When Tengrain told me about the Blog against Theocracy blogswarm, I thought that I would write about Purity Balls, or maybe the religious right’s attack against the HPV vaccine, or perhaps the different food prohibitions that each organized religion has adopted, but then a thought pushed itself to the front of my head. My reasons for fighting against those who want to impose a theocracy on this country are deeply personal. The stifling of dissent, the desire to control others offends me, but it is the use of shame as a tool to demonize those who are different that has personally touched me. Shame is a very powerful and effective tool of religion, and, as I have learned, it can kill.
I was raised in a catholic family. My grandmother was fairly devout, and my mother, aunt and one of my uncles go to church every Saturday. My other uncle? He wasn’t outwardly religious and certainly didn’t go to church regularly, but the church had somewhat of a hold over him. He was bright, creative, spoke four languages and was very handsome, but it’s his sense of humor that I remember most. No one could make you laugh like he could. He never married and there were whispers, but no one said anything out loud. Until he got that cough he couldn’t shake and then, oddly, was diagnosed with TB at a time when TB seemed like a relic of the past.
You know where this is going, so I’ll make it quick. The TB was an opportunistic infection that attacked people with HIV. No one knew that at the time, because the medical community only recognized it as an opportunistic infection months after my uncle’s cough developed. As he was getting treatment for the TB, everyone tried to come up with excuses for how this formerly very healthy man was exposed to it. I made him milkshakes every day to help him gain some weight, but it didn’t help. After a few months, his breathing had become more labored and, eventually, he entered the hospital. It was then, after he was immediately put into an isolated area of the ICU, that we were told that he had AIDS. This was at a time when AIDS was something that only happened to IV drug abusers or gay men living in the Castro or Greenwich Village.
My uncle’s best friend explained to me what was going on. You see, my uncle realized in the days before he entered the hospital that something other than the TB was effecting him. That something else was PCP, an extremely virulent form of pneumonia. People who get PCP and are not immediately treated can die in days, sometimes less than a day. Yet he waited. He waited until just long enough until he knew that it couldn’t be treated. Why? Because he knew that if he got treatment and was cured of the PCP, that he would get another opportunistic treatment, followed by treatment, etc., and, eventually, people would know that he had AIDS, and then, of course, they would realize that he was gay. So he opted not to treat the PCP until it was too late because he didn’t want to shame our family. When we were told the diagnosis and everyone made it clear that they didn’t care and they just wanted him to get better, he wanted to fight back. He talked about leaving the hospital and having everyone go to a local restaurant we liked. Small dreams. But it never happened. He died within the week.
When I hear those who call themselves religious condemn those who don’t embrace their sense of morality, or who attack women who are sexually active or gays and lesbians, I get very angry. I can’t discuss the topic rationally, and I refuse to show the speaker and/or his or her followers any respect. It’s not because I think that all religious people are stupid or evil. It just that I know that the constant stream of condemnation has real world consequences, even for those who do not follow the speaker or believe the message. I know the heavy price that may be paid when self-proclaimed theocrats point their fingers at others and declare them to be shameful.
My uncle died 20 years ago this June. He was only 43 years old. I miss him.