A Season of Giving Thanks — For What?
Every November here in the U.S. we celebrate a season of giving thanks. On the fourth Thursday of the month, we gather with family and friends for a festive celebratory meal. The Thanksgiving holiday, originally intended to celebrate a bountiful autumn harvest, has grown into a larger meaning: giving thanks for all of life’s blessings.
But how does one maintain a feeling of gratitude in an age and time that seems determined to beat the gratitude out of us, in a world that often seems to have gone off its axis and tried to throttle joy out of every moment we experience? At Thanksgiving time, especially in 2022, I have to wonder, “Thanks for what?”
We who live with HIV live in a country where many of our fellow citizens seem adamantly determined to negate our very lives. Thirty-seven states continue to criminalize being HIV-positive, despite our knowing that people living with undetectable viral loads cannot pass the virus on to others via sex. Twelve of those states refused to expand Medicaid, cutting many PWAs off from the medications they need to live. During the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of the services available to people living with HIV were curtailed: as funds and personnel were diverted from HIV to COVID-19, clinics closed; testing for HIV declined; PrEP use withered; sheltering-in-place and quarantining forced many long-term survivors back into the kind of isolation and loneliness that we had just begun to address. With many of us long-term survivors living at or below the poverty level, worldwide inflation has made it increasingly difficult to afford the basics of life like food and shelter. The last two years have been abnormally grim for us.
The HIV-negative members of the LGBTQ+ community have not been spared the back-sliding in the efforts to secure our civil rights. Anti-LGBTQ forces in Florida have criminalized even speaking about LGBTQ people in school classrooms, with many states poised to pass copy-cat laws like Florida’s. The activist, uber-conservative Supreme Court that overturned Roe V. Wade, leading to the criminalization of those who seek or perform abortions, signaled quite clearly that their next targets are the right to use contraception and the right to same-sex marriage. With the Court’s conclusion that there is no Constitutional right to privacy, the right to engage in homosexual sex acts may well be on their chopping block, despite the guarantees in Lawrence v. Texas.
Our transgender sisters and brothers, regardless of their serostatus, are under constant threat in Republican-controlled states. South Dakota, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, and Texas have all enacted laws that inhibit the availability of gender affirming care — with some states actually criminalizing doctors who offer gender affirming care. Conservative politicians and church leaders routinely mock transgender folks and the use of appropriate pronouns. The transgender community has weathered the bulk of attacks in recent years.
But we have all been vulnerable. For every step forward toward true equality we have taken, we seem to have taken two steps back in recent years. None of the advances we have made is immune to the forces that seek to erase those advances. There are citizens and politicians in our country who seem hell-bent on making our lives as miserable as possible.
In the face of all this hatred and bigotry, I ask again, “Thanks for what?”
The only answer I can give is a very personal one, a list of things that I strive to be grateful for.
I’m grateful for the medications that have kept me alive since 1996 (even despite the ones that caused my advanced osteoporosis). I am grateful for the many long-term survivors whom I’ve gotten to know through SFAF’s Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Network and through Shanti’s Honoring Our Experience — friends with whom I share much more than just serostatus, friends whose love and support have sustained me through more than my share of setbacks. I am thankful that after five years of being confined to a wheelchair, I am finally walking again! I am thankful that despite the ravages of living with HIV for thirty-three years, despite facing a handful of death sentences, I will celebrate my seventieth birthday next month. I am thankful that despite my advanced ageing (70 is the new 85!), my brain still functions well enough for me to be able to string words together in coherent sentences… sometimes!
The one, the only thing that I never struggle to be grateful for is the enduring love and support of a great, generous, loving man. My husband Rick Greathouse has been a true godsend, not only for the last two years, but for the twenty-one years we’ve been together. He has wholeheartedly supported my writing — every time I write something, he is my first and best reader; in fact, his love and support are the sole reason I was able to break a 33-year trauma-induced writer’s block, and he has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me whenever I’ve taken my writing public. He has taught me patience in dealing with things I cannot control and courage in changing those things that I can control. He has weathered my every illness alongside me, and during those long years that I spent in a wheelchair, he never once complained about having to push me around this hilly city. He has dried my many tears and brought more joy and laughter into my life than any one man deserves. They say a good man is hard to find. I am forever deeply grateful that I found one of the best.
And so, despite this hateful world that seems to wish harm and grief on all of us, it is still possible to feel gratitude every day. It’s difficult sometimes to maintain that sense of gratitude, for all of us. But we must. We all must find and nurture those things that make us grateful for each new day in a world that seems to conspire against our joy.
For this Thanksgiving and throughout the coming season, my wish is that you live every day filled with bountiful joy and gratitude for life. You deserve it!