Friday, April 25, 2008

A Gay Man Talks about Being In the Closet about AIDS

Todd Heywood is a gay man who writes for the Michigan Messenger. He is openly gay but until today in the closet about having HIV/AIDS:

The silence ends here. It ends today. It ends now.

I admit, I have participated in the silencing of this virus. I have been part of the game. I am angry I have been been part and parcel of creating a reality wherein this disease has been allowed to silently slither amongst us. I am furious that the media has focused more on HIV in Africa than HIV right here in our own country. I am appalled that we are prepared to spend $6 billion annually in dealing with HIV in Africa, but can barely muster the votes and support to spend $2 billion annually in our own country on our own people for HIV treatment and prevention. I am horrified that HIV education consists of a modified Nancy Reagan Just Say No attitude, when in fact people -- young people, old people, Americans -- need to know that this virus is here, and that it is continuing to infect us.

But it is easier to be silent when the impacted community is African Americans or Hispanics in our inner cities. It is easier to be silent when the people being decimated by HIV are gay men. Those communities won't rock boats, and they have access to the antiretroviral medications. The so-called "cocktails," like people with HIV need only to sip a Sunset-on-the Beach and they are cured. No one talks about how these drugs destroy your liver, your kidney, your pancreas and cause redistribution of body fat. You certainly don't see pictures in advertisements for HIV medications that show a man on dialysis and with a hump back because of the medications. You see a man climbing a mountain. Yeah, that's reality -- NOT.

However, the silence is easier this way.

We are silent about the disease. Silent about how it is spread, silent about how we fight it and fund assistance for those in need of medications. We are silent about the side effects so people say, "Oh, it's OK if I get HIV because I will just take a pill and be all better." Well, guess what: It's not that easy. We are also silent about who has it and who doesn't, and the silence is killing us.

Yes. It is killing African Americans, Hispanics, gay men, Americans. The silence is killing us. And we have created a beautiful system of denial in which we feed ourselves the lies of silence in order to assure ourselves that we are safe. We live comfortably in our silence, in our myth. Why actually talk about HIV with our partners, when we can just make an assumption about their status? I mean if you talk about it, god forbid, you might actually have to come face to face with the virus and shatter the illusion.

So today, for me, I am breaking the silence on a new closet. The closet of HIV. My name is Todd A. Heywood, and I am a gay man, a community leader, a journalist, and HIV-positive, and I will no longer sit in silence, nor will I allow another person to force me into silence again. I did it as a young gay man. I have done it for the past several months as I have adjusted to my HIV status. But the silence is over. And let me be clear, if you want to reject me because I happen to have HIV in my blood, that is your problem, not mine. But I won't let you walk away from me for that reason without confronting your silencing, oppressing behaviors.

The reality bus has arrived, and it has a seat for all of us on it. Welcome aboard.

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