January 11, 2012
My life has been centered around beating the odds when it comes to AIDS. I have fought in many ways: by receiving a bachelor's degree from Howard University and a master's from Marygrove College, starting a business, having a child, sitting on boards and speaking around the country. I have told my story to thousands of people and encouraged hundreds of HIV-positive people to believe that they, too, can live meaningful lives. In some ways I have presented myself as an HIV superhero whose powers protect him from being affected. However, the truth is that I have created this character so I can get through my own times of hopelessness and despair.
If I convince myself that I am immune to the virus and all that comes with it, I can also pretend that I'm not affected by the side effects of medications, the feeling of walking into a room and being the "HIV-positive guy"; maybe I won't run from pill-taking times or feel nervous every time I cough or sneeze. Unfortunately, this "superhero" persona does not work all the time. I have the same feelings and fears as every other HIV-positive person.
This Superman mask can only hide but so much. At times there are meetings that I cannot attend, engagements at which I cannot speak and days that I need to take off work to care for myself. When I run myself into the ground and my body forces me to stop, then I make the "I can't make it" calls or send emails. People take it one of two ways: Either they are extremely nervous or scared because Superman has fallen ill, and they personalize the issue for themselves and their own illness; or they automatically think that I am lying and trying to get out of my responsibility.
Either way, these responses make it difficult for me to stop and take care of myself when I need to. It's hard enough having to deal with the virus on my own, but worrying about what negative thing people might be saying behind my back makes it that much more difficult. The hardest part is that I am not completely sure whether I want people to hold me to the Superman standard. There is something exciting about being a superhero and having superhuman strength and abilities. But I do need people to understand that Superman was, in fact, Clark Kent.
William Brawner, 30, is the founder and executive director of Haven Youth Center, a non-profit providing services to HIV-positive youths in Philadelphia.