I was just notified by a co-worker that today is indeed “National Gay Men’s HIV Awareness Day.” According to towelrod.com “Kevin Fenton, MD, Director, CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis Prevention, released a statement to mark National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day’…reminding us that “nearly 350,000 gay and bisexual men with AIDS have died, and more than 8,000 still die each year.”’
After a cursory google search, it seems that every advocacy and legal organization concerned with HIV/AIDS and the plight of those at risk of seroconverting is quite aware of today’s importance. However, my mind was brought back to those who are surviving either HIV or AIDS. We hear little about this small, resilient, insible(d) community. The fad today is to communicate clearly, effectively and quite loudly about the dangers of HIV and the costs of seroconversion. Unlike the documentary “How to Survive a Plague” today’s narrative surrounding HIV is much more about how to spot a ”plague” and ”run, run fast as one can.” I cannot help but think about this narrative failed me just two short years ago.
Unlike the usual individual suspected of being at risk for seroconversion (the transmission of HIV), I was a sophomore at a very prestigious, private university. I was a prominent student on campus with more leadership positions that anyone should ever have. I had the President of the university’s cell phone number and used it at will. My gpa was nothing to sneeze at, and I was very out and open my sexuality, as well as its beautiful and complicated intersections with my race and class backgrounds. Being a former sex-ed counselor, I was quite educated about HIV. However, just halfway through sophomore year I would contract. I contracted from a well-mannered, well-groomed, upper-middle class white male who was similarly educated and well mannered. We followed the rules. We used protection. We were monogamous. We had been tested. The condom broke. We became positive.
The day that I was notified, that I could possibly be positive, I simply took a deep breathe and went for a long run. I knew that there was nothing that I could do but take each day one step at a time. Perhaps if I was lucky, I could live a few more years. My mind slowly began to race about the costs of medication. Who would pay for it? I was already uninsured. How would I tell my mother? She was just beginning to cope with my sexuality, and that had taken nearly five years. What about friends? Would they be able to seperate my sexuality from newly found illness? Would they support my decision to battle it openly, publicly, without stigma or shame? I returned home to my dorm and had a strong shot of Brandy, frantically searching the internet for some alternative story..a story with a happy ending, about someone beating HIV, someone suriving and thriving with ”passion, compassion and style.” I needed a model for survival, and, lucky for me, I found my mentor, Brandy Lacy Campos..the former co-director of Queers for Economic Justice. I was able to reach out to him and find love, support, direction and a model for survivance.
The men that I know today, especially those of us who are seen as most at risk (Black/Latino/Native, young, MSM), are not aware of these national awareness days. We are very rarely part of the national conversation, unless we are a part of a death-centered, downtrodden narrative. As a members of a community accustomed to survival, triumph and overcoming, these messages though they may be about us, are simply not written for or to us. It is my hope, that next year on this day, there will be a concerted effort to speak to those who are most at risk. This message will be centered in data, cultural competence and a sense of love and compassion. The messengers will know that black/latino msm are less permiscuous than our racial counterparts, and simply have more HIV in our sexual networks. This message will center on stories of survival, overcoming and carrying on. This message will not simply be about us, but for us and most often by us. This message will not be a simple PSA, but instead a Survivor’s Manual.
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