Now, I have allowed myself to become something of an HIV posterboy, and as any posterboy will tell you, there is a lot that comes with the territory. Which is cool, I get it. Kinda like prostitution, not exactly, but close. Kinda hot, but not really. I often find myself standing in front of large groups of total strangers unpacking the psychic, slightly battered baggage of my HIV infection, in full fluorescent glare, and I sift through all the mementos, travel-sized toiletries, receipts, condoms, free lube samples, odd scraps of paper and dirty underwear that have been stuffed inside. Like any demented "celebrity," or posterboy worth his Saltines, I kind of get off revealing all my issues and lifetime subscriptions for an audience, because at the end of the day, I do believe it is effective in humanizing the disease and helping people understand their own issues when it comes to things like sexual behavior, prevention and risk-reduction decision making.
So I ain't mad about my posterized status. Like I said, I let it happen, and continue to seek it out. It helps me make sense of a disease that creates such senseless despair and destruction, it helps me to help others, it helps me to talk about it -- and all that surrounds it -- as if it is separate from me. It empowers me as it disempowers HIV. And after all, I work in AIDS Inc. as a policy director -- this is what I do, this is my schtick. It's kinda hot.
But you're waiting for the rant ...
Not long ago, I was asked to give a two-and-a-half minute speech for several hundred people around HIV issues. No big deal. It was a motivated group that had sacrificed a great deal of time and energy to raise money for AIDS services -- I was happy to do it. While I wasn't thrilled with the time constraints -- I usually have more than a couple minutes worth of anything to say -- but hey, I'm a willow, I would give them what they wanted. So there is someone who speaks before me, the director of the organization that has recruited and nurtured this large group of people. He goes on and on, "blah blah blah." When he introduces me, he doesn't give my job title, my work affiliation, or even use my last name.
"And now we have someone who would like to say something ... Jim?"
That was the intro. The ultimate posterboy introduction. I am not a professional in the field, no, not with a certain level of expertise, or of credibility, nope to that too. I don't even have a last name for that matter. I am just "Jim" -- ain't that special. And I have a little something I'd like to say. "Awwww, would you look at that?" The tone of voice he used was all soft and sing-songy, you know what I'm talking about, like "we have someone VERY SPECIAL with us today ... Jim?" And he had that "special look" one employs when one is not a titch condescending, when one is telegraphing P-I-T-Y in neon. It was a very "Jerry's Kids," "Tears of a Clown" moment. Take a look at this thoroughly pathetic creature, "awwww, the poor thing." As in, "let us all listen with earnest expressions and moistened eyeballs for two-and-a-half minutes while this 'Jim' makes us feel so lucky for being negative, for being healthy, for not being him. And let us all revel in self-satisfied smugness for helping him and his poor, wretched kind make it to their next dismal day thanks to our super glorious efforts."
All of that went through my brain stem as I walked to the microphone. And as I gave myself the introduction I deserved -- name, title, affiliation, thank you -- behind the scenes I was letting this dude have it, dragging him down to the seventh ring. Hell hath no fury like a provoked Pickett.
Uh, I don't think so, Sister, I thought, even as I spoke about national HIV statistics and the desperate need for adequate funding. The last thing I am is some pitiable creature to be looked down on, to feel sorry for, to immortalize in velvet. You can smudge your mascara on someone else's watch, shed those John Wayne Gacy crocodiles elsewhere. They are not required or requested here. I'm running my second marathon in a week, in what way does this make me weak? I don't deserve some clueless, miserable, trifling, objectifying freak trotting me out like the poz Gay Mare in front of hundreds of people in a bizarre display attempting to demean and diminish me, rob me of my strength, my essence, my humanity. I'm no victim, hon, I want no one's pity, least of all yours.
HIV does not define me. It does not make me pathetic or turn me into an object for your pity lust. I will not be humiliated and abused in this way. While I am revolted you tried, you must know you failed. Being clueless or "well-intentioned" is no defense, you're still guilty.
I have a full name, thanks.