Karen Ocamb

Why I'm Wearing a Tiara During the AIDS LifeCycle Ride

Filed By Karen Ocamb | June 20, 2011 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media

ALC-KO-with-a-tierra-.jpgOne of the best things about being an embedded reporter during the AIDS LifeCycle ride was how I was reminded of the difference between humility and humiliation. And this was one of those moments. Dinner in camp on day whatever. Andrew Uhl, the webmaster who was handling all our Media Team stories for the Experience the Event page, had been given the Tiara and matching earrings the day before for his diligent work and it had become an honor passed from peer to peer as we supported each other. Andrew liked a photo-essay I'd put together on The Riders and Their Loves Ones and one afternoon he just trucked up to me and handed me the Tiara.

Well, now - I've never worn a Tiara in my life. Never had the inclination. The closest I came was in 1968 when my parents wanted to throw me this huge "coming out" debutante party in Washington DC with a rich "godmother" who was apparently prominent in the DC social world. Since my father had been a colonel in the Air Force, they wanted to fly in Air Force Academy cadets to stand in full uniform, swords drawn to provide an archway under which me and some boy were supposed to walk and emerge into - what? It was 1968, for gawd's sake and I was already smoking pot and protesting the war! I scoffed at the idea. I wouldn't be caught anywhere near that world!

Andrew could not have known that this is what rushed through my mind as I stared at that Tiara and laughed. He couldn't know that that little piece of metal represented everything I'd turned my back on in my halting effort at authenticity. Andrew was handing me a prized gift - and I eventually saw past my own kaleidoscope of memories to see that, too. I felt truly humbled that he liked my work, my small effort to share the emotions of the ALC ride, as well as the actions. I thanked him for the honor and immediately placed the Tiara on my head and figured out how to put on the earrings. I chuckled at the irony of being so uncomfortable in a camp surrounded by gay men who would have loved wearing the thing and I proudly proceeded to dinner, where this shot was taken.

I had a number of mini-epiphanies on the AIDS LifeCycle ride and more stories than I've not yet had time to tell. So I'm going to continue to tell these stories - and more AIDS at 30 stories, as well - because AIDS isn't going away anytime soon and neither is the personal pain and triumph so many of us have experienced and witnessed. Let our stories be our historical gift - our virtual Tiara - to those who come after us.

(Crossposted at LGBTPOV. Photo by James Loduca; used with permission.)

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You look beautiful in it too. :)

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