Monday, March 27, 2017

Fuck You & Your HIV Stigma

"For a long time I hid my HIV status unless I knew that I will be sexually active and had always felt that it was no one's business. I walked right out of that closet, but I did not come out for me alone. I came for everyone who has been ostracized and made to feel nasty. We are not fucking nasty! We are not contagious! I realized I hid this part of myself for YOUR comfort, for the random sessions of pseudo-intimacy or even for the goal of true romance. I can no longer sacrifice my sanity and unapologetic nature for the sake of being able to date, for sex or even true intimacy..." - APW


Fuck You & Your HIV Stigma


Fuck you and I mean it, we have had decades to understand that HIV the virus that causes AIDS has been under control for some time now. YET, we still find a way to be willfully ignorant and inhumane towards those living with HIV and AIDS. I write this wondering if the stigma a lot of you push was institutional and systemic, or if yall are just naturally assholes.  It was in 1991 at 7 years old, that I first heard about HIV when Magic Johnson announced that he was HIV positive.

Before I continue, when I say institutional and systemic, I am speaking of government and community organizations like churches. I am sure that many Black folks were affected by the HIV/ AIDS epidemic. But, it wasn't until Magic Johnson held that press conference on November 7, 1991 and made a public announcement that he would retire immediately, HIV/AIDS was a very white and gay thing. The stigma that HIV/AIDS was a gay white disease completely overshadowed the catastrophic effects on the heterosexual community and the Black community as a whole.  At that time, it was said that a small percentage of HIV positive men had contracted it from heterosexual sex. With that percentage being so low (probably inaccurate reporting) Johnson was accused of being gay or bisexual, stigma...

"why do you even tell people?" - Random Idiot


It seems like people knew more about it back then as opposed to now. why is that? Even with all of this science, all of these organizations and educational materials out there it seems that we have come to a very dangerous pause. I am not referring to PrEP or raw sex, I am talking about the lack of outreach in the Black community. There are literally college students who are taking basic biology as a required course and cannot grasp HIV and how it works.  Does this make me an outlier? Or was it because I had better access? One thing is for sure, ONE THING...shit like this should not even be a thing, stigma...

"I see how dangerous you are when I read posts on social media and hear conversations that are centered on the subject of HIV, the stigma you all perpetuate is so fucking blatant. When you say shit like, "they are out sleeping with everyone and not disclosing their status" in such a general way, it stigmatizes us all." - APW


The first time I fully understood what HIV was, it was the fall of 1993.  I was around 8 or 9 years old and one day I caught a bug and I had to stay home from school. There was a soap opera on that I had been watching and It cut to a scene that made me ask a lot of questions to myself. It was a scene of a Straight white man laying in bed with family beside him as he spoke his last words. The cause of death was complications from AIDS, that weren't fully explored. Around this same time there was a Back girl group on the rise that went by the name of TLC, they wore condoms on their outfits in their music videos and it didn't hurt that they made some good ass music. Yes, the concept of safe sex existed back then. So what the hell happened?!

The whole idea that safe sex was as thing back then baffles the hell out of me now. It baffles me because depictions of Black folks dying from AIDS or living with HIV was kept to minimum. It baffles me because one of my favorite rappers Eazy E was diagnosed with AIDS. He announced his illness in a public statement on March 16, 1995 and 10 days later on March 26 died from complications of AIDS. Eazy was 30 years old at the time and not long after his death, that summer of 1995, TLC released a song and music video called Waterfalls that tackled violence and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. While the storyline with the Black man resonated with me, the scene with the white, straight couple spoke to me more. The woman convinced her partner not to use a condom and the next scene is him staring into the mirror and sees that he has an early symptom of AIDS visible on his face, in the form of Kaposi's Sarcoma. What frightened me is the small photo frame on the dresser showing or flashing images of all the people she had sex with. In the final scene with the couple, the man's face eerily faded from the picture as the woman was sitting alone on the bed. Then finally,  she fades away, inferring that they both died from AIDS...


The lyrics have always haunted me like an omen, my 10 year old self was scared shitless:

[Chorus]
Don't go chasing waterfalls
Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to
I know that you're gonna have it your way or nothing at all
But I think you're moving too fast
[Verse 2]
Little precious has a natural obsession for temptation
But he just can't see
She gives him loving that his body can't handle
But all he can say is, "Baby it's good to me"
One day he goes and take a glimpse in the mirror
But he doesn't recognize his own face
His health is fading and he doesn't know why
Three letters took him to his final resting place
Y'all, don't hear me
[Chorus]
Don't go chasing waterfalls
Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to
I know that you're gonna have it your way or nothing at all
But I think you're moving too fast


While I accept the message that TLC put out there, in hindsight the representation of the Black man selling drugs and the depiction that promiscuity among women (and men) may have sent the wrong message to some. Looking at how people react to HIV in the present day, we have work to do! Because of stigma and misinformation we have lost great and talented people. Instead of lifting each other up, we have sought to demolish each other with slander, rumors, and even exposure. Take for example, a group that recently popped up for Black gay men on facebook. In a matter of days the group had over 20k members and in that short time it was full of HIV stigma until the admins removed the posts. I quietly joined the group and got some screenshots as this took place (here are a couple of the nice ones):



"I REFUSE to be your secret, whether you are POZ or not, we are in the eye of a storm and I am an activist with a very public life. we need to address this fear, this stigma about HIV that YOU, my fellow black gay men have. We need to have a real conversation about how this really works and how we hurt each other in the process."


To be honest, when dealing with HIV outside and within the Black community, stigma has a stronghold. The lack of HIV 101 plays a large part in why stigma is such a huge issue, it is saddening. It is one of the reasons that came out of the HIV closet, which was for everyone who has been ostracized and made to feel nasty.  While many of us who have HIV are healthier than most out in the general population, Black gay men die at a higher rate from HIV than those who are in the group where HIV infection is actually the highest. Now think about how the Black heterosexual community is affected, especially Black women. People living with HIV are not nasty people, we are not contagious, we are doctors, lawyers, teachers, students, sons, daughters, mothers and fathers! Yes, we are HIV positive and we live a healthy life, We are human beings and we exist. The data showing how HIV affects the Black community is staggering. So fuck you and your stigma.

HIV - stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS. Unlike some other viruses, the human body cannot get rid of HIV. That means that once you have HIV, you have it for life.

AIDS - HIV disease becomes AIDS when your immune system is seriously damaged. If you have less than 200 CD4+ cells or if your CD4 percentage is less than 14%, you have AIDS.

TRANSMISSION - Only certain fluids—blood, semen (cum), pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum), rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk—from an HIV-infected person can transmit HIV. These fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the bloodstream (from a needle or syringe) for transmission to possibly occur. Mucous membranes can be found inside the rectum, the vagina, the opening of the penis, and the mouth.

In the United States, HIV is spread mainly by

Having sex with someone who has HIV. In general:
- Anal sex is the highest-risk sexual behavior. Receptive anal sex (bottoming) is riskier than insertive anal sex (topping).
- Vaginal sex is the second highest-risk sexual behavior.
- Having multiple sex partners or having other sexually transmitted infections can increase the risk of infection through sex.
Sharing needles, syringes, rinse water, or other equipment (works) used to prepare injection drugs with someone who has HIV.

SEROCONVERSION:

- Seroconversion is the period of time during which HIV antibodies develop and become detectable.
- Seroconversion generally takes place within a few weeks of initial infection.
- It is often, but not always, accompanied by flu-like symptoms including fever, rash, muscle aches and swollen lymph nodes. These symptoms are not a reliable way to identify seroconversion or to diagnose HIV infection.

My name is Ashton P. Woods
&
I am HIV positive.