February 13, 2014
This piece originally appeared in Rae's blog, Diva Living With AIDS.
It took me years to understand the worth of my vagina. When I was a young adult, I saw it as a tool to find and keep love.
I mean a bitch with some good pussy was a bad bitch who could name her future. I mean, what man wouldn't surrender to some good lovin' too, so I thought.
As I aged, I saw my vagina as a brand of honor. In my twisted thinking, the fact that men would want to get it, disease and all, gave me a sense of worth. I had to be a bad bitch if men would risk their lives to get what was between my legs, especially in those early days when the risk of infection was greater than it is today, or so I thought.
Now at 51, living with HIV for 30 years, AIDS for 21 years and herpes for 31 years, all which came via my vagina, I've been forced to rethink the value of my vagina. Who would have thought that what I did with my vagina at 19 and 20 would alter my entire life, for the rest of my life?
When we are knee deep in the sex, typically we can't think past how good that shit feels. OMG, there's nothing like some good lovin'. I mean the kind that makes you drunk; Intoxicated by the 'feel-good' of the moment.
But even back then, if I'm really honest, I can remember those days, after I washed the wetness from between my legs, and I was left alone to face my self, there was something missing and sad.
It didn't matter how long we fucked, how intense the fuckin' was, when it was all said and done, I was still missing something.
It was an early clue that I was void of self-respect that I totally missed. I was using it, meaning my vagina, as a commodity, a marketable item to satisfy wants of others with the hope and a prayer that it was, in the end, would make me whole.
Growing up, my vagina was not my own. It belonged to those who took it for their own pleasure, brother, uncle, step-father, and I didn't even know that it was wrong. Then my mama only saw my vagina as her enemy and she did everything she could to destroy me and "it" as a way to keep "it" from her husband, when she should have been trying to keep her husband away from "it."
My vagina has lived a lifetime. It's a wonder that it don't just pack up and walk the fuck away.
It never occurred to me that I didn't respect my vagina. Nor did I know, as a child, that "it" needed to be protected; so I grew up with this distorted idea that placed a value on my vagina that rendered no good outcomes.
If I had known that I would lose a part of me each time I spread my legs. If I had known that the aftermath of the 'feel-good' was an emptiness that would chip away at my spirit, but I knew neither.
If I had known that love had nothing to do with lovin' what was between my legs. If had known that a man could love my vagina and hate me. If I had known that my vagina was connected to my soul and spirit and not a commodity in exchange for love. If I had only known, my life would not have been altered for the rest of my life.
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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.
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