First published in GScene Nov 2018
THINKING about the AIDS epidemic, many people who made a difference come to mind; from Graham Wilkinson (Sussex AIDS Centre), Father Marcus Riggs (Open Door), and London-based AIDS activist extraordinaire, Cass Mann.
Cass Mann was seen by some as a controversial in his views, particularly at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, where he believed there were Kübler-Ross counsellors telling their HIV+/AIDS patients to prepare for their own imminent death. All of us who lived through this time can vouch for the fact that every week we heard that someone we knew had died. It was a scary time.
In response, Cass set up the organisation Positively Healthy, a title that would become a beaming light for many of those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
What you have to understand is that in the mid-1980s the only drug being offered to those living with HIV/AIDS was AZT which, for the majority of people, was too toxic and only hastened their demise. Again, Cass was vilified for saying as much about AZT. It was hard to hear as everyone was desperate for a cure to the nightmare.
Through Positively Healthy, Cass promoted an alternative to the acceptance that AIDS = Death Mantra and advocated a vegetarian diet, holistic therapy and most importantly for those diagnosed with HIV to change their mindset and say, ‘let’s live’. Of course, people still died from AIDS, but others began to realise that their doctor’s advice to “make the next six months count” may have been premature, AIDS didn’t always equal death.
Through his workshops in London, and the amazing week of discovery at Laurieston Hall, a setting that was perfect to spend a week away from the pubs and clubs and television. In Scotland, Cass provided a safe space for HIV+/- gay men to explore, discuss, scream and dance, perform, and be silly.
Many gay men who were part of Positively Healthy will remember just how positively healthy those sessions with Cass were. On the last night, the group would be led into the Scottish woods, where an amazing spiritual ritual allowed us all to let go of bad practices holding us back.
Not everyone agreed with Cass’s philosophy around HIV/AIDS, but It was his commitment to get the Positively Healthy ethos out to as many people as possible and, in turn, help save lives. Sadly, Cass died in April 2009 from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but his message to live long and live well with an HIV+ diagnosis continues.
In his essay Deadly Counsels: The Necrophiliacs of AIDS, Cass says; “Only have in your life that which supports and celebrates your aims and purposes, and detach immediately from everything that doesn’t.” Wise words that we should all take notice of.
For me, Cass Mann is a much missed voice campaigning for all those touched by HIV and AIDS, so I’ll finish with one of my favourite quotes from Cass: “For all those who have condemned us to die, the following message: LIVING IS THE BEST REVENGE!”
More information about Cars Mann: cassmannmemorial.wordpress.com