First Letter


by Reggie Williams, 1994 (Published in "Wilde" Magazine, 1995)

Dear Friends,

I live my life as a Dutch housewife with a German lover.

Who would have thought two years ago, while I was attending the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam, that I would someday soon be living here? It was the farthest thing from my mind. I was here along with thousands of other Americans, and hundreds of San Franciscans to participate in several events and aspects of the conference. A group of us from San Francisco did a tour of the bars on the Saturday night before the opening day of the conference and that was more than enough for me, after all, I did live in Mecca! But what I did not expect was to meet someone like Wolfgang, and fall in love as I did.

So after about a year and a half of back and forth, me coming here, him coming there, and sometimes meeting somewhere in between, like New York or D.C., I decided to make the move. Although he had taken a leave from his job to be with me in San Francisco for five months, we knew that it was not possible for him to immigrate to the U.S., because of him having HIV disease, and our country's anti-HIV policy. So, as I began to see my own health declining during the past year, and realizing, just how important having someone who really loves you is, the decision was not a difficult one to make. For me it was really about quality of life. The support that I received from my family, friends, colleagues was more than I had anticipated.

So now I have been living here for eight months, and I must say that I really do enjoy the change. Life in Amsterdam is much slower, and much more relaxed than in America.

One of the first things I noticed was that you don't have the sense that your physical personal safety is being threatened when you are out in public. Even late at night, walking the streets is not a scary or frightening thing to do, even by yourself. Most people ride bicycles or ‘fiets‘, as the Dutch call them. This makes getting around town quite fast and efficiently. But the mass transit system is also very efficient as well. Buses run about every twelve minutes, and trams about every five to seven minutes. All this is a far cry from the many days and nights I remember waiting at least forty to forty five minutes for the 24 Divisadero bus!!

Another very interesting aspect about living in Amsterdam is that there is not a constant barrage of media stories about murders, shootings, and robberies like in the U.S.. Violent crime is extremely low in the Netherlands. This is probably because hand guns are not a part of the public consciousness. I wish that all Americans could have the experience of living in a different environment, one that is not filled with the crime and violence that now permeates American society.

Amsterdam has had a long history of tolerance of gays and lesbians, in fact, they have what we have always dreamed that a domestic partnership policy could be. Shortly after I arrived in April 1994 Wolfgang and I went to his medical insurance company to sign me on to his policy as his partner/lover, and it went off with no problems at all. Two weeks later I developed a kidney infection, and went to his doctor with no problems, and even all the prescriptions for my medications were filled at our local pharmacy without a hitch. As a person with AIDS, all of this is very comforting. The Dutch have supported the care and treatment of people with HIV and AIDS for a long time. Education and prevention campaigns have been a part of the mainstream, with condoms being a main part of the message. These campaigns featured gays, lesbians as well as heterosexuals. There are even television ads for condoms that feature gay men.

The image of Dutch people being mostly tall, blond, fair skinned people is far from the truth. Amsterdam is in fact, a very ethnically diverse city. There are large populations of Surinamese, Moroccan, Turkish, and African people living here, as well as many Brazilians and Indonesians. All this makes Amsterdam a very international city, probably the most international city in Europe. It is situated with easy access to most European countries, with a railway system that is very dependable and efficient. Paris, Berlin, Italy, are all just a few hours train ride away. London is just a fifty minute flight from Amsterdam.

Gays and Lesbians have been a part of mainstream society in the Netherlands for a long time. They are represented at local and national levels. There has been a national Gay and Lesbian organization , called the COC, in existence since 1948, with chapters in most cities throughout the country. The Amsterdam COC features an HIV Café, for people with HIV/AIDS, once a week. It also houses the local people of color organization, Strange Fruit, where they hold their monthly events.

Amsterdam has also been traditionally known for its tolerance of soft drugs, marijuana and hashish, and shops that sell soft drugs are all over the city. When you enter you receive a nicely laminated menu to make your selection. My favorite is the spacecake, which is hash in a poundcake. It was recommended to me by some friends of ours to help with my weight loss. And I love it!

So all of these things make living in Amsterdam very interesting and exciting. And now I live my life as a Dutch housewife with my German lover. But I do miss my network of friends and family that I left in San Francisco and America, and I am constantly trying to convince them to come over to visit us. And I must say that I have no regrets about making the move. Especially, now that my health has been declining pretty rapidly in the last few months, I am happy to be able to spend the rest of my life with Wolfgang, someone that I love very much.

So, until the next time, tot ziens!!!