We Shall Not Be Removed: Black Gay Men on Love, Sex and Intimacy Amidst HIV Stigma

Yolo Akili Robinson
Yolo Akili Robinson

"What does a world without HIV look like? How do you think you would love, or have sex, if HIV never existed?"

I posed this question to a group of young black gay men in Atlanta years ago. The responses were telling:

"Chillllllle the kids would have at it hun-ty!!!"
"Mess. Just mess."
"Well, I mean you thought I was wilin now? Girrrrrrrl..."

Each statement was followed by a chorus of laughter. After the laughter subsided, I stepped back and asked: "Well, it seems we each have heard how we feel it would change sex, but how would a world without HIV change how you love?"

Instantly the room froze. Some people, as if in response, began gazing out the window. Others hung their heads. One young man started to bite his nails. Clearly, I had touched upon something. I began to wonder if I had gone too far.

Just as I was about to breathe a heavy sigh and push the conversation forward, a young person spoke, barely above a whisper: "We wouldn't worry that no-one would love us if we didn't have HIV. We wouldn't be worried we would be ruined. Cause when you have HIV, you think that…a lot."

His response that day shed light on what the core fear of HIV has been for so many -- that it will make us unworthy of being loved.

Even with advancements in HIV treatment, which make the chance of transmitting HIV dramatically limited, the fear remains. The fear leads many of us to do curious things: seek out unavailable men or self-medicate with drugs, substances, achievements and accolades. It clouds our vision and writes our internal narrative. Leads us to apathy, or depression.

Even for those whose status is unknown or negative, still the cloud of HIV stigma -- which is a symbolic representation of our scarcity of self-worth -- remains a driving force for how we engage, trust and love each other.

Our Google Hangout on Love, Sex & Trust: Intimacy in the Era of HIV is an attempt to have this conversation. Its focus is to acknowledge how love and intimacy have been impacted by HIV stigma in black gay communities.

We hope you'll join us. Get more information or register here.

Yolo Akili Robinson is a Capacity Building Assistance Trainer at AIDS United.