Tag Archives: self esteem

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.

Brokenhearts Clubs and Vulnerabilities Show, These Are Our Valentine’s Day Woes

vday

We are officially in the season of love. A time we know will soon be perfumed with flowers that bloom and sweeten the air. The days become longer now and the sun greets us after a long hard day’s work. Our urges to hibernate from the cold ebb away and our mood is lighter with each passing day. We are more likely to seek out new people and places to go and endlessly imagine all we want to do when summer arrives. By nature, we as gay men are more expressive in how we show love and just become so much more livelier during this time of year. We begin to listen to more songs that speak to the beginning of love to welcome new possibilities…but this time is not all rosy.

Even though we love all aspects of love this is also the time of year when we measure our entire worth based on whether or not we have a relationship. The subject of love is always looming to the point that it feels like it’s taunting us because we are examining what love or lack there of, we have in our own lives. And we begin to dread the international day of love. A day that is penned as the day of expressing our love turns into a diatribe about shattered hearts from inflated egos of our exes. We being to relive betrayal from infidelities and show apathy towards love that did not last. We lament on missed opportunities that we fear may never grace us again, Love consumes us in every aspect of our lives around Valentine’s Day.

If we’re single, we incessantly examine if it is the men we’ve been pursuing in the past calendar year. So we begin this at first objective list of what we are looking for in our potential soulmate, with trepidation and fear. It starts off innocently enough. First we may wonder are we looking for the wrong attributes in a man, how that can be tough.  We ask if our standards too hard to obtain. Should we settle for the guy that completely lacks ambition but looks great naked, or should we abstain?  Is the city I live in just lacking in worthy men or can we never win at love again? And then we turn this one day into the biggest self-deprecating examination into our looks and personality.

Are we too fat? Too skinny? Too tall? Too short even in top hats? Too much or not enough muscle? Too little ambition with not enough hustle?  We will go on dissecting every single inch of our bodies with great care, to find a flaw that is not there.  Then we examine our faces as aging in the gay community is hardly granted any graces. We’ll ask if our eyes are too close/far apart, and if our noses are too big/small by just an ounce.

Are our brows too pronounced or are our ears too big by just an ounce. Do we allow our scruff to sprout or just all hair out. Should our clothes mismatch or is there another reason we can’t find the ultimate catch. We’ll pull at our lips to see if they’re gigantic or in desperate need of snips.  Is it our voice or a bad accessories choice, our walk our smile too wild, our laughs, our dancing has too much prancing… It all begins to sound like a bad rhyme in our heads.

We’ll ask ourselves if we’re too needy or too detached. We’ll begin to wonder if we’re not affectionate enough or if we flirt too much with other guys. Are we too political or not worldly enough. Maybe we’re just boring/bland or too adventurous and spontaneous. Ponder extensively if we don’t communicate enough or know when to leave well enough alone. Could it be we’re too dry or never takes anything seriously. Are we too trusting or should we have trusted our instincts. Maybe we’re too cocky or too insecure. Constantly questioning how our past is affecting our present.

No matter how much friends and loved ones convince us otherwise. Their words are hallow to us now and facetious to boot. We feel patronized because we want to see what the guys we pursue don’t like about us. We’ll listen to sad songs, write sad, dark poetry and darker clothes. We get angry at even the slightest mention of love, the one thing we crave with our entire being. All we crave is to feel anything other than this constant drive to fill this void placed in our hearts.

Single people aren’t the only ones that do this. If we’re in a relationship we are constantly evaluating if that relationship measures up to not only our standards but the standards of everyone else. Wondering how to spice things up and try new things. Speculating at how truthful those relationships that make everything seem easy when you have to put so much work into your own. Wondering why the passion has left your relationship. Maybe even if only for a minute wondering if the love has ended and you both settled for comfort.  Also, you’re wondering if he feels the same way. So the day of love becomes a critique of both yours and his performance up until this point.

I have been through all of these stages just like everyone else, especially when I first came out. So often we critique ourselves to our communities standards whether we blindly follow them or not. It resulted in bad hair experiments and excruciating muscle building regimes. Attempted a really bad clothing makeover. Stared at myself in the mirror off and on for hours readying myself for discovering something heinous that was preventing me from finding “the one”. Made a list and called my exes to see what I could’ve done differently. Secretly studying other happy couples seething at how effortlessly they made their relationship seem and comparing how my interactions with past loves measured up. Hey, I’m human just like everyone else.

I was examining what I’ve done right or did wrong in all aspects of my life for the pursuit of love. Wondering what other measures I could take to make myself more desirable both inside and out. Inspecting my body and my behavior to see what I thought others would see, through their eyes. I did this regardless of whether or not I was in a relationship or not. Constant speculation of failed relationships and lack of consistency when I had a boyfriend. All these negative thoughts about myself going round and round like a bad rhyme.

Then I remembered what love really was. How the beginning wraps you up in euphoria. How when he mentions your name you get week in the knees. How hearing his name can make your day infinitely better. The little things like small notes or buying your favorite brand of cereal to show you he cares. How kisses are electric and holding hands makes you feel immortal. How love gives you the strength you never thought you had. How you are more focused than ever on your dreams and making them come true for the both of you.

Or when after a long very difficult end to a relationship you are able to look at yourself in the mirror and smile. That even though you want love, your life is what you worked hard to make of it. That loved ones are there for you to make you laugh and smile. And even when you are not alone you are not lonely. All those moments came from confidence  They come not just from the fact that someone loves you, but also the belief that you are in fact worthy of love. And that you love yourself.

Both of those moments of strength came from self love. And as the depth of how I loved myself  grew so did the love I gave and received from others. The point of this is first to not let this day be a measurement of how successful you are in the arena of love. Too often, in the season of love, we forget to love ourselves because we are too busy evaluating what love is given to us. What constantly ask what kind of love we want in relationships, whether we’re looking for one or attempting to reinvent the one we’re currently in. Being single is not a weakness and being unhappy about some aspects of your relationships is not the end of love. And we should also remember to give the same kind of love we are seeking to ourselves.

 

First Loves To Push & Shoves; More Tales Of Growing Up Gay

 dark gay

In my last piece I focused on the beginning of our process. The time of innocence and discovery that allows us to see how we’re different. And now this tale is about the middle part of this journey. It’s darker because this is when the internal conflict of accepting who you are and what everyone else believes you are.  During this time of the process we are presented with pushes and shoves that drive us to acceptance. Some are subtle yet linger with us while others are overt direct conflict that consumes every aspect of our daily lives. The time in which we leave our adolescence and begin adulthood is marked with these shoves during our process. Even though this is not as lighthearted and carefree as the first tale, it is just as important. Maybe even more so.

So I had learned I was different in third grade. Even though this discovery is monumental, the way I came about it was so carefree and innocent. And I was not prepared for the dark twist and turns of development coming my way. As we get into adolescence and later adulthood, we start to feel those push to understand and accept being gay. The first shove was to understand why I was different. Why I thought about guys instead of girls. Why I felt the need to want I wondered for what seemed like years why I didn’t like girls the same way. I thought girls were great. Still do. They’re nice and have amazing hair that I always want to play with for hours on end.  But that shove to be like all the other guys was strong; I was never quite able to be as they were.

It lead me to take on more androgynous behaviors and to this day I am still not sure if it was intentional or because I enjoyed those activities. And this understanding leads me to my first dark period. Bad hair, bad clothes and a sullen guy that listened to R.E.M. on repeat every day. That was coupled with my brief consideration on whether or not this was truly what God wanted for me. I also knew it was about how I didn’t fit into everyone else’s mold of what a stocky 6’4 guy should be like. I quickly learned not to care what others thought about every other area of my life but I still refused to confirm what a select few had suspected. And the representations of what I thought gay was did not resemble me at all so I didn’t know how to be gay. Or maybe I was just stubborn.

Those awkward years ended and finally I was an adult. I felt like as soon as I arrived on my first day that I would feel this euphoria and be able to just come out, everyone would be cool and I wouldn’t care either way because I was happy. And even though that year was the best of my life I still felt hollow. Because I still hadn’t come out yet. The shove of a new life and new beginnings was not enough for me to come out and fully accept my sexuality. I knew and accepted it years before. And more importantly to me, my parents knew. At that time their opinion and support was all that mattered. I often wonder if it was fear of being judged on one more thing I could not change. Because of my race I had faced discrimination. And I did not want to have to always be aware of something everyone else would constantly judge me on. But until I had that final push came the first of much one summer night. Or maybe I was just scared.

And during that summer after my first year of college came another shove. I had the privilege of making friends to two men like me that felt they could trust me with their secret. I was the first person they told that they were gay. That secret that was also my secret, but I just wasn’t brave enough to do so. One friend was there on campus working during the summer months after my freshman year, also known as one of the best years of my life, with me. One night he pulled me aside and asked me to go out for a walk with him as he had something to tell me. And I obliged wondering what he had to say.

We walked across the street and sat on the surprisingly cool steps of our university’s conference building and stared up at the stars, our favorite pastime. But Mick (I nickname all my close guy friends that, I don’t know why) was so quiet that night. And I sensed something was wrong. He turned to me with a tear falling down his face and said, “I don’t want you to hate me, Sly.” And my heart sank for him because I couldn’t take away his pain. I assured him for several minutes that he didn’t have to be afraid of him and that I will support him no matter what. And he said. I’m gay. And I said okay what else is there? And he smiled. Letting out a huge sigh of relief he started to cry tears. I’ll never forget this expression of ease and freedom that was so visibly etched on his face. And then I began to cry.

My heart felt like it was in my throat because I so desperately wanted to say “So am I, Mick” but I didn’t. And he asked what was wrong, holding my hand and more tears strewn down to the ground. The push was one of the most intense feelings I’ve ever felt. So torn on when to come out. I kept thinking would I take away from his moment or would this be a double celebration. Finally I recovered saying I’ll always be there for you and support you no matter what. This doesn’t change anything between us. And even though I meant those words they felt like cruel malicious lies because I was unable to say that I’m gay too and you’re not alone. We talked and laughed and when I went back to my room I cried until I fell asleep. The push, or this internal desire was not strong enough to do it. Or maybe I still felt alone.

The next shove was the most subtle and the most powerful. It has the scale and drama of those relentless romantic comedies I avoid religiously.  Because one of my last shoves was love. I had met a guy the very first day of college and I was in awe. He was lanky but still so statuesque. A business major with charisma that could woo the most uptight person into having a good time. He was smooth and I was in love. And even though neither of us was out at the time we were drawn to each other as if we knew each other’s secrets. A common trait of mine is to hide my greatest treasures away from everyone else in order to preserve them. Or maybe I’m just a little selfish.

We flirted off and on for years and came so close to something happening. But knew the moment either of us gave into our desires, we would have to share that secret about us. We weren’t willing to do that yet. We’d lose touch with each other then randomly find each other. But we still were unable to commit to announcing that we were both gay. Then during the summer before I started grad school I saw him randomly again. Before we had a chance to say hello we kissed. Impulsive and right in public. We hugged and talked as he asked me about when I finally had come out and I said I hadn’t yet. This changed the tone and he wanted to give us a real chance at something but only after I was out. But I still wasn’t out yet. And we hung out more and I felt the shove to embrace my sexuality more than anything because I wanted to be with him. He went on his way later that week and we kept in touch. I wasn’t fully ready but I was closer than ever.

And then a few months later my last shoves came. They weren’t sweet with hints of love even though I thought about my sexuality more than anything. They were dark and cold. The last shoves were death itself. I had been so stressed with school and grades I thought my appendix erupting was a simple flu virus. When I finally arrived at the hospital they had me prepped for surgery within 15 minutes because I was bleeding internally and were uncertain I would even survive the procedure. They said I should make a quick phone call to my parents and I did. This acceptance of being gay had consumed my thoughts so much that I ignored my own health. And as they rushed me to the operating room, O remember the bright fluorescent lights above me and I vowed that if I made it I would live as openly and authentically as possible.

Then news came of a college friend that had committed suicide because he was gay. Reading and hearing about it as I was healing from major surgery, I remember crying because I wasn’t just sad. I was livid. Because I felt that maybe if I were out sooner that he wouldn’t have felt so alone. I know that it’s not my fault, or at least convinced myself that I had no control over his actions. But I will always wonder had he been around more people that were completely out would it have changed the outcome and that I believe is true in anyone’s life.

So I had shoves in all states of my being. From the emotional, what felt like physical when confronted with how someone else’s truth was also my own and the spiritual side. Sometimes all at the same time, all shoving me to either come out or be alone forever. And I was terrified of both. You see there’s this push and pull. This shoving and stalling the entire time until you are full out. There is time of frustration and anger throughout. I felt even with all I knew and awareness I felt I possessed I still couldn’t own it yet. Even with my parents’ support I still hesitated for years in completely embracing my sexuality. Because that conflict, that pushing and shoving doesn’t end until we allow that process of understanding that we are different in one aspect than everyone else. Self-acceptance comes on its own time when you are willing to accept it. It took years for many of us. But thankfully that is changing for the better.

Again, I tell these stories because I feel we all need to share them. Because even though the newer generation of gay men and women have it better than us it still does not make that process any easier. But the way we make it easier is a result of them reading our stories and life lessons and insights so that maybe they avoid some of the things it took us years to learn. And for them to know that their feelings and emotions through this process is normal. Because it is about their development. So maybe they find more tears of joy than sadness. To know that they are not alone.

 

Research Study Finds Gender In LGBT Is Not Linked To Happiness

In this is interesting news Cornell University conducted a study to examine  sexuality and conformity to societial norms with some surpising results. The survey questioned over 500 high school seniors to determine if their sexuality influenced their likelihood of conceding to societal norms.

Both LGBT and straight students happiness wasn’t based on their sexuality but rather their likelihood to conform to behaviors assigned to their gender. For instance, societal assigned masculine behaviors like “fixing cars” affected guy’s well being and happiness much more than their sexual orientation.The same applied to female participants and societal assigned feminine behaviors like shopping.  Here’s a further elaboration:

The study pointed to nonconformity as having a greater impact than sexual orientation on students’ psychological well-being — debunking the long-standing belief that sexual orientation is the primary cause of unhappiness among LGBT youth, according to Gerulf Rieger, a post-doctoral associate in the Sex and Gender Lab and one of the authors of the report.

This research is important  as it’s implications in understanding how rigid gender roles assigned by society are what led to in lower esteem in LGBT youth as well as adults. I can see how some can link sexuality to gender but also how it can be viewed differently and this research if anything else shows that we need more multidimensional approaches to understanding outside influences in behavior.

So fellow readers, what do you think; growing up were you more concerned about your sexual orientation or how your behavior reflected on what society says your gender should be like?