Last week I spent four days in Washington at the US Conference on AIDS. I’ve attended single-day conferences and meetings in the AIDS community over the years. But the last time I attended a multi-day conference was also in Washington, DC. It was an advocacy conference where we were lobbying for the authorization of the first Ryan White Care Act, now 25 years old (and in danger of being defunded, but that’s another story).
The theme of the event was “The Numbers Don’t Lie: It’s Time to End Disparities”. We heard a lot about how the South represents 1/3 of the population of the US, but 50% of those living with HIV or AIDS. We witnessed a powerful #TransLivesMatter demonstration during lunch on Friday. We heard from experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and several members of Congress, including Rep. Maxine Waters. We heard from experts on the front lines of direct care, housing, HIV decriminalization, treatment access, racial and gender bias and much, much more.
They were long, intense days for the 3,000 people attending. The knowledge base was formidable, to put it mildly. But there was still time for laughter and hugs and a martini or two.
I was, as usual, unprepared for the emotions I felt. As I said, my last large AIDS conference was 25 years ago, and I couldn’t help but flash back to where we were then and where we are now. Where are we going? How will we get there? We heard a great many answers. But until the last event of the last day, no one asked or answered “Why?”
We came together on Sunday for fried chicken and biscuits, and music that demanded you get up and sing along. A good gospel brunch cannot be complete without charismatic ministers and we had several. They lifted us up after four days of often depressing statistics and stories of injustice and bigotry. We needed it. I needed it. And I didn’t realize how much until one minister said something that raised goose bumps all over my body:
For years I’ve said “This (writing) is not what I thought I’d be doing at this age.” I’ve said the same thing about my re-involvement in the AIDS community. Why am I doing this, any of this?
“Sometimes we choose our calling. And sometimes our calling chooses us.”
I need to stop having this discussion with myself. It doesn’t matter why because it wasn’t really my idea to do any of this. My friend Delle believed I could write a book. I sure as hell didn’t. But I was determined to keep my promise to her. I would’ve never considered doing it otherwise.
My desire to write a book about other straight women like me in the AIDS community has struck a nerve (in a good way). The response I received at the conference was validating and humbling. And now I know it doesn’t matter where I got the nerve to even think about doing this.
During a discussion about the book someone said “This is why you’re here.” I thought they meant it literally: the book was the reason I was at the conference, and that’s not inaccurate. But after hearing that minister, I now feel it on a deeper level.
Had I not promised Delle I’d write a book, had I not turned the book into a series, had I not written one of them about losing friends to AIDS, had that book not pushed me back into the AIDS community after almost 20 years away, I would not be starting on this very intimidating project. This is where it all comes together.
Because, sometimes you choose your calling. And sometimes your calling chooses you.