I don't let too many things get to me these days. When you've been as close to death as I have, you learn quickly to brush the dirt off your shoulders and keep it moving. For me to do otherwise could jeopardize everything I've put into reclaiming my life.
So, when I received the first e-mail about how I was being "wrung through the mud" on a popular "ex-gay" Christian website (ironically moderated by a guy who goes by the name of DL ... go figure), I took it as a cheap shot for controversy and continued on with my day. My days, after all, are pretty full. So focusing energy on something so obviously rooted in internalized homophobia was not something I was willing, nor able, to sacrifice.
Later that afternoon though, out of sheer curiosity, I decided to take a peek at exactly what was being said about me.
Last year, I worked with TheBody.com to create a pamphlet designed to convince newly diagnosed individuals of the notion that a relatively healthy and productive life with HIV is possible. The site's moderator, the DL guy, cut and pasted pictures and pull quotes from the online version of the project (which were actually taken from an interview that, if printed out, would probably measure four to five pages in length), while completely distorting the message and intent behind them.
Here is the quote that he posted:
"My life right now is very good, and I'm not sure I would be able to say that had HIV not entered into it, because it really made me explore who I am, why I'm here, and find purpose."
Out of context it may be possible to come to the conclusion that I credit HIV directly for the "very good" place that I now find myself in, maybe. But here is the question that evoked this response, followed by my answer in its entirety.
"How has HIV changed you?"
"HIV made me question life. HIV made me question God. And it made me take on a whole new outlook. My life right now is very good, and I'm not sure I would be able to say that had HIV not entered into it, because it really made me explore who I am, why I'm here, and find purpose."
To this day, he has not posted a link or even referenced the source from which he extracted this quote, even after being informed by several people that, out of context, he was warping its meaning.
It made me angry to think that somebody would be so mean-spirited to perpetuate such ignorance, just to make their point. And it hurt me to be the target of such malicious slander.
More than most, I know that there is nothing glamorous about life with HIV.
I have, after all, been living with it my entire adult life. Fourteen years, to be exact. And the truth of the matter is that there have been several moments when I have allowed this virus to get the best of me.
Like when I dropped out of college during my freshman year because I just knew that I'd be dead before graduation. Or, six years ago, when I was told that I had six months to a year to live -- my six-foot-four, generally 200-pound frame deteriorating to a measly hundred and forty-four pounds of bones.
And because I dared to question the God of my understanding, with the purest intent of trying to understand Him and His purpose for my life, I have been blessed to not only recover from some of the most severe physical and psychological trauma that one could imagine, but I have found peace in the midst of it all. (Not to mention the fact that God cannot be confined to such inferior pronouns as He and She, but that's a whole other subject ... so I digress.)
In light of my current understating, then, there is not a thing that some DL guy or any other human being on the face of this Earth can do or say to destroy my faith in Her or the relationship that has developed as a result. My life is glamorous because of that relationship, which, however unfortunate, was significantly stimulated by my encounter with HIV. The tragic thing is that, because of people like the DL guy who try to force their own insecurities on the rest of us by way of religious dogma, I didn't understand any of that before I put myself at risk for HIV.
I heard Bishop T.D. Jakes once say, in a sermon titled The God who Married a Tramp, that once you have taken care of all of those things in your life that you believe God wants you to take care of, He will love you no more then than He does right now.
I make a conscious effort every day to walk in that understanding. And that makes me okay with God, just as I am. And it is in that same spirit that I agreed to be a part of this pamphlet for the newly diagnosed -- to share that understanding with others, in hopes that they too will carry on with their lives in spite of (and even perhaps because of) a diagnosis with HIV. Shame on anyone who would attempt to devalue that.
Ironically, a couple of weeks later, I received an e-mail from a newly-diagnosed man from downstate Illinois. Struggling with his own sexuality, he had come across this particular posting while cruising the DL guy's site. At that time, he was HIV-negative. By his own admission, he didn't necessarily agree with the way that I was being attacked on the site, but because it didn't affect him directly he opted out of rocking the boat.
When he received his diagnosis, he would tell me later, I was the first person to cross his mind.
Long story short, I've connected him with a wonderful pastor here in Chicago who has agreed to help him work through the issues that he has with his sexuality, in a healthy and productive way. And, with a Positively Aware subscription in tow, he is approaching treatment as an informed participant in his own health care. And he revisited the DL guy's site to tell him all about his experience with the hellbound Keith Green.
Clearly, DL guy, what man means for evil, God can turn to good ... and glamorous!