Like many black men who test positive for HIV my diagnosis was confirmed in a clinic full of strangers...
Like many black men who test positive for HIV my diagnosis was confirmed in a clinic full of strangers. I sat uncomfortably in a chair, in a doctor’s office, on the very edge of my seat, trying to convince my tears to be silent. My blood was drawn by an individual who suspiciously said very little to me during the screening process and the test was taken in a room sooo sterile and tight I suspected HIV was propagated by said facility.
Like many black men who test positive for HIV I was behaving consensually in a community I didn’t recognize to be disproportionately affected by disease—nor, do I regret to say, did I know to know that.
The type of sex I practiced, like many black men who test positive for HIV practiced, was at most times unprotected. And still like many black men who test positive for HIV, ignorance doesn’t exempt us from infection nor does it annul the sting of being diagnosed. So after I was tested in that impersonal, tight room, in that clinic full of strangers—when the verdict was finally offered to me, after much wait & worry, I cried.
I’ll admit to knowing very little about HIV the day I was diagnosed. I didn’t understand how the sexual behavior that I was accustomed to, with whom I was accustomed to behaving with, assured me my diagnosis. Unbeknownst to everything I thought I knew about how HIV is transmitted, my perception of risk was distorted like that of many who test positive for HIV.
There are activists who will talk about the socioeconomic contributors that greatly increase our exposure to the virus—how drugs and alcohol are classified risk factors and how their peddlers have been prominent fixtures in predominantly black communities. How a lack of healthcare and education become precursors to behaviors such as prostitution and fates such as incarceration that can easily lead to exposure when safer sex practices can’t be or aren’t always at play. How being a community already riddled with red-alerts for other sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea, herpes, and Chlamydia, ups the ante just that much more for allowing HIV the opportunity to infect.
There is no simple answer to why there is such a disparity in our community or why this information gets missed. Sadly, it seems the only people who know those statistics are those who either surveillance them, report them and/or are them. And unless you place somewhere on that grid, more than likely, you wouldn’t be able to tell me that 1 in 3 gay black men are infected with HIV and 20 percent don’t know, because you probably wouldn’t know to tell me that. You wouldn’t know how to stress the importance of condom usage or biomedical treatment because 2 out of 3 new HIV cases don’t happen during seasons of “overt” promiscuity, like most believe, but during quieter, less threatening situations like those of relationships because that’s typically when most people feel safe enough to remove or not practice using protective barriers. It is the moment that we remove these protective barriers [condoms and biomedical prevention] do we expose ourselves to the potential risk of HIV. Trust, like I once thought, isn’t protection. You wouldn’t know that when the researchers equate infection rates to poverty that they’re not just talking about dilapidated sidewalks and a lack of financial wherewithal but more so a disparity in knowledge… and HIV is a symptom of poverty.
We in the African American community are still contracting HIV because HIV, despite the media’s early portrayal of the disease, has always been a silent predator among us—a silence that we perpetuate. What we have been uncomfortable to admit to our children & peers, whether it be by fear or ignorance, is that we too have been dying alongside our white counterparts from HIV and now our beautiful brown faces headline this epidemic. But to say this aloud would somehow ruin the anonymity that we think we’ve gained by keeping so hush. If we never admit to being affected then maybe this disease will rid itself. How long do you think will we continue to behave in poverty?