I attended Bordowitz’s talk last week. It was incredibly powerful and informative.
While this may seem superficial, one of the first things I noticed about him was how young he is. Actually, I did the math and he is the same age as my parents. This really resonated with me because I tend to think about huge, big movements happening in the past. Because my focus in American Studies is history, I always try to situate events within a historical context. But, when I think about history I tend, rather unfortunately, to think about it as removed from my present. It seemed counterintuitive in a way to actually be learning from the person we were reading about. If anything it brought an immediacy to what he was trying to say and a recognition to the relevancy of his work IN OUR PRESENT.
Bordowitz spoke as part of the Scripps College Humanities Institute. This semester’s theme is “Silence.” It was interesting to think about his talk in relationship to the theme: how have HIV positive communities been silenced and how have they refused to stay silent? The failure of the Reagan administration to even use the term AIDS is silencing in it of itself and it was reflected in a lack of discussion about AIDS in the gay community. Silence, perhaps, is the most damaging weapons because it creates a community where nobody can even talk about the problems.
One of the things I found most surprising about Bordowitz’s talk was his discussion of how people living with AIDS are othered within their own community and how silence surrounding HIV and AIDS perpetuates a community where nobody knows what to do or how to help. The stigma surrounding AIDS within the gay community has meant that people don’t check in with their partners. They don’t check with the people they are having sex with to see where they stand. This often leads to unprotected sex. Act Up brought things that were so fundamentally essential like sex education to these communities.
As Bordowitz noted, the only way to break the silence is to actually break the silence. He commented that coming out as living with HIV was essential to the movement. He is really an inspiration to speak out about the things that are not being spoken about.