Death & Disclosure: The Politics of HIV Awareness Campaigns

If you are a Black man who has sex with men (MSM), or someone who identifies as queer, gay, bi, “straight” or same gender loving (SGL) and are even remotely plugged into the current events of our “culture,” you can seldom go a day without being overwhelmed by awareness campaigns proclaiming the necessity of “knowing your status.” These campaigns provide a wealth of important numerical information about the depth of the HIV epidemic in our communities. This is important because if not for these campaigns, many of us would never have known about the so-called silent killer that is HIV, due to the silencing stigma that exists in the greater Black and Queer communities. For many, these awareness campaigns have been life savers and/or life changers, preventing people from seroconverting and being in the trying position of being BlaQueerPoz all at once, but only being able to fully exist in one of these categories at a time, lest they (we) crush under the compounded pressures of being perpetual pariahs, and everyone’s favorite target. Before I continue, let me be clear: the problematic delivery of information is better than no information at all. Now, with that said, what we need is roadmap for survival, not another sad retread of the 90’s death-narrative. Essentially BlaQueerPoz men can no longer be posited as “infected”, “irresponsible”, “undesirable”, “unclean”, “bioterrorists” on the infamous “down low.” BlaQueerPoz men must be acknowledged, respected, seen and heard as the survivors they are, and not simply examples of what not to do or as the downfall of the black and queer communities.

Today I arose to many of the messages that you are familiar with. Ya’ll know, right? The statistics about black men accounting for 70% of all HIV cases in the black community. The data about us, black msm, accounting for 44% of all new HIV cases. Those awe-inspiring numbers about 40% of us being on track to contract before 40 (or was it 25)..smothered in some quote about us being “Greater than AIDS”? I woke up depressed and mad as hell. 

In my experience with HIV advocacy and research, particularly in queer communities of color, HIV positive men are made invisible or are posited as examples of comportment. We continue to lash them with arguments based in morality, personal responsibility and criminality. We blame our poz brothers for the continually rising rates of HIV in our communities, we blame them for being irresponsibility and “giving” HIV to someone else, as if the responsibility for the black community is on their shoulders. Instead of being the inspiration that they are, much like survivors of cancer and other long-term chronic illnesses, they are the infected, the despised, the lepers of black and brown America subject to criminalization and isolation (and likely both). So who the fuck would want to disclose their status and come out?

We must ask ourselves what we’re asking our poz brethren to come out to and why? For whose benefit? Despite knowing that the best methods for prevention are treatment and safe(r) sex practices, we demand disclosure from poz folks and (sexually) excommunicate them once they take that first bold step in self-love/care. Instead we should be demanding free preventative care and treatment. We should be articulating a universal right to sex and life, as oppose to pitting ourselves against each other. We should be building a beloved community and loving our poz brothers as ourselves, instead of using them as an example of who/what we are not, in order to build ourselves up.

Sometimes I feel that we need a gut-check. Yes, blaqueerneg men, check your damn privilege! You cannot use the experiences of poz folks to protect yourself, while simultaneously ignoring the sacrifices of generations of poz men, women and transfolk that allow you to remain “negative.” If we are to seriously combat the mortality factor of HIV, we must first begin to do away with the oppressive and destructive framework of being positive and negative. We must identify as a beloved, HIV Neutral Community, recognizing that our ability to protect ourselves from transmission rests in the eradication of stigma, isolation and treatment disparities. Without love there can be no justice, and without community than can be no collective growth, life or protection(s). We cannot allow seronegativity to be analogous to colorism or masculinity jockeying. Stand up black folks. We stand together or we die together.

This was originally published on my tumblr, BlaQueerJourney in February of 2013. I’m migrating all my pieces to one place.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Queervantes says:

    Thanks – “brownpozfag”


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