Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Addiction, HIV, and the Healing that We Need: A Community Call to Action

Let me go on ahead and give a testimonial up in this piece for a minute. I am a recovering meth addict. And while there was an element early on, back in the late 90s, when I was bedazzled by the glam party boys at the club, my meth addiction had nothing to do with that. Meth came later, post HIV, and my meth addiction had everything to do with the mind blowing numbing power of the drug, the power of the drug to let me feel beautiful, wanted, loved, in control, powerful...for as long as the high lasted, I was Superman and all the bull shit of the world just bounced off of my chest.

Let me preach on this for a minute. I know you all are the choir but sometimes the choir needs to hear the sermon too. When you grow up a man of color in a country that is designed to shut you up and, if it can't, lock you away...when you come out in a queer community where, at least where I was from, you are told to your face, “Sorry...you're cute...but I don't do black/brown/not-white,”....when you are targeted and tokenized...when you are outside peeking in....any thing that resembles a key or a pathway to acceptance becomes very attractive and BECAUSE we did not then and still do not love each other deeply, fearlessly, strongly, toughly, wholly enough...we do not give ourselves nor those that are coming after us the spiritual or communal strength to love themselves despite what the world or anyone in it has to say about the matter.

If we want to see an end to the spread of HIV, if we want to see the end of addiction, if we want to see beautiful brown, black, red, and yellow men loving each other wholly, beautifully, powerfully, then we need find a way to build each other up spiritually and communally...all the prevention messages in the world don't mean SHIT without the work to heal the wounds that most of us are born with....I knew all about condoms and how to protect myself from HIV. But when faced with a moment (even illusory) of feeling whole, wanted, loved, and accepted....I was wiling to give up just about anything to have that moment.

This isn't about some "gay party and sex" ethos. That idea is dismissive and simplistic. It is also a shiny, pretty masquerade masking what's really going on beneath the surface. What's really going on underneath is a world, despite the GLAAD Media Awards, despite Ricky Martin coming out, despite Ugly Betty and Will & Grace, despite gay cruises and gay carnivals, despite the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, despite the right to mimic failed heterosexual relationship structures as evinced through state sponsored marriage, despite a welcoming church here and there, despite “It Gets Better,” and despite all the superficial bullshit where queer people, queer people of color and especially genderqueer and trans people of color are targeted, wounded, hurting, marginalized, isolated and struggling--at least for a good chunk of their first two decades of life. And, my friends, don't get it twisted, each and every one of us knows that what happens to us in the first 20 years of life is most likely what we are going to spend the last 60 years of our lives trying to heal...if we have the privilege to do so and if we live long enough.

So, when I read half-assed assertions about what is REALLY needed to curb meth addiction, when I read folks that have never struggled with addiction coming up with the same old tired solutions to dynamic issues of mental health and spiritual wounding, I really want to start screaming. The fact is that the solution to meth addiction is not MORE FEAR. It is not MORE JUDGMENT. It is not MORE SHAME. It is not simplistic answers to a complicated problem. And there is no single solution for an addiction and a wounding that is absolutely personal. When one goes into the emergency room with chest pains, the doctor doesn't apply the same diagnostic and healing plan that she gave to the patient just before you with chest pain. Your healing path is personal and specific to the nuances that are you. Some of the techniques applied may be universal, but the situations of each surgery are unique and require specialized care. The same is true of addiction, and don't let anyone tell you differently.

With all my heart, I wish that the moment any queer and/or trans person of color turned 18---before we send them out into the adult world--, they were whisked off to a magical queer camp where for a year they are given the tools and the love, and lots and lots and lots of therapy, to start undoing the hurt that they have already, inevitably, received.

So let me ask you to join me in figuring out a real solution. I am going to talk to my friend Maurice Jamal, the folks at the Audre Lorde Project and a couple of other folks and see if we can pull together a series of long term discussions in queer/trans communities of color, with queer/trans people of color, facilitated by queer/trans people of color, to try and find long term solutions not to addiction but to the root causes that lead to addiction. HIV and Addiction are symptoms. The symptoms need to be addressed but until the underlying wound is healed, no matter how much love and support is thrown at the symptoms, they are going to keep returning. I, for one, am tired of the symptoms. I am ready for healing---and I can't do it by myself.


  1. This was sooo difficult to digest. When I noticed how much I wanted to look away, I realized that is a part of the denial and shame you speak about. Many of us were loved poorly and some of us were never loved deeply enough. Reading this makes me want to reach out to friends and tell them that I love and appreciate their individual contribution to my life. The challenging risk is being vulnerable enough (with ourselves and others) to express that kind of deep love with the men we fall in love with and to receive that kind of love back.

    Don't want to spend the rest of my time on earth correcting all of the pain and misfortune but I guess this is jaust another aspect of the journey.

  2. As always, thank you for this Brandon. Though I never struggled with drug addiction, growing up southern baptist, bi-racial, gay, overweight and going to college with all that mess...yeah, I've got issues. And the queer community in Austin did not make it any easier for me. It was almost as if I wasn't allowed to be gay if I was overweight and brown. At one point I was ashamed and did not want to be black.

    If it wasn't for my fear of drugs, there's no telling what I would have done. So I ate instead. It may not seem as severe, but it's the only way I knew/know how to disappear and make myself feel so unattractive and unwanted and yet comforted at the same time. Sloth. Only word that can describe what I did to myself. Hell, I still do on occasion. That heifa' inside of me just will not shut up sometimes lol

    So yes I am all for a dialogue and hope there will be one that leads to long term solutions. As a teacher, I really hope that I can be an example and light for any queer student I encounter so they can overcome anything and just love. :)


Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and insights. And thank you for reading!