"I'd like to be, under the sea, in an octopus' garden, in the shade."
-- The Beatles
Sometimes I forget. I forget how incredibly fortunate I am.
I travel less than two miles to my primary health care practitioner at one of the finest health care facilities that focuses on the treatment of HIV/AIDS in the city of Chicago. As a bonus, cruising is most excellent in the waiting room.
My pharmacist gladly mails my meds to me at my request.
My mother, without hesitation, accepted my HIV status and has continued to be understanding and completely supportive. Recently, I took her on a Rosie O'Donnell gay family cruise. We chain-smoked, drank coffee, and gossiped for a week. Plus, two dykes from Phoenix hit on her. She said she was embarrassed, but I know she was also complimented. Hell, she was hit on more than I was, dammit.
I have an insanely large extended family (it's a Catholic-Dago thing) who all know I'm a gay guy with AIDS. Yet, over the years, two, yes, two cousins had me officiate their wedding ceremonies. Among many other things, I happen to be an ordained Minister with the Universal Life Church, allowing me to perform legal marriage ceremonies. Hopefully, someday soon, I will be able to do so for same-sex couples.
Even though I am shamefully related to scores of radical Republicans, including one gay guy who is a staunch Limbaugh supporter (I still can not understand it, talk about internalized homophobia), I am accepted and loved as any other in the family. * Note to self: Have a serious discussion with the homo Limbaugh supporter. Gays have not fought for equality for decades only to have my self-righteous second cousin throw in with the enemy. Christ, young people today!
At a moment's whim, I have access to a mélange of alternative treatments from acupuncture and massage to energy healing and ear candling.
I live only blocks away from the Midwest's largest HIV support center (TPAN).
Although I have become a corporate whore and work for a 105-year-old manufacturing company, of diesel trucks and engines no less, I am out as a gay man to the peers in my work group. Many also know of my HIV status.
I have the best dog in the world who looks up to me as if I am the center of her universe. As she is of mine.
Damn. I need to be much more conscious of fitting in several extra "gratitude moments" throughout my day. Every day.
Why is my life with HIV so radically different from many of my HIV-positive brothers and sisters in the South?
Comparatively, consider the HIV-positive woman from South Carolina who lived for months in the basement of her mother's home, slipping upstairs only when her stepfather was at work because in the eyes of many, including her stepfather, who is a part-time minister, HIV is a sin.
Or the HIV-positive manufacturing plant worker who used to laugh with his co-workers about people who had AIDS until one day, he showed up for work to find someone had posted copies of his medical records in the bathroom stalls and public areas of the facility.
Or the HIV-positive man in Virginia who is unwelcome in his family home (God-fearing folks all) and has been shunted to the backyard to live in an aluminum-walled lean-to, allowed to enter the home twice a month to shower.
Why is my life with HIV so radically different from many of my HIV-positive brothers and sisters in the South? Many reasons. Some within my "control," others due to geographic and life circumstances.
In rural areas, HIV prevention and intervention programs have lagged behind urban programs. Also, geographic isolation can hinder access to preventive services for rural residents who have limited access to transportation. Glaringly, powerful stigma remains associated with both HIV and homosexuality. Rural men who have sex with men may avoid stigma, social hostility, and expected violence by hiding their sexuality and assimilating into the heterosexual culture.
Incredibly, but to me, not surprisingly, most of those who exhibit the strongest negative reaction towards those with HIV are the most "God-fearing," devout Christians. Those same Christians have no compunction about hiding behind their God as they hypocritically and hatefully discriminate, ostracize, and condemn.
A few years ago, a woman I work with invited me to speak to the children in her Baptist Sunday school about HIV. A friendly young woman co-facilitates the children's program and instructed me to be open about what the children should know about HIV, how you can get it and what happens if you do. They wanted the children to see that HIV is nothing to be afraid of and that they should love everyone. Excellent. I thought perhaps they could help remedy my supreme distrust of religion. Nope. She went on to direct, "The only thing I don't want you to talk about is gayness. We teach the children it's wrong and a sin. We teach what the bible says and the bible says homosexuality is a sin. We don't teach the children hatred. It's not that we don't love and accept gay people we do. It's just that we feel it's a sin and you're not saved."
Dear Lord, protect me from your followers.
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This article was provided by Test Positive Aware Network. It is a part of the publication Positively Aware. Visit TPAN's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.