The environment I grew up in was a socially conservative one heavily influenced by my extended family. On mom’s side of the family, it was all about born-again Christian Evangelicals who saw a world full of evil all around them, except for the evil they themselves perpetrated. That evil was justified… Everything was justified, just as long as you went to church on Sunday and apologized. On dad’s side of the family, it was all about conservative Catholics who followed every word the local priest — “on word from The Vatican” — preached every Sunday. They were very devout, and they lived in a somewhat isolated part of the world.
Thankfully for me, both my parents were rebels. Mom decided to buck the tradition of the youngest daughter staying home and taking care of her parents, so she scraped up some cash and went to law school as a single mother. Dad decided that the education he could not get would be mine, especially the sciences and technology. They both taught me to love my curiosity and answer the questions I fell in love with.
Through that curiosity, I found out truths that didn’t quite jibe with the worldview that my relatives tried to impose on me. The world was not 6,000 years old. Dad showing me the fossils he collected while scouting for a uranium mining company proved it. Understanding that uranium has a crazy long half-life, there was no way that the Earth was 6,000 years old. And that scared — like really scared — some of my relatives.
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and AIDS, the plague that was afflicting gay men in the 1980s and well into the 1990s — and today as well — was caused by a retrovirus that I could see through electron microscopes at the local university when I went on a field trip. It was right there, in black and white, that nasty motherf*cker. And it didn’t care about anyone’s sexuality or the color of their skin. Those who cared about who was affected the most by HIV were privileged humans intent on blaming the victims instead of doing what had to be done to stop the epidemic. It was an accident of circumstances that made it arise first in homosexual men, but it could just have easily have been any other group.
The “sinners” were not being punished by God with AIDS. It doesn’t work that way. Heck, if you really read the Bible with context and proper guidance, God doesn’t work that way. “If you find a cure for AIDS,” some kid told me at church one day after I told him I wanted to work in a clinical lab, “God will just find a better way to wipe out sinner.” To say the least, that didn’t sound like Jesus.
This is not to say that I didn’t have some weird beliefs and attitudes when I was younger. As gay marriage was being debated in the early part of this century, I thought to myself that gay rights groups should just be happy with civil unions. “They’re biting off more than they can chew,” I once said. Then I took a course on constitutional law as part of my public health degree. Something funny happened… It became clear that the Equal Protection Clause was a thing, and that the Constitution didn’t care if you were gay or straight.
There was also a time when I listened to Rush Limbaugh and approved of the stuff he said… And then I turned 23, so we won’t talk about that.
The thing is, points of view change based on new information. At least that’s the way things should be. It is useless to grab on to a dogma and not let it go once you find out that the dogma is verifiably false. I mean, you might get a good job at the White House in this administration, but you’re still going to be sorely disappointed at the end when the truth comes out.
Truth has a way of coming out.
Today, I find myself wondering about what things in the future I’m going to change my mind about. I’m not in my 20s anymore like I was when I started blogging. Looking back at some of those blog posts, I can see where I’ve definitely changed my point of view on things. I’ve definitely matured.
Time will do that to you.
(This blog post brought to you by the letter T.)
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
About Epidemiological: I am the sole contributor to Epidemiological, my personal blog to discuss all sorts of issues. It also has an About page you should check out.