GCN & Irish Queer Archive Founder Tonie Walsh opens up about survivor’s guilt after Ireland’s AIDS crisis
Activist Tonie Walsh speaks to Irish Podcast Grief Encounters about his own memories of Ireland’s AIDS crisis, and how he feels it has been whitewashed out of history.
The first of its kind in Ireland, Grief Encounters is a weekly podcast series that looks at an issue that affects us all and yet remains so difficult to talk about: grief. Hosted by Venetia Quick and Sasha Hamrogue, the pair look to open up the conversation around loss and create a modern platform for people to share their own experiences, and start open dialogue around the subject of death and all that comes with it.
To celebrate this years pride festival, their latest podcast was dedicated to looking at a passage in time that sadly took the lives of so many of the country’s queer citizens. Ireland’s first AIDS case was diagnosed in 1982, and the mass hysteria and misinformation that was spread during this period ,caused damage that is still prevalent within the community to this day. Tonie Walsh lived through the 80’s and 90’s in Ireland and London, where he saw over 40 of his friends and lovers perish from the disease. “While that was happening, there was just this horror thought of ‘am I going to be next?’ No matter how much I attempt to use safer sec, I’m going to be next on the list… And then you find you survive. And you have to make sense of that survival. There’s a huge amount of survivors guilt involved.”
10 years following the introduction of the ant-retroviral drugs that effectively allowed AIDS/HIV to become a manageable illness, Tonie contracted HIV after being raped. “I have found myself coming HIV positive at a time where it is simply a long term illness, and I can live a normal life. And that added a whole other layer of guilt, and I think I’ve spent the last ten years trying to rationalise that.”
Speaking about the societal stigma attached to the illness Tonie said “ A whole plague esthetic informed peoples hysterical responses. In a post decriminalisation environment its very difficult now to imagine what it was like to be a gay man or woman.”
Grief Encounters is out every Tuesday and is available to download and stream from iTunes, Spotify and other downloading apps.