One of the earliest memories I have is hearing this joke on the way to Catholic elementary school:
What do you call gay on wheels?
My generation of gay men came of age as the previous generation was just pulling itself together after the shock and anger of the early days of AIDS paranoia. My emerging gay identity included AIDS because back then gay=AIDS. (and in fact, when i came out to my mother, she grieved for me because she was convinced my 18 year-old self would die from AIDS in short order). The very first specific memory of gayness was a televised ACT UP protest (complete with Keith Haring cartoons). I identified with Tom Hanks as he died from AIDS in Philadelphia because he was, well, the first openly gay character I recognized, and nice (and married to Antonio Banderas, which was pretty appealing to me at the time).
I came of age during the massive safer-sex education push (which from my point of view was pretty damned effective - literally putting fear of death into my mind) I even helped found an AIDS awareness group in high school even though I wasn't aware of anyone in my life who had HIV. It's still true. Years later I still haven't been directly effected by HIV/AIDS, for which I'm obviously thankful, though I have a bit of trouble reconciling my HIV-free gay experience with the powerful connection made early on in my adult brain.
And so today I take the time to stop and consider AIDS, as I've done as long as I can remember. The disease has changed radically from a gay-only affliction (remember all the transfusion AIDS victims who went on and on about how people assumed they were gay? and how they were "innocent?") to a global epidemic that now targets the poor and children. It's moved from the taboo of homosex to poverty, so it remains hard for Americans to get excited about. Like the dominant American consciousness, AIDS is a distant issue to me, but that's all the more reason to keep paying attention. Some suggested reading: