Friday, November 11, 2011

This Pozitive Life

Last night, I read my poem H-I-ME for the second time in public. The last time was a year ago, the day that I wrote it, and after completely breaking down and sobbing my way through that performance, I set it aside. Over the last year, I have either chosen to face or been force to face some of the realities of living with HIV. I have made good choices and bad choices, and I have had to sit with some very hard moments. Last night, when I read the poem, I didn't break down. Let's be real, by the end of the poem by entire body was shaking, I felt exposed and vulnerable, and I wanted to bolt from the room. Instead, I had to pull up a chair and face a half an hour of questions and comments from the audience during a facilitated panel.

And the panel moderator, my friend Collete Carter, Co-Director of the Audre Lorde Project, ain't no joke.

I felt myself, sitting underneath the lights, sweating, trying to make my body as absolutely small as possible. There were folks in the room that knew me intimately and had lived with me through some of my hardest moments. There were folks in the room that I didn't know at all, and there was a person in the room that I have just begun to know--and let me say that with this particular person....there are rarely any frivolous I sat there...feeling stripped down, trying my best to continue to answer the questions posed with honesty, while all the while wanting to run hard and fast.

The problem is that you can't run from yourself.

HIV is a part of my life. It is a part of my reality. I am in great health. I am a non-progressor. I have a T-Cell count of a "normie," (1000+) my viral load is never above 3,000 (you have to be at least at 100,000 replications before medication is recommended). I am likely to die an incontinent mean ass old man pinching the asses of orderlies that aren't even born yet. Yet, the stigma, shame, and all around shit show that this world puts on people living with HIV, combined with all the messages we (I) lay on ourselves makes living with this disease about as fun as putting your penis in a blender and hitting puree.

In general, I am ok with my status. When I am not feeling ok with it...I write about it. But sometimes, life throws you a moment, that straight up knocks the wind right out of you.

Last night, after the show, I was hanging out with someone important to me. As we were talking as we are wont to do, after I made a comment about an unrelated subject, he stopped the conversation and said, "I think I am angry with you."

It was so out of the blue, that I kind of giggled and asked why. When his face changed, I knew something was coming that I probably wasn't going to enjoy. I knew it was would be honest. I knew it would be challenging. I knew it would be truthful. And I was fairly certain I was going to hate whatever he said next.

Call my ass Miss Cleo, because I was right. Call me now!

He said to me, "I think I am angry with you because you are HIV positive."

I could feel my pupils dilating as he was speaking. It was direct. It was real. And I had no idea what to do with it.

And then the coup de grace came. "And I am mad at you for hurting yourself like that."

Entre the tears.

Nothing he said was designed to hurt. There was more to the conversation but that isn't for this blog. And what he said did hurt. It was the truth. And it hurt like Hell. I did hurt myself. I have never blamed anyone else for my HIV status, but nor had I really looked at my myself and said...hey did this to yourself. I did. I have all kinds of reasons why I went searching for love and validation in the form of a dick. I was looking for something that was missing or taken from me growing up. Instead, what I found, like so many others find, is this fucking disease. And I realized that not only did I hurt myself, but once I tested positive there was a sense of satisfaction. It was confirmation of everything that I believe(d) about myself. I was unlovable. I was untouchable. I was unworthy of love. And having HIV was very simply the confirmation of all the things that I knew to be true about myself.

I LOVE to be right. And my positive diagnosis was the ultimate confirmation of just how right I was about myself. And until my friend told me last night that he was angry with me, I had never been forced to actually look at it in this way. Nor have I ever articulated it.

Damn. Just damn. damn. damn. damn. damn.

Last night when Collette asked us the question what is the truth about ourselves that hurts. When it got to me, I said out loud that my truth that hurts is that I have believed and still sometimes believe that I am unworthy of the amazing love and devotion and care that I have been blessed to have in my life. To fight that, I actively seek out that love and give it back when I can. I actively look for people to be in my life, like my friend last night, who will tell me the truths that may not feel great but are the things that I need to hear.

I am so grateful to have these people in my love me when it is be my truth tellers...and to let me have the pain without getting lost in it.

I am worthy of love. HIV doesn't determine who I am or how I move through the world, and I will continue to take these truths in, let them hurt until the hurt goes away, and then keep on living. Too many people have invested too much into my life and my well being for me to do any less.


  1. This was such an interesting (albeit painful) read. I really have to hand it to you, Brandon: You understand yourself and how you work better than probably anybody I know. What I don't know is if I'm willing to be mad at you because you contracted a disease. My guess is that you already had a disease before you actually contracted one. Maybe that disease was addiction. Maybe that disease was mental. I don't know.

    When my Daddy got lung cancer, he kept on smoking. When he went into remission and was blessed with three years that nobody thought he'd ever live to see, he kept on smoking. When he got out of his weekly chemo and radiation treatments, he kept on smoking. It made me so mad. It was sort of like spitting in the face of God to me.

    Then, about five days before he died, when hospice had been called in and the morphine was hooked up to him--when he could no longer make sense of what was going on or even speak--when he couldn't even say goodbye to me--he looked up and gave me the two-fingered "puff-puff" sign language that means, "Gimmie a cigarette". I wasn't mad at him at all. It hit me that he was the victim of an addiction that he couldn't control. He had a disease long before he got cancer.

    In situations such as this, it seems like it's always easier to cope if there's somebody to blame. (Even if it's yourself.) I don't know. All I know for sure is that none of us were promised that we would have you in our lives at all, much less past the age of 10, 20 or...what are you now? Ahh, yes! 23!

    I'm just glad that you are here doing what you are doing...which is basically saving the lives of people who are Positive as well as those who are not. And I love you.

    Be well and Amen,

    The Divine Grace

  2. Brandon -- thank you so much for this. I understand your friend's anger, and that it is coming from a place of deep love and longing. Of course all of us who love you want you to be around forever, to be healthy and happy and thriving.

    But your story hits me so differently. As a young woman, I had sex with over a hundred men when i was 17-23, from 1977-1884, before the epidemic really hit, while on the pill, and not 'protected' from any of the STDs out there. I was white, middle class, a survivor of child physical and sexual abuse, making my way in the world as best I could and sex was the way I was trying to both express my pain and connect, to purge it all somehow.

    What makes me angry about your story is that you and i have probably taken many of the same risks. We have made a number of choices in an effort to soothe our pain and affirm our humanity that were perhaps not in our best interest. This is a reality that often defines one's youth. It is certainly the hallmark of any learning curve. We test, we try, we reflect and we figure out another way.

    But I do not have HIV. I am living medication free in my 50s. I have had the experience of recovering from drug addiction among a whole slew of peers of color who very much share my story, and are now dead. They did the same shit I did. And they didn't get the jobs I got. They didn't get 15 years of therapy subsidized by insurance. And no one 'comped' their rehab stay.

    I am angry too. But I am not angry at you. I am angry that I have watched literally hundreds of brilliant, beautiful men and women live and die with this disease for the past 25 years -- and their deaths have been entirely preventable, un-natural, rigged by a state that couldn't care less about them, that blamed them for everything that people have marveled over and celebrated me surviving for the past 30 years.

    This week, I spent 3 days on the phone trying to help a beloved of mine get a goddamn bed in a rehab. He's been using on and off for the past 20 years -- he's a huge labor rights activist. Incredibly effective and dedicated person. He has dragged his pain and his self-hatred all over the world, an albatross, as he's worked for justice in the most desperate situations you can imagine. And i had to call in every 'white' chip i have to get this Black gay man some help this week. I can tell you, if Joe Solmonese or Matt Foreman needed rehab this week, this would not have been their story.

    I am so angry, Brandon. So so very angry. But not at you. I love you. And I am so happy to see you loving yourself.

  3. I am at a loss for words. You are truly amazing; never ceasing to learn and go through the fire to come out on the other side. You make my heart smile my friend!

  4. I came across your blog article through and felt compelled to write to you. Your words were so raw and touched me deeply. You are in my prayers.


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