This past Sunday was National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day and The Fenway Institute’s Sean Cahill, PhD, who co-authored the policy brief “Strategies to Improve the Health of Older Adults Living With HIV,” wrote a piece for WBUR’s Cognoscenti to mark the occasion:
The Museum of Modern Art recently hosted a special 25th anniversary screening of the film “Madonna: Truth or Dare,” which documented Madge’s 1990 blockbuster Blond Ambition World Tour. The film was a sensation not just because it peeked into the rarefied world of a global superstar — long before social media and reality TV made such voyeurism humdrum — but also for its portrayal of her dancers, a troupe of seven young men, six of whom were gay. The gay dancers’ confident embrace of their sexuality, their exquisite talent and charisma, and their physical beauty captivated and empowered a generation of young gay men struggling with self-acceptance in the midst of AIDS hysteria to come out and be proud.
Despite its title, though, the film didn’t reveal the whole truth of the dancers’ lives. Two of them, Salim “Slam” Gauwloos and Carlton Wilborn, were hiding the fact that they were HIV positive. Both have since said that they were too steeped in denial, shame and fear of stigma to share their status at the time.
Gauwloos was diagnosed with HIV in 1987, but paralyzed with shame, he did not seek treatment until 10 years later, when he was hospitalized with pneumocystis pneumonia. Now 47, he did not publicly reveal his status until the filming of “Strike A Pose” a new documentary that catches up with six of the seven dancers to examine their post-“Truth or Dare” lives (dancer Gabriel Trupin died of AIDS in 1995).
Thanks to improvements in treatment and care, living with HIV in the U.S. are, like Wilborn, age 50 or older. That people with HIV and AIDS are living longer is certainly heartening. But as people with HIV age, they face unique and complex risks that health care providers must become better prepared to address.
Want to receive email updates about what’s happening at Fenway Health and The Fenway Institute? Sign up here.