July 10, 2012
You've been a topic of conversation for a long time in my life. I remember some of the first times I talked about you with my parents when I was no more than 10 years old. They wanted me to learn three things; go to college, don't get a credit card until you're smart enough to have one, and always use a condom. (Granted, at the time, they thought I'd be getting someone pregnant, but now they know better.) That credit card bit didn't stick so well, but that was taken care of a while ago. I went to college. Now, my job is to make sure that not only I wear condoms, but that the rest of the District does, too. Two out of three isn't bad, is it?
You continued to be a focus of discussions in high school. I read Tony Kushner's Angels in America, and it pretty much changed my life.
Before I ever met anyone whose life was impacted by you, I read this beautiful work about a man named Prior, a man that I recognized as myself, who wrestled with an angel because of you. That latter part I didn't see myself in as much, but Prior's beauty and frailness created an image that will be forever burned into my spirit.
Being barely pubescent, not having a lot of resources, and trying to get into college stopped me from taking measurable action in my community. Also, the fact that I lived in a plush, suburban neighborhood meant there weren't many opportunities in the first place. I read about you, and talked about you, because I was fortunate enough to know that doing those things were a part of my battle against you, and keeping you from getting to know me the way I knew you. This fight remained internal for some years, but then I went to college at UNCG, where I was required to do volunteer work for a political science course I was taking.
I didn't finish the course, but I did continue to volunteer at Triad Health Project, which "provides emotional and practical support to individuals living with HIV/AIDS and to their loved ones." I did administrative work some days, and delivered groceries to clients on others. This is when I actually got to know you a little better. Not you, really, though. I think I know you well enough. You're cruel, and calculating. You're pretty opportunistic. These are all traits I wouldn't value in a human being, never mind something I can't even see.
I did get to meet people, though. Actual people. You're not a person, and you don't define people that you've gotten to know. (Well, you shouldn't, but somehow people manage to let you.) These people that you've gotten to know and that have gotten to know you were not often home or didn't always come to the door, but when they were around, they were lovely. I was much younger then, and I didn't always make it out to volunteer, but when I did it was always rewarding in ways I could never have guessed.
I know better now. I know why I'm here doing what I do every day at The D.C. Center for the LGBT Community. I know that you have a disastrously brilliant way of showing us some of our world's most dangerous problems, like lack of access to services and education, and the way that some people dehumanize others. I'm determined to stop these things. Not you, per se, because I simply don't have the means to stop you, except by talking about you and also participating in a vaccine research study. But, I can try and stop the injustices that help you thrive. I'm determined to make your path a lot harder to follow, so that I can start talking about you in the past tense. So that people can be healthy and treated fairly. So that one day, you, a non-living thing, stop hindering people from really living.
HIV Program Associate
The D.C. Center for the LGBT Community