Thursday, March 6, 2014

In Memory Of Larry Gibson - HIV Advocate and Humanitarian

 In Memory Of Larry Gibson - HIV Advocate and Humanitarian

On March 1, 2014, Larry Gibson, HIV advocate and pillar of the HCV community passed away from complications of hepatitis C. Larry was deeply loved and admired by his online family. Better known as Gib, he often posted words of encouragement at Hepatitis Central, and always made his friends on Facebook smile, he was such a lovely man.

Gib made important contributions to bring awareness to both HIV and HCV, his work in early AIDS fundraising will not be forgotten, or his involvement with helping feed low income HIV patients, as well as numerous inspiring interviews found in local and national publications.

Larry was a man of many talents, as an eloquent author he wrote for Hepatitis C News. I never had the pleasure of meeting Larry, but we worked together on a story about his life growing up in Oklahoma. I thought it might be fitting to share his story with you all today, written mostly in his own words.

I offer my deepest condolences to Dennis, and Larry's family. 

Compassion Through Conflict

A large chunk of my free time is dedicated to this blog and various other hepatitis C related works. One day I joined the social network Facebook aspiring to bring information to anyone considering HCV therapy. This is where I met an incredible man, he is known as Gib but I call him Larry.

Recently Larry was kind enough to share some of his life experiences with me. During his extraordinary life Larry has gained a unique perspective that, when explored, grants subtle wisdom into the fight against the stigmas still prevalent in our society today. Through adversity the optimism Larry has shown is nothing short of inspirational. The mark of so many great people through history has been forgiveness for the intolerance and short comings of others. Great men like Larry don't hold grudges, with love they understand that everyone is on their own journey. The understanding that everyone is limited by their own humanity means that Larry spent his life waiting for society to catch up with him. Hopefully those days are inching ever closer.

In Larry's own words please allow me to share some of the details of his life.

"You know, it really isn’t the good that make the better observers of what this life really means. It’s we that began lost, who made our mistakes, who took the path more - not less - taken, only to waken one day and see how off course we are and what can be done to correct it".

Life for Larry Gibson began in the year 1944 on the third of November at precisely 4:30am, along the Cimmarron River in Cushing Oklahoma. Larry came from a family of three children. The first born was his sister Barbara, soon came his brother Ron, and finally the man who is known affectionately by friends as "Gib". Ron has been a constant force in his brothers life, the love between these brothers has remained strong. Larry once said;

"Ron has been my very best friend during every moment of my entire life".

From a young age Larry understood his parents marriage was in conflict, in his words:"War separated by distance, and created an unbridgeable gulf between my parents".

His parents went on to divorce in 1946. His father was awarded the custody of all three children. His father remarried in 1950 just three months before the passing of his mother who died from complications of open heart surgery. During this time Larry was only five years old, a child, a soft warm lovable being who found comfort in his new step mother. Larry remembers:

"I became, in essence, her oldest child. She later gifted us with another girl and another boy. So, I am actually the middle child, though I am the youngest of one branch and the oldest of the other. And, as the only gay one, it has proved a bellwether of how my life was to be, still is. It’s one of the reasons my perspective is a little different".

Larry cherished his mothers love through his childhood and into adulthood, he lost her when he was thirty nine. She was only fifty four years old when she died from diabetes. He misses her and their lovely weekend phone conversations to this day.

The relationship Larry shared with his father matured along with Larry's own understanding of self. Complicated and tumultuous the bond between father and son remained intact in varying degrees throughout Larry's life. It is impossible to say that you can "understand" a relationship between two human beings unless you are directly involved. Relationships are winding, tangled things. The observation I would like to respectfully make is based on only a cursory knowledge of this critical consanguinity in Larry's life. To me Larry always showed his father the tolerance that Larry himself was denied in his early life. This is clearly illustrated by Larry's tone in the following paragraph.

"Dad was a wandering man. He’d come to California to build houses and make a pile of dough. Then, his heart wanted to go back to those Oklahoma hills and starve. Then back again. I loved the times spent there growing up. Ron and I worked those hills, rivers, and forests like a snooker pro works his cue stick. But the bulk of my youth, we lived here, so I am mostly a California boy. We all came back here when I was 15, and when everybody opted to go again to Oklahoma when I was 22, I said no. I’d stay in California. I’m still here, but they’ve recently moved on to Northern Texas. I did go back in my mid twenties and apprenticed in carpentry under my dad. One of the truest and finest gifts he ever gave me – the ability to support myself and accomplish things I could find pride in doing. I did. I grew to be a master finish carpenter in LA. My work was admired, and I achieved great success. I worked on some fairly impressive projects. It kind of made my dad jealous that I exceeded not only his expectations of me, but of himself, too. His view of me was odd. He loved me as much as all of his children, but his awareness was quite astute, helped along by his brothers I’m sure, and I now am convinced they saw me clearly. I was a gay kid, and they set about to man me up, though there is nothing askew about my masculinity. I think my dad thought he was doing a good thing that might save me (from what I dunno). To me, though, it amounted to abuse. Mostly it was verbal, but often physically violent. He was big on knuckling my head, or snarling his views on my worthlessness in public. He had his chances to get rid of me and half acted on some of them. It made the sometimes horrific beatings I endured from him appear almost unimportant. I have forgiven him. First, from the perspective that, as an adult myself, I see how tough it must have been raising five kids, six if you count him. He still is the least grown up of us all. Also, I have to give him credit. When there was no other way, he accepted me and my otherness in a kind and loving way. In the intervening years I have morphed, by my own merits, from his child he liked the least to the one of whom he is most proud".

Larry's father is now ninety years old and resides in Oklahoma.

The next chapter of Larry's life is one of persistent self-exploration and growth. He accomplished small "miracles" and sought to live his life honestly by embracing the one person he came to love, himself.

"My early gay life, around the time of coming out, was not heralded by angels. It’s a tough transition. I had even more issues that I couldn’t seem to identify. I wasn’t honest. I lied a lot. I was a petty thief. I could not be relied upon and I didn’t keep my word. I was with another man for seven and a half years. We were not good to one another. I am just as guilty as he was. I loved him, he was a wonderful fella, but we hurt each other too much to repair the damage. But, in it, I began to see that the repeated assertions of my total worthlessness when I was young had lodged itself in me and that I, ME, MYSELF, lay at the base of my dislike of myself. I mostly spent alone, introspective. So, I reflected. I remember well the day my whole being convulsed with surprise. When I looked at it bare and honest, relationships had an invariable way of not working for me. I’d had several and they all ended terribly. Then I saw that the only given, the sole common denominator in that was me. I was the only constant. Much as my mind tried to stick to not blaming myself, only others as we humans are wont to do, I had to face the facts. I was my own problem. And, if that is true in love, then it must be true in all things we people do. I vowed to live my life as honestly as possible, especially to the one person who counted the most … me". It hasn’t been easy. Lying and stealing were a habit. Dishonesty had always been the norm. Changing that behavior is an odyssey upon an inner sea that still goes on. It gets better, you become more adept at forgiving and acceptance, but it never gets easier".

In 1981 Larry's life changed forever when he spotted a blue eyed man walking in West Hollywood. The man was Dennis Golay and on that day, they fell in love. The trust he forged with Dennis could only be true love. Larry writes:

"I looked into his blue eyes and told him the truth, as it stands, all of it. I did not confess. That’s different and you achieve that over time with a person, anyway. I told the truth, and I meant it. He gave me his heart and love, unconditionally. He trusted me, this man I am, who hadn’t been exactly known for trustworthiness. He remains my living proof that Aristotle was correct, a life unexamined is not worth living. Examining your life makes all the difference and the world then becomes a different place. You know, it really isn’t the good that make the better observers of what this life really means. It’s we that began lost, who made our mistakes, who took the path more - not less - taken, only to waken one day and see how off course we are and what can be done to correct it. Those very small pebbles cast upon a pond really do change the world".
A traditional ending to this story would be " They lived happily ever after" and they do. However there is more to this love story, there is the story of AIDS. Larry and Dennis were together for seven years before being diagnosed. They heard stories years earlier of "gay cancer" in the L.A.'s gay community, and by 1983 they had lost many of their friends.

The two men later learned they had both contracted AIDS before they met. Larry is also co-infected with HCV.

The L.A. Times did a piece on Larry and Dennis entitled "With HIV, growing older faster". The article describes the horror of watching yourself, and the person you love grow older years before their time. I was emotionally affected by the love these men felt for one another. After they were diagnosed they made this pact, quoted from the article, it went like this:

They would not assign blame.
They would do anything they could to survive.
They would help everybody who needed help.

If I pause for one moment and ask myself if I could face pain with such courage my answer would be no, I lack the fortitude.

Both Larry and Dennis have graciously given interviews over the years and continue to be active in fundraising. To say these men inspire me is an understatement, their optimism and enthusiasm for life contest the apathy and lethargy of lesser men. Because of these lesser men Larry and Dennis weren't allowed to simply live their lives. Their lives became a constant campaign they probably weren't even aware they were waging. A campaign not just for equality but for autonomy. Hopefully someday the things some people perceive as "different" won't be perceive as anything. And if that day every comes it will be people like Larry and Dennis that we have to thank for it.

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