How does one cope when hope has fled?
As usual, when there is no real hope, the medicine-man variety usually comes a’knocking. And when AIDS hit with force in the gay community, Louise Hay was there to tell gay men that they could heal their lives.
Hay was hardly the only nostrum circulating around gay ghettoes during those days. Many spurious “treatments” had their adherents, from drinking aloe vera juice to undergoing illegal blood-heating an unfortunate experiment that often caused fatal heart attacks in patients.
Hay, at any rate, seemed less dangerous. She was a guru of New Age self-help consciousness who lectured, wrote books and sold audiotapes. Her first book, “Heal Your Body,” was published in 1976. In 1984, her own Hay House publishing company brought out “You Can Heal Your Life.” In it, she set forth her theories about how beliefs and ideas about oneself cause not only emotional problems but physical maladies. For many gay men with HIV, Hay was heaven-sent.
Hay taught that people acquired AIDS because they weren’t able to love themselves sufficiently. In 1985 in California, she began a support group with six men diagnosed with AIDS. By 1988, the group had grown to 800 people, testament to Hay’s ability to connect with people with AIDS. Yet her “diagnoses” seem utter nonsense today. Here are a few from one of her audiotapes, “AIDS: A Positive Approach”:
– Lung and breathing problems indicate that on a very deep level we feel we do not have the right to take in life, to take up space, perhaps even to exist.
– Blood problems indicate a lack of joy in the system.
– Fevers are anger expressing itself.
– When there are things we do not wish to look at, our vision may begin to fail.
Hay, despite her popularity, was not without her detractors.
“If Louise Hay and those who actually buy her tapes would spend their energies advocating immediate development and distribution of drugs to treat opportunistic infections in all people with AIDS, we might not be getting sick and dying by the tens of thousands today,” said one West Coast activist, Paul Martino.
“Louise Hay is telling me that I have AIDS because I want to have it, and that only if I would stop wanting it and needing it, it would go away,” he said.
It was not AIDS but Louise Hay who eventually went away. In 1987, the first drug to fight HIV, zidovudine, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Others followed in fairly rapid succession up until protease inhibitors hit the scene and HAART highly active antiretroviral therapies became the standard of care, at least in this country. And as that happened, Louise Hay faded quickly from the gay consciousness. Almost overnight, it seemed, she was gone along with the other examples of AIDS pseudo-science.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 30, 2006.