What does the re-election of President George W. Bush mean for the mental health of people living with HIV/AIDS? That’s a complicated question.
I recently saw the legendary drag performer, Miss Coco Peru (Clinton Leupp), do a wonderful homage to Disney’s now-classic musical animated film, “The Little Mermaid,” in her superb stage act. She poignantly and comically draws many parallels between her own life and the life of the fairy tale’s heroine, Ariel, the mermaid who “sells” her beautiful singing voice to the evil sea witch, Ursula, in exchange for getting legs to visit the sea surface, meet, and marry her land-lubber prince. Her identification with Ariel made me think of another analogy: How many people living with HIV “sell” their voice to get the things we need?
One of the sound bytes I remember from my days in elementary school was the phrase, “Everyone line up: boy, girl, boy, girl!” For teachers and school administrators, this was an easy of way of doing crowd control for groups of rambunctious kids. But I remember this was also rife with very predictable, homophobic and sexist jokes, where someone inevitably would say, “Hey, [fill-in-the-blank], which are you?”
Driving through West Hollywood these days, I often see the banners on streetlights and telephone poles with the faces of the “HIV Stops with Me” campaign poster-boys. This public health awareness/HIV prevention program is certainly high-profile, and like everyone else, I hope it does some good to reduce the sadly high number of new HIV infections every year in this country. But I’m not convinced of this campaign’s effectiveness.
As a mental health professional and licensed clinical social worker, one of things I do with a new patient is to take a thorough “psychosocial assessment” – basically, his or her life story in one hour or less. I ask about family history, history of current symptoms (depression, anxiety), current medications, work history, health experiences, education, social support, hobbies, and cultural background. But I also ask about his or her current and past socio-economic status; what “class” did he or she grow up? I ask this because I think the issue of money in American society is one of the most emotionally-laden, and can shape – positively or negatively – a person’s experience of the world.