How I Took on Trolls Shaming My HIV Status and Short Shorts
On Friday morning, I awoke to hundreds of notifications from a tweet I made referencing the racist past of swimming in America.
Never forget.— George M Johnson (@IamGMJohnson) August 12, 2016
They drained an entire swimming pool because Dorothy Dandridge stuck her toe in it.
That is why Simone Manuel is important
Many were shocked to find out this truth. Others were glad that a hidden story was finally coming to light. Unfortunately, a few trolls couldn't see the forest for the trees. Rather than support me in the moment, they took the time to attack my HIV status and question my profile as "another black gay man pushing the negative stereotypes."
I grabbed a few screenshots before they were deleted.
My first thought was, "What did my tweet have to do with my status, lived experience or activism?"
Unfortunately, those of us who are living with HIV aren't absolved from hate and trolling, no matter what topic we might be preaching about. Interestingly, because the topic was discrimination and pools, it was more perfect that I discuss this subject than I first realized.
As a black man, I understand what it means for a black woman to be able to win a gold medal in an event that has such a racist and violent past. I also understand what discrimination looks like for people with HIV, who have also faced scrutiny for swimming with those who are HIV negative.
Prior to the 1988 Olympics, Greg Louganis tested HIV positive. Knowing that if he disclosed his status he would not be allowed to compete, he had his medication smuggled into Seoul for the games. As it would happen, he came face first with his fears when he hit his head on the springboard and began to bleed into the pool. He would be stitched up and a go on to win a gold medal. Years later he finally disclosed his status and lost most of his endorsements.
So I was in no mood to let those comments go without a response:
So my avi and bio are being screenshot and shared bc i perpetuate black gay male stereotypes. I am both these images pic.twitter.com/QT0DGzhN4l— George M Johnson (@IamGMJohnson) August 12, 2016
For those who don't know. I am both images. I like to dress up, I also like to show my abs and wear short shorts. Who gon check me boo?— George M Johnson (@IamGMJohnson) August 12, 2016
How I dress should and will not ever invalidate my activism and my words. I write about HIV, Black Lgbtq, Racism, etc, and will keep doin it— George M Johnson (@IamGMJohnson) August 12, 2016
After being accused of wearing HIV as a "badge of honor" I am left with a few thoughts.
First, HIV-positive people should not feel ashamed to publicly display or tell their status if we can. There are criminalization laws, stigma and shame -- and a devaluation for many when they finally disclose -- and that can only change if we allow those who can live with it publicly to do so without ridicule.
Second, the perpetuation of gay stereotypes is nonsense when the stereotype happens to be a lived experience. Wearing the clothes that I like to wear and am comfortable in should have no bearing on the validity of my words, my career and my activism.
Finally, in the words of the great Nene Leakes, "I said, what I said!" I am an activist and journalist and no amount of trolling will ever prevent me from talking about the issues that need to be addressed.
So to the trolls, thank you for reaffirming the importance of speaking out on issues, despite my not meeting your standard of approval. It will remain for me a reminder of the work that still needs to be done.