This blog is simply my view points of my life as a gay black man living with HIV for 23 years-thus the title 20 plus. But I'm more than the disease. I'm more than gay. I'm more than black. I'm more than a man. But they all combine for me to share my experiences.
Upon hearing the no indictment verdict from the Eric Garner case, I could do nothing but throw my hands up in the air and feel a wave of hopelessness wash over me. How can any grand jury view the recording of an unarmed black man, shouting his inability to breath, based on the cop’s arm pressed against his throat? A chokehold which contributed to his death and was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. Eleven times he called out in distress to no avail. Despite the clearness of the videoed interaction, the jury still felt this was not a case worth pursuing? Again it felt as if the taking of a black life had no importance. That the justice system issues a ‘not guilty’ pass to those who take black lives. A ‘get out of jail free’ pass which communicates that everyone has rights, except if you’re black; a throwback to a time when blacks had no value and were sold to the highest bidder on the auction block. So in the context of recent killings of black men by law officials and a forgiveness given to the officers, a question is asked. How does a young gay black man experiencing this inequality, feel their life matters? On a deeper level, how can we expect a young black man with HIV to look out the window of this country and find their own worth based on today’s war on black bodies? Or is there a connection at all? Does the perception that black life don’t matter as it relates to HIV, contribute to one’s self care? 20+ has moved, to read the rest of this blog go and follow me at https://aundaray.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/hiv-blacklivesmatter-also/
It’s sometimes difficult for me to believe but as I come upon my 28th year of living with HIV, I’ve come to realize I’m part of a special group. Not only am I considered a long-termer but I also consider myself part of what I call, the generation of ‘First Wavers of HIV’. I define this term as those who have been exposed to HIV since it’s discovery in the 80’s and early 90’s. For those unaware, it was an interesting time, to say the least. There were many firsts that those newly diagnosed couldn’t comprehend. It was a time of fear, not knowing what exactly this virus was and how to stop the spread . Accusations and conspiracy theories were given life. People were blaming the virus on everything, Haitians, the government, African monkeys and even a flight attendant. The way people had sex was transformed as everyone was now suspect, especially gay men. And although over the years some things have changed, sadly the fear and stigma of HIV remains the same............(to read the rest of this entry please go to my new blog home) 20+ is now on WordPress at http://aundaray.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/those-were-the-days/
Last week I had a somber encounter with a person I have known casually for a few years. For the sake of this post I’ll call him Tony. In reality his name doesn’t matter as he represents so many who lives with HIV. As a HIV positive person for two decades, he is a member of the group of men and women who have been positive for a large part of their lives. In fact Tony has been positive for twenty something years. So his story speaks to the long-term survivors who are creating new chapters of dialogue. A unique audience in which the spotlight of HIV discussion often fails to illuminate............ Note from Aundaray- If you want to see the rest of this blog post please go to my new home http://aundaray.wordpress.com/ Make sure to bookmark it and keep up to date on all my entries!!
On February 9th, the world celebrated the coming out of the
first prospective NFL football pick Michael Sam Jr. It was truly a historic
moment because he would be the first active professional football player to come
out as gay. The declaration was greeted
positively, even in the most unlikely corners. From social media to news outlets
around the world, this was a momentous ‘coming out event’. Sadly, the one person
who did not add his voice to the chorus was Michael Sam’s father. Immediately
after Michael Jr’s announcement, Michael Sam Sr. was quoted by a New York Times
reporter as saying, “he’s from the old school” and that “he didn’t want his
grandchildren to be raised in ‘that kind’ of environment.
Michael Sam Sr. talking to reporters
Although Michael Sam Sr. claims he was misquoted, it did not
stop people from saying that he was out of touch and insensitive to the needs
of his own child. He has been since been labeled a homophobe on countless message
boards. He also represented the image of
the African American who has struggled with accepting those who are gay. In the days since the New York Times article was
published, Michael Sr. has himself taken
to online media to explain his side of the story and counter what he says have
been many misquotes.
I am here to defend Michael Sam Sr. I understand the mix of emotions he has been experiencing
since learning his son is gay. I saw my own mother go through the same range of
emotions when learning that I was attracted to men. Although Michael Sam Sr.
may not stand by his ‘”old school” statement any longer, my mother not only
stood by it but drilled it in our heads.
She said that being gay was not an
option. She was the daughter of a Baptist preacher from Oklahoma City and her
bible told her that a man lies with a woman. She would literally remind us of
the many ways we would die if we were gay.
Years later, as I struggled with coming out, she was the
last one I told. Although I was a grown man in my mid-twenties, the fear
remained that she would carry through on one of the many threats I heard
growing up. After hearing Michael Sr’s comments, I immediately heard my
mother’s voice. I understood Michael Sam Sr. Many mothers and fathers don’t have
the right words when their child comes out. The hard truth is that there is no
rule book on what to say and not say.
How to feel or not feel. Coming
out was no doubt a huge deal for Michael Sam Jr. But it’s a bigger deal for his loved ones.
The person coming out receives all kinds of support. But the family is simply left to assimilate
and accept the news. Michael Sam Jr. had years to think about coming out,
coming to terms with who he is. Michael Sam
Sr. did not have the luxury of time.
Although I don’t know Michael Sam Sr., I guarantee he loves
his son. He has said so unequivocally
throughout his online media blitz. It was the same love my mother had but she
showed it in a different way.
Now that I’m older, I understand where her words
came from. They came from a place of fear. She knew what lay ahead for me as a
gay black man. Raised during segregation, she knew what racism looked like. She
knew that, based on my skin color alone, I would have to work harder and longer
than less qualified whites. She knew that
within the African American community there was hostility and hate for people
who were gay. She protected us from the
regular things too. She taught us look both
ways before crossing the street and not to talk to strangers. But how could a
mother protect her son from those who hate him because he’s gay?
For Michael Sam Jr. we have to be real and recognize the NFL
has not been that welcoming to its gay players.
Look how the NFL treats women and plays suspected to be gay. We’re
hearing comments about how some players will feel uncomfortable knowing a gay
man is in the shower. I’m sure that Michael Sam Sr. is aware of the possible
harm that could befall his son in this macho environment.
My mother’s protection was a way for her to try and scare
the gay out of us. She believed that her
threats would deter us from being who we were.
Other parents may have other tools of protection they use when they
suspect their child might be gay. It may be avoidance, it may be rejection, and
it may be failed attempts at deprogramming. In the end, it’s all for naught. But
these are protection mechanisms that all parents feel. As a volunteer speaker for PFLAG (Parents and
Friends of Lesbian and Gays), I’ve met many parents who have to come to terms
with their child’s coming out and are fortunate to not have a national
spotlight on them.
Hearing the stories of parents in PFLAG the one word that is
consistently shared is the word “fear” because, no matter what, all they want is
the best for their child. But I benefit as I hear the stories of parents who
received support from other parents in the program finally knowing what it
means for their child to be gay and that it will be okay. The parents knowing
that they have not failed as a parent to their child. My happy story was that
eventually my mother came to accept me and my partner but it took time. In fact,
it took years. But just as I was learning what it meant to be gay, my mother
had to also learn what it meant. Coming out is a two way street.
So, rather than demonize Michael Sam Sr., think of him as representing
parents who have to come to terms with the sexuality of their child. And just
as the world is coming out to support Michael Jr. the same support should be
offered to Sr. He represents the parents who ask the questions, “What do I do
now?” Organizations like PFLAG are a great place to start having conversations
with other parents who learn their child is gay. What’s not fair is turning a
national spotlight on a father and expecting him to have the “right” response right
away when there isn’t one. Michael Sam Sr., rest assured that it will get
One of my sad truths that I don’t really share is my relationship
or perhaps my non-relationship with my family. Before I begin, I have always
had a certain feeling about people who in the public drag others on social media,
so I state that is not my reason. Instead I use it as a frame to share how by
not being close to family, matters such as my HIV status comes into play.
With the recent passing of the holiday’s it has now become a
norm for me not to receive a call or any type of acknowledgement. This past holiday
wasn't different and instead of being sad I reasoned that at least they were
being consistent. The one thing that did briefly come was the sadness that despite
thinking I was close with everyone, the feeling wasn't mutual. I know I could
have simply picked up the phone and reached out but frankly my whole life that’s
what I’ve been doing. I’m the one who has made the call or showed up unexpectedly
at the front door to say help. I’m the one who has come running when there was
a need and being across country I continued to be there physically. So although
I could have called you finally reached that point of not wanting to be the
giver. Even recently I received an email from a family member and thought maybe
they were catching up. Instead it was the usual reason for reaching out, for financial
assistance. It has worked in the past as I reasoned by helping they can see I
want to be part of the family. It took a while for me to realize money doesn't
In the early years of having HIV I was still alone in the
battle despite them knowing my status. I remember doing a test where I stopped
reaching out to them and wanted to see who would reach out knowing I was
struggling with this new virus. I was the one who was surprised as there was no
communication from any. It was that ‘Wow” moment as I thought, “I could be here
on the floor unable to get up for any reason and no one cared, at least my
family”. It’s hard to wrap my head around it as when we do see each other in
person we’re having the greatest time, with good conversation and filling the
room with laughter, but once we part the silence fills the space and goes back
to being strangers.
I once asked my sister why she didn’t reach out and she let
me know that they expect me to since I was so good at it. It was then I realized
it was my job and I shouldn’t expect the feeling to be reciprocal. For that
reason I now keep my life with HIV quiet as I feel they won’t be the support I
need although knowing with their support it’d be a great addition. And not that
I want them to simply see me as the big/little brother with HIV, but knowing it’s
part of me I want them to be there when I want to share.
Without sounding like I’m telling anyone what to do, if I
could give advice I would say don’t try to use your HIV status as leverage for
someone to love you. I say that as knowing we weren’t close I thought by
letting them know my big secret that it would draw them in. I built myself up
to say this will be the impetus for change. Scary as it was to share it was for
nothing as I didn’t get the results I was looking for. My lesson was using my
status as a tool.
Living with HIV a person sometimes wants to use it to create
that closeness. In my case it was with family. For others it may be a partner
who shows little interest in you or it could be your way of trying to save a
relationship that was never there or because of your denial, was over a long
time ago. It also has created in me a song that says, ‘I don’t need anyone’.
Even though I am now partnered I still find myself in moments where I feel like
an orphan and don’t want to depend on anyone. Having HIV this is a bad idea as
we all need support but you can’t help going to that feeling of being a loner
after all it is safe and you won’t get hurt…again.
I don’t want to say that my relationship with my family is
over but the truth is the truth. If they didn’t talk to each other maybe it
wouldn’t hurt as much but knowing among each other they are a family and it’s
just me who’s not in the loop is discouraging. In sharing this I’m not hoping
to create something that is not there. I’m also sure I will get advice saying I
don’t need them or family is what you make with strangers. I know that all to
be the truth but there is still those small quiet moments when the hurt peeks
in the back door and before the hurt makes itself comfortable, you close it
So that is my story and as I continue my life surrounded by
people who love me instead of holding out for arms that are not there for me, I’ll
embrace the ones that are there. Even with my struggles with life, and that
includes my HIV status, instead of being bitter I hope they know despite current
circumstances I love them. And perhaps this is my way of reaching out as it’s
my job to do. And in my open honesty I can make peace with my family secret.
As I enter my 28th year of
living with HIV I have to say that I have learned some valuable lessons along
the way, some good and some bad but all my experiences have happened for a reason.
The thing is that while you’re in it you don’t know that. It’s not until you
get from out the storm not only do you discover why you went through it but you
recognize your strength for all you endured. I’m thankful I didn’t come away
bitter and accept all the new traits now part of my building blocks. So as the
New Year’s arrives and we start a new chapter I reflect on my experiences and
share the 20 lessons I've learned about living with HIV.
. 1) I’ve
learned that you’re either living or you’re dying and despite what you heard
about HIV it’s not a death sentence. Yet there was a time when I simply stopped
living and settled on existing. I had to recognize we all are going to die,
that’s a fact but until that day how will I live with the life given to me. You’re
either like the zombies in the TV show, The Walking Dead, walking in an aimless
direction or you’re taking each day as a gift and cherishing it
2) I’ve learned the people
who have rejected me because of this disease have missed out on having the privilege
of knowing such a strong individual. They must be scared of that strength and
their decision is something they have to own as I embrace everything about me.
And in those lessons I’ve learned that anyone who has rejected me has simply left
room open to be filled by someone who will accept me for me
am beautiful. As simple as that.
stopped asking ‘Why me” and started to understand “Why me’ as I have helped
others to live with this disease by breaking the silence and talking
about HIV. I didn’t know at the time I was someone else’s gift as through the
years people have been made to feel less alone as they listened to shared
doctor is my friend and if he’s not then he has to go. Just because he/she
wears the white coat and has the degree we’re in this together. At one point I
thought I had to submit to everything he prescribed or said but learned that my
voice is just as strong as his. So if it’s working, then keep it strong but if
it’s a one sided relationship then he/she has to go.
I used to complain about taking medications a nurse gave me great sound advice.
I was hoping for sympathy but she served me a spoonful of hard love as without
blinking she told me, “If you have something that's saving your life and its
working stop complaining and take the damn pills.” Lesson still appreciated
8) If you’re worried about
anything killing you just try being best friends with your anger. Having this
disease I have had many opportunities to be angry but after walking that walk I
learned quickly it wasn't getting me nowhere. Anger strips you down from the
inside and clouds your dreams. I accepted that upon hearing my status I had the
right to be anger but for me to be well I had to not let my anger guide me.
9) I’ve learned its okay
to cry but to not let those tears create an ocean that I can drown me. Along
with anger, tears will come but at a point I had to wipe them away and start
heading back to shore.
myself a hug everyday
is still good
is a two way street and don't assume everyone will reject you because of your
status. Yes stigma is real and people do inflict it on those who are
positive but sometimes I have to recognize when I’m handing out my own dose of
stigma. In this lesson I had to learn that not everyone who is negative is
ignorant about this disease. This was a good lesson for me to learn as it
helped with disclosing and most importantly it helped me in relationships whether
friendly or intimate.
more than HIV. It seemed that with the doctors, the pills and condoms shoved in
my face HIV was all I would ever be. But in thinking that I wasn’t allowing
myself to see the fullness of who I am. I may write and speak about HIV but the
one thing I tell myself is not to limit life to a three letter word.
accepted where people are in their HIV treatment and what works for me won't
necessarily work for someone else. When handing out advice I have to
check myself and accept that my treatment was designed for me and people react
to things in a different way. So whether it’s advice, the way I keep track of
taking my medication or anything related to my HIV, it’s mine and may not work
for others. So I keep my judgments to myself.
learned as I approach my 28th year of living with HIV that it's not a
competition when others share their length of time. The one secret of those
living with HIV is sometimes we play a one-man-up game where we trump others
with how long we’ve been positive. We show our battles scars as if having HIV
is a competition. It’s done in a non-malicious way but if anyone wins we all do
for being able to proudly state how long we’ve been living with this disease is
the true prize.
learned that whether it's my cd4 count, my weight or viral load- to heed the
numbers but not let the numbers dictate my state of mind. Not saying the
numbers are not important but developing anxiety around your numbers is not
good. I learned to celebrate the good numbers and don’t stress if they will
fall. Just keep doing what I’m doing. And if they’re dropping then I have to
look at stopping what I’m doing that’s probably causing the numbers to drop
not being punished by God or enduring any other revenge.
18) I can still cross
chocolate milk helps the pills go down easy
20) I’ve learned to be
open and accept anything good or bad that comes my way. And as I step forward
even if there is no cure I know that my life will be the best one I can make.
So I welcome my next milestone and embrace this journey we call life!
I crept in the basement with silent steps making sure no one followed me, listening careful to determine if anyone else was also down here. Being I was only 12 I was usually afraid of any basements, not just my own. This fear came from watching the late Saturday night horror movies we were warned would give us nightmares. Yet determined to carry on my mission I pushed aside any fears I had and continued. Assured I was in the clear I went into the small dusty room that no one in my small family used. The only occupant was an unbalance worn pool table which had assistance from the telephone book under one of its leg. Also within the dimly lit room was a closet and within that closet was a hole in the ceiling. It was the perfect hiding space especially for anyone scared of spiders and bugs, which included me, but it was worth a spider running over my hand as I reached in to retrieve my hidden prize. My hand made contact with soft paper and a staple undone which scrapped against my fingers. Pulling it out gently, I held in my hand my bible. It was a copy of Blueboy, a gay porno magazine that I had shoplifted from the comic book store that also sold adult magazines in the back. School was now in session. It was time to learn what it meant to be gay.
As I opened the well-used pages that had become worn and starting to stick together, I was careful not to rip apart any of the pages especially the photos of the nude men. The pages were sticking together not because of any self-sexual satisfaction on my part as I had yet to discover that sexual side of me. Instead it was due to the moisture of the leaking pipes, a home that was not in the best of shape but as a child I saw as a castle. It was a hiding spot, one so deliberately chosen that I felt it was a matter of life and death. My life and death as knowing if discovered it could have meant for me a life of being laughed at and ridiculed for being one of ‘them’ people we were warned to stay away from. Those who the Preacher talked about as he screamed and shouted each Sunday had a life destined to spend eternity in Hell. Or the discovery of my book could be my death, something served to me by my mother who warned us that, "If you ever turn out to be one of those faggots I will kill you."
My Blueboy was used to explain to me what it meant for me to be gay. I had nowhere else to go. I had no one or nothing else in my life to explain to me what I was feeling inside. Was I even gay or maybe I fallen off my bike when I was younger and hit my head causing this storm of confusion in me. There had to have been something I did to make me interested in this Blueboy magazine. And if I was one of ‘them’ was there a pill I could swallow to cure me of this feeling that I was giving birth to? And if I was giving life to what I feared was in me how did I go about giving myself an abortion? It seemed that despite how I felt or thought it was going to eventually make its way into the world and I should at least be ready.
As I navigated the familiar pages to my favorite pictures I would feel my heart racing. The picture that seemed to capsulize my new identity was the striking nude man that made up the two pages of the centerfold. I forgot his name but can't forget how he leaned against the fire truck and had this comfortable smile that said; don’t worry it’s okay to like other men even if they are nude. He was a manly looking man with a huge chest and this thick mustache. What was it about this centerfold that made my senses go into hyper drive? I mistrusted my other senses like my hearing as they would be dulled out by my beating heart. I needed my ears to make sure no one was coming down the creaking stairs but as they failed me I used my excited and panicked eyes as my warning system.
In truth the heart racing could have been produced from the fact that I was learning about this thing called sex. Perhaps there was hope for me as I had no idea what sex was at my age and according to everything I heard that’s what being gay was about, sex. And my Blueboy magazine proved it as throughout the book were men in sexual poses. Or maybe my answers lay in the back of the book where it seemed if I called the 1-900 numbers they would probably have what I was looking for. And they must have meant for young people like me to read it as the book even had cartoons in it. The cartoons weren’t like the ones I watched on Saturday morning though. I never remembered Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble doing what the men were doing in the magazine.
As I stared at the snapshot I was thinking maybe my fascination with the picture was my mind wondering if this is what my father looked like. A man who I never met and didn't have the fortune to raise me. It could be the fact the model also reminded me of my math teacher, a strong demanding man who loved us with a spoonful of tough love and difficult math equations. A man who I wished during his lessons could equate to us how being gay added up and what subtractions I would face in my life by being gay. But like other places school was another setting left out as an option. No wonder I was jealous of my classmates who were able to learn about the bird and the bees from not only adults in the school but wherever they found themselves. This world belongs to them and I was nothing but an outcast.
My worn, tattered copy of Blueboy was all that was left to me. A magazine with faded pictures of a life I was unsure if it was destined to be mine. I was only 12 but it felt like I was growing up faster than what I was supposed to have been.
Finished with today’s lesson I carefully place the book back in its hiding space. I’m no wiser than when I walked in the basement but more aware that there’s more to this thing called, gay. Will I ever find out what it is unaware of what lies ahead? I don’t know but as long as I have my copy I feel less alone in my answers as I’m sure there are other kids like me who have nowhere to turn as they reach into hidden places where they hide their bible, their own copy of Blueboy.