Sunday, December 18, 2011

Different, Not Deficient

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a dear friend, someone I have come to admire.  We had been having conversations about my writing; therefore, I shared my blog link with him.  After doing so I was a little apprehensive because there was a very personal blog that I had written earlier regarding my HIV status, one that I had only shared with probably 3 people.  After giving it to him I just said “oh well” the genie is out of the bottle now so whatever happens I will embrace it.   Well, while he and I were on the phone one evening I had the courage to ask him if he had read this particular blog.  He noted that he had read the blog.  One question that he posed was “So how is your life different since learning your HIV status?  I found the question very interesting which lead me to this writing.
Okay, so here I sit ten (10) years later of dealing with my HIV status.  To be more accurate, from the date of diagnosis (October 25, 2001) until today (December 13, 2011) it has been:
10 years, 1 month, 19 days or;
            528 weeks or;
3,702 days or;
88,824 hours or;
5,329,400 minutes or;
319,766,400 seconds 

I have had to take my medication on a daily basis (currently 2 pills daily; one upon waking up and one before going to bed) which would be approximately 7,404 pills.   These pills are my lifeline to continued physical existence.    This also includes seeing my physician every three months to ensure that my health is intact.  
Since learning of my status, I have gone through a myriad of emotions.  I will say that I have evolved into this relatively outspoken and passionate activist about the lack of compassion when it comes to those of us that are impacted by HIV.  Now some 30 years later many still attach stigma to a positive diagnosis most of which is based on the assumption that promiscuity lead to infection.   However, for most of us that was/is not the case.  Better yet, so what if it was.  Is that person’s life and humanity less valuable because he was infected differently?    I think that I am at this place in my life for a reason and that is to become a voice and support in some way for those that are without voice or access.    The part that I am doing in the community or attempting to do is in direct correlation to my health status.  I cannot say that I would be as involved with this cause if I was still married and living my good ole comfortable suburban life with my spouse. 
Initially, when I was diagnosed I began to devalue my existence for I believed that I was not worthy of being loved or better yet that no one would love me.  Of course that was my own ignorance that had the loudest voice in my head at the time.  With that thought in mind I imposed my own relationship exile where I did not date anyone for about 3-4 years.    However, I realized that this feeling was one that many of those that are HIV positive encounter.  Fortunately, I was blessed enough to turn down the volume on that part of my fear and eventually move past it.  Truly I should have been on someone’s couch getting some sessions in for internally I was a wreck, however, outwardly I appeared very happy and well adjusted. 

Dating for me has been interesting for I dated men that were positive and those that were negative all of whom accepted all of who I was; HIV included.  It has been my policy to divulge my status to the person I was dating at the time and allow him decide if he wanted to remain on the dating path.  Not everyone is going to be able to accept dating an HIV positive individual.  You have to meet people where they are and accept that about then.  Their lack of acceptance of your status is fear on their part as well. Just know that this person is just not ready at this point and it does not make him a bad person; just human.  Telling someone is NEVER easy for we all want to be wanted especially by someone with whom you have a romantic interest.   Just like many of us I have been on this quest to find a partner that was loving, kind, able to communicate openly and honestly, authentic in his living, etc. and hopefully I will one day soon.    However, I am a better today at embracing this part of me which can only make me a better partner/spouse. 
While I have lived an authentic life regarding the romantic side of me, I have not done so when it comes to the HIV part of my life.  I know and realize that the fear of rejection and judgment I felt after being diagnosed in 2001 still lingers.  However, several months ago, I have decided to not allow that fear to control my life anymore.  I am slowly taking back that part of me for living in fear is no way to exist as a whole and happy human being. 

It is really hard to gauge how my life is different other than that medication, doctor’s visits and general fears.  This is all I have known for the past 10 years.   I will say that the one bold thing I have noticed is that I CHERISH life daily and embrace what God has blessed me with;  a very supportive family as well as a few close friends and a lot of material stuff (I am truly a consumer…smile).    I think of that shy “spoiled” boy growing up in public housing and the man I have become today and I know that my life even with the news of received on October 25, 2001 I am blessed.
The Ronald of October 24, 2001and the one today has evolved and that evolution was in part due to my HIV status.  It has been an interesting journey and I look forward to the rest that life has before me.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

All God's Children

My life’s journey has been interesting, challenging, rewarding and insightful.  I have been blessed to have people in my life that offer wisdom which takes me to a deeper mode of thinking and introspection.  Just the other day I had one of those moments.  I was talking to a friend and she made a statement that literally floored me.  Before I share that statement with you let me note that we are both same gender loving individuals and Christians.  My friend has completed her MDiv (Master of Divinity) and is currently in the process of becoming an ordained minister. 
When things within the church frustrate either of us we lean on one another as a sounding board.  Several years ago I vowed to never get on another committee at church, however, a friend called me and said that she wanted a voice from the LGBT community and she immediately thought of me because of my activist history.  It did not take long before I my black ass was piss off so rather than deal with unnecessary frustration I quickly resigned.  I take responsibility for part of the issue that arose but how it was handled put my friend in an uncomfortable position and I thought it unfair. I shared this with my MDiv sista.  After we ended our phone conversation she sent me a text that stated “Just think we are going to have our funeral/going home services in the same sanctuary where we cannot consecrate our love for our partners”.  After reading that I was floored because she is so right which made me look more critically at the church where I worship.  Let me take a moment to say that this is a very dynamic and welcoming church in a denomination that openly supports marriage equality for all people.  However, each church has that ability to embrace the open and affirming doctrine or not.  My church, while it speaks inclusion it is only willing to dip its big toe in that water for to do so could and most likely would upset the membership of the church.   Declining membership equates to fewer tithes and offerings therefore silence or fence sitting is the order of the day.  
I have often asked myself, how can I or should I support a church that does not support me FULLY in all of who I am.  Because I was raised to attend church to worship and thank God for all that He has done for me I am conflicted by how I was raised and what I feel (abandoned). 
I find myself moving further and further away from the church as I get older because I am disappointed and disheartened because of the lack of visible inclusion.    It is odd to be in a place where you feel misunderstood by those who love you because they see the fact that the church is “welcoming” as enough.  I am not asking the church to put a rainbow banner out front but to do more than lip service and an occasional positive mention in a sermon or two a month.  Okay, yes we are miles ahead of most churches but we still have a long way to go, therefore, some even my LGBT sisters and brothers think that the crumbs from the table are enough because at least we are getting something.  I say a loud a resounding NO because for me that is not enough.   My not going to church does not mean I have given up my ability to thank, praise and believe in God but in fact it has given me the ability to demand full open acceptance.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Not As Authentic As I Thought

For quite a few years now I have celebrated the fact that I live an authentic life.  Well that was until recently.  Authentic living to me has never been about me flaunting my sexuality, however, what it did mean was not being ashamed of who I am and all that I am.  The fear of being judged without knowing the true me has caused me some discomfort in my past.  However, I had reached a point and time in my life where the opinions of others did not matter much at all anymore.   I chose to live as much of an authentic existence as I could in every facet of my life.  Taking that first step was not easy for it was like walking a tightrope without a net.  However, experience has taught me that if I am respectful of who I am and walk in love and confidence the discomfort that others may have will dissipate.  The 'coming out' (for lack of a better phrase) process is not a one-time thing.  Truly living an authentic life is a daily process for you will encounter someone almost daily that is unaware of parts of your life. 

Recently I began working for a new employer.  My previous place of employment was easy because I had been there for 17 years and authentic about who I was for 14 of those years.   So now I am faced with the process of meeting new people and building that working relationship all over again.  Inevitably someone at my new place of employment would ask some personal question(s) that I may feel compelled to answer that would shine a light on the total me.  However, that was not even a huge concern for I would be me and move forward.   There have been times in my life when I did not really see the proverbial freight train coming at all.  Well last week I had one of those moments.   

Like any new place of employment after a certain grace period you have to complete the necessary health insurance paperwork to get your health benefits in place.  On Wednesday the Human Resources Director came to my office to give me the booklet and application for insurance.  She asked me to look it over and we would discuss it later in the week.  I flipped through the document and application and my eyes caught a question that stopped me dead in my tracks.  On the medical history page the question about HIV status and diagnosis literally jumped out off the page and smacked me in my face.  The question sent me into a tailspin because while I have lived this very authentic life there was one thing that kept me in the bondage of shame, the fact that I am HIV positive.  I was diagnosed 2001 while employed by my previous employer.  Therefore, having to answer that question has never come up in my employment setting.  I have to tell you, so many things went through my head from 'I will just lie on the application' to 'what will they think of me'.    My other fear was also possibly being denied insurance coverage.  Thinking about how I would answer the question encompassed my every thought for several days.  However, there was no way I could not be honest.  My back was against the wall and I simply had to tell the truth about something that I have only had to share with family, close friends and sexual partners. 

As I thought about being authentic about this one thing that I allowed to hold me hostage I knew that I had to find it within myself to take my power back.  I have to say that God has given me a voice by speaking to me in times such as this.  Once I stepped out of the way I hear Him say that I could not allow this virus to define me for I am more than this.  The shame I may carry is not within me but placed at my feet by others and I have to choose not to pick it up and carry it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Cracked, Not Completely Closed

Three weeks ago I began a new working for a new employer.  While I am very secure in my skin…or at least I think I am.   Getting in the groove of learning new people and building new relationships has always been interesting but not difficult for me.   My new company is small (40 employees) and I have an executive position.     However, I do not walk around with this “I am the shit” attitude.    I am just one of the staff…no airs, no pretense, just me.

The office setting is open for all of us regardless of position have are stationed in cubicles…so it is a very open office concept.   Well, today I was talking to a staff member that reports to me.  He is going on vacation and I wanted to ensure that there was nothing pressing on his desk that I needed to know about before his departure.   Well this staff member asked me if I had any major plans for the weekend.   In my honesty I stated that I had to attend a meeting tomorrow (Saturday) morning for this organization I am involved in.  The question I was not prepared for was “So what organization?”  Being the person I am I stated, “The Chicago Black Gay Men’s Caucus”.  I am sure that took him by surprise.  Since the office is very open I am sure he is not the only one that heard my response.    In my head I was saying…”Oh God what are they going to think”.  Again, while I am very comfortable with all of who I am I felt a slight ting of discomfort saying it out loud in an open office atmosphere.   While a little discomfort hit me I can’t allow my fellow employees possible discomfort to place me back in the proverbial closet. 

If I would have lied I would have had to either be very silent about who I am or simply lie daily about the real me.  I have lived an authentic life (family, church, previous employer, etc.) for over 18 years now; however, I know the coming out process is not a one-time thing I have had to do it numerous times over the years.    Just last week I took a personality survey by answering 40 questions and the results were so dead-on about me that it was scary.  My personality is one that enjoys people, dislikes people being uncomfortable and making things/situations alright.    Therefore, while I am comfortable in my response to my staff person I do not want him to feel uncomfortable in knowing who I am.  Now is that my problem…no.  Nor should I be ashamed of it.  I do not want to feel as if I am smuggling drugs by hiding when my boyfriend drops me off at work and lean over to give him a kiss before exiting the car.    

I think when we choose to lie and hide in that “closet” we rob others from knowing us and we shortchange them by thinking they will not be accepting of who we are.  We have to understand that individuals we encounter daily may have a family member that is same gender loving with whom they have a great relationship.  In making that judgment or putting up that defense we make Or better yet, it could be a teachable moment for that person as well for they may have limited exposure. 

Today, I am embracing this opportunity and moment to learn more about myself and grow.  I am thankful to God for this experience. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Peace in the Midst of Adversity

I can remember attending church as a child as far back as I can remember.   My earliest memory is that of laying my head on my grandmother’s lap in church at the age of about four and falling asleep.  My father was a Christian man and ensured that me and my four siblings attended church and worshipped every Sunday.  This was a foundation that I rely daily.  There have been occasions when the Holy Spirit (God) has spoken to me to guide and warn me about various things in my life.  God has also been there to check me when I have been wrong in my thinking or doing. 

Several months ago God started speaking again as I faced a point in my career where I was not liking my job at all.  It had begun to be a place full of stress and where I began to doubt my intellect based on the actions and opinions of others.    Getting up and going to my place of employment after 17 ½ years began to become an extreme chore and days filled with stress, long hours and lost appetites.   The God I serve does not want His children to be unhappy in anything in their lives (employment, friendships or relationships).   God was speaking to me with warnings by telling me to start looking for another job.  Get your resume together and begin looking.  With my unwillingness to change after 17 ½ years I kept putting the search off.     Occasionally I would put my faith in the fact that I had a couple of good days and my hope would be that all was well and it was going to get better.  However, several days letter the stress would rear its ugly head again.  In all that was going on I did not run from my faith in God and His promise was evident for He never left me or forsook me while I was being abstinent to change and His direction.     

After several months I began to realize that I could no longer fight this battle and God gave me a peace in the midst of my personal storm.  I began to come to work and continued to give my best as I had before all of this turmoil began.  Per the teaching of my father I remembered that at the end of the day I have to remain my integrity even when times are tough.    I accepted what God was saying to me and I began to do as instructed.  I revised my resume as well as started searching for a new job.  Now I will say that there was a real sense of fear and apprehension but I knew I could not continue down the path of stress as I had been for the past 4-5 months.    God continued to speak to me through other people to let me know of adversity ahead through conversation with coworkers.  He will use whomever whenever to get his message across.  A coworker gave me some insight to some things that he was made aware of which truly was a message from God which I determined was another message from God telling me that changes were pending very soon.

On June 3rd, I came to work as normal; however, little did I know that within hours of arriving at the office I had no idea that this would end my tenure with my employer.    After attending a meeting, I came back to my office only to two members from HR on the floor.  At this time fellow employees began to talk about what was transpiring for several employees were being told that they were being laid off.   I went back to my office and printed off a document as I was retrieving it from the printer God told me to go back to my office and just sit down and be still.   Approximately five minutes later my boss came to my office stating that he needed to see me.   While I knew what was about to transpire I was totally at peace.    As I was escorted into the office I was told that it would be my last day because the department was about to be reorganized. 

As I exited the building with what few personal belonging I had at the office I felt so at peace.  A peace that surpasses all understanding.   So many people could not understand how calm I was after just being laid off.  What they failed to understand is that God had prepared me for this day for several months.   This is a testimony that if you trust Him he will give you comfort and peace through any and every situation.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Understanding: First Step of Acceptance

Often I find myself questioning the world in which I live. Now that is not to say that I quesition the person I am nor about the acceptance of my life. I often think of the lack of understanding from others as I live proudly in my authentic skin. I have found out that there are people who love me but do not understand me nor do they support my life. These people are so wrapped up in what I do romantically and their belief as to whether my love is right or wrong that the real support is non-existent. Even at a soon to be 51 years of age, it is disheartening. Many times we say to ourselves in a loud voice “I don’t care whether you accept me or understand me” when infact we do care and truly want to be accepted.

Now let me first and foremost state that I am very comfortable in my skin and am not shy about the fact that I attracted to men. I spent the early part of my life being ashamed and sad but once I accepted who I was created to be, I decided that no one would make me feel ashamed of who I am ever again. I feel that this confidence has allowed me to walk through the world in a kind of carefree manner. Well, just a few days ago, I began to question that confidence and myself. I recently was reminded that even those that love you could say things that are daunting and take you back to that child like place. People come to you with their own prejudices, ignorance and unwillingness to open their hearts and minds to understand something different. They come to you with all their own bigotry that even at 50 years of age I was taken back to that little boy that was made to feel unworthy of who I am and have become.

Just the other day I was having a conversation with someone who will remain nameless and she stated something to me that made me realize that while she may love me she does not know me. What is so sad about it all is that I do not think she even wants to know me. While I have known her all my life, she does not know my story as a same gender loving man. I would be more than happy to sit and talk with her if I thought it would help but at this point, I do not. I am not going to try to combat someone elses ignorance to extol the value of my existence. I remained silent instead of standing up and making it known that I did not like the response that I received and for that, I will take the hit. I should have stopped her dead in her tracks and took the time to teach, however, there are times when you are so knocked off your square you are dazed and confused. In being silent, I gave her the power to feel that her ignorance was okay to be laid at my feet. It is not okay and our relationship cannot continue on a level of respect without her knowing that. I am not going to revisit this.

I know that this happened to me for a reason and in it is a teaching moment. One that will have me learn a valuable lesson about not being silent going forward. Now I know that this will not happen overnight but it is something that I must work. God has been working with me lately and this is just one more thing that God is doing in my life to move me where he wants me to be.

Now I have concluded that I must say that if you cannot accept all of me then I cannot have anything to do with you. While you may not agree with my life, you do not get an opportunity to devalue it either. I have respect for those that come to me and say, “I do not understand the same-sex relationship thing, but I would like to understand it more”. However, I can respect the ability for open dialogue. I know that open dialogue is a bold step for most people but mutual respect is important.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hero By Any Other Name is...Daddy!!!!

In everyones life, there are defining moments that simply shakes our foundation. One of my most defining moments happened 15 years ago today at 7:05 p.m. On February 26, 1996 my father passed away leaving behind 5 adult children and 7 grandchildren. I can recall that day as if it happened last week. My father was a proud southern man and everything was to be done in decent order. Thirty-four years prior to my father’s passing he buried the love of his life and mother of his five children. My mother was only 29 years old when she passed away. I cannot imagine what my father had to endure with the sudden death of the love of his life and the daunting task of having to raise five children ranging in age from 12 to 2. What must have been going through his mind a he contemplated dealing with the personal emotional task of saying goodbye to his wife of 12 years and explaining her absence to his young children. For all of my life I have and still do feel that my father is my hero. While he was not perfect, he was my mentor for living and preparing to live the best life I could.

I am the youngest of my siblings and we all have very fond memories of our father. As I think back to the impact my father had on shaping me into the man I have become I begin the smile with admiration. Initially after his passing, I was unable to accept his absence, however, that emotion passed after approxmately two years. At times, I find myself quoting some of his infamous sayings. My father taught me how to drive, tie a windsor knot, have respect for proper English, shave, etc. He introduced my siblings and me to Christianity. Can you imagine a man combing the hair of three girls and ensure that we all looked our best as we filed out of the house every Sunday morning to attend the 11 o’clock service at True Light Bapist Church ON TIME? We could not be late for church, ever! There was never a shortage of love bestowed upon us all. While we did not have much money, we had on overflow of love. Every Friday it was an evening out at McDonald’s summers were filled with outings at Brookfield Zoo and the Air and Water Show. I am who I am because of the influence my father had over my life. As you can see, I have found memories of my father. While our relationship was not perfect, I never doubted that my father did not have my best interest at heart.

So many of my SGL brothers have had no experience or difficult relationships with their fathers and because I hold my father in such high regard I find it so sad to hear this it truly saddens me. My father had a very commnading presence that yielded respect and admiration. I can remember times when instead of getting a whipping he would sit me down and talk to me to impart knowledge that the end of a strap could not. While my father did not agree with my emotional orientation, he never stopped showing his love for me inspite of his own personal feelings. I have accepted that I will not be a parent of my own children; I would have hoped to be a father like the one God blessed me with.