Guest Blog: You Talking to Me? A tale of dying in plain sight

By jschneidewind on September 27, 2011 in HIV/AIDS Awareness Days

by Keith Green, AIDS United Advocate and Director of Federal Affairs with AIDS Foundation of Chicago

At the time that I was diagnosed with HIV, I really didn’t even realize that I was at risk. I was a senior in high school and helped to organize a blood drive as a community service requirement for the Senior Boys Council. My fear of passing out and losing my “cool” status nearly kept me from donating, but my girlfriend convinced me that the really “un-cool” thing to do would be to not lead by example. So, much to my dismay, I gave in. The experience would change my life forever.

My ignorance with respect to risk was mostly related to the fact that I didn’t identify as gay. I’d been dating the same girl on and off throughout my high school years, and several other girls in between. My intimate interactions with a couple of my “boys” were not necessarily what any of us would call “gay.” We all had girlfriends, and just did what we did with one another from time to time. In retrospect, I still wouldn’t call it gay. We were all very clearly bisexual.

In many ways, my HIV diagnosis forced me to assume a gay identity. Upon learning that I was positive I broke up with my girlfriend and have not had any meaningful relationships with women since. My experience is that it is much easier to disclose my HIV status to other gay men than it is to women. Perhaps that’s because, for the past 30 years, HIV has been very much a part of gay culture. Perhaps that’s why, even in 2011, Black men who have sex with men but don’t necessarily identify as gay disassociate themselves from the risks of HIV.

So, as we acknowledge National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day this year, it is my hope that we’ll keep in mind the diversity within the gay community. Specifically, I hope that we’ll continue to acknowledge the wide range of people whose identities oftentimes get lumped into the classification of gay for the sake of simplification, but don’t recognize their risk as a result. It is my hope that, as an HIV advocacy community, we recognize that identity and behavior are not mutually exclusive, and that there are a host of “gay” men who turn a blind eye to our messaging because they assume that we can’t be talking to them. I was once one of those men, and I’m committed to making sure that other men who look and behave like me don’t make that same mistake!

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