So…today is World AIDS Day. It’s observed December 1st of every year. World AIDS day is held to bring attention to the AIDS pandemic, help us unite in the fight against HIV, show support to people living with AIDS and to commemorate people who have died from AIDS or AIDS related diseases. Usually, I’m not a person who is all involved in world events thinking…”That’s someone else’s job” or “That’s not my fight”…but in my compassion for others, I’ve discovered that it’s just as much my job…my business…my fight as anyone’s.
We’re responsible for our own well-being and that of our neighbor who does not know how to be responsible for theirs. I know that sounds crazy…and I don’t mean that we should go around wagging fingers and throwing medicines at everyone, but it is important that we look out for one another. We do this by sharing information, expressing concern and staying abreast of trends regarding health. So…here’s me doing my part!
Earlier this year, I had a chance to participate in a research initiative regarding HIV and African American Women. In this study, I’ve learned some very important things regarding the disease, cleared up some misconceptions and kept myself safe. As an icebreaker, we played a game. Everyone was given a card with instructions on it. We had to follow directions on our cards and write down the names of the folks we’d encountered. At the end, we were asked to be seated. The person who had a card with a star on it was asked to stand. This person’s star symbolized a person whose HIV status was positive. So, everyone who shook that person’s hand was asked to stand. Then everyone who shook their hands were asked to stand. The only people not standing was the person who did not shake anyone’s hand (person practicing abstinence) and a person who shook hands with a rubber glove on (person wearing a condom). This was to symbolize how an HIV infection is spread from person to person. Now…I’d participated in this kind of demonstration when I was in my late teens or early twenties. It soooooo did not mean the same thing to me as it did when I did it at thirty six. It gave me chills.
Just in case you don’t know, HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is the virus that causes AIDS by attacking the immune system. HIV is passed from person to person by exchange of bodily fluids, most commonly through unprotected sex but also via sharing infected needles, syringes and other injecting drug equipment.
In the African American community, AIDS and HIV are words that make people look at you funny. They think you’re a loose woman or a gay man if you have questions about those things or mention status or testing. Surely, that’s not a thing proper people talk about! Unfortunately, we could not be more mistaken. It is this very reason, this shame…that is why there are so many new cases of HIV in the African American community.
African Americans make up 44% of all new cases of HIV. In African American women, ages 35 to 60, the number of new cases is alarming. This is my age group! The reason why? We have such a problem with loving ourselves…(I know I’ve said this before about myself…but it’s a we thing…). Because of this lack of loving ourselves…we’ll keep going back to a man we know is sleeping around, or sneaks us around to various hotel/motel rooms or only finds us good enough to be with in the wee hours of the morning for a few moments of something akin to pleasure without having a simple conversation. If he says he wants to be with us…in that way…some of us are so thrilled that we let certain things pass. Many of us won’t love ourselves enough to demand the use of a condom. We think…”oh..he doesn’t look sick…” Some of us depend on him to have the condoms…others of us think…”well…he’s not with anyone but me…” and just don’t bother. Still some are so “caught up” in the moment and the weakness of the flesh that we won’t pause long enough to rip open a package and unroll the latex…(it really only takes a few seconds…and if in those seconds one of you loses arousal…then the condom wasn’t going to be a problem anyway…).
We have to not be afraid to have a short conversation before we become intimate. Now…in recent years, the men who pay attention to me are ones with ill intent. Usually, the conversation is focused around my physical anatomy and what he would like to do. So…I used to entertain the foolishness and fall for the trap…and not love myself enough to walk away or just say no. Now, when I’m approached, I’m researching…I need character profiles. (HA!) So…one such conversation took place not long ago…and I ended it simply…
Him: So…you gon’ let me come over so I can hit that?
Me: What’s your HIV status?
Me: What. Is. Your. HIV. Status?
Him: Don’t try me like that.
Me: I think it’s a valid question. You’ve just said some things to me that suggest you want to get to know me in a way that may impact my health. My status is negative. So…I ask again..what is yours?
Him: Lose my number.
See…easy. Now…I honestly didn’t care about his status….because he had not a snowball’s chance in hell of being anything other than a character reference for me. But he sincerely was offended because of my question. Again…it is a valid question and one that I had every right to ask. Sisters…if you’re with someone and you choose to give your body to him…that’s your business. I just ask that you be safe. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions…Yes…you may be accused of infidelity. You may be accused of accusing him of cheating. But you are just trying to protect yourself. This is how we stop the spread of HIV…becoming aware and protecting ourselves. If you choose not to be abstinent (about the only 100% way to avoid HIV)…again..that’s your business. But it should also be your business to protect yourself. Many health departments give condoms away for free. Other than that, if sexual activity is THAT important to you, trust me…the price of a box of condoms is not that much when you look at the lasting impact it can have on your health. Pregnancy is NOT the worst thing that can happen to you from unprotected sex!
While great strides have been made in caring for people with the virus, we are far from a cure. We have to make sure that we are careful in all that we do. Then we have to let others know to be careful and protect themselves. Sure, people will still do what they want to do but you do your part…and that’s all that matters!
So…go get tested. You need to know your status…if for no other reason than your own peace of mind. If you or your partner has had more than one partner…then…well…you want to know! Don’t be afraid. It’s all in loving yourself. If you don’t love you enough…then who will!? I know my status…do you?
Until next time…