I moved to San Francisco for the first time in 1987. I had no idea when I left Minnesota that I would be planting myself into a unique and tragic piece of history. I landed in San Francisco in the middle of the AIDS epidemic.
Watching Dallas Buyers Club was like an unpleasant flashback for me. I saw people I cared for get sick. I experienced a taste of American paranoia at it’s worst. It was not quite the way the movie portrayed it, though. The homophobia expressed in the movie was not at all a part of what I viewed in the Bay Area at the time.
We were all paranoid. I recall conversations with colleagues that went like this:
“How do you get HIV?”
A senior counselor in a group home I worked in answered with authority, “If you have a cut in your arm and someone spits in it, you can get it that way.”
“Really?” I considered every last wound I had ever had. Had someone ever sprayed while talking with me?
“And you can maybe get it from toilet seats, so be sure to use covers.”
I was terrified. I had no idea what my risk was. None of us did.
As much as Dallas Buyers Club recounts a piece of history in a certain part of the South, in San Francisco, we were much less likely to pass judgment about sexuality. It was a terrifying time and we were all very naive. But we all seemed to be scared together.