HIV Activism Without Pleasure and Healing: Leave It in 2018

Tiffany Marrero
Tiffany Marrero

As activists, the work we do to make the world better doesn't mean the world afterwards is a perfect utopia where there is the permanent absence of violence -- it doesn't mean that no one gets a broken heart or a broken foot. The undesirable parts in our lived experiences won't all go away. However, it helps to get helped. Thanks to the activists before me, I get honorariums and stipends for my work, I get told to sit down and rest, and I have folks who fiercely love me. I know that even if a cure for HIV were found, that my HIV family would still be family -- cousin Mikey will always be cousin Mikey.

So I honor those activists who came before me. I pay homage to them by not trying to be a picture-perfect respectable activist, by taking as many sloppy and crazy pictures and posting them for the world wide web to see. I do this because I'm thriving. I kiss and cuddle deeply and intensely with as many lovers as one heart can take.

Because I'm thriving, I can travel to new states and get drunk with conference attendees who are just as fierce and strong as me.

Because I'm thriving. I'm not just scraping by. I'm not crying myself to sleep in despair, in panic that I'm not enough, because I deserve better -- and guess who taught me that?

I honor the older activists who continue to do this work with bone fractures and walkers, effortlessly covering and protecting me. I have bravely created boundaries to keep me happy and sane. I like to think: I am doing the 100% most I can to really experience life as a black girl in the South with HIV who's killing it. If the joy and pleasure I experience without shame weren't the whole reason for the Civil Rights Movement, then I don't know anything and have missed the mark.

I have no plans to work myself into a state of anxiety and despair by the time I'm 40. My activism includes transformation in the form of sexual disruption, healing through pleasure and sensation -- like friends cuddling and establishing longer moments of eye contact. I want activism to include think-tanks that manifest movements to center body autonomy, consent, and relationship-building, but also pleasure, desire, and.twerking!

I often worry that when our movement elders begin to die, we as new leadership are walking in their footsteps. And, to me, we shouldn't.

I won't glorify our pain and struggles. I won't sit back and watch my community burn down from homelessness or even AIDS, and I won't watch us perish from the exhaustion of oppression or "doing the work." I won't uplift systems that glamorize some businessman in a suit having everything but still feeling sad and "angry" at black people or immigrants or trans people who they see as getting too much attention or support. Working 13 hours a day is tiring, white supremacy and grassroots organizing are tiring, and undoing all the toxic shit we've learned is really tiring.

Take the notes we need from our past, to avoid repeating it.

Can we agree for 2019 as a community of HIV activists, advocates, and providers to help each other relax? Can we check in with each other, even when there's no project, campaign, or work deadline attached? Let's snap each other some nudes or meet up with each other a day before a conference or meeting starts and go explore! Let's cry with each other, but also stay lit.

I understand immensely that this fight is urgent and it cannot stop.

As your sister, lover, friend, mentor, hear me when I say: Sit down and finish eating, take that extra 20 minutes for yourself in the morning, eat ass, and celebrate.

Happy New Year!

Tiffany Marrero is a sex-positive advocate using her lived experience as a black, queer, cisgender millennial woman living with HIV to work with, and on behalf of, other people in her community. Tiffany has earned her bachelor's degree in social work (B.S.W.) from Florida Gulf Coast University and currently resides in Broward County, Florida.