The Branding of a BlaQueer Survivor, for Whom Becoming HIV Positive Seemed Preordained

Tabias Olajuawon Wilson
Tabias Olajuawon Wilson
Joshua Davis

This isn't where I was supposed to be, but somehow, from the moment I accepted my true self, I knew this was where I would end up: Tabias Olajuawon Wilson, HIV, B.A., J.D., Ph.D. (prospective). I'm unsure which of those marking acronyms feels more natural to me, and that is the problem. Each of them give and take parts of me, transforming my essence into something to be read, received or rejected.

HIV, too, is a sort of graduating from the abyss of prospective death to the promise of a functional sort of life. This should not be taken to imply that I was engaging in "risky" sexual behavior, but instead as an echo of the quiet resignation of a fifteen-year-old BlaQueer who had already learned to marry death, blackness and queerness.

That the acquisition of HIV was as ingrained in my destiny as the necessity of attending college to escape inter-generational poverty speaks wonders about the foreclosed future our society continues to present to young black gay/queer peoples. Even then, before the unjust imprisonment of Michael Johnson, before the community consciousness around the genocide of Black Trans women, before two black boys were boiled from flesh to spine for cuddling in Atlanta, I knew that death would accompany me throughout the most vibrant experiences of my life.

It came like a thief in the night, so to say: I was raped, by a white boy, at a prestigious, predominantly white institution. End of story.

It happened. It happened to me. In some ways, it was a beginning -- a new intimacy with needles, pills that killed me to save me, a different type of surveillance, memory loss and more brittle bones -- but in most ways it was closure. The worst had happened. No, not my rape, silly: HIV.

I could now stop worrying. I could now stop being afraid. The virus had arrived, and I had not died. I had not cried. I felt very little but relief. Now I could live on. I had a new demon to slay, or contend with, or regard as a fallen angel of sorts. It was if the Devil himself had finally emerged from under the bed after a decade of taunting, merely to rival ass-whippings I'd already survived. I laughed in his face, too tired to cry.

Because becoming HIV positive was preordained. No one was coming to rural Kansas to talk to little black boys about gay sex and sexually transmitted infections. If we were paid any attention at all, we were simply dared and beaten into being drug free -- as if it were the drugs that were killing us and not the hunger or the punishing labor that only the broken (or breaking) could bear.

It was perhaps beyond imagination that black boys here, in rural Kansas, could even conceive of a sexuality beyond what was told, beyond what was ordered, beyond what was obedient. The BlaQueer child was not conceived of, least of all as human, never mind as being worthy of protection and preventative treatment.

To understand what I'm saying, you must first understand the complex parlor game -- white supremacy roulette, we'll call it -- faced by BlaQueer youth from poor and working class backgrounds. Not only are we required to dodge the frontal assault of anti-blackness and white supremacy. We must also be graceful in our embracing rejection of queer-phobia: telling truth while lying about the promise of black manhood and holding close to the Amerikkkan daydream of capitalist salvation from the intergenerational poverty that forms our open air prison.

In a sense, or a few senses (or truly no sense at all), we harken back to the ancestral dance of limbo. We are sickening insofar that, no matter how low the bar goes, it will never scar our face with its white-hot damnation, nor will our backs or heads touch the ground. We are gravity-defying gods of yesterqueer. But, as Michael Jackson -- my introduction to genderqueer performance -- would say, we're "too high to get over, too low to get under."

The dance is not just one of mere performance masking pain and shocks to joints and bodies under constant pressure. No, it is a slick communication, a communion, to all who are listening beyond their eyes that we are here, and Queer, and even if we are to die on stage, our souls have already gone on to a place without no name. The dance is exquisite, expensive and elusive. After all, it must evade our parents, the heterosexist, the anti-black and the poor consuming, while also being a clarion call to the BlaQueer working and non-working poor.

My being positive was pre-ordained, much like the poisoning in Flint or floating bodies in New Orleans. Silent neglect is the loudest of actions. However, in the shadows of neglect we are called to create our own light, our own love practices and our own politics. In the dusk of seroconversion, I was able to re-focus on the core of my humanity, centering my needs, my desires and my "me" as paramount concerns to all who dare request my presence or energy.

Tabias Olajuawon Wilson is a scholar, essayist, speaker and poet concerned with the intersections of race, law, sexuality and power. They are also the author of Godless Circumcisions: A Recollection & Re-membering of Blackness, Queerness and Flows of Survivance and the founder of the blog BlaQueerFlow. They are reachable at or @BlaQueerFlow on twitter.