October 16, 2013
Tables Turned: HIV and the Other Side of Stigma
by Shaan Michael Wade
An HIV-negative trans man reacts to his friend coming out as HIV positive.
We read the reports. We see the posters. We memorize, internalize, and regurgitate the statistics. Still, we manage to think HIV is something that can’t happen to us. “That won’t be me,” we say.
|Shaan Michael Wade
Then it is. Despite the red ribbons pinned to blazers, the panels of doctors and academics, and the condoms everywhere from the window to the wall, it happens to us. Or…it happens to our best friend.
I’m used to being on the other side of the table. I’m used to being the one to take a deep breath, make the person promise to never tell a soul, guarantee that I will kill them if they do, take another deep breath, then say, “I’m transsexual.”
I’m used to avoiding eye contact because I expect to see anger, disgust, or pity written on their faces. I’m used to the slow, nervous scoot away and timed breaths, as if breathing the same air as me will make them “catch the tranny.” I’m used to being rejected, despite having been the token of their affection just moments ago. The tables were turned. What was I to do?
When someone close to you comes out as HIV positive, one might expect to feel a sense of internal chaos. We have been socialized to respond to difference with anger, shock, grief, or other such emotions and actions. Some people cry. Some people run. Some people murder.
I did what I wish others had done to me.
I looked at him. I said “Okay.” I hugged him. I told him I loved him. Then I stole sips of his smoothie. When we parted ways, I texted him later that day to reaffirm the fact that I wasn’t going anywhere. It was not an emotional moment, but one of pure vulnerability—something that does not come easy nor often for this friend.
I’m not sad for him. I’m not embarrassed to call him my friend. I don’t question what will happen if his T-cell count gets too low. There is no need for any of this. If he begins to feel sorry for himself, if he begins to feel embarrassed, I’ll put him in a banana suit with a tutu and fairy wings to give him something to really feel sorry and embarrassed about. If his T-cell count drops, I’ll be at every doctor's appointment and hospital visit (if he lets me).
I'll admit: I'm afraid.
I'm afraid because in comparison to White men who have sex with men (MSM), Black MSM are significantly less likely to be alive three years after an AIDS diagnosis. I fear the looming battle against stigma he will face as a Black gay man with HIV. I fear he will lose his sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and perhaps even himself. I fear this because it nearly happened to me. Society has a way of leading you to believe you are unworthy of things you had just moments ago. I understand the pain of stigma. I understand the shame it can bring about. After years of dealing with both, I understand how important community and love are.
An estimated 195,313 Black MSM in the United States have HIV. One of them is my best friend. One of them is my best friend. And I love him. Just as I am not “his trans friend,” he is not “my HIV-positive friend.” We are not objects to be tokenized. He is my friend—my brother—and I am his.
I will continue to love him; I can only hope that he will continue to love himself.
Shaan Michael Wade is an HIV neutral writer, educator, and community organizer whose advocacy is influenced by anti-racist, feminist, queer of color, and sex/body-positive thought. Follow him on Twitter at @Shaananigans.
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comments 1 - 6 (of 6 total)
Frederick Wright-Stafford, Jacksonville, 2014-01-02 17:32:26
I hear ya girlllra, the fear,shame and guilt here in Jacksonville, Florida needs you to come down here and Shout Out loud to shake them up I AM Trans,I Black and I AM a POZ friend. Which of the three statement offends you? The stigma will not end until mightily leaders of young like yourself stand tall to be free. Would you join in on a campaign Jubliee 1.2.3. for,native,white,black,latin in a call in a Year of Jubilee 1.2.3. 1. Robin Hood Tax,2Fair tax 3.?? Help we need the trans/sisters/bro
eliza, boston, 2013-10-21 12:52:43
You are a beautiful person, Shaan, inside and out, and your BF is blessed to have you in his life!! XOXO
Kenneth Davis, Spokane Valley, 2013-10-18 10:22:30
I've been HIV positive for approximately 23 to 26 years old doing pretty good with itI'm a white male 50 years old now and uh doing good looking forward to several more years god bless
TommieD, , 2013-10-17 12:20:59
I'm a poz black male and long term survivor (almost a decade so far!!!). Also, my best friend in the world is transgender man. I hate putting the word "transgender" in front of "man" when describing him. Because to me he's just a man. No different than any other man I know. I was with him through transition and he stayed by my side as I navigated serious illness. I almost died... and he was by side the whole time. I don't really know what else to say.. but I read this article and felt moved.
Thom Collins, Okc, 2013-10-17 07:26:27
Please keep me posted on your friend by email or by page Facebook.com/H8AIDS. I am interested in hearing along with living his new nightmare
Your statement men of color at 3 yrs of survival is UNACCEPTABLE. I have been aware of this more now than 30 yrs ago as AIDS was AIDS no treatment no questions on Race/Color. They along with white equals died heros
ACTIVISM needs to focus Changing this statistic. How can we be HIV neutrals if we as a LGBT and hetero world if not treated as equals.thom
Hope, Quincy, 2013-10-16 22:03:17
comments 1 - 6 (of 6 total)
This was a beautifully written article and I believe I would respond in the exact same way.
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