'On John Foster' by John Rickard

When Take Me to Paris, Johnny was first published in 1993, the AIDS crisis seemed to be at its worst. Many of us had friends and acquaintances who were dying. One began to notice men who, thin and haggard, one feared were suffering from AIDS (women victims being relatively few in number). There was no sign of the drug therapies that would, towards the end of the decade, begin to transform the treatment of AIDS. Only the symptoms could be treated, often with difficulty. Yet, as Robert Dessaix puts it, 'AIDS is a disease that excites narration.' Internationally, the AIDS memoir had already emerged as a genre of testimony, sometimes characterised by anger – particularly in America, where President Reagan had been slow to even acknowledge an AIDS crisis. At least in Australia there was a political consensus in the development of policies to deal with AIDS, to which the embattled but increasingly proactive gay community contributed (though, as John Foster records, the thoughtless 1987 Grim Reaper advertising campaign left him feeling, on Juan Céspedes's behalf, 'ambushed, stunned').

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Published in May 2016, no. 381

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