How have your relationships with family and friends changed since you were diagnosed?
My relationships with my family and friends have greatly improved. There is a greater level of honesty and openness. When I was forced to have a dialogue about my HIV status, everything else became, like, nothing. Sexuality, whatever, you know. I have really seen that I do have people in my life who love me unconditionally, and I think that has been the thing that has kept me alive.
When did you disclose to them that you are positive?
I told my mom and six friends right away -- in high school, there were six of us, three guys and three girls who hung together like glue. I told my mom first, and then invited all of them over and passed around the letter I got from Lifesource. But the thing was, I was like, "I'm giving you this information about me, but I don't want to talk about it and I don't want it to be brought up again." I didn't talk about it again for years.
I didn't talk with my girlfriend at that time. What I did was just break it off with no excuse or reason. And just recently, she was able to get closure on that -- because we're still close. She has two children now; I see her all the time. Recently I was able to disclose to her and talk about why I had to break it off at the time.
How did they respond to you?
My mom really took it hard, really hard. I never felt anything negative, just a lot of concern, and I felt that in some way she felt she was responsible somehow. My friends were all very supportive -- and very scared. One said, "You know, I really thought we would grow old together. I can't believe this is happening to you!" They were supportive, but very afraid, and rightfully so.
How do you want people to treat you?
I think they treat me exactly the way I want to be treated: I don't want any special attention, but I do want support -- support going through this masters program, working the hours that I work. I just need support, period, and I get that.
How do you decide whether to disclose your HIV status to someone?
Lately, I don't have a choice. Usually when I meet people, they already know because I'm a pretty public figure and I talk about it wherever I am. But there are moments when it is an issue, when I don't want to talk about it and I don't want to disclose it. It's when I'm meeting someone new, especially if we are meeting to date. It's kind of like "Okay, here we go ..." I usually start by asking them if they know their status, and then we go from there.
Now, if someone tells me that they don't know their status, I'm very unlikely to be intimate with him, because in this day and age if you don't know your status, you're not the person for me: You're not cognizant of the fact that you are a man who has sex with men, and we're the highest-risk population, so if you don't understand that, then our worlds are not going to gel at all. Then you don't understand re-infection, resistant virus, any of that. So we will be friends, and I will educate you and help you get tested. But as far as intimacy, we're not even going there.
What is the best response you have ever gotten when telling someone?
There was a girl in a class at the Chicago Vocational Career Academy when I was doing a presentation, and she was just overjoyed at the fact that I had the courage to stand in front of this class and say that. And there was so much love and so much appreciation in her words, and she wished me so much strength and well-being that I was almost overtaken. I hardly ever break down in presentations, but I almost did because of her reaction.
What is the worst response?
The worst was from someone who said that I deserved what I got for engaging in intimate relations with other men. I was giving a presentation, so I couldn't give him the Keith Green that the hood might know. But there was this all-eyes-on-him kinda thing, and there were a couple of folks in that room who got him together for me. I didn't even have to do it.
How has your sex life changed since you became positive?
Becoming positive changed my sexual orientation in that I felt more comfortable dealing with and disclosing to men than I did to women. I understood that disclosing to women would also mean disclosing and having the conversation about sexuality, and I just really wasn't that comfortable in my sexuality. So I stopped having sex with women. That's the biggest change that occurred, though I definitely still identify myself as bisexual -- and actually recently have been more interested in pursuing a relationship with a woman and hopefully, possibly having children.
I also really had to look at what "safer sex" meant, so things just changed in the sense that what I would allow before, I absolutely could not allow now -- but those same things, I shouldn't have allowed before.
Have you faced rejection from potential sex partners? How do you deal with that?
There's been some, but not much -- and nothing that has in any way been harmful. I'm okay with it when it's related to HIV. I understand that some people are not as informed as others, and it's just a natural part of being HIV positive that I've come to accept.
Do you have a policy about if or when you tell a sex partner that you are positive?
I try to do that before we even begin to become intimate. That way, if we're in the moment, we're not stumbling over that.
How do you have that conversation?
Again, I start with "Do you know your status?" And of course usually the first thing that comes out of someone's mouth is "Of course! I'm negative!" And so then ... well, I'm not. So there's that whole "Here we are!" thing that goes on for a minute, and then we move on.
Do you feel that if you practice safe sex, it is necessary to tell a sex partner that you are positive?
I think that you should always give a person the option. I understand how people can feel differently, because I have been in situations where I haven't disclosed. There were two very specific people whose deal with me was "You took away my right to choose, and you don't have that right as a human being to do that to another human being." So I disagree that as long as you're practicing safer sex, it's okay not to disclose.
Did you make any New Year's resolutions?
I made one resolution, and that is to live in the moment. Last year was such a big year for me and so much was happening that a lot of it I missed -- the meat, the fullness of every experience. I'm always thinking about other things that have to be done, so I'm really striving to focus on exactly what it is that I'm doing at exactly that moment.
What books, movies, music, or TV shows have had a big influence on you?
Books: Tuesdays With Morrie, The Power of Now, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, and The Game of Life and How to Play It. Those are some of the books that have moved me and that I pass on to other people.
Movies: Besides The Color Purple, I'm a big Star Wars fan. And The Lion King!
Music: Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On?" -- so much so that I named my column in Positively Aware after it. I'm really moved right now by some of the hip-hop artists that are about change, like Kanye West, Talib Kweli. Erykah Badu's "Mama's Gun" CD is probably one of my favorites. Mary J. Blige's "My Life," Jill Scott's "World and Sound: Volume I." Janet Jackson's "The Velvet Rope." I like music with messages -- I probably own about 1,000 CDs.
TV: Noah's Arc, the first black gay TV series.
What's the greatest adventure you've ever had?
I'm pretty adventurous, so I'm going to have to think on this one. ... One Memorial Day weekend, at the spur of the moment, my partner and I decided to drive to D.C. And we decided to call his cousins in Detroit to see if they wanted to go with us, and they did, and they had a truckload of people who wanted to go too. So we got a van and drove to D.C., to Baltimore -- just hit the road for the weekend. It was big and exciting for me. I was about 20, and had never been to Baltimore or D.C. -- and it was Black Gay Pride Day in D.C., and I was amazed at how many black gay men there were in life, period.
If you were granted one wish, what would it be?
I have to be very careful with this one because I get everything I ask for. It would be to have another conversation with my grandfather. I would like for him to be able to see my life now. I think he'd be very proud to see one of his grandkids pursuing a masters, considering a doctorate, and having an impact on the world. I'd love to be able to sit in his lap and tell him everything I have going on in life, and have him just smile and be proud.
Anything else you'd like The Body's readers to know about you?
I really want people to know that, underneath everything, I'm a very simple man who wants very simple things: love, friendship, peace, unity. I have a love for people that I don't even quite understand yet, but I'm very moved by other people's afflictions and pain. And that's what drives me, my career, my educational goals -- that sense of deep love for the world that we live in, and wanting to see it be at peace.
Want to find out what Keith Green's been up to? Check out Keith's February 2011 update interview.