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Retiring my HIV

How much is in your wallet?

An avid TV viewer will recognize this slogan from a commercial. For myself, this stuck with me as I had to look not at my wallet but my retirement account. A retirement account which was almost non-existent. After all who plans for retirement when you’re diagnosed with HIV?  And how do you plan a financial future when you believe you won’t have a future? As we approach the new year I have made a resolution to prepare for my financial future.

I had so many reasons of not saving money in my younger years. From “You can’t take it with you” to “I have HIV so why save?” This was my life and in some ways it still is. As I near 50 I hear people talking about putting away for their retirement. I also hear the stories of how by a certain age you should have this much tucked away by now. And based on your age a certain percentage should be in a 401 for when you do retire.

I truly don’t believe it’s too late for me but I often look back at what stopped me from putting away for a possible future. I say that as a future life for me was not in my mindset. After learning about my status I stopped dreaming and planning. What was the point? I was going to be dead in a few years. Why save for a future which was to never come?

I’ve been fortunate to always have a job. During the days when a financial planner came in to discuss our options, I would blow them off. In fact, any information they left would go into the garbage. Talk about regrets.

I now feel like I’m playing catch up as I now turn the corner with an upcoming birthday. I am nowhere near retirement but also neither is my saving plan. In the early days of HIV, I was not alone. People felt they were not going to live long so they spent their savings or stopped saving in general. With the reality people are living longer with today’s treatments, the questions has shifted. It’s shifted from should I, too, is there still time?

Today we live in a world of uncertainties. Will Social Security even be around? Will I be on a fixed-income and will it be enough? Will I have to depend on the income of another, such as a partner, to live comfortably?

I’m a believer in that’s it’s never too late. Especially if your workspace has a retirement plan. You may have to put more into it but there’s peace of mind knowing you’re planning for a future. I say this knowing I may also have to join those who are working past retirement age.

I try to convince myself a life sailing around the ocean will never happen. But if I feed into that mindset, I’m back to where I started when I limited my options as it relates to my future. Back then I doubt I would be where I’m at now. So to place any doubts in my mind creates that vicious cycle of self-defeat which got me this place of not saving.

So as I step into the New Year I’m letting myself know that it’s not too late to invest in myself. I hope those who are younger hear this message as well. Investment is not just taking medication on time or having a healthy positive mind. It’s also recognizing that as we age, we will have to ask ourselves. Are we preparing ourselves for the future?

And although I’m almost 50, I say yes.

How about you?

What’s in your wallet?

 

 

 

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Domino Effect

As I write this blog I’m flinching from pain. Just a few days ago I was discharged from the hospital after having a voluntary surgery completed on my right upper quad muscle. The procedure called for the doctor to open my leg, take the quad which had collapsed and re-stretch it back into shape with the goal of obtaining not all, but most of my range of motion. So what does this have to do with a blog about HIV? Everything as it highlights the domino effect of becoming resistant to your HIV mediation.

My downward spiral has been documented in my previous postings as I sounded the alarm on how not to become resistant to your HIV medication. Rather than come from a scholarly direction, I instead shared my personal experience of becoming resistant to my medications.

Simply put, I wasn’t taking the prescribed medication as I was supposed to. Instead I chose to take it when I ‘felt like it’ and most of the time I didn’t feel like it. It was more than a drug holiday, it was a refusal to comply. About the only time I would take them consistently was when I knew I had an upcoming doctor’s appointment and he would be looking at my viral load and t-cell numbers.

This may work in science fiction but in real life, your body is completely aware of your behaviors and it seems the HIV virus is even smarter as my inconsistency of my meds provided a window for the virus to build up a protection and make the drugs I was taking no longer effective.

The kicker is that I started out not wanting to take HIV medications, but now the choice was no longer mine based on my resistance. In fact the only option was an injectable medication named Fuzion. So I went from the simple choice of easily swallowing several pills a day to the hard choice of pushing a needle into my body, twice a day.

This is where the domino effect begins as often our body no longer has the assistance of medication to keep the HIV at bay. One thing leads to another which leads to another. A cold may lead into a flu which may lead into a more serious matter. A twisted chain reaction. For myself my domino effect was injecting myself with a needle into a muscle that didn’t quite like it. It was not the medication but the way I was pushing the needle into my leg. Stubbornly using the same leg when I was told not to. That led into the muscle developing a weakness which limited my range of motion. With the limited range other parts of my body had to compensate which was now throwing off the natural movement of self. And as I became aware of the falling dominoes I knew that if I didn’t address the muscle damage I would be facing a lifetime of using walking devices especially as I got older.

Already my walk was being transformed, and not in a good way. People would ask why I was limping, not realizing that I had a quad muscle that was weak. A weakness which’s origin began with developing a resistance to my medication. The loss of range in my leg affected other areas of my life as I could no longer go to the theater as bending my knee in a sitting position was difficult. I no longer had the ability to ride a bike or to even run. And the simple act of climbing stairs was difficult with me holding onto the handrail to go up or down.

Thankfully I have a job which allows me to not only complete the surgery but also the ability to work at home for the month it will take me to recover. I was able to stop the domino effect of all these negative actions working against me. 20150727_193533-1

So for those who wonder what’s on the other side of the HIV resistance wall. I will say your wish of not taking a pill is there. But just know along with that desire comes the unexpected consequences. If it’s really difficult to take your HIV medication on schedule, I encourage you to talk to your doctor to find a routine that fits you and your lifestyle. I can guarantee the domino chain of events which follows drug resistance is not a game you desire to play.

Happily to share that since my reawakening I’m on a once a day regimen which has made my pill consumption so much easier and with this recent surgery I will be able to resume the full life I felt was denied me. There’s no more dominos falling in my life!

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Hurt/Hate/Heal

Hurt

Damn, I’m gay, have HIV and black. It seemed the odds were not stacked in my favor. I was just entering my twenties but it felt like my life was already over. Asking myself, ‘why me?’ was an empty gesture but it didn’t stop me from asking anyway. Of all the emotions I experienced, hurt was more pronounced. The stigma of HIV made it difficult to find someone to share my hurt and I defiantly had it to spare.

I should have been used to this feeling called hurt as it came early in my life when I was sexually abused as a child. Not once or twice, although I don’t know if it would have been any better, but over a years’ time. dreams3491476_stressed_man

The hurt came from my family who suspected I was gay at a young age and as if to scare it out of me, letting me know what they thought about ‘faggots’. This was further compounded by a mother who pulled me aside to let me know, “if you ever turn out to be gay, I’ll kill you.” The hurt came from the person who gave me the virus as I gave my ‘stuff’ to him thinking he was going to be the one. And like an absentee father, left me alone with my ‘gift’ to bring into the world.

Sadly hurt became a tapestry of my life. A thread I couldn’t remove no matter how I tried. The more I pulled the more it unraveled the broken child inside. My greatest hurt came from the feeling of rejection as I was made to feel like the ‘other’.  It seemed everyone was clean and I was ‘dirty’. My hurt prevented me from reaching out for support as I didn’t have the words to explain my situation. Even within my community, the ‘gay’ community, I was the ‘other’. This was shown to me time and time again once my status was known by those I shared. I was never asked to be someone lovers but was often told, “We can still be friends”.  And after that announcement, it seemed the phone stopped ringing and I was blocked, not only from their address book but also from knowing their heart. So my secret became my secret. It wasn’t to hurt or to deceive. It was to feel loved. It was to enjoy the pleasures of someone, even a stranger, to hold me close. The hurting pain of rejection caused me to live this double life.

My hurt with HIV was also physical as I struggled to swallow pills that stuck in my throat and refused to go down. Dry heaves overcame me as it felt like my insides were coming up to greet the sunlight. And my satisfaction was short when I was reminded I would go through the same experience the next day. The needles pushed into my arm to monitor my t-cell levels were always moments of fear. I grew up hating needles but as the years passed they no longer caused pain. Just like my life with HIV I became used to pain.

My greatest hurt was my belief that I was being punished by God for being gay. I was always a religious person and had a strong faith but now that faith was being tested. Was I really that bad a person that I deserved this? Was I cursed? Even in my darkest moments when I felt no one had my back I knew I could always count on God. But it seemed like even he stopped shining his light on me. I felt I had no one. My back was against the wall. It was me against the world.

 Hate

The hate in me came in like a storm. My wings of anger morphed the more I walked my path. The shadow that once walked behind me turned into my hatred which now walked in front of me. I hurt people because I was hurt. And I had no shame in letting people know how I felt.

My hateful actions meant turning off my inner voice and simply living life with no regards for people or their feelings. I simply didn’t care. I was so hateful that if you told me you loved me, I told myself it was a lie. I saw it as a trick for me to lower my walls in order for that person to come in and do more damage. That simply wasn’t going to happen to me anymore. I had been hurt enough. My hurt didn’t allow me to be held or experience a hug. The thought of someone attempting to hug me out of affection made me jump. It was a knee jerk reaction of me pulling away. To touch me also brought forth in me those memories as a child when I didn’t have the power to say no. I had to regain that control.

Lie, cheat and steal was my motto. I was living for the moment as a life with HIV meant I didn’t have no future. It was the dawn of my destructive behaviors. I didn’t do drugs or over indulge in alcohol. No my vice was sex. The one thing that was forced on me, the one thing that gave me this curse, was the one thing I turned to in order to heal my pain.

I swam in the lake of promiscuity with no life vest. I pushed myself into years of Yelling Man Reaching out with Handsanonymous sex, standing in rooms of unknown naked men all with the goal of inserting their manhood into each other. My apartment door was replaced with one that revolved as one after the other, men of all races walked through to take pieces of me away. If by chance there was an attraction or a show of affection, I sabotage it right away as there was no way anyone could love me. I didn’t love me. I created online profiles and in the HIV status field, I placed the word ‘negative’ because that was how I felt. I wanted to live my life as I didn’t have a disease.  I was in a place where I simple didn’t care.

I hated myself. I felt I never would find love and dreaded holidays like Valentine Day as it was a reminder of what was out of reach. Looking back I actually was presented with people with loving ways but rejected them as they didn’t fit my list of what I was looking for in a man. Yet ironically I didn’t use that same list when it came to having sex as my standards were lowered when it came to someone entering my ass as opposed to my heart.

I simply hated. I hated my father who ran didn’t raise me. I hated my friends and family who didn’t have to live with this disease day to day and asked me things like, “what’s wrong” and me unable to share that truth. I hated the gay community as it was not at a place where I could say I was gay-yet jealous they could live that life freely. I hated life and wished my disease could take me sooner than later. I hated people who were in love.

I was on a crash course with myself. Tears which fell only at night were now falling at all times of the day. They fell because I knew my actions were not me. I knew the young boy with the innocent smile was trying to come out and I didn’t know how to let him. The last time I let him he was hurt. Like an overbearing mother I built walls so no one could ever hurt him again. My tears fell because I spent most of my life living in shame, holding my head low instead of raising it to see my potential. My tears fell because I felt I let my mother down. I didn’t listen to her warning and was paying the price. I was crying because simply dealing with HIV was a luxury as my daily battle was more about me being black than the disease itself. I was trying to survive in a world built with systems not designed for me and as a gay black man the only time I was visible was when I saw myself on posters holding a condom.

I didn’t realize my tears were falling because it was cleansing me. Not knowing It was getting me ready for my final transformation…..healing.

Heal

I never set out to find a place of healing. I felt I was always going to a person walking with rage. I was scared that if I let go of my anger, I would be setting myself up to be hurt again. My anger was my shield of protection.download (1)

My healing came when I allowed myself to cry. When I stopped trying to hold back my tears. When I stopped punishing myself for tears which were due to me. I earned each drop for all that I suffered. The child abuse. The rejection from family. The announcement of my HIV. The times I was called a nigger, those tears were mine and I was denying myself each drop.  I  never knew that those moments I would cry I was actually healing. The water was nurturing the open wounds that existed on me. Cleansing my soul.

The biggest moment came when I stopped blaming myself for my circumstance. It wasn’t my fault that I was sexually abused as a child. It wasn’t my fault that I was gay, as I came to accept that I was born this way and it was something to be celebrated instead of hated. And although I placed myself in the situation to be exposed to HIV, I had to stop blaming myself for my life choices and find a way to move away from the bitterness that was overtaking my life.

Instead of living in a place of blaming I started to exist in a place of forgiveness. That included all of the negative actions of my life when I was so angry. In that forgiveness I started to see the person I was supposed to be. I let the child in me, out, to experience the world again. I was learning how to fly again and be free.308751_10150822389055576_1210471800_n2

My healing allowed me to let God back into my life. It made me understand that although I was giving him the silent treatment, he never did the same to me. That he was always there for me, through all the pain. And it was because of him I was able to bear.

The last act of healing was me coming to a place of acceptance. I think for so long I was in moments of denial and never fully embraced my circumstance. It seemed I was always living someone else’s lie. I was living other people life. Constantly trying to be that someone that others wanted to see. I was the ‘straight black man’, I was the’ passive bottom’, I was the ‘strong male’, I was a ‘cumdump’, I was ‘HIV negative’, I was everything people wanted me to be. Always morphing my identity, auditioning in the hopes I would be liked. I never allowed myself to simply be me. I never took the time to make that discovery.  I was now giving myself that permission.

I finally place myself on that journey to find not only who I was but who I was supposed to be. I had to rediscover my voice. And to truly move on I had to forgive the people who I felt place hurt on me. That included the person who took my childhood and most importantly the person who gave me HIV. I couldn’t move on if I held on to the anger I felt toward them. And yes I had to forgive myself.

I had to let people go. Those who only wanted to take and not give. I had to recognize that family can be the greatest source of pain and sometimes you have to sever the ties of hurt. I had to understand that if someone didn’t accept me as a gay black HIV positive man, then they couldn’t appreciate and deserve the beauty I had to offer. I could no longer fragment myself for others. Giving people only the pieces they liked. They had to accept the wholeness of me.  I had to stop giving my body away to strangers and those who only saw me for their sexual pleasure. Stop placing my body parts on social media as if I was standing on an auction block. Giving myself away to the lowest bidder. I had to stop asking for love until I knew what love was. I had to learn the difference between the acts of someone simply wanting to just having sex with you and the act of someone wanting to be in love with me.

Since the discovery of my truths I’ve never been freer. I’m no longer tied to people’s opinion of me. I don’t mean this as a disregard of people or to say they don’t matter, I say this knowing my actions will be dictated by how I can best show I love myself. And that’s the greatest gift you can give yourself, the ability to love the skin you’re in.

The greatest thing is accepting that I’ll have some doubts and may even have some setbacks on this healing journey.  But to use those setback moments as reflections and restart my journey toward healing and love of self.

Now when someone asks me who I am I can say proudly I’m gay, black, HIV Positive, caring, crazy, Extrovert, outspoken, soft spoken, funny, impulsive, introvert, moody, sincere………the list goes on. But one thing I know is that they all add up to one thing…loving. That’s me. Aundaray

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Spring Into Fitness

At the beginning of the New Year we all make a resolution to start working out and/or eat healthier. But let’s face it- who likes to work out during the cold winter months? Before you know it our resolution becomes an impossible task. That’s the great thing about Spring- we all get a start over and an ability to design a realistic health program. A fitness program is great for anyone and all body types but especially for those with HIV. I make this testimony as I feel my health routine over the last ten years has contributed to my continued well-being despite my status.workout-motivation-music

There’s been studies which shows that there’s a relationship between a healthy lifestyle and an increase in one t-cell numbers. Also working out has benefited my overall well-being, and for many who participate in a health program, it has helped keep depression and anxiety in control.

And not to mention the added benefits one with HIV can receive such as:

  • The prevention of muscle loss and strength often seen in those with HIV
  • Lower levels of blood fats and sugars which can raised by HIV medications
  • Higher levels of HDL cholesterol (the good stuff) and lower levels of LDL cholesterol- the bad kind which has been connected to faster HIV progression.

So as we spring forward I offer my seven ways to have a healthy season.images (17)

Do it for you– The worst mistake one can make in starting a fitness regime is to do it for the benefit of someone else. We all want to look attractive to others but when you step into the gym or start exercising, how someone sees you that shouldn’t be your marker of being fit. The person we should make happy when looking in the mirror is ourselves. Keeping that in mind you’ll find yourself more motivated and determined to get the results you want.

Start at your own pace– Whether it’s jogging or lifting weights, don’t compare yourself to others. If you see someone jogging without breaking a sweat or lifting a huge amount of weight-just know they were once like you, starting from the beginning. The worst thing you could do is to try to keep up with someone who has been doing a routine for months. You not only risk hurting yourself but you also may get frustrated and give up.

Check with your doctor before beginning– This may seem like an obsolete suggestion but for those who are HIV it may have an added benefit. One reason is that there may be a medical reason you don’t feel motivated to work out. You may find yourself always without energy and don’t know why. It has been shown that those with HIV may experience low levels of testosterone based on many factors. For many that’s the fuel to provide the boost you need to even do the simple day to day activities. Because we often don’t know our levels are low it’s best to check In with your doctor and they may start you on a testosterone treatment program.

Control the vices– In our busy lives we sometimes wish we had to time to have a proper meal, but the reality for some is that fast food is usually the only option. Yet making fast food your go to is not good for you or your body. In addition other vices like smoking and drinking can make a health regimen redundant. Look at ways to reduce eating junk food by always having healthy options around. Also seek support from others if you’re trying to stop smoking or excessively drink. Remember your body is your temple so if you want it to be nice to you- you have to be nice to it.

Keep a diary– We sometimes don’t give ourselves enough credit for our successes, even the small ones. A diary is an excellent roadmap of where one used to be and where they’re at now. There are so many online options which make it easy to collect your results and place them in a place where you can review them. Also many are now creating a picture diary which allows them to visually see the results their making. fitbit2_2317868b

Keep off the scale– If you want to really get frustrated and derail your efforts, step on a scale. A scale doesn’t accurately inform you of the progress you’re making. People who work out can’t understand why it looks like they’re gaining weight. The truth of the matter is you’re not. As you lose fat mass you’re gaining muscle mass which is good. So when you step on the scale it’s reflecting the muscle which you’re developing. Understanding this you’ll see that a daily scale check is often misleading and not an accurate barometer of your real results

Find what works for you– For some going to the local gym is a preferred way to stay in shape. For others it may be jogging through the local park. Other non-traditional programs such as yoga are considered a good way to workout. No matter what you do, do something and you’ll not only feel good but feel good about yourself. And most importantly you can start today as it takes one step at a time to be the best health you want to be.

So as the warms sunny days of summer slowly approach, start making today your day to spring forward into a healthy life!

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Specialty of HIV

It was a normal day when I saw my pharmacy calling me. It wasn’t unusual to receive a phone call from my pharmacist. Sometimes they would call to remind me my prescriptions were ready and yes, even check-in to see how I was doing.  I was fortunate as I frequent them often for my prescription needs. They have been so much part of my life in the last eleven years that I even wrote about them in a previous blog post.  For those who are unfamiliar with that blog, I spoke of how the people at the pharmacy helped me find my new HIV doctor, encouraged me to seek a simpler medication regimen and the greatest help, connecting me to the AIDS Drugs Assistance Program (ADAP). At that time I was struggling to pay my co-pay which was rising faster than my paycheck. So when my phone rang I wasn’t expecting to hear anything bad from them. Unfortunately it was the beginning of my hell and my unfortunate introduction to ‘specialty pharmacy service’.Mchungaji Ambilikile Mwasapile, aka "Babu"

Specialty pharmacy service basically limits how and where you can get your downloadprescription filled based on your disease. For me, according to New York University (NYU), the issuer of my medical coverage, my HIV diagnoses fell into the specialty category. That meant my only choice was to receive my prescriptions by mail or visit any national CVS drugstore. The small neighborhood pharmacy I frequented for the past years would no longer be able to fill my HIV prescriptions. So instead of walking the three blocks in my neighborhood, I’m now forced to ride a subway to a pharmacy twenty blocks away.  In addition instead of the specialized care one gets from a local pharmacy, I’m now one of thousands at a national corporation. What’s so special about that?

The other option for me is the mail delivery option. This is a monthly drop-off service of your pills at your doorstep. This may sound ideal but for those who have yet to share their status or living in a situation where it’s not safe to reveal, this is not an option to consider. And since each package has to be signed for, the added expense of a P.O. Box along with the additional cost, makes it less attractive. Besides anyone who has a package delivered by UPS, knows the frustration of getting a pink slip letting you know you missed them. This often leads into a frustrating game of playing tag to get your package so you won’t have to miss any dosages. There is also an option of delivery to your work space but again if your co-workers don’t know about your status they may start to wonder about the regular shipments of pills.

I wanted to opt out of the specialty care program and continue my relationship with my current pharmacist. I first had to discover where this mandate came from. That meant my first call went to United Healthcare, the name of the insurance company on my card. They informed me their hands were tied and I had to speak to the HR department at NYU as this order came from them. From there I went into representative hell as the people I called were the first line to protect the decision makers. I knew the frontline staff wouldn’t be able to help but I had to start somewhere. It was an endless game of repeating my frustration to each person as I was shifted from one to the next.20150306_145802

I was always polite as I knew it wasn’t their fault. I called so much they even knew me by name and we would talk about the weather. Some also sympathized with me and felt it wasn’t right I was being pigeonholed. One rep even wanted me to keep her updated on my battle. I finally made headway but only by letting NYU know that I was planning a protest of this decision. My protest would consist of me refusing to set up new service at CVS which of course meant that I would be without meds. I was prepared to not get my meds refilled and inform NYU that their decision was affecting my health and life.

It was a gamble but it worked as I finally spoke to a senior official in the HR department. She told me that NYU was doing me a favor by making it easier for me to obtain my pills and they were doing this for me. It was as if she had the script prepared for this conversation. I wanted her to know I found this discriminatory to those with HIV and in a way a punishment. I asked her where she got her prescriptions filled and was met with a non-response as I’m sure she could go anywhere, even if it was a local pharmacy three blocks away. NYU is not looking out for my health as she claimed. They are looking to save money. That’s the only reason this was decided. Their ability to save dollars overruled my health.

I have yet to have them reverse their decision as it’s a waiting game. They don’t have to worry about their refills running out. So those who are in the processing of fighting this requirement often give up as they’re interrupting their medication regime, something strongly advised not to do.

As usual my local pharmacy provided me with good insight as they have seen other HIV customers simply give up fighting. I’m not the only one. There are others like me with HIV who has spoken out against specialty pharmacy programs and tried to remain with their local pharmacy instead of a chain. In fact last year New York passed the Anti-Mandatory Mail Order Pharmacy bill. The bill closes a loophole in state law that currently allows the health insurance industry to prevent local pharmacies from qualifying to fill prescriptions deemed “specialty” by the industry, even if they match the cost. Unfortunately for me since NYU pays full coverage they have found a loophole to allow them to discriminate.

Claims of discrimination may seem harsh but there’s no other way to look at it. There’s no other word that describes the fact that because you have a certain health condition you have these limited options versus others who have the same insurance but because they don’t have HIV, have a range of choice.

And that’s what it comes down, choice. And I feel simply because I have HIV my choice shouldn’t be taken away, especially so someone can make a profit. At this moment my battle continues to restore that choice and I hope in the end to help others like myself who are forced to fight for the right to choose where they get their prescriptions filled.

I would love to hear from others who were forced into specialty pharmacy programs and how you handled it. The more sharing of this blatant discrimination, the more ammunition can be used to defeat this practice.

So shame on you NYU for treating me like the ‘other’ and adding to the stigma of HIV.

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#HIV BlackLivesMatter Also

#HIVBlackLivesMatter Alsoimages (2)

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?

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Attempting to navigate the reasoning for recent injustices makes it impossible to understand, especially on the heels of another ‘not guilty’ verdict of Mike Brown in Ferguson. Around the country people of all races are holding signs and exclaiming, #BlackLivesMatter. A powerful declaration to encompass all dark skins but especially targeted to young black males. On the macro level the urgency of the message is clear. When will the issues of the systematic destruction of black men, whether by self or others, become addressed? On a micro level and with the attachment to young HIV gay black men, the prescribed slogan no longer becomes a statement but morphs into a question. If #BlackLivesMatter, why are HIV rates rising among young gay men of color? Why do young gay and black men feel hopeless when it comes to their health and feel HIV is their fate? Why is there no acknowledgement that they’re constantly targeted by the Darren Wilsons hidden in their community?

Communities filled with those who shoot their own bullets of hate and ignorance to those who happen to be gay and worse, HIV. What does it communicates when people cry out for the justice of a stranger but provides little empathy for their brothers who live with the virus. Does #BlackLivesMatter only if you’re hetro? A man? HIV negative? images

What’s the takeaway hearing #BlackLivesMatter when it’s also expressed that contracting the virus is the punishment from God for being gay. Coupled with people passing theoretic judgments on why black men seemed to be favored by HIV, not understanding the failed approached of attempting to treat this disease with structures designed for the majority and not the minority. When HIV preventions generalizes a young black gay man’s life and his experiences and disqualifies the societal ills he endures, instead issuing a tone-deaf mandate to simply put a condom on with little regard of the systematic tool of racism makes this one act, difficult. Even with the perfect means to prevent exposure of HIV what conversations are taking place which connects race to HIV and the relation to medical adherence to those who see their existence as meaningless based on today’s headlines?

People never fully understanding why young gay black men have their #HANDSUP, a display of defeat as they are consistently forced to temporarily pocket their sexuality simply to stand shoulder to shoulder with their brothers. A devalued experience of trapped between two identified communities that never offers a full embrace. One community represents place of origin and the other is a quasi-form of support from the majority gay community which offers a temporary membership, sometimes based on the fetishism or eroticism of young men and their ebony shade. The same community which expresses, “Gay Is the New Black”, a mantra co-opted without the benefit of participating in the actual struggle of those who are black.

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#ICANTBREATHE is a sentiment shared by those who are young, gay and black as they are no longer people but quantified as HIV statistics. How can anyone breathe when people with good intentions remind them of their deficit? Over and over, when it comes to HIV, as a young gay black man it’s not a matter of if you get the virus but when? This recycled missive plugged into their heads with the messengers not realizing the long-term implications. Not taking into account how the subliminal message provides a map to predestined exposure.

If #BlackLivesMatter to certain black communities they would know that they’re killing their young gay black men with the weapon of HIV stigma. That gifting tools of rejection and condemnation leads to unfulfilled access to life saving medication. Pills sometimes thrown aside as young men ask themselves, ‘What’s the point?” A sometimes preferred slow suicide death as the motivation for living is weighed against the decision of living on the peripheral of communities.

If #BlackLivesMatter to black families, their love and support would exist despite their son’s HIV status. There would be no second guessing of whether their exposure to a disease is a condition of affection. Unconditional love would be a right and not a gift to take away when one pleases.

If #BlackLivesMatter we will all stand together to protest the death of any black life from HIV, recognizing any death is one too many. As we march we send the message that all black life matters. And in the context of the statement, transform the word from a slogan into one of action.

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And finally to the young gay men living with HIV navigating this alleged post racial environment, despite the headlines and statistics, your black life does matter. No one may tell you or give you the impression that it does, but you must cultivate and hold dear to the fact that you have value. Your life is valued. Your life story has a purpose. Know there are those who do march for you. Who hold up signs of awareness and take steps in your name. Recognize there are communities that don’t hijack your movement and modify it into a hashtag. Instead they walk the streets in protest for your name.

They do this because to them and especially for you, #HIV BlackLivesMatter.

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