“I warned you, Louis. Names are important. Call an animal ‘Little Sheba’ and you can’t expect it to stick around.” (Kushner 20).
As researchers raced to isolate the AIDS virus in the 1980s, the media’s portrayal of the issue helped integrate a new collection of keywords into common speech. While Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) and Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS) were pertinent to the discussion of HIV/AIDS, terms such as “Gay-Related Immunodeficiency (GRID),” “disease,” “infection,” “victim,” and “patient” also circulated easily and carried negative connotations. The complex nature and symptomatology of HIV/AIDS, and the language used to describe them, increased the stigma and fear of persons with AIDS. Accordingly, the label of being HIV-positive could shake the foundation of one’s identity. As Alan Whiteside, Governing Councilmember of the International AIDS Society and author of HIV/AIDS: A Very Short Introduction describes, “people infected with HIV remain so [labeled] for the rest of their lives; the only way they leave the pool of HIV infections is to [die.”] Thus, once diagnosed, a person is forever categorized by the medical world as HIV-positive. Similarly, those living with HIV/AIDS were addressed with insensitive labels, and underwent a social transformation.
The resulting altered identities are exemplified through the main characters of both Susan Sontag’s short story “The Way We Live Now” and Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. While Sontag’s story plays upon the erasure of identity of an HIV-positive man, the affected character in Kushner’s play is the ex-lover of an HIV-positive man. These unique pieces offer valuable insight into the life of stigmatized “AIDS victims” and the ones dearest to them
Mallory Kowal, ’11 Frankfort, IL
Majors: English, Psychology
Sponsor: Michelle Mouton