“I Make HIV Look Soo Good”: The Politics of Disease, Stigma, and Self-Worth
This past week I became the facebook user that monotonously began searching through the lives, thoughts, and ideas of my fb friends through the convenience of my fb wall. I came upon a status update from a person that will remain nameless, that said “I make HIV look soo good.” A few thoughts cross my mind. This statement reminded me of how far we have come with a reality that has plagued the LGBTQ community for almost three decades. The simple fact that this black gay youth has the courage, power, and dignity to proclaim his positive status in a public space, says a lot about just how far we have come.
This reversal of HIV into a positive (no pun intended) perspective displays how a politics of self worth can often combat the tirades of stigma that often cast shame on groups who are already marginalized. I think this young black man that shouts out to the world that he is positive, open, proud, black, queer, poor, and persevering all at the same time, is just one of many examples that gives qualitative evidence of how disenfranchised youth often tap into their intrinsic agency to manifest resilience over defeat. This resilience should be honored, appreciated, and shared with those who need the encouragement to make it through another day in a world that chooses to pull people down, more often than it chooses to build up communities.
And of course, as I start reading the comment added to the status in the Facebook feed, I found a negative-nancy lurking in the shadows just waiting to spread hate. This person spewing negatively first wrote a comment that basically alluded to the idea of how HIV will never be able to be turned into something that is affirmative. He went on to add to this hateful fire by throwing shade at this young person who was only trying to participate in a healing process through resilience.
The hateful person wrote (and I’m leaving the grammar just as it is was originally written):
“so now when u c me u should b mad, HIV gets worst, those bumps all over your body tht u filter on fb gone turn bro Legons the ones on your face n body girl tht jacket u where everywhere give it back yes u small that’s what HIV does it makes u small then bloats the fuck out u …ur dark circles around your eyes gone get worse the medicine u taking tax payers ain’t gone pay for it once u turn 21 n they kick u off yo mama link card #ijs nothing cute nor sexy bout HIV I’m a nurse I handle those people every day eating through gtubes because they caught cancers or begging us for medicines”
We have to build a black LGBTQ community that does not allow this hatefulness to flourish. We must call it out, shout it down, and rebuke it. Ideas of free speech should stand strong, however, if someone is free enough to be an asshole, than I’m free enough to tell them they are being an asshole. It is as simple as that. Fortunately, many people did just that (some more appropriately than others) and told the perpetrator that he was not only misinformed, but he was also just out right rude.
Overall, the original statement, “I Make HIV Look Soo Good” reminded me of just how far we come, and brought me to remember a great poem from a fallen HIV/AIDS activist, who was positive. Essex Hemphill wrote a poem called Cordon Negro that I think is important to share. His poetry offers some of the original examples of resilience when it comes to this disease that has caused so many of our brothers and sisters to fall before their time. Rest in power Essex:
I’m dying twice as fast
As any other American.
So I pour myself a glass of champagne,
I cut it with a drop of orange juice,
After I swallow my liquid valium,
My private celebration
For being alive this morning,
I leave my shelter.
I guard my live with no apologies.
My concerns are small