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May 31st, 2011

Calling HIV Negative Gay Men: This is Your Time

This is directed to HIV negative gay men. Listen carefully. This is your time.

I’ve lived with HIV more than half my life, and people often praise me far more than I deserve, simply for surviving. They use words like brave and courageous.

hivtestYou know what takes courage? Getting an HIV test every few months. You, waiting nervously while your most personal sexual choices are literally being tested, waiting to find out if you’ve been good ” or if you’re going to pay for a single lapse in judgment by testing positive, when the look on the faces of your friends will say you should have known better.

I have no idea what that must be like. I took the test over 25 years ago. The positive result was traumatic, no doubt about it, and I soldiered on during some awfully frightening times. But I have a significant psychological advantage over my HIV negative friends: I only took that damn test once.

During all these years, I’ve acted irresponsibly at times or taken chances I hadn’t intended. But there has been no further judgment from a blood test. That reckoning was faced long ago.

But you ” whether you have been sexually active for a year or a decade ” have very likely faced some tough choices and behaved wisely. You keep doing the right thing.

This is your time. The word courageous is for you.

If you don’t define yourself, in large part, by the fact you are HIV negative, start now. It is your accomplishment. It says you are taking care. And it says you are eligible to participate in vaccine trials or mentor someone else trying to remain negative.

vaccineThere is ongoing research now that is focused on HIV negative men like you. Exciting new studies are investigating drugs to prevent infection after something risky has occurred, while other studies have shown promise for a drug regimen that might block infection before it happens.

And right now there are vaccine trials waiting for men like you to help find the ultimate weapon against HIV. They need volunteers, badly.

This is your time. This research is about you. This call to action is for you.

I can already hear the rumblings on both sides of the viral divide. People are so quick to take offense, so afraid of being misunderstood, of being labeled or blamed or ostracized.

My fellow positive brothers are so bruised by stigma that it can be hard for them to lift you up. They’ve been rejected by you. They don’t like hearing “maybe we should just be friends” and they don’t like seeing “UB2” in your online profile. They might be positive as a result of one heated mistake, or due to sexual assault, or by trusting (or loving) the wrong person — and they deeply resent feeling judged.

Maybe they think your negative status is the result of pure luck, or that you don’t like anal intercourse, or you’re lying.

AIDS Walk - CopyMeanwhile, your sacrifices go unrecognized. You’ve seen some positive friends take early disability, hang out at the gym and get help with the rent. They receive so much support and empathy that it must feel like there isn’t much left for you. Every year we all swarm the streets for the AIDS Walk, and you can’t help but wonder if your parade will ever arrive.

These grievances and resentments give me a headache. It doesn’t matter much to me who is most injured. How infinite is our compassion for one another? I don’t care anymore who gets what. What matters most is who does what.

This is your time. This truce, this call to a higher purpose, is for you.

You are fully human, like everyone else, my friend. You are courageous, afraid, selfish and compassionate. You make difficult choices and you make mistakes. And we need you so very badly.

Thank God for you. This is your time.

(This piece was written as part of the GA Voice commemoration of 30 years of HIV/AIDS. I was honored to contribute to their special issue. — Mark)

————————————————————

HobbesIf you haven’t caught up with the blog from gay theologian the Rev. Chris Glaser, his thoughtful posting about the rapture, and what it means to be left behind, is a great introduction. Chris has a way of bringing Christian teachings back to their essential meanings (in other words, without the hateful language and intent we have come to expect from fundamentalists). As a child he didn’t want to go to hell, but he was afraid of the rapture because of his fear of heights. And who in their right mind would leave this poor doggie behind?

jelloSadly, as the lives of thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS hang in the balance, our federal government has funded numerous “pet projects” – including such programs as Jell-O wrestling at the South Pole, testing shrimp’s exercise ability on a treadmill and a laundry-folding robot, all funded by the National Science Foundation. These facts, from the ADAP Advocacy Association’s (aaa+) newest blog posting, paint a dire picture of our national healthcare priorities. The blog also begs the question, “Where is the leadership?” I would urge urge you follow aaa+ and stay tuned for ways in which you can advocate to solve this national disgrace.

AIDS patientA New York Times article on the scientific history of AIDS does a great job of showing how naive researchers were in the beginning of the epidemic (a 1981 New England Journal of Medicine editorial didn’t even allow for the existence of a new microbe), but, more importantly, it highlights the ways in which AIDS activism and research has rewarded all of mankind with swifter drug approval and better patient advocacy:

“The relative speed with which the therapies were developed owes much to the efforts of cadres of activists who demanded that the Food and Drug Administration loosen the rules for clinical trials and speed its drug approval process. Efforts to develop anti-H.I.V. drugs have paid handsome dividends by leading to development of other drugs to treat other viral infections, like the liver diseases hepatitis B and C and certain types of herpes viruses. Also, AIDS advocacy has spurred leaders of campaigns against breast cancer and other diseases to adopt similar strategies.”

As always, my friends, please be well. And I hope you will “share” this posting with your friends and colleagues. Here’s to a wonderful summer!

Mark

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4 Responses to “Calling HIV Negative Gay Men: This is Your Time”

  1. RichBaer Says:

    June 1st, 2011 at 9:22 am

    Thank you so very much, Mark, for pointing out the courage it takes to actually get tested!
    Every paragraph within this piece holds something relevant, strung together with such veracity and truth. I applaud you for saying the things that should be said and for the way that you say them.

  2. theszak Says:

    June 1st, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Getting tested regularly every 3 months exposes another person to an infection if the testing turns up something. Compare the strategy of BEFORE having sex getting tested TOGETHER for A VARIETY of STDs. Surgeons wash before operating. Blood is tested before transfusions. Sexual health checkups reduce ambiguity. Sexual health checkups can be like anything else POTENTIAL sex partners do together. See also
    http://notb4weknow.blogspot.com
    http://continuedat.blogspot.com

    “tested together” alerts
    http://alerts.google.com
    http://www.google.com/search?q=%22tested+together%22

    If you don’t know you got an infection another person could be exposed until you get tested. Getting tested every 3 months wouldn’t prevent that exposure.

  3. MXX Says:

    June 1st, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    This is really nice, romantic, pretty, magical and delusional. Yes, I am cynical, and I like it. It is where I am. My experience, I am not sure HIV negative men really give a shit about men whom have been exposed to the virus; and if they do care, it is ONLY to be able to say “disease and drug free.” And the fact is, this is the best they can say about themselves; dignity, compassion, integrity, “a time for them.” I think we are fooling ourselves to expect this.

    The fact is, no one really needs them; in them lies the stigma, the rejection, and the pain; we don’t need the Republican party or the Catholic Church judging us, in fact, compare to how we treat each other, they are kind to us, we judge and crucify at the same time. Gay men are too self absorbed to care, period; and when have we really cared about each other?

    This is not their time; time is not an issue for them.

    (MXX, you may be knowingly fatalistic or you may actually believe this sincerely, I can’t say. I will agree that my piece is romantic; it is meant to appeal to our highest nature. Your sweeping declarations about negative gay men, however… well, you and I must travel in different circles. I hope you might know friends like mine, who do not resemble the thoughtless clods you describe. — Mark)

  4. ronnie Says:

    June 2nd, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    @ Mark: as usual, a wonderful and insightful article. for people who want a more detailed introduction to the subject of HIV/AIDS (why? because it pays to know your foe!), i can recommend dominique lapierre’s “beyond love” and larry kramer’s collection of AIDS writings. together, they provide a reasonably balanced POV. however, feel free to correct me if i am wrong.

    @MXX: I understand where you are coming from, but i think you’re being too judgmental. i assure you that there is a generation of young gay people who care deeply about people who have been exposed to HIV one way or the other. i am sure people bring their personal likes and dislikes as baggage even in their compassion (for instance, i am not very keen on drug users and barebackers), but i think we are trying: we are trying to help ourselves in learning valuable lessons of life from you.

    my poz friends have taught me wonderful facts about life as we don’t know it, my life without me, so to speak… i believe i owe it to them, to a generation of martyrs, to stay neg, facilitate HIV research, and support the cause any way i can. just my thoughts! 🙂

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