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"Does This Look Like AIDS?"

By Brandon Lacy Campos

September 11, 2011

This entry has been cross-posted from Brandon's Blogspot blog, My Feet Only Walk Forward, which is home to Brandon's general musings on life, the world and other matters.

There are those moments in life when an individual opens up his mouth and something so far beyond ridiculous and inappropriate comes out that your first and immediate reaction is to start looking for hidden cameras. As the crazy continues you may even begin to wonder about your own insanity or eyeball your cocktail in an effort to figure out if perhaps you've been roofied and are about to pass out and wake up in a trailer park on the outskirts of Weehawken.

And sometimes when you have those moments you are given a harsh reality check of just how much work there is left to do in this world.

Last night, while at dinner with Keith and the fabulous Chad Pace aka Divine Grace, after a very short foray into Fashion Night Out 2011, we were enjoying delicious margaritas and burritos at Lime Jungle with their signature homemade salsas (try the mango habanero ... it was out of this world), when a gay from New Jersey approached our table.

How did we know he was from Jersey, you might ask yourself, and the answer is that Jersey Gays give off a particular aura that is a combination of old PBR, corn chips, and cheap lube. Oh yeah, and we asked him.

The kid walks up to our table, startling us by his abrupt manifestation, and asks us politely if he might ask us a question. We say yes and the conversation followed:

New Jersey Gay: "Do you think this neighborhood has a higher rate of HIV infection than normal?"

Us: *blink* *blink* *blink* (in unison)

Me: "Well, ummm, I wouldn't know the answer to that question, but I am sure there are resources onine that map out HIV infection rates in a city area, why do you ask?"

New Jersey Gay: "Well let me ask you this ... can you get HIV from, you know, getting a blow job."

Keith: *eyes widen*

Chad: *eyes narrowing*

Me: "Well, you can but the risk of infection is relatively low ..."

New Jersey Gay cuts me off and asks, "But what about, you know, giving one," and he then mimes giving a blow job."

Me: "Well, as I said the risk is low ..."

New Jersey Gay interrupts again,"I have a picture of me with Brittney Spears ... not sure if you guys would even care but a guy like me with a picture with someone like her ... well ... you know ..."

At this point my This-Poor-Gay-Is-Higher-Than-A-Kite-Dar goes off. Chad and Keith start to talk at once.

Chad: "Have you ever heard of the Internet ..."

New Jersey Gay (missing the sarcasm): "Yes ..."

Chad: "You can get this information from the Internet ... you might want to try it."

Keith: "What was your original question?"

New Jersey Gay: "Can you get HIV from a blow job?"

Me: "No, actually, you asked about HIV infection rates in this neighborhood."

Keith: "Why would you ask that? And why would you come up to us and ask that question?"

New Jersey Gay: "If I got AIDS, I would kill myself. I don't want to get tested."

At this point, I am trying to figure out how to best intervene in the conversation and figure out what this guy really needs in terms of immediate information. So I say: "I am HIV positive, and I live a really amazing life."

This statement seems to break through the young, confused, and tweaked man's head for a moment.

New Jersey Gay: "That's really brave of you to say that." Pity was oozing out of his face.

Me, slightly annoyed, "And it's really dumb to not get tested. You should call GMHC and get tested."

New Jersey Gay: "But I heard that if you are circumcized you can't get it. I'm cut. Are you cut?"

I was so shocked that I actually answered automatically, "Yes."

New Jersey Gay: "And you still got It?"

Then the drugs the guy was on must have kicked in good enough to truly short circuit any ability to think rationally, as he slaps his hand on the table, shows us a finger nail with a white half moon on the nail and says:


Right then, Brandon the educator left the building, and Brandon the about to kick-his-ass took over. I said politely, but firmly, "You need to walk away now and go back to your table."

Keith was much less polite and much more forceful. I watched his body contract and compact. I call him the Puma as a term of endearment, but in that moment he seriously looked like he was going to go jungle cat and leap over the table and shred this kid. Keith told the kid to walk away, and though the kid mumbled something about not liking being told what to do. He said so while walking quickly back to his table. A moment later he goes to the bathroom and he returns shortly thereafter with his eyelids fluttering in a manner that says clearly that he is under the influence of some sort of narcotic.

When the conversation started, I really felt that it was a moment for education. The guys questions, though massively ill informed were legitimate. It was obvious that despite the tremendous amount of public education that has happened around HIV/AIDS prevention/transmission that somewhere somehow the public education campaign had failed this kid. From what we could tell from the outside, the kid (aka somewhere in his mid-20s early 30s) was white, probably middle to upper middle class and spoke as if he had received formal education. How he had such little knowledge about HIV transmission or could imagine that AIDS was something that you could identify vis a vis a fingernail abnormality was probably a combination of lack of education and the seemingly very efficacious illegal substances he was on, but the overall situation was so surreal that all three of us, afterwards, would have sworn it was a group hallucination if the kid hadn't still been visible to us less than 10 feet away.

In the end, despite the overall screwed up nature of the situation and the immediate internal emotional drama it stirred up for me as a person living with HIV, the real lesson was that HIV/AIDS prevention education has not reached as broadly or deeply as it should after 30 years of the pandemic. Abstinence only laws and Right wing religious education that short circuits real life saving education has an impact in places that are unexpected (aka not only the Deep South but just across the river in Jersey or in the rural Midwest and Southwest). And, there is a lot of work to do to stop the ignorance that lack of education around HIV and STIs breeds.

And if I ever see the New Jersey Gay on the street ... he may get a free baptism in the Hudson.

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See Also
10 Harmful Myths About HIV/AIDS
AIDS Myths

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Brandon Lacy Campos (Atlanta, GA) Thu., Sep. 29, 2011 at 11:03 pm UTC

This young one was unreachable and was high. We weren't dismissive at all, and we were very patient. It wasn't until his last question, when we stopped, I stopped, seeing this is a moment for education and decided to stop the conversation. Also, as a recovering addict and one that grew up in a family of addicts, it was clear from his behavior that he was not anywhere near sober. It was unfortunate. I was happy to answer his questions, as I understand that folks are still largely living without the critical information they need, but this was a moment when ignorance crossed over into something else, and that is when I called it.

Much love,

PS Thanks for reading guys and taking the time to respond.
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Mark (Chicago) Thu., Sep. 29, 2011 at 8:27 pm UTC
I'd say I'm shocked that misconceptions still prevail but I'm not. When was the last time you saw an ad on TV about HIV transmission? Even our gay population needs to step up and get the facts. I'm newly diagnosed and want to help! Where do I start?
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Comment by: David (San Francisco, CA) Thu., Sep. 29, 2011 at 6:02 pm UTC
While I share your frustration with this guy's extreme ignorance (which may or may not be endemic to people from New Jersey), I think you lost an opportunity to help this guy by sending him away in a dismissive manner. Now I wasn't there - and if the guy was truly "on something" then it might have been impossible to get through to him. But the kinds of questions he was asking are common ones -- ignorance about HIV runs rampant, even today -- and the fear of infection he was expressing, however ridiculous or unjustified, was real to him.

Now you can't spend your entire dinner in a ridiculous conversation with s stranger over his HIV fears, which often are a result of misplaced guilt over something he did. But I think I'd have tried to reassure him that while only a doctor can make a diagnosis (and likely not at a dinner table), a fingernail mark was not something that would typically manifest from HIV infection, that the only way to know for sure is to get tested, and that he would feel better when he did. I think disclosure of your own status, while optional, was a nice thing to do; the ignorant masses seem to think that HIV+ people are walking zombies or something.

This kid clearly had issues, and lots of misconceptions that needed correcting. I don't mean to judge YOU - but it seems like a little less judgmental attitude on your part might have sent him away better equipped to get the answers he was seeking AND with a less fearful attitude toward HIV+ folks in general. Instead it seems to have become nearly combative as a result of your impatience.

Your post is a reminder that this is a subject that is deeply personal to all of us who are infected, but when dealing with the ignorant, we need to be patient and not react emotionally to the crazy stuff they may say or ask. Otherwise we don't help them, we just put them on the defensive and support their ignorance.

I wasn't there, perhaps this guy was unreachable -- but he was asking questions.
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Queer, Poz and Colored: The Essentials

Brandon Lacy Campos

Brandon Lacy Campos

Brandon Lacy Campos is a 32-year-old queer, poz, African-American, Afro-Puerto Rican, Ojibwe and Euro (smorgasbord) poet, playwright, blogger, journalist and novelist (that last one is slowly coming along). In 2009, named him the #2 queer, Latino blogger to watch. In 2006, the Star Tribune named him a young policy wonk for his political shenanigans. His writing and poetry have appeared in numerous anthologies including, most recently, Mariposas, edited by Emanuel Xavier and published by Floricanto Press. This fall, his work will appear in the academic text Queer Twin Cities, published by the University of Minnesota Press. And, one of these days, Summerfolk Press will be publishing his first solo book of poetry: It Ain't Truth If It Doesn't Hurt. Brandon is hard at work on his first novel, Eden Lost, and he lives in New York City with his partner, artist David Berube, and his boss, Mimzy Lacy Berube de Campos (their dog).

It's with heavy hearts that we share that Brandon passed away unexpectedly on Friday, Nov. 9, 2012. He was 35 years old. Read memorials by Brandon's friends and colleagues.

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