The AIDS Crisis through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic

In the Allison Bechdel comic, Dykes to Watch Out For, I found Mo’s level of concern about the AIDS epidemic to be immediately recognizable. Even as recent as a couple years ago, I don’t think I would have been able to emphasize as much with Mo as I feel I can now.

The first set of chapters, “Risky Business” portrays a debate that has become all too common as the pandemic has worsened. In comparison to Lois, who is acting more freely based on her rationalization that she is “low risk” and doesn’t need to worry about it, Mo is quite paranoid about the AIDS epidemic, even telling Lois she should “stop having sex.” For all of us who have experienced a pandemic, a similar debate comes up. When are we being too cavalier? When are we being too paranoid? In such an uncertain situation, especially when we knew very little about how COVID-19 was spread, it was understandable that people didn’t really know what to do. It’s quite interesting to me to see a very similar debate come up within the context of the AIDS epidemic, and I think that points to the awful government response and rampant misinformation throughout both crises.

One of the later chapters, “Modern Love,” does an excellent job at addressing that sense of anxiety even further. Even with the explanation Ginger gave both Lois and Mo about the AIDS epidemic, Mo is still concerned about getting physical with Harriet. However, Harriet mentions that while Mo is right to be concerned, that she should relax a bit. It’s impossible to track all previous activities that may have exposed you to the virus, but Harriet rightly says that there are plenty of low risk ways to show affection for one another, like kissing, if they don’t both feel comfortable about getting more intimate (which they eventually do anyway). I think this exchange takes on a lot of prevalence in the context of the recent pandemic as well. I, for one, was a lot like Mo in that I hardly left my house for a year when the pandemic hit, and the few times I did I was much too paranoid about every interaction, even though I was wearing a mask and being safe.

Due to some of these parallels, I wouldn’t be shocked to hear that some of the narratives and controversies of the COVID-19 pandemic gave some people from the LGBT community who experienced the height of the AIDS crisis a bit of deja vu. The severity of the disease and anxiety around social interaction brings up similar issues in both cases. Even with COVID-19, there were some groups that were “high risk” and some that were “low risk,” just like we saw with the AIDS epidemic. As a result of these parallels, I think it’s clear that as a society we need to make more of an effort to learn from and prepare for these health crises, so that we are better equipped to fight whatever the next one is.

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