Commentary, Health, Sex, The Adventures of the Boi Wonder »
I am pretty fresh and sheltered when it comes to the history and realities of HIV/AIDS in our community; I wasn’t born until the early 90’s, have almost always lived in suburbia, and have never known anyone who has HIV/AIDs, let alone died from it. According to Larry Kramer, that puts me in the league of the lazy, uneducated gays of my generation by default (after he admonishes me for calling myself queer). However, I strive to be neither purposefully ignorant nor excessively fearful.
As persons who identify as LGBT, much of our struggle in life is to feel comfortable in our own skin. We come out of the closet to our loved ones as an act of accepting who we are as complete individuals and having others accept us. So why then are so many gay men electing to have cosmetic surgery to alter their appearance?
Several years ago, I told someone that I was HIV positive before I agreed to his invitation for a date. “Yeah, I know,” he casually replied, and then he looked a little embarrassed, as if he shouldn’t have said it. It was too late, of course; I knew exactly what he meant. He knew my HIV status because of the appearance of my face.
I’m having an identity crisis. Am I an AIDS activist, ready to question authority and demand high standards of service for those living with HIV/AIDS? Or am I a “resource” for the pharmaceutical industry, so that they might craft more effective community programs that will lead AIDS patients to “care.”
And that care, no matter how they frame it or how sunny the smiles of their community liaisons, ideally would lead patients to their HIV drug product line.
I really shouldn’t be trusted. That’s the problem with drug addicts like me. We’ve protected our addiction through a myriad of lies and manipulations for so long that being truly honest again is like learning a foreign language from scratch. So when, at long last, my recovery has convinced me that honesty is the only thing that can save my life, I shouldn’t be surprised that my friends are reluctant to believe me.
When someone says something that seems ridiculous to us, our response can be important to helping that person feel either safe or isolated–usually in the more serious situations, not the joking around ones. Example: if I had said to my client who was concerned that her upstairs neighbor is posioning her through the stove–”You’re crazy! Be quiet. Did you take your medicine?” versus “Is there any particular reason you feel that way? I’m sure your neighbor is just cooking on his stove and the ventilator is making noise. No one is trying to hurt you. Let’s brainstorm some ways that you can feel safe.” The first response would have diminished her concern and shut down communication. The second response I hoped and meant to validate her feelings and come up with a solution to make her feel safe.
You know what takes courage? Getting an HIV test every few months. You, waiting nervously while your most personal sexual choices are literally being tested, waiting to find out if you’ve been good – or if you’re going to pay for a single lapse in judgment by testing positive, when the look on the faces of your friends will say you should have known better.
For Tracy Johnson, 22 and HIV-positive, romance often begins at a karaoke bar. There’s music, conversation and innocent touching. He’s at ease until it’s time for the first kiss—that’s when he leans in, pulls out the document and asks the object of his affection to sign, indicating he’s shared that he has HIV.
That piece of paper, he believes, could save him from years behind bars if a partner ever alleges that he didn’t disclose his status. He carries it everywhere.