August, 1989 -
AUNTIE, by Susie Hirschfield
I had been a
volunteer at Gay Mens Health Crisis, the first grass roots AIDS
organization, for eighteen months. I helped serve dinners to about
150 people with AIDS every Friday evening. I am from England
originally and that summer, I had my seven year old niece, Hayley,
and my nine year old nephew, Gregg, fly out from London, to spend a
week with their Auntie Susie.
long and hard as to whether or not it was appropriate to take them
the following Friday and, as the day arrived, I still had not come
to a decision. Of course, fate intervened. It was a 95 degree day
and we were taking the subway out to Brighton beach when they
spotted a poster saying WOMEN CAN GET AIDS TOO. “That’s not true”,
Here was my opportunity so for the next 40 minutes, they got a
child’s version of safe sex 101. They were confused when I
explained to them that I always use condoms now.
“Don’t be silly”, they giggled, “You don’t have a “lulu” to put it
I then told
them about the Friday night dinners and asked them if they would
like to go. After reassuring them it would not be like visiting a
hospital, they were quite keen. We arrived in time for the first
seating at 5 pm and I introduced them to everyone. They charmed the
staff and clients with their cute cockney accents and vice versa.
They whispered to me that I must have got it wrong. These guys
couldn’t have AIDS - they looked so healthy. Boy, were they going
through a learning curve! After dinner we were in the office where
there is a poster of a naked man, sporting an erection and a condom.
They went into fits of laughter, much to everyone’s amusement.
Gregg suddenly announced, “Susie, when I look at dirty pictures, my
dick gets hard like that”. Whatever happened to his little boy’s
lulu? This brought up a group discussion on the normalcy of hard-ons
and then he saw two clients kiss each other hello on the lips. He
said to one of the staff, “Do some men love each other?”
Poor guy looked at me, swallowed deeply and said in a little voice “Yes”.
“Do some men have sex with each other?”
“Yes” came the hesitant reply.
I came to his rescue, sat the two kids down and explained all the
possible types of relationships there are and they were definitely
left with the impression that anything goes between two consenting
The flew home
the following Sunday and my sister called to tell me that one of
the highlights of their trip had been the visit to the AIDS Center
and how they proceeded to explain to her exactly what AIDS was, how
to prevent it, how women can get it and how the New York people with
AIDS don’t look like the ones you see on the telly in England.
It wasn’t as
much fun as their visit to Action Park but, hopefully, it got rid of
any fears they had and started them off on the right foot as they
approached their teenage years.
* * *
Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca