First Published in ‘Artwork Magazine’ (1992)
David Paul Jobling is an actor, writer and director who has worked closely with HIV positive people as a theatre worker in the Northern Territory and South Australia. He is the South Australian contributing editor for Lowdown Magazine, and offers poetry readings and talks about HIV/AIDS to interested groups.
Imagine you are a native, a creative artist living in a tribal community that appreciates and respects your art, providing for it on some level or another. You have been summoned to the shaman in your community and have been informed that you have a set period of time left to live without a great deal of pain and discomfort.
Do you go directly to your sacred studio of creation and continue to work on your art? Do you give up your art and attempt to discover a new way of living free from the constraints of creative expression?
Do you lunge forward into the complex realm of tribal bureaucracy and attempt to cut through as much red tape as possible, so that you may be well afforded the community’s gifts to its members who are marked and have little time left or do you throw your hands up in the air and claim, ‘That’s showbiz!’?
It came into our life uninvited
Felt so flushed and hot that night, excited
It took us all by storm
Way out of our norm
Now we’re bitten why cry?
Time to fight it!
As an arts worker I was employed to work with HIV positive people in Darwin for a three month period. The community in Darwin is small but within it there are a number of people living with HIV. When I arrived they were all living in fear of being found out by someone; living in fear of being identified and discriminated against because of their predicament. The media tend to produce phrases like ‘gay plague’ and ‘innocent victims’ and they stick.
One of my jobs in Darwin was to speak with the local print media and politely explain that it is damnable to do this; it is counterproductive for the whole community, because the whole community is ultimately at risk of contracting HIV. It always has been and possibly always will be, unless the whole community is afforded a greater insight into what it means to contract it and what it means to live with it.
Don’t confuse me or make me tense
Cage my life with your ignorance
Please apply some common sense
Support us through this time of arrival
Speaking with a ‘health professional’ I’m informed that it is more than likely to be in my best interests to remain quiet about my ‘health status’ and to continue my existence as if nothing had happened. Of course there are a multitude of adjustments I could make to my lifestyle that would possibly contribute to my state of well-being, but being dishonest and secretive about myself is not one of those adjustments.
I am a marked individual; not a sufferer of a ‘yuppie disease’ or a ‘New-Age Ailment’, but a sufferer of the ‘gay plague’ – the dreaded and much maligned HIV, the virus that keeps on keeping on, the virus that ‘sexual deviants’, ‘innocent victims’ and ‘drug addicts’ get.
Nasty little virus
Blood stream sleaze cell
wants to deconstruct me
make my life hell
‘Oh my gosh,’ says I
my young bod will die
got to make the most
while life is lasting
The personal experience of discovering your ‘positive’ health status is a process gone through by many, many people. We are all warned against talking about it with people who are not infected or affected by the virus. Suggestions that we keep tight lipped about it may have been sound advice a few years ago in the late 1980s; but maybe not, surely in that much silent suffering there is too much stress. Too many times I read something in a newspaper that thumps me fair in the face and makes me grind my teeth. Too often I hear someone saying something that sounds authoritative but lacks credibility.
You’re not amusing you make me tense
I have to laugh through the ignorance
Think I’m daft I’ve got evidence
The rhetoric you use stinks too foul
I’ve read of various people who have died of AIDS, and I’ve seen documentaries about projects related to memorialising those who have died of the diseases one contracts as a result of a deficient immune system. Seldom do I see that so-and-so has been living and coping with HIV for ten years.
Rarely have I read of someone who has the virus and lives a normal life. Certainly in Darwin it was unheard of for someone to stand up on a stage and read revealing poetry about having the virus, being homosexual, being proud of past achievements and eager to experience life in a productive and positive way.
At this point in AIDS/HIV history I believe it is time for all people to embrace the problems of living with HIV. I have seen and performed in plays that depict the story of someone who is dying of AIDS – community and mainstream productions that effectively say, this person has AIDS and they will die.
Okay, by now we probably have that message loud and clear.
I believe it is time to look at the more complex message of a person living with HIV and being entitled to a good quality of life.
Not only in Darwin, but any other place you care to mention, there are people who have no identity of their own, no vehicle through which they can express themselves to the greater community. It is true that there are support groups for people living with HIV, made up mostly of other people who have it, and there are Community Health Services that offer information and counselling for those living with HIV. But there is no culture, no product of expression that creates an insight for other people; no available outlet for people with HIV, or any inlet to the reality of it for people who don’t know much or anything about it. It is my belief that Community Arts has a role to play here, as it always has had through the ages.
We have seen the projects that warn everyone to use a dental dam, a condom, or die; let’s see some of the other stuff now, the more humane and compassionate revelations of people living and being well, although they are part of a great search for a treatment and cure.
Let’s focus on the fact that people should live with a quality of life that does not have them hiding and stressing out because they may be identified and damned for being more vulnerable, less immune. It is long past the time to point the finger and cry ’AIDS Kills!’ ‘His blood is poison!’
The time to attend to the group in our community that is displaced and distracted by the virus is now; it must be addressed. Support people living with HIV. Encourage their creativity, their ability to express clearly what it is to be mortal, because there is a great deal to learn from this dilemma.
In Darwin I learnt that people need an expressive outlet. They need to be creative. They need to be able to process their stresses and joys openly and clearly; otherwise they may as well be dead.
My art is like a child. It grows and changes with time; it reflects the depths of my understanding and experience. It speaks to others and relieves me of the numb pain I feel when I am not creating it. It may guide you through my experience and show you where I have been, what I have felt, as a human being like you.
You can come on the journey with me but you need not leave your chair. You may be challenged as I have been, but you will not need to fear, because as you experience my art you are safe from the ravaging monsters of my life.
Since childhood I have been a creative individual; acting, writing, directing, developing ideas and encouraging individuals and groups to express themselves and produce a readable culture that communicates understanding and belief, abstract as well as plain. Now I am in danger of extinction. Now I am more a mere mortal than most, a fact I must quietly come to terms with. Quietly? Without comment? Soundlessly? How can I, a communicator, be without my mode of expression? I will not be unknown, I will not hide. I will fight for my right to be understood and respected.
I was summoned to my shaman. He told me I had 444 T-cells. He told me I had so-long to live with a greater vulnerability than most. He told me I was not alone, that there were others like me, but when I walked out into the world I saw no indication of that. I saw fear, repression, angst, depression. Before I die I want to see change, otherwise I will have lived and died for nothing.
Chase that rainbow
chase that rainbow
chase it like a man
Chase that rainbow
find your fortune
grab it while you can
For once you’ve chased
that rainbow ‘round
and found your pot of gold
life will bloom with
they’ll all start to unfold
for life is wonderful
But; try to stay sane
as you go on your quest
each refrain can turn better to best
I hope the rainbow you seek
is not to oblique
and you pass your HIV test
David Paul Jobling