Don’t You Hate It When People Think They Know You: The Real Elizabeth Taylor
Elizabeth, an Incomparable of Her Time has passed away: Here’s what you won’t read in the headlines which are often vulgar, focused on foibles, overlooking the worth of not only this woman, any woman.
You’ll hear about her peccadilloes, her many marriage and other chisme, gossip. But you wont hear she was a child actress who never had a childhood. You wont hear that she sought forever the father she never had. You wont hear how she had to put up with studio heads and producers who could care less about her consummate acting ability and wanted her to literally service them.
And you won’t hear, but from those who are fair-minded and have no desire whatsoever to exploit a vulnerable woman, who happens now to be dead… about this woman’s ferocious humanity, her interposing herself between some of the most vicious people of our time… those who daily, publicly, on television, on radio, and from the Senate and House and from the pulpit… battered and lied about the souls in our midst who had contracted AIDS– that they were contagious by just standing near them; that they were unworthy of time or treatment or medicines because of their sins, as judged by those who definitely lived in glass houses themselves.
This snip of a woman, tiny and blowsy, or tiny and thin, [Elizabeth had, like many of us, her weight challenges throughout life and that is part of why we loved her; she never gave up), and thus, this woman no matter what shape she was in, stood up to the most reprehensible of our times: those who categorically made it so that good persons lost their jobs, were made into pariahs, and so that little children who’d contracted AIDS from blood transfusions– were blocked at the school doors, so that parents exiled little children from play and birthday parties, because the progenitors of this full-out lie that AIDS was contagous without sexual contact, had spoken with such authority. Authority challenged by Elizabeth Taylor. By herself. In honor of her many hugely talented friends, who were gay. And who also had AIDS.
This is what I would remember Elizabeth for. A woman who stood against the Storm of opprobrium unwarranted from those who hated human beings far more than they ever wanted to help them.
I was a witness. Perhaps you were too, to this woman, this much married woman, this actress woman, this highly sensual, sexual, wisecracking, life in big gulps woman… who stood up, publicly proclaiming that not only care and medicine, but a vaccine, a cure had to be found, that the lives of countless women, children and gay men were at stake… that now was NOT the time to high tail it and run. That this was the time to stay. And to reach out. And to give care until there was no more care to give.
In the two years or so before Elizabeth began to speak out, I was still a relatively young shrink, and I’d had 40 gay men in my practice as patients… they suffered more from the opprobrium the culture heaped on them so harshly, their being unable to live safely and openly as gay men… more than any garden variety neurosis. Suddenly, one by one, they began to become ill. And gradually the word came out that there was a disease that was transferring by blood and it was causing people to sicken and die.
One by one my patients began to be diagnosed. One by one they slipped away and did not go gentle into that good night. We were once again at the caskets more than we were at celebrations.
And someone spoke for them, a someone who had such stature and fame, she could not be ignored. And I recall the stones flying at Elizabeth, the scorn, the scoffing, the ridicule, the calling her down for daring to stand with those who were ill and looking not as nowadays, ‘living with HIV,’ but for certain, dying of AIDS in fairly short order.
I remember, she did not stop. It wasn’t her money. It wasn’t her fame that made her not stop. It was her Soul. She had such soul that nothing, nothing could have stopped her from speaking loud and clear and incessantly about care of the sick, cure for the ill, no matter what else. NO MATTER what else.
These many years later, of my forty patients from long ago, there are three still living. All the others, young-young men have passed. Some of them lived long enough to hear Elizabeth speak for them.
I’ve no doubt, in heaven there is an honor guard miles and miles long, and thousands and thousands deep, made up of the children, women, and men Elizabeth spoke for… they will welcome the real Elizabeth home.
Rest in peace Dame Elizabeth: your brave work is done here, and the work you lifted up out of the murk, is and will continue to be carried on by others. Thank you. Just and Justice: thank you.