HIV/AIDS awareness for Black people…and all of us

Today is the 18th Annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. You might ask yourself, “Why do we need a special day just for Black people with or at risk of contracting HIV?” I ask you to consider the following:

  • In 2015, 3,379 African Americans died from HIV disease, accounting for 52% of total deaths attributed to the disease that year.
  • At the end of 2014, an estimated 471,500 African Americans were living with HIV (43% of everyone living with HIV in the United States), and 16% were unaware of their infection.
  • In 2016, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention predicted that HALF of all gay and bisexual Black men will contract HIV in their lifetime.
  • Young Black men between the ages of 13 and 24 face a particularly high risk, as they make up 54% of new infections among all men who have sex with men.
  • Black women account for 60% of new infections among all women and are 16 times more likely to contract the virus compared to their white counterparts.

In July 2016, Charlize Theron, who is UN Messenger of Peace and founder of an outreach project targeting South African youth affected by HIV, said something profound when speaking to a crowd at 21st International AIDS Conference. She said, “We value men more than women … straight love more than gay love … white skin more than black skin … and adults more than adolescents” and even though her frame of reference is based largely on situations in South Africa, it’s hard to deny the striking parallels between there and here in the United States. The risk factors for HIV/AIDS seem to be global.

With that said, there are significant geographical disparities within the United States. Even though it’s widely accepted that HIV is “no longer a death sentence,” that is not the case for many people, particularly those in the South. According to a New York Times article written in June 2017:

“2,952 people in the Deep South (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas) died with HIV as an underlying cause, with the highest death rates in Mississippi and Louisiana. Among black men in this region, the HIV-related death rate was seven times as high as that of the United States population at large.”

(Take the time today to watch this short documentary about young black men dealing with HIV/AIDS in Jackson, Mississippi, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOSN1bKG3zQ)

The so-called Deep South is ground zero for the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S. Each of the states this region encompasses (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) share other notable but seeming related characteristics:

  • They all have public school curriculums that teach abstinence-only sexual education;
  • They are among the top 15 most impoverished states;
  • They are collectively the home of 47% of the total Black population of the United States.

Even though statistics provide a sobering glimpse into this devastating epidemic, at the end of the day the numbers represent real people with unique stories, experiences, and perspectives.

Properly managing HIV/AIDS requires regular medical appointments, medication management, diet control, and major lifestyle changes.

For many people with HIV/AIDS, they also struggle with substance abuse, mental health issues, homelessness, and food insecurity.

Compound those challenges with misinformation, stigma, and discrimination, and you can see that fighting HIV/AIDS becomes more than an issue that can be solved with medicine, clean needles, and condoms alone. Attitudes have to change, and education is at the cornerstone.

The sooner everyone understands the risk factors and how the virus is spread, the sooner we as a society will get from under this daunting but preventable disease.

For more information about HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention in Southern Maine, contact the Frannie Peabody Center—the largest community-based HIV/AIDS service organization in Maine, providing prevention services for at-risk groups and direct services for people living with HIV/AIDS. They also offer free, confidential HIV testing every Wednesday and by appointment.

Get Tested. Know your status. End the stigma.


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Black Women and Sex…oh no!

Once upon a time, there was a young girl who met a boy, a boy who made her very happy. The girl was so happy that when the boy suggested that they get married because they were in love, despite the fact that she was only 18 and he was only 20, the girl said yes. The girl said yes because she felt deep shame over the fact that she and the boy had been doing sexual things.  She was the daughter of a man who was strict and in the process of becoming a minister, she knew sexual things were bad, very bad…at least that is what she was told. So the girl ran off and married the boy, they were so broke that they didn’t even have enough money to live together. They spent the first two months of their marriage living at home with their respective parental units and didn’t tell anyone they were married. Finally the secret was too much to hide and they told their parents and the boy’s mother let the young couple live at her house until they could save enough money to get their own place. By this time, the girl realized maybe marriage had been a bad idea after all. Unfortunately just as the girl realized this, she also realized she was pregnant. In the end the marriage barely lasted two years, though it did produce a son who is now a magnificent young man.

After that marriage ended, the young girl spent a few years doing things that young adults tend to do and once again she lived in a state of angst because it was deeply ingrained in her that having sex with anyone other than a husband was just wrong. Eventually the young girl would marry again and unlearn all the rules of respectability that made pleasure seem so wrong. Now the young girl is a not so middle aged woman who thinks that the appearance of respectability is a great way to keep women from being in touch with their true nature.

In case ya didn’t figure it out, that young girl is yours truly. Today’s post was inspired by this piece, which is well worth the read. It does a great job of explaining the whys of why Black women are not likely any time too soon to claim the mantle of sluttiness. Or as I would rather say openly embracing and claiming our sexuality, I am not a fan of the word slut because historically it has been used as a pejorative.

Speaking as a Black woman, I will say that the politics of respectability run deep in the middle class Black community. To quote a piece from Bitch Magazine that sums up the game of respectability politics “Respectability politics work to counter negative views of blackness by aggressively adopting the manners and morality that the dominant culture deems “respectable.” The approach emerged in reaction to white racism that labeled blackness as “other”—degenerate and substandard—with roots in an assimilationist narrative that prevailed in the late-19th-century United States. Black activists and allies believed that acceptance and respect for African-Americans would come by showing the majority culture “we are just like you.”

All of this need for respectability means that more than a few Black women grew up with certain notions around sex and for many of us we carry those notions into adulthood. Even certain sexual acts in the Black community carry the connotation that only certain types of women do those things.  As a result many of us live our lives at half capacity when it comes to our sexual selves because in many ways the cost to embrace our full sexual selves and fly our freak flags is too damn high.

A few years ago, I wrote a few pieces about polyamory and non-monogamy which I admit is a fascinating concept to me since truth be told, most us just aren’t winning at the monogamy game. Almost immediately I had several Black women question me on why I would write such a piece, after all that is just nasty. Really? Says who. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea and while I admit the logistics seem pretty hard to navigate in my head, it does seem to work for some.

By the same token there are more than a few white women who are openly living non-monogamous lifestyles and even earning a living sharing their tales with others. It seems not a week passes where a piece isn’t making the rounds talking about non-monogamy in one form or another. The media portrayal of these women is hardly salacious but when a Black woman openly embraces a non-standard and/or open sexual life style she is portrayed as off, or put in one of the boxes only reserved for Black women. We aren’t allowed to be multi-dimensional women in general and when it comes to sexual matters it seems the only boxes that exist for us are uptight or other…and no one wants to be put in the other box.

However the gift of having spent a few years on this dusty rock is that I have learned that begging others for acceptance and denying oneself is a great recipe for regret and bitterness. Like the author of the Racialicious piece, I want Black women to have the same freedom for sexual experimentation that white women have. However I don’t think that will happen until we make that choice for ourselves. Audre Lorde once said For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”

 

Talking sexy is good for you!

Today’s post is inspired by a late night twitter conversation that I stumbled into that made me think on a few things. It seems like all of sudden, sex is everywhere and I am talking places you least expect it, like Middle America soccer moms.

Books like 50 Shades of Grey and movies like Magic Mike are being openly discussed, genital relaxation devices, can now be found on the shelf at your drug store and no longer require mail order or going into a store surrounded by creepy men who go in the back and get happy!. Sex is out and about and no longer just the purview of the young and sexy.

Terms like sex positive didn’t exist when I was coming up and I barely remember hearing terms such as pansexual. People are opening up more about interest in things such as S & M, even taboo topics such as open marriage has hit primetime.

For some people, all this sex talk is a bit too much with many people still feeling that sex is a private matter that should only be discussed between a few select folks. However for some of us especially those of us who grew up with religiously conservative backgrounds, reaching the point we can discuss sex without feeling a twinge of shame publicly is great.

Sex is natural, it serves a primal need, it helps keep the planet filled with new humans and it’s awesome when done well. I think that women in particular need to have a few people in their lives that they are comfortable talking sex with…it’s nice to know that your sudden surge in libido is perfectly normal. That as a women hits her late 30’s and early 40’s, in many cases her libido will shock the shit out of her and that she might be the one wearing her partner out on a regular basis.

While I still think 50 Shades of Grey is a craptastic book, it makes the seemingly unnatural seem natural to many women. Repressing ourselves sexually is stressful, limiting ourselves because something seems dirty, limits us. I think that stretching ourselves and growing as humans includes accepting and honoring the growth that our sexual selves ask of us as well.

So if you still find yourself blushing when conversations of sex come up, ask yourself why? Why hold onto someone else’s script on sexual matters. While discretion is always a good thing, as a tweep mentioned last night if one lacks an offline community where they can get raw and talks about such matters maybe cultivating connections online where you can talk safely is key.

I often find it funny that as popular as discussing babies and childrearing is, that we rarely talk about the process that made the babies possible. We often downplay the significance of such activities instead of honoring that sexual part of ourselves.

Talk sex, it will keep you happy and healthy and inspire you to have more of it which is always a good thing.