The Party's Over - Features - Atlanta Magazine
 
 
 

The Party's Over

Fear of AIDS is changing sex in Atlanta. And the panic grows.

The tiny dance floor is packed. Guitar riffs flash like lightning from amplifiers three feet above the crush of swaying, sweating dancers. In the men's room, a couple is clumsily trying to have sex standing in the toilet stall next to the overflowing urinal. "Put it there," slurs the dark-haired woman to her obviously smashed partner. Outside, a tourist visiting from Toronto meets an attractive, well-educated woman, a chemist, she tells him. Half an hour later, they are having oral sex in the parking lot alongside someone's parked van. He couldn't remember her name. — Friday night at Carlos McGee's, July 1981

In the men's room, Michael, the valet, is dispensing condoms along with towels and cologne. He keeps them out of sight under the sink. 'I’ve handed out two boxes since Thursday, " he says. Outside, tanned, trim and elegantly dressed young people circle each other like mating peacocks. But behind the familiar ritual, there is a new and troubling uncertainty — a fear that disease and painful death may lurk just a kiss away. Just a kiss away. — Friday night at élan, July 1987

Photography by Kurt Fisher/Bed: Innovations

They sat there, two sultry orchids in the perfumed hothouse that is elan on a busy night. Donna, auburn-haired and full of figure, wore a clingy, purple dress; she had lived in New York and New Orleans before moving to Atlanta. Cindy was every Northern boy's dream of a Southern girl, sparkly blue eyes and feathered blond hair, a cheerleader's body sheathed in a tight turquoise dress set off by matching spike-heeled shoes. They were savvy and sassy, career-oriented, open and funny, the kind of women married guys convince themselves don't exist – and single guys hesitate to approach. Women who make otherwise sane and settled men want to send the wife and kids off to visit her folks in Knoxville.

Both were recently divorced; neither was involved in a relationship. Work filled their days, but loneliness nibbled at the edges of their lives. They had come, they said, to dance and have a few drinks, to ease the tensions of the job and the burdens of single parenthood. They had come, driven like so many of us, in the hope of meeting that special someone. That hope seemed more distant and fragile than ever. There was hesitation in their eyes and a nervousness behind their smiles. They looked past the schools of slick-haired and Armani-attired predators who circled their table looking for an opening.

They were frightened to death of AIDS.

The fear might be groundless – the deadly epidemic does not appear to be moving rapidly into the general population — but it is real. It is threatening the nonstop party that has been underway in At1anta for the past 20 years. The lines may be as long as ever outside the Buckhead bars, and the after-hours action as frantic, but the last thought after the last drink on the couch is no longer, "Will he respect me in the morning?" 

"In the past, your pride was hurt," says. Donna. "Now you can die. . .. .It's not that my morality has changed. My dread of the A-word has increased."

AIDS — acquired immune deficiency syndrome — is a disease that reaches beyond its victims. It has created a new medical category, the worried well, who suffer from a new syndrome: 'FRAIDS. They're everywhere in Atlanta: pinstriped professionals visiting doctors and therapists; suddenly meek good ol’ boys calling anonymously to the AIDS hotline; guilt-driven husbands and unfaithful wives surreptitiously visiting clinics to. be tested for the virus.

Donna, 39, is worried about "a mistake I may have made three years ago." A bisexual lover? An intravenous drug user? She won't explain. "You used to see those signs - SPEED KILLS," she says reaching for her drink. "Now it's SEX KILLS." Cindy, 26, is concerned about men she hasn't yet met. "How can you even tell if a guy's been a homosexual?" she asks bleakly.

For that matter, how can you tell if he's been with a woman who's been with a bisexual infected with the virus? Or if that perky sorority sister has slept with a fraternity brother who had sex with an infected prostitute the last time Georgia played in the Sugar Bowl? The permutations are endless and terrifying. When you go to bed with someone, say the experts, every sexual partner in that person's past is climbing in with you.

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