HBM114: Envisioning AIDS

In a warm and dark room in the winter of 1987, people lay on the ground with their eyes closed.  A facilitator from the Shanti Project guides those assembled on an intimate visualization through the process of dying from AIDS.  

Content Note:
Visualizations of death and language.

This took place at the Interfaith Conference on AIDS and ARC for Clergy and Caregivers in San Francisco.  The conference hoped to give religious organizations tools to help their dying congregants. The conference featured speakers representing Catholicism, Judaism, many Protestant denominations, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and New Age religions.  

AIDS was a major issue at the time, with no cure in sight, and many many deaths per year.  And anti-queer rhetoric (see Jerry Fallwell), laws (see Bowers v Hardwick) and attitudes (see Pew poll on political values 1987) were all common.

Around the same time as this conference, the FDA approved a drug called AZT for the treatment of HIV.  It was highly anticipated, but ultimately considered a failure.  More years would pass and many more people would die before the approval of effective anti-retroviral drugs.  And even more years before the first (and possibly second) cases of HIV would be cured.  

News Clips from the 80’s and 90’s regarding HIV and AIDS, which were also known as “HTLV-3” and “ARC” at the time.

But back in that darkened room in 1987, people laid on the ground with their eyes closed for an hour, while they tried to imagine what it would feel like to be covered in lesions...to sit in a doctor’s office when the receptionist refuses to make eye contact...to watch from above as people try to resuscitate their dead bodies...and to observe their own funerals...all in effort to better understand better the questions people with AIDS were likely asking of themselves and their loved ones—a practice that AIDS scholar Lynne Gerber says was common at this time in the new age circles of the Bay Area.

On this episode, Lynne explains some of the context around queerness and medicine and religion and AIDS.  She’s writing a book about these topics, and also making an upcoming podcast series with audio producer Ariana Nedelman.  Ariana provided us with the audio from the visualization practice via the UCSF Archives.

Producer: Jeff Emtman
Editor: Jeff Emtman
Music: The Black Spot | | | Circling Lights

HBM066: What Jacob Heard [EXPLICIT]

Jacob Sutton loved going to church when he was a little boy. He sang in the choir, and when he got older he led Bible studies and helped teach Sunday school classes. Eventually he learned to speak in tongues. Jacob grew up Pentecostal, the oldest son of a deacon. His father used to work with people who believed they were possessed by demons, and would use prayer and Bible readings to cast the wicked spirits out. All of his life, Jacob knew that demons and The Devil were very real, and that they could possess his body, if he allowed them.

Jacob felt deeply connected to his male friends when he was young.  As a teenager, he realized that what he felt was more than friendship. But Jacob’s church was, like most Pentecostal congregations, staunchly against homosexuality. Jacob’s parents, pastor, and peers all talked about homosexuality as if it was a terrible disease that could only be cured by God. For years Jacob tried to hide his attraction to other boys, and became increasingly involved in his church in the hopes that he could just work through ‘the problem’.

Jacob's senior picture.

Jacob at a school dance.

In his freshman year of high school, Jacob was feeling helpless against his gay attractions. Exasperated, he asked aloud for a demon to come into his body. He figured he was already evil, so he might as well “get something out of it”.

A few months later, just as he was about to fall asleep, he heard a voice in his ear. Jacob was frozen in fear. He could not speak. The voice was dark, gravelly, and spoke a language he’d never heard before. Jacob knew in that moment that it was the demon he’d invited into his body.  It left only once he spoke the word “Jesus.” He woke up his father and they prayed together.

"Father God, my son was visited by a demon tonight. 
We need your protection, so that he can go to sleep...
We ask that you give him the rest of the righteous."

 

The next day, Jacob signed up for “spiritual boot camp”. It was a three day retreat for members of the congregation who hoped to make a life change, led by Jacob’s father. For three days, Jacob joined fellow congregants in prayer and worship, hoping this would be the beginning of his healing from gayness. After the weekend, Jacob didn’t feel “cured”, but he did feel like he was closer to becoming the man God intended him to be.

That was 13 years ago. Jacob has since stopped going to church and believing in God and Satan. He eventually came out to his family once and for all, and this time, he was met with open arms. Today he lives in Seattle and studies fashion design. And as of the time of this episode release, Jacob and his boyfriend have been together for almost three years.

ABC Report on Pentecostalism and speaking in tongues.

This episode was produced by Bethany Denton.

Music: Serocell | | | AHEE