers to take a hard look at their recreational drug use, to exercise, and to eliminate junk foods "and replace them with healthy diets...I am confident that we can empower ourselves in regard to AIDS. We can heal ourselves. Those of us with AIDS can recover. Those with the early symptoms can reverse them. And those of us at high risk can eliminate or at least greatly reduce that risk."

It was a brave statement. But no one seemed to be recovering from AIDS, no matter how many vegetables they ate or miles they put in on bikes.

In April 1984, the CDC announced that there were now 4,177 cases of AIDS reported in America, 1,807 of them fatal. That same month, Margaret Heckler, secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, made it official: AIDS was caused by a blood-borne virus called HTLV-III, which was later shortened to HIV. The human immuno-deficiency virus.

There was still no test to determine who had been infected, no way of knowing if it was easy to catch or hard -- no one knew if mere exposure to the virus guaranteed infection. Nor could anyone say if some people's immune systems would purge the virus after infections or whether infection would eventually progress to AIDS in every case.

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Steve Jackson