Have you ever been faced with your own mortality? When I was at the end of active addiction to heroin, I thought I wanted to die and wanted time to stop. When I was diagnosed with AIDS, I thought I was going to die and didn't want time to end. In either case, life was being measured in time.
Just so you know, HIV is not a gay disease, nor is it a gift. Those are two of the biggest lies that people want to believe so that they can continue to have raw sex without having to ask or answer any hard questions. The allure of sex is so strong, that most of us, no matter what we say publicly, will gamble with our lives for the chance to "lose our minds" for a little while. Many men don't last long during sex and orgasms are brief, while many women are faking them. For many heterosexuals, the risk is high and the reward is tenuous.
Whether you are HIV positive or not, our sexual relationships often say something about who we are as people. No matter what kind of sex you like, our emotional history plays a big part in how we are looking to satisfy our sexual desires. It often seems like hurt people, hurt people. If two people in a relationship harbor resentments, have fears of rejection or abandonment, or have unmet desires (spoken or unspoken), there is fertile ground for the relationship to get "infected" and get sick -- figuratively and literally.
When I was first diagnosed with AIDS in 1988, I did not know what to do. I was blessed to be listening to WLIB in New York, and heard a wonderful doctor named Barbara Justice talk about the possible treatments she had for HIV, and the potential for low-dose alpha interferon to be a successful treatment. With a strange combination of faith and desperation, I sought out Dr. Justice and she became my primary care physician. We developed a doctor-patient relationship that was based on her desire to cure or heal me, and my willingness to participate in my own survival.
When I was a child growing up on the Southside of Jamaica, Queens (SSJQ), I pretty much got along with everybody I came in contact with. It was a rough enough neighborhood, especially looking from the outside in. Being a pretty good athlete helped me to be accepted by my peers. In my heart, I was fearful of confrontation, so I'm glad to not have had to do a lot of fighting.
I had a great experience while at the United States Conference on AIDS in New Orleans. I have been participating in the conferences for the past few years of this annual gathering. This year I went with a minimum of expectations and/or questions. The focus this year was on how the HIV epidemic is disproportionately affecting the Southeast, and understanding the effects of the so called "treatment cascade" -- a study of how people access and maintain treatment for HIV. With the access to care being a major issue, and the Affordable Care Act changing the lives of many, I hoped to get a sense of how to help make sure more people get the information necessary to make this transition.
In preparation for this year's United States Conference on AIDS, I met and spoke at length with some very special people who were hampered by fear about not being able to meet their perceived needs for treating their diagnosed HIV. America has cut funding, people have outlasted the usefulness of some medications, and stigma causes some into lies or self-imposed emotional exile. It seems that once again, the synchronicity of life has attracted a few persons and situations to me who were vessels for the information my soul longs to have answered. Ultimately, I was being confronted with the same question Neo had to answer when Morpheus presented it -- would I take the red pill or the blue pill. Being a human diagnosed with HIV myself, like so many others, I have had to decide whether to remain lost in the distraction and illusion of the Matrix, or seek to know myself beyond the construct of the system of control?
Biologically speaking, we all have one thing in common. No matter what your sexual predilection may be, we all have been born as a result of an egg from a woman and sperm from a man. I am not homophobic and I don't think we should judge others by their sexual preference. Our mind uses judgment as a means to separate us from each other, but we are all connected by our humanity. Stigma around HIV is partially based in heterosexuals' fear of being identified as gay. As a heterosexual black man, people of other sexual persuasions have hit on me, but no one has convinced me to try anything I didn't want to. Of course there was that time I danced with that (good looking) drag queen at the club, but that could happen to anybody, right?
Growing older does not always translate into developing emotional maturity. I know that I learned how to interact with people in a way that avoided conflict. I did not want to hurt anyone else's feelings because I knew how it felt, and I also feared retaliation and then escalation. So I learned how to tell people only what I wanted them to know, and more often than not, I told them what I thought they wanted to hear. I'm a Libra, so I thought I was just being diplomatic, but it turns out I was actually living more like a spy! As a spy, I operated under the assumption that most people don't want (or need) the truth. In fact, most people can't handle the truth!
In my travels, I have heard that some people, as a result of their economic situation, have actually wanted to and tried hard to contract HIV so that they would be eligible for the social services that would not ordinarily be afforded them if they were not HIV positive. In that regard they refer to HIV as "the gift."