I stared at the cruel numbers on the screen in front of me. I wanted to strike out at something, but I felt too exhausted to react in any real, meaningful way. I had seen variations of such numbers before; icy with their statistical, cold cruelty, but dry in their exhaustive familiarity:
At current rate of infection, one in four black, gay men will become HIV-positive by the time they are 25, and one in two will have HIV by the time they are 35.
-- HIVPlus Magazine, Sources: NCBI, AidsVu and CDC
As I said, cruel numbers. And, they are what I hear when I sit down and listen to others talk about how important same-sex marriage is; they are what I see in my mind's eye when I read stories about where the gay community is right now, busy Looking for the cutest house with the shortest commute to Starbucks.
And, I know, I know, I know -- this is petty. I am being unfair. I get why Adam and Steve desperately want to say "I do," and move next to Bob and Becky; I get that moves toward obtaining one goal should not mean sacrificing making strides toward achieving other goals.
I see the numbers, and can't help but think that such sacrifices have already been made by others. I look at my skin, and I think of the color of my friends' skin, and the men I admire, and the men I tend to -- with varying degrees of success -- "sleep" with, and I feel something that I can't quite put my finger on.
It is not a panic, per se, as much as it is a tense feeling of concern mixed with something else -- a suspicion, very much tainted with a certain color. The notion that if these numbers came before the descriptor "white," the national conversation around gay rights, and the gay rights agenda, would be different. We would have a sequel to Philadelphia; The Normal Heart would have been a huge cinematic release (probably in November or December in time for award season); celebrities would still wear red pins, and young millennials would talk as fiercely about HIV and AIDS awareness and education, and the eradication of stigma around HIV and AIDS, as they do about marriage equality.
Again, I look down at the numbers and a realization washes over me: I do not know of a world without HIV or AIDS.
I was born in 1982. I have known about HIV and AIDS, seemingly, as long as I have known about any real thing of importance. I know how not to contract the virus. It seems so easy. But, life is not easy; it is not a classroom. Telling us to just "wrap it up" does not help; particularly when, as a gay person, you realize you are being asked to do something exceptional. I can think of very few straight people I know who routinely, consistently always use condoms, but they all expect me and mine to use them, every time -- no slip-ups. And, I have heard the judgement when one does "slip-up," or chooses not wear condoms. To be queer is to have the entire world in your bedroom. Shaming people does not help. And neither does silence.
I think conversation can help. I think it can heal. Not dry lectures telling us to put on condoms, and not discussions shaming positive folk. But, rather, conversations that center on us Black gay, queer and trans* folk and our lives. Conversations where we reach out to each other and say, in a very real way: "I got you, my brother, my sister; please, have me too."
I know that, this year, Feb 7 is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness day, and different places around the country are having events. I don't know where you will be, but I know I will be attending some events, having that conversation, letting my brothers and sisters know that I am here for them and care for them, and asking them to be here for me. To care for me.