In recognition of National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and the sad reality that Black people, including Black gay, bisexual, transgender and same gender loving men continue to be disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS, I thought it important to have a candid discussion with two of my brothers, Waddie G (The G-Listed) and George Johnson (author and advocate).
Our conversation, which can be viewed in the above video, revealed there is so much to discuss. Here are five myths that emerged during our conversation that are important for Black people to put to rest as we stop the negative impact of HIV/AIDS in Black communities.
While it is true that there have been medical and scientific advancements that enable people to thrive with HIV/AIDS, the belief that Black people should not be concerned about the epidemic is a LIE.
Since the introduction of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s, Black people have been disproportionately impacted by the virus. In 2016, the CDC said 50% of Black men who have sex with men will be diagnosed with HIV during our lifetimes. This is a trend that must be stopped.
Among the many things I will never forget my mother saying, one that stands out most is: “secrets destroy families.” It may be the case that more Black people die from the shame and stigma associated with HIV/AIDS than the virus.
I hope the advice George and Waddie offered in the above video for talking to loved ones, both platonic and intimate, about sexual health and HIV is instructive for everyone.
Two important points were raised during our conversation regarding representations and assumptions about sexual health.
The first: it cannot be the case that Magic Johnson is the only Black celebrity thriving with HIV -- that would be a mathematical impossibility.
The second, George and Waddie both talk about constantly disclosing that they are living with HIV, which makes sense, because you cannot guess one’s HIV status by looking at them.
HIV doesn’t have a “look,” and we need to be mindful of how stereotypes and stigma impact the way we see people, literally. We should also abandon using terms like “clean” and “dirty,” as they’re damaging and derogatory.
When thinking about HIV/AIDS, many people believe there are natural associations with sex, and if you’ve been raised in the Black church, you can be fooled into believing that HIV/AIDS is the curse that homosexuals and other sinners are forced to live.
Questions like “How did you get it?” can strip people of their humanity. The question also affirms a problematic myth that HIV is contracted when people engage in “reckless sex,” which is problematic for at least two reasons:
HIV/AIDS can be contracted in several ways including by birth (perinatal) and intravenously.
Data shows that Black gay men have vastly higher HIV rates yet fewer partners, which affirms the need for us to understand that our thinking has to evolve beyond just thinking about sex.
Beyond these two facts, the answer to the question doesn’t really matter.
The lies they tell. Each of us has the ability to do at least two things to respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Black communities:
Know Your Status: there are so many ways you can get tested for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, and there are so many sources of care. Use tools like the free testing locater on the homepage of the National Black Justice Coalition to find what works best for you.
#WordsMatter, Use them: Aunt Maya said, "Once we know better, we can do better." My hope is that after digesting our conversation, you will be provoked to say something to someone. Starting conversations about sexual health and wellness with those you love can be life-affirming and life-saving.
1. It is important to note, as discussed further in the video, that HIV and AIDS are not the same thing, and the terms should not be used interchangeably. Words matter.
2. It’s worth noting that MSM is a problematic category that includes Black trans women, who are not men who have sex with men.
Photo: Hero Images