This year's annual United States Conference on AIDS was held in September in Washington, D.C. The focus was on the social determinants that have proven to be the stubborn factors that continue to contribute to the steady rate of new infections. There is much to celebrate about how science has developed medicines that are helping to control the progression of HIV in those who have been diagnosed as being carriers of the retrovirus. There is still a great deal of work needed to be done to improve prevention efforts, deploy educational strategies, and diminish or extinguish the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS.
My wife Dionne and I have lived with AIDS since 1984. I am HIV+, she is not. We have experienced the kind of suffering that families affected by HIV go through. We talk to people all of the time about the different circumstances and emotions that heterosexuals have to negotiate while either living with, or protecting themselves from, HIV.
I found out that I was HIV positive when my wife and I were tested when we became pregnant with our youngest son. We had been having unprotected sex for four years, in spite of my history with IV drug use. I had been blessed to be clean and sober for the four years we were together prior to our getting pregnant, but denial prevented us from believing that I could possibly be positive. I was elated when my wife's test came back negative. Through God's grace, she remains HIV negative. I thought her diagnosis was a good sign for her and our child, and possibly me too, but my luck was not as good. My test revealed that I was HIV positive.
I started having sex in elementary school most days on the back staircase during lunch. Afterwards, my little girlfriend and I played punch ball in the schoolyard with our classmates. When I turned 14, I met my next childhood sweetheart. Soon after, she and I joined the birds, bees, and more appropriately, rabbits in doing what came natural. As a teen, premature ejaculation took work to overcome. I really wanted to please my mate, so we put in lots of work. Sex has always been fun and something I wanted to share with many, but from little girls to grown women one thing seem to be a constant; women and girls usually want to be the "only" one, and men usually want more than one. God sure has a sense of humor, doesn't "He"?
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.