Monday Reflection: I CAN'T With Nasty Ass UGLY!
By Rae Lewis-Thornton
July 2, 2012
This piece originally appeared in Rae's blog, Diva Living With AIDS.
I CAN'T! I just CAN'T with these people! Be CLEAR, I moved beyond the shame of having HIV when I appeared on the cover of Essence magazine! The NASTY ASS UGLY that comes to me on this blog, is sickening! It only shows me how fucking far we have got to go. When I woke up this morning at 5:30 this comment was waiting for me. I glanced at my e-mails and I couldn't go back to sleep.
Here's the comment:
So it's 5:51 and I'm going to try to write this blog before I explode. I'm not going to reduce this response to my pussy, all I'm going to say about that is, tell me that shit or any man that I have dated, face to face. Be CLEAR, I am not responding for me, I'm responding for EVERY Person who is living with HIV/AIDS in the world. I have a lot of international people who read my blog with HIV and I will NOT allow you to make them feel little or deter them from coming back.
I am not ashamed of one part of me, not my face, or my vagina. Are we still living in the dark ages? I know some of you will say, it's just her, the one that made the comment. I should ignore her. She's small; yes she and her husband are small. They seem like a perfect match. #ForReal. But at the end of the day, all it takes is for one small person to sling hate to make it OK and if we stay silent in the face of hate before you know it, Hitler is ruling. If I weren't so mad I would cry.
This comment speaks volumes to why people with HIV do not disclose their HIV status, even to their family until they are on their death bed. I'm not talking about with their sexual partners; statics show that the majority of people with HIV will tell and do tell their partners. It's a mutual secret that they both live with. I know that to be true in my own life. I did that the first seven years that I knew my HIV status. I told men that I dated, but in 7 years I only told 7 friends that I had HIV, and no family, as little family as I had at the time.
The shame we feel is insurmountable. To know that you have this infection inside of you, this health condition that people despise and you can't get rid of is a heavy load to carry daily. The fear of rejection and judgments is like a cast iron skillet lying on your heart.
Ok, let me be honest, I just stopped writing and cried. I cried for every person living with HIV in secret; for every person living with HIV alone. I cried for the 63 year old woman who has written me, but has told NO one that she has HIV. I cried for the 43 year old woman whose mother takes her to the clinic, but won't go in. I cried for my Soror, who is living in secret and feels isolated. I cried for the man from Uganda who wrote me to say, my blog helps him not feel so alone.
I cried for my girlfriend Wunadra, a doctor herself, who was too ashamed to allow her colleagues to see her take her medication. Who never told her pastor, although she and her husband (who is HIV negative) were leaders in the church. The shame killed her. Inconsistency in her treatment because of fear of being found out, made her HIV resistant and aggressive and that killed her.
I cried for my best friend from high school Tory who was too ashamed to disclose his HIV status, he would wear baggy clothes in public and pee in a jar at night so his roommate wouldn't see how thin he had become. AIDS ravaged his body and the shame kept him so isolated that he didn't seek help. When they took him to the hospital there were jars of urine under the bed. We all learned his HIV status when he was hospitalized and he died a week later. I promised him on his death bed that I would give him voice through my story until the day I die.
I was working on this blog yesterday morning, but I had to step away from it and get my spirit and attitude right. I don't want what I say to be about the attack on me and my right or ability to date. Honestly, my feelings were really hurt and my BFF Markeeda said that people have said worse things to me on this blog and they have.
This comment took me back to everything I thought those first years that I learned that I had HIV. No one would want me. No one should want me! Who would hire me? What would people think of me? Will they see me as a whore? Will all my RESPECTABILITY go out the window with HIV? I knew if Mama learned that I had HIV it would serve as more fuel for her denial. Instead of addressing the fact that her husband was a sick pervert, I would continue to be the whore in her mind. All of these things made me guard my health condition with my life and all the energy I could muster up. I spent more energy guarding my secret, rather than learning about HIV and what was happening to me. I wouldn't dare read an article on HIV for fear that someone would think I had HIV from just reading about it.
HIV is the modern day leprosy, we just wear our shame on the inside and it is sealed in our hearts. The shame is a heavy burden. This has got to CHANGE! People are living with HIV in 2012, thirty-two years into the pandemic in shame, in secret and alone.
This is the attitude that isolates people with HIV. It also undergirds misinformation and misunderstanding about HIV. Men in Africa who think they can "cleanse" themselves if they rape a virgin baby girl. In the U.S. things are not that much different. In the South where the numbers have surged, there is still so much misunderstanding. People are isolated in their own families, churches and community.
If you think I don't have the right to date that's one thing, but to tell me I'm nasty is another thing. To say only a crazy man would date me, is to suggest because I have HIV no one should love me or want to be with me; and by the way, with advancements in treatment for HIV/AIDS, it's about a 2% chance that a person will become infected if their partner is on HIV medication and their viral load is non-detectable. It's those people who don't know their status that drive the infection rate higher.
To tell me that my life sucks, gives me no hope to live. This attitude forces people with HIV underground. It speaks to the core of how people feel about this disease and places a ball and chain on our ankles.
This is also one reason people don't go get tested for HIV. Who would want to know their HIV status when people feel this way about people with HIV? Its like a life of doom in people's minds. Having to deal with the day-to-day of the illness, then turn around and deal with the attitudes of people while trying to care for yourself at the same time is overload.
The fact that people don't go get tested only drives the infection rate up. Be clear, this is a problem in the African-American community. We are 53% of all HIV cases in the United States and only 13% of the population. About 38% of all newly diagnosed cases of HIV are people infected by people who don't know their HIV status.
Also, most African-Americans discover their status when they are already sick and transitioned to AIDS. Which means they have been living with HIV somewhere between 7-10 years? As a result, we don't benefit from the treatment and care like our white counterparts. The earlier you know your HIV status, the longer you live, but who wants to know in a world of this? The sad thing is this woman and her husband are not the only ones who think this way, she was just bold enough to say it, at least in writing. She would probably never say it to my face.
When are we going to stop this madness? When are we going to be a beacon of light in this world? My friend Robert, a minister himself, said after I read this comment to him, that he bet she is in someone's church this morning and I wouldn't doubt it.
The kind of judgments and the way they are presented on this blog to me are mind blowing and often it's from someone who is setting me straight in the name of Jesus. Jesus was all about love, LOVE! Jesus never turned anyone away. NOT ONE! The woman caught in adultery, the woman who anointed His feet with oil, the thief dying on the cross, Jesus extended himself without judgments. He didn't tell the thief you gotta promise you ain't gonna sin no more, he simply said, "Today you shall be with me in paradise." That's so powerful, POWERFUL! And it's our example, even in dying He left us an example on how to treat people.
When are we going to GET IT? My father in ministry Rev. Clay Evans use to say, "Don't be so heavenly bound you are no earthly good." When are we going to get it? We are our brother/sisters keeper? When did the African-American community become so cold and selfish? When did the Black Church become about how much we can get from God, rather than how much we can give to God's people?
Jesus only gave two commandments in His earthy ministry. The leaders of CHURCH got together to challenge the ministry of Jesus. The Bible said that after the Sadducees had attempted to challenge Jesus and failed the Pharisees, "Gathered their focus for an attack." One of them an expert in the law, tested him with this question, "Teacher which it the greatest commandment in the Law?"
Faced with the Law in front of him, Jesus gave TWO commandments, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with your soul and with your mind. The Message translation says, "With all your passion and prayer and intelligence."
This is the first of the greatest commandant. And the second is like it, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Message translation says, "Love thy neighbor as well as yourself." (Matthew 23:34-39)
When are we really gonna start living the Word over and above getting people straight on the Word? When are we going to become that village again that we once were? Does your family member live with HIV in isolation? Is your family and home an environment that permits them to talk about their status? Do you know their T-cell count and viral load? Why haven't you asked? Do you know how many pills they take? I bet if they had any other medical condition you would inquire and be as supportive as you can. We either get silence on the one hand, or ugly on the other. This isolation is a death sentence, not AIDS.
What is your church doing? With the rate of HIV/AIDS in the black community you cannot tell me it's not in our churches and family. This disease is killing us, make no mistakes, and the ugly and the silence is fuel that speeds up and spreads this disease.
I've had enough of the ugly and I will no longer brush it off. I will tackle it head on. The Hitlers of this world must be STOPPED! When are we going to be the CHANGE? #IcantdoitAlone Together WE can be the Change! It starts in our hearts and flows to our family, home, churches and organizations.
Rae Lewis-Thornton Speaks
Rae Lewis-Thornton is an Emmy Award-winning AIDS activist who rose to national acclaim when she told her story of living with AIDS in a cover story for Essence Magazine. She has lived with HIV for 27 years and AIDS for 19. Rae travels the country speaking and challenging stereotypes and myths about HIV/AIDS. She has a Master of Divinity degree and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Church History. Rae has been featured on Nightline, Dateline NBC, BET and The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as in countless magazines and newspapers, including Emerge, Glamour, O, the Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Jet, Ebony, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, to name a few. She earned the coveted Emmy Award for a first-person series on living With AIDS for Chicago's CBS News.
Rae is an active user of social media -- read "Long-Term HIV Survivor Discovers the Power of Twitter," an article on TheBody.com about Rae's social media activities.
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