I tested positive for HIV in 2008. My world did not come crashing down around me when I received the news. It was hardly newsworthy for this crystal meth junkie. I did not feel especially alone as I left from Howard Brown Health Clinic, tucked away in a seedy enclave of Chicago’s otherwise bourgie-hip northside. I did not cry out of fear for my life. I had lost my life long before then. Growing up in a society that made it institutionally impossible for me to fully and visibly exist in all the beautiful complexities of my identity, I simply didn’t give a sh*t.
My fellow American imperialist citizens feared my Muslim name, my Muslim ummah was hypocritically disgusted by “the gays,” and my gay sisters and brothers were too busy demanding the human rights to have weddings and fight in the American wars against drugs, brown people, and Islam. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was never about gays secretly participating in the armed forces. It was and still is about gays secretly hating being themselves. I didn’t ask if I could love myself and I didn’t tell anyone how much it hurt—so I got and stayed high as a kite for years. F*ck the personal, and f*ck the political. That was my radical fourth-wave feminist mantra.
Almost half a decade has passed since then and I have survived in spite of discouraging odds. As it turned out, somewhere deep down inside of me, I did still care. Today, I give thanks to the friends and family that loved me fiercely enough to help me realize and actualize it. My mother’s tears replenished my dried out soul. My sister’s loving eyes warmed my cold, cold heart. My father’s disregard for the traditional(ly oppressive) patient-doctor compact made me feel more like a human and less like a pin-cushion. My brother still looks up to me. And my dear, sweet friends’ hugs and laughter reminded me to smile no matter what.
On World AIDS Day, my heart is heavy. Although I’ve begun to re-learn the joys of loving myself, I’ve learned this lesson through the pain of losing many friends along the way. In the age of modern medicine, I take a single blessed pill every night before I go to sleep, and I am in the best shape of my life. The technology is available, and although access may be limited, there are still ways and means of surviving and thriving as gracefully as I have—especially for those living with HIV in the western hemisphere. But modern medicine loses its edge if those who need it refuse it.
"HIV is and has always been an excellent measure of who societies value and who they don’t. The world’s earliest AIDS activists made this point, and it remains the most crucial point to make about the epidemic today." Those of us who live in and beyond the beautifully queer, feminine, and brown margins of a straight, white, masculinist (and might I add astoundingly dull and vapid) society are taught at an early age to hate ourselves and strive for unattainable and unsustainable “str8 acting” social norms. We laser away our flaws, bleach our skin, straighten our hair, exorcize our lisps, shave our bodies, and lynch our inner queens.
I recently discovered a new mantra—I am loved, and I am loving. The political is still f*cked, but that doesn’t mean the personal has to be too. In a world where everyday is AIDS day for so many of us, we must strive for a new politics that centers love as thefoundational principle. We must elevate our hearts to at least the status of our brains. The heart is the conduit to the spirit within each of us, and love is the language of the heart.
Dear Brandon, Rufus, Todd, Bob, Alvaro, Scott, and all others who have left this world: you are still loved, and you are still loving. Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon. From our creator we came and to Her we shall return.
Hussain Turk is the program coordinator of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership of Kalamazoo College.