Tag Archives: nature of homosexuality

How We All Need To Evolve About HIV/AIDS

HIV

Several weeks ago I was asked to do an Op-Ed on whether an HIV negative man should date someone who is positive. Being completely honest, I was nervous. Not because the subject matter of discussing HIV/AIDS makes me nervous, but for fear that I wouldn’t fully encapsulate my point correctly or present each side of the argument accurately. So I held off for a while to ruminate and collect my thoughts. Methodically trying to map out how to present it to a community that has such a taboo about even discussing the subject, fearing an association to something that affects the entire community.

During this process I kept revisiting excerpts of different points I wanted to bring up and as time went on thought they were too convoluted or sounded insulting or just was too random to be of use in the article. I then came across a brilliant and honest depiction of what it was like for a man living with HIV to go out seeking romance or possibly love. David Duran’s story about being positive and navigating through social dating apps really touched me because I truly felt the frustration he expressed about disclosing his status to men he could have some potential sexual relationship. I related to it because I felt frustrations when I’m discounted or erroneously judged because of race in the gay community, another taboo subject rarely discussed.

As I thought about the comparisons it made me think of how taxing that has to be on the gay men that have to endure the silent ridicule and muffled disdain for something that could have happened to any of us. Now some may chagrin to that statement I just made but they would do well to remember that condoms do sometimes break. They should remember that just because someone says that their STI test came back negative doesn’t always mean that they don’t have the virus because it hasn’t shown up yet. So yes it can happen to any of one of us.

This reflective journey made me remember an incident about understanding what HIV is after I came out. I came across a journal entry dated a little over six years ago where I attempt to process whether or not I would date a man living with the virus. I’m going to share a part of this entry to show some of the mistakes I made as a younger gay man and how this experience may resemble the reactions that David and other men have faced. I hope that even though it shows a bit of my own ignorance back then that it may also open eyes to the misconceptions and negative attitudes surrounding it. Because as I always state in these articles, nothing ever changes if we don’t talk about where we went wrong and how we can overcome these flaws.

Saturday January 27th 2007

Tonight I feel like I messed up big time. My first real venture into socializing with gay men, something I dreamed about was a wash. I was finally able to openly flirting with a guy..but in the end it just came out awkward. I was grateful that William had invited me out cause even though it’s been over a year since I came out I don’t know anyone other than the man I’d loved and lost as a circumstance of bad timing and a couple of random guys I fooled around with. This was supposed to be a big step but it..just didn’t turn out right.

I got along with everyone and flirted with the guys and that was received well. Later on this guy walked in. Black hair and the most brilliant  luminescent emerald green eyes I can remember. Checkered shoes with a matching scarf and pinstripe suspenders. A hipster from head to toe. I was so taken by him. A few drinks and I felt comfortable enough to say more than hey. We talked about school and politics. He was as so sharp and articulate as I always think I am.. Sweet smile and his butt. Amazing. After we went out back to talk more we leaned in to kiss but he stopped before we made contact. Saying he had to tell me about his status and I was so in the moment it wasn’t clicking to what he was referring to. He said he was positive.

A few seconds of confusion until I realized he was talking about HIV. I was just so caught up in the moment..but I wasn’t able to hide how hard the statement had brought me back down from fantasizing about us throwing each other against the house and me having my way with him. The starry gaze in my eyes was replaced with shock. I could tell he’s seen this expression before and it makes the whole thing worse. And I noticed that he noticed my initial reaction that was in my face that easily to him said “no” when I didn’t know what I would do. But I know he’s seen that face before and a resolve that nothing would come of our earlier flirtation. Shaking and so upset, probably heightened by the alcohol, my reaction condemned this man and I felt so ashamed, that I may have hurt his feelings. I began to cry.

Spontaneously crying, like I always do when I feel I’ve deeply offended someone unintentionally. He was trying to say something like “it’s okay, I understand” but all I could do was profusely yell how sorry I was if I made him feel bad or that he wasn’t desirable. Because I felt like at that point I couldn’t just save face and say of course it’s not an issue but my reaction said differently. Even worse that I know what that feels like on some level to be rejected on something you can’t change, though not to the degree that he had to have felt. Too often I’ve had resolve to rejection as sometimes as an African American you have to brace yourself as some people do react to you this way.

And here I am most likely making this guy feel that way. Both of us embarrassed at the moment I was having I flagged a sober friend to drive me home…Could it have been the era I grew up in? Definitely. I grew up in the 80s and 90s in the south, the time of the Cold War and the Reagan era that seemed to completely and utterly fail to diminish the impact of the virus. AIDS was on the news almost every night. And people were terrified  I was terrified. These all sound like more excuses about whatever I’m subconsciously afraid to say. 

Growing up I remember so often when the subject of gay came up it was automatically synonymous with AIDS and then death. Back then it due to the reprehensible negligence by the government so it really was a death sentence. I wonder if that image was ingrained as I was processing the fact that I was gay; maybe that had some weight in how I reacted. I just remember being so afraid growing up thinking if I’m gay then I’m automatically destined to inherit this disease? Of course I know better than that now. I know antivirals helps a person live normally. But back then that was all I knew. Maybe it’s all an excuse.

Why did I react that way? Why am I trying to justify being so wrong. This isn’t like me. It’s not like I have anything to worry about. I get tested for STD’s at least once every six months. And if we were intimate together I would take the same precautions that I always do. So why did I respond that way. William called and said the guy wasn’t offended and understood but I still feel like a horrible human being. I wonder if it wasn’t completely subconscious, or lingering fear. Maybe that’s why I panicked because I had internalized all the lies and manipulation I had been taught growing up from the media. All I know is that I was embarrassing tonight. And probably hurt someone’s feelings. I hate this feeling and sorry for all this,

I remember during this whole ordeal I kept thinking that if I referred to it as a disease instead of a virus that it was insulting. Or what if it’s the other way around or both or neither. I was just so afraid of offending this man and those amazingly beautiful emerald eyes of his. More likely it was fear that I still had not dealt with and it all came to the surface that night. I needed to reconcile that because no matter how open minded I believed I was, for whatever reason I was seeing a status rather than a person. That was why I had that reaction. For me, I needed to change that outlook immediately and I believe that I’ve done so.

Some things are the same as they were then. I still slightly look away when I make eye contact with someone I’m extremely attracted to and smile. I still have terrible one liners that somehow makes the guy I’m talking to laugh..still don’t know if it’s out of civility or genuine affection. I’m still immensely drawn to hipster. I still use protection every time I have a sexual encounter and get tested at least once every six months to make sure that I don’t have any STD’s. But now I do not treat a man that is positive as some fragile being I need to tiptoe around. No longer through my awkward, panicked behavior do I treat these men as though their status is the only thing I see. I view these men as men, just as deserving of love and affection as anyone else. As it should be.

So maybe the worse thing I did through that experience was be afraid of offending someone else’s feelings (which is at times still a flaw). But it was necessary for me to go through and learn some of the prejudices that I may not have been aware of back then. As the years have went on I grew to see people as people, no matter their circumstance. I now know that I would consider dating an HIV positive man the same way I’d consider dating any other gay man. Would there be lengthy discussions and all precautions before during and after sex be taken? Absolutely as I take those precautions with every man I’m with sexually, as we all should be.

So how do we challenge ourselves to stop letting stigma dictate how we treat these men? How do we evolve and overcome the insensitive and sometimes downright ugly reactions that we may have when these men are looking for the same things we’re looking for? Talk. Just as we did when we first discovered that we’re gay. We sought out after answers about what our sexuality meant and what sex would someday mean to us. We learned the mechanics of protecting ourselves and those we sexually engage. We learned that we don’t want to be treated differently on the basis of one aspect of ourselves.

Sometimes it is necessary for us to revisit the lessons of the past and apply them to a different situation. The one thing all of us can do, regardless of status, is talk openly about HIV. I’m not saying that anyone has to share the exact same opinion on this because I understand why people would have reservations about it. Who knows, maybe I still do as I have not dated anyone who is positive. But at least I am ready to talk about it and learning more.  Because I do believe there are valid concerns, just like any relationship you embark upon. Education is paramount, not only in prevention but in understanding what it means to those living with the virus.

All relationships have obstacles that we will all have to face. But that doesn’t mean that you have to treat these men so distastefully. As David has said, we are all kin, and status doesn’t remove our sexual nature or desire or our humanity. Basically the only thing I ask every gay man to do is challenge and examine why they have a certain view on this topic. Question where your beliefs come from, question what you fear, and ultimately do what’s right for you. And always protect yourself. Talk.

Thank you David for being my muse and inspiring me to find the right words to express how I feel. And my journals for yet again showing me how reflection is always necessary for growth.

Are We As A Community Trying To Become “Too Straight”?

gay art

If you follow me on twitter, then you may have noticed that lately more of my tweets are filled with vinegar than with sugar. I won’t pretend that there hasn’t been something that’s been bothering me lately about the LGBT community. And if you’ve ever read my articles, one of my biggest talking points is about how important it is to communicate our feelings in order to bring forth discussion about the issue. So I need to rant about how I feel these issues are problematic to me.

At first I thought maybe I was making all this up in my overactive imagination because by nature I resist many notions of conformity. I don’t go out of my way to avoid it but it’s definitely not a concept that I subscribe to very often. But lately I’ve noticed this trend about our community that gives off a unified front when in honestly it feels anything but together. It feels cool, detached and rigid.

It feels like more and more that LGBT only shows this one facet of our diverse community that echoes how the straight politicians and businessmen that openly oppose us. We’ve gone from picketing in streets to this homogeneous corporate feel that recognizes people that have made small strides instead of those that have been in this fight all of their lives fighting for our rights. It looks too much like we’re trying to be straight when we aren’t.

One thing that has been bothering me lately is about sex. Lately there’s this insinuation by some to assimilate in relation to our sexual nature that seems to be taking place with this community. References made about how we can’t show our sexual nature and must be like that of our straight counterparts and not openly display our love for sex. More and more it feels like the things that should be recognized like advocating for understanding our complex and differing sexual nature aren’t and the things we shouldn’t give too much credence are the things that are overly praised, lacking in substance and importance.

I know that to some of the outside observers it seems that we are nothing more than a bunch  of materialistic, selfish, superficial sex crazed fiends. And to a degree I could not care less what those outsiders believe so long as they do not impede on our freedoms or our customs or our rights. But it bothers me when we have members within our community insisting that we do all we can to resemble all heteronormative actions and behaviors   Like how we should be advocating for monogamous relationships that want to get married and nine to five jobs with the picket fence two dogs and kids.

Anything that deviates from that is not only rejected as a normal concept but actually looked down on. Some go as far as to condemn other gay men saying that they are the reason that the rest of society has an issue with us. Blaming our sexual nature, that is no different in any aspect from our straight counterparts other than how we express it. And I do not like it at all. It enrages me in fact. Look. if nuclear style family is for you then that is perfectly fine. I hope you are able to fulfill that wish and prosper for all your days.

But if someone is inclined to work hard as a bar owner that enjoys polyamorous relationships then he/she should be able to do so without disdain and criticism from members of this community  Especially with the fact that you know damn well what it feels like to be discriminated against for being who you are. Stop trying to put your perfect image of what people are supposed to be like and be concerned with making your own utopia for yourself.

We are sexual beings with varying levels of desires and characteristics that are unique (as it is for everyone). Let two (or more) consenting  adults that have sound reasoning, are protecting themselves and their partners by engaging in safe sexual practices they should be able to do whatever they want with their bodies. They should be able to participate in whatever sexual activity they see fit without this slut shaming.

Another thing that bothered me recently  is when I read about Bret Ratner being recognized by GLAAD with an Ally Award. You may remember that Ratner last  year went on an anti-gay rant before he was slated to produce the Oscars. After being confronted by LGBT advocates and activists for his bigoted tantrum he made a vow to rectify his ways. And he has taken steps by producing videos of other straight celebrities advocating for equality. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate and welcome any form of advocacy for equal rights.

But it has only been a year.  Even when you take time out of the equation we have to also consider that there are a plethora of LGBT activists that hardly ever get recognized for all the hard work and dedication they put into this movement every day. People that risk their lives are not even noticed unless it makes the news. It’s funny (not really) how the people that are condemning gay men and the rest of the community into this ideal of conformity are the very ones that are conforming to the heteronormative “acceptable” behaviors that are even more vain, superficial and lacking in substance than anyone else is doing.

This trend of assimilation was confirmed even more for me when a friend pointed out an article by Joshua Gamson that questions the identity we develop when we are a part of a movement. In The Dilemmas of Identity Politics,  Gamson points out that even though having parts of our identity that resemble the rest of society that we have to ensure that we don’t lose the rest of our identity in the process. We need to be careful that in our efforts to show how alike we are with the rest of society that we don’t become the very things we advocated against.

To me that’s what it feels like some within the community are doing. All this suggests that in order for us to make advances that we have to modify our behavior and our culture. It’s too dangerously close to internalized homophobia or mocking and discrimination of other LGBT that don’t fit into this model that can be displayed as normal.  Instead of displaying the true diversity of our community, we show the same representation in our movement.

The majority of our leaders are gay Caucasian men that the rest of society deems acceptable and appropriate with no consideration or discernible effort to the rest of this community. There’s hardly any recognition to lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered. Even less with minority LGBT members. Let me once again make it clear that I’m not saying that mediation and finding common ground isn’t a good thing.

It has always proven to be an effective means to enact change that I support. But I can’t abide that we have to do all we can to fit in to mainstream society. I still wonder all these years later if that was the reason I was told not to be in front of a gay pride rally because they didn’t want to “incite more tensions” as I was told because it didn’t fit the model of what LGBT are supposed to look like. And it needs to stop. We shouldn’t have to fit in just to be accepted.

I understand the need to distance ourselves from the stereotypes that are created out of hate, ignorance, bigotry and sometimes our own behavior as a community. But at the same time that doesn’t mean we should whitewash every aspect of our diverse and unique nature. We shouldn’t disregard the customs we have developed or the culture that we have nurtured to fit the status quo. We need to be unafraid to show those that are most geeky, or feminine, gothic, of different ethnic minorities/races, ages instead of this plastic, uniformed representation now.

We have a rainbow that represents us so let’s show that and respect how different we really are. We are not straight so we shouldn’t have to amend characteristics of ourselves for the movement. The movement exists to show that even though our sexuality is different that we should not be treated differently. And we need to actively make sure that we are not adopting those same conformist attitudes of others in this or any community.