Always wear gloves to wipe tears

It has been a while since I blogged about Swedish culture. I guess I needed a break. I have seen many blogworthy things during the last months but chose not to comment, until now.

On Swedish TV, a new drama is being broadcast which is causing a lot of reaction in social media and in the press. Author Jonas Gardell has decided to tell the story of the AIDS era in 1980’s Sweden. This is a story that has never been told – and it is  high time.

Although it may seem like a long time ago, the so-called AIDS crisis was only 25-30 years ago. A short time in the history of humanity. And Jonas Gardell’s story portrays a cold and uncaring Sweden, a country where Hiv patients were treated with disrespect and utter disgust, nursed by people in rubber gloves and face masks and then disposed of. Where it was acceptable to call gay men revolting, say that they spread AIDS, that they were a threat to society, that they should be incarcerated against their will, that they deserved to die. This was only 25 years ago. This opens a gaping wound in a Swedish society that prides, and markets, itself on equality and human rights. Where were these for gay men 25 years ago?

Of course, Sweden wasn’t alone in this. In the UK and the USA and many other countries the attitides were the same and in many parts of the world, such as our neighbouring Baltic countries. this is still a reality today. In Sweden, it is something that belongs to the past, thankfully, although the stigma of Hiv still weighs heavily in society.

AIDS decimated a whole generation, my generation.  Jonas Gardell’s drama has brought back a lot of terrible memories for me. These ghosts from my past are welcome in my life however. And I thank Jonas Gardell for that. But as I watch the programme, I am reminded of something that Astonomer Carl Sagan once said ‘you have to know the past to understand the present’ and I wonder how the younger generations of gay people see this story. Do they relate to it? Can they relate to it? Do they see this as part of their heritage, their cultural identity? Or is it a case of having to be there…

Our stories have been consciously erased from the history books by people in power. We have been made invisible.

But now our story is being told. And it steps out into the cold light of day to be seen and known by everyone.