Response Piece: Irit Chemel – Aids

Her Website: www.disastroushistory.wordpress.com

Article Link: https://disastroushistory.wordpress.com/2017/02/13/disease-and-the-taboos-of-sexuality-syphilis-polio-and-hivaids

The crisis of AIDS began June 5th 1981, when the CDC published its findings on the mysteriously deteriorating conditions of five gay men. This impacted the rest of the disaster, as it became focused upon, and associated with, homosexuality, as well as the ‘taboos’ attached to this sexuality. However, the infection could also be transmitted through non-sexual and heterosexual means as well, highlighting the ‘craziness’ that became public opinion. Due to the ‘taboo’ of homosexuality, AIDS also became a social or cultural ‘taboo’, with Christian and religious connotations judging these individuals unfairly and voicing it as ‘punishment from God’. Both the public and government had almost no system of support for people infected with AIDS, with any response being slow and disorganised, not helping the infected but instead being obstructive or even hurtful. Due to the social and cultural view of AIDS, these infected individuals were extremely stigmatised within society, and they lost their jobs, homes, and medical care because of this. With the sexual ‘taboos’ and cultural stigmatisation involved, crisis management was counter-productive for almost an entire decade in the face of the AIDS crisis.

This crisis experienced numerous discourses of religion and sexuality, as well as delayed response and developments in scientific understanding or discovery. Today, the first scientific theories about AIDS were obviously influenced by societies understanding of sexualities, specifically homosexuality and heterosexual (‘normal behaviour’ – sarcastic). Due to this, researchers pushed all ‘non-homosexual’ cases into the unclassified categories rather than considering cases where women, children, and straight men developed AIDS as pertinent, not officially recognising that anyone can become infected until later. Considered to have only sexual modes of transmission, conservative political powers ignored the crisis as it rapidly spread and worsened, with society ignoring AIDS along with them. These modern governments had the structures of power to provide disaster management for AIDS, just like other epidemics, however, they ignored the quickly growing threat of AIDS due to perceived cultural ‘taboos’ of sexualities. By ignoring the issue, it prevented any large public action as they lacked governmental support, and therefore shaped the disaster into something shaped by paranoia and the ‘taboos’ of sexualities believed ‘deviant’ or ‘not right’. (Which I personally find crazy…)

In response to Irit’sThe Historiography of Disease and The Taboos of Sexuality: Syphilis, Polio, and HIV/AIDS‘, I would like to draw upon the emotional, religious, and governmental response of Pompeii as I believe share similar ideas. Specifically, after the Pompeii disaster, the Roman Emperor and Empire responded quickly by sending retired senators and consuls with the army as a relief effort, moving survivors into new homes (permanently) in geographically close towns or cities. This shows a startlingly contrast when compared to the American government, and truly surprised me. Emotionally, survivors and the population of the Roman Empire believed that the Gods were responsible for the destruction of Pompeii, but it was seen as collateral damage in either an argument between Gods or the Gods were displeased by the Roman Empire. Religiously, due to the emotional beliefs that the Gods caused this disaster, it lead to a supposedly (about) fifty percent increase in religious visitations or prayers and offerings for shrines of the Gods, as the population sought to appease the Gods, or protect themselves from retribution. Overall, with the time periods (79 A.D. Verus 1980’s) differing so largely, I find it startlingly that the Roman Empire could have possibly responded ‘better’ than the AIDS crisis, however, these two disasters differ greatly just based on the fact that one is a natural disaster and another is an epidemic. Personally, I will probably be considering this issue, and question, for a while…

~Amy 🙂


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