Tag Archives: hiv aids

Revolution Deferred: On Loving Other Black Men

Tongues untied

“As long as we reject ourselves, as long as we continue to harm our own body and mind, there is no point in talking about loving and accepting others.”
Thich Nhat Hanh – Teachings on Love

I wasn’t expecting to see anyone who looked like me at the orientation of my master’s program. But there he was: another Black man around my age. During the mingling period, I tried to walk over to talk to him, but I could tell he was actively avoiding me. It would be months later before I confronted him.

“I didn’t want people to think that just because we were both Black men we would click.”

I was confused. Who cared what they thought? And if it worked out that we were close, would that be such a bad thing?

At the first adult video company I worked for, my boss gathered all the models and staff for a holiday dinner. Our flagship bottom was there and we never met. He wouldn’t say anything to me the entire night. It would be several more times at work before he even felt comfortable talking to me.

I was at a birthday party in September with about a dozen Black gay men. It started off rather cordial, but after everyone had a few drinks, the shade was flowing as well. Another guest and I discussed after the affair how uncomfortable we felt. How could you be so disrespectful to someone you just met?

If you’re an avid reader of this blog, you know I have plenty more stories like these. It has taken me the last few years to accept most of the interactions I’ve had with other black gay men haven’t been positive. But this post really isn’t about me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my work in HIV. Thinking about what’s kept me negative, what I wish were different, what it would take to actually end the epidemic.

I was in one of my high level meetings; the power players that make decisions. One official from [that other city I love where my 2nd future husband currently lives, redacted] got up to present and was like:

“We have a problem with older Black men infecting young Black men.”

I sat with it for a minute. My first thought was, that makes sense: if I were 50 years old, beat down (literally and figuratively) by racism, poverty, etc. I could see myself splashing off in a nineteen year old every so often just to cope. Using condoms or getting an undetectable viral load would be the last thing on my mind.

My second thought was, that’s not really a problem public health can fix.

And it would help if the White people in charge cared, but they don’t. Most of them are very smart people, some are actually very lovely. But to most, this is just a job. They collect their paycheck and go home to their privilege where none of these problems exist.

Then what is the solution? Take matters into our own hands of course!

But we can’t even be nice to one another.

To be clear, these problems I speak of are not exclusive to Black gay men. And I’m sure there’s a myriad of reasons why all of this is so, even legitimate ones like trauma. That came up in that GMAD meeting. I’ve been trying to be more mindful of my privilege growing up and how lack of trauma was just as important to access to resources.

The problem is we don’t have the numbers; the loss of one exponentially affects us in ways it doesn’t other demographics. Whether it’s one organization folding, one leader quitting or one more infected.

And I don’t want to be too jaded. There are many doing great work and fighting the good fight. If they even help one, I guess it doesn’t matter if it’s a bandaid on a gunshot wound.

Speaking of, it didn’t occur to me leading community prevention work in the largest city in the country would be a big deal.

…until I realized there hasn’t been a Black gay man in this role in over a decade.

…until I realized I was the youngest Black man in the huge meeting in Atlanta at [that federal agency, redacted]. Which is a problem considering I’m going to be 33 very soon.

And every other time I’m in one of these spaces/situations. I’m proud of the work I’ve done, I just wish it were enough.

The draft of this piece has been written for years now. I keep saving it, revisiting it and hoping I have a better ending each time.

…but I’m still stuck on we can’t be nice to one another.

So if Black men loving Black men is the revolutionary act, I won’t hold my breath. Cause the revolution won’t be televised. Not anytime soon anyway.

P.S. This isn’t the blame game. I had a role in all the above situations. I’ve hurt other black gay men too. I’m working on me every day.

Pulling Your Own Weight

Hivaids

Most people really don’t give a shit about anything else other than their own shit…which explains why we are where we are.
Darius Clark Monroe

I work in Chelsea: a neighborhood in New York City once brimming with gays, but now yuppie central. With the introduction of the Highline and luxury high-rises, it’s now filled with young breeder couples and Asian tourists. It’s become a hotbed for canvassers seeking money, signatures and sympathy for their causes.

One particular lunch trip to Chelsea Market I was approached by a young Black woman who worked for an international children’s organization. I quickly explained I didn’t have time nor money to help her and went on my way. She decided that wasn’t an acceptable answer and followed me down the street.

At this point I was livid (and hungry). What followed was a twenty minute conversation on the politics of giving.

I explained I also worked for a nonprofit up the street and it wasn’t uncommon for me to run into canvassers from four different organization in a four block radius. On that particular day there were representatives for clean water, women’s reproductive rights, gay rights and child welfare. All causes I care for, but I didn’t have money for all this.

She explained although the black people she approached were usually less wealthy, for her purposes it wasn’t a waste of time because they always gave. The European tourists and other elite (read: White people) didn’t care about social issues.

“That’s not a long term solution!” I yelled. “You have to make those people care.”

But she was unconvinced and asked me to adopt a child. I politely declined again and went about my way. I also took the long way back to work so I didn’t curse her ass out.

I tell this story to say I believe most of the pressing issues facing Black folk aren’t going to get any better because not all of us are pulling our own weight. There’s no greater example of this than HIV/AIDS.

I’ve been doing this work for close to ten years now and it’s the same people at these conferences, same bloggers making relevant posts/videos, same celebrities lending their voices to the cause.

Everyone else is too busy worried about Brandy’s new album and the logistics of a bus driver’s decision to uppercut a disrespectful passenger.

And I’m over it.

This is also true on an institutional level: funding gets cut every year requiring those of us on the front lines to do more with less. We spent the first thirty years of the epidemic putting the brunt of the burden on keeping everyone negative; once someone turned positive they became a statistics and only used for their bodies (to test out new drug cocktails) and their testimonials (to scare other people into having safer sex, or no sex at all).

To be perfectly honest with you I feel the fight was lost when HIV became a Black disease in America. Much like Stop & Frisk, employment discrimination and other issues predominately affecting Black America, there aren’t enough sympathetic non-Black people willing to do the work to turn things around. Which leaves more for the rest of us to do fueling burnout and disillusionment.

Frank Ocean discreetly reveals he used to be in love with another man and everyone raves like it’s the second coming of the Messiah. Hasn’t been much of peep out of him about his (homo/bi) sexuality since.

Meanwhile Jamar Rogers (whom to my knowledge isn’t even gay identified!) has done countless interviews on his experience with drugs/alcohol, the importance of safer sex and taking your medication as an HIV positive person.

And that disappointment is where I think I’m at in the conversation.

I got a degree in sexuality studies to talk about sex and relationships not disease and the decimation of my people. I don’t self-identify as competitive, but I am a results oriented person. And unfortunately I’m not seeing the kind of change I would like to see in the world.

It happens to all of us really: I call it “the moment.” Everyone fighting for social justice starts with the enthusiasm of a child then wakes up one day and realizes their contribution isn’t as impactful as they once hoped. Or maybe you get out into the world and realize just how great the need really is. At that point you can choose to go all in (I was dating him for the last two years) or you can choose to dial back and reassess.

I’m choosing self-care.

HIV/AIDS work will always be a part of my life, but my time in direct services is coming to an end. I don’t have another ten years in me. It’s not like they pay us like kings in the nonprofit world.

I like vacations, I want to travel more.
I like spooning and sleeping in on the weekends, not more work.
I expected the rates to go up (especially in YMSM of color), but I expected there to be more outrage.
I expected Phil Wilson to be retired by now.
I expect when men turn HIV positive to reflect on the decisions they make, not join a porn company to have more raw sex.
I expect parents to raise their own got damn children.
I expect people to pull their own weight.

I was told in my recent evaluation I complain too much, so clearly I expect too much from people in general.

So this World AIDS Day, I begin to plot my escape!