By Christopher MacDonald-Dennis , reprinted with permission from his Twitter timeline
My name is Chris, and I live with HIV.
I know some were here last year [on my Twitter timeline], so I’ll try not to bore you. I just want to remind us that we are here among you, living, thriving, sometimes barely surviving w HIV/AIDS. I’d like to tell my story: why I made choices I did and what I’ve learned–because I have learned a great deal about myself from this disease.
To start: I have been positive for 15 years. March 10, 2010 was my anniversary. I am 41 yrs old. In fact, I was born exactly 1 week before Stonewall rebellion in NYC. I was born and raised in Boston in a working-class neighborhood. I grew up in uber-dysfunctional family: brother diagnosed as sociopath in teens, dad an alcoholic, mom mentally ill. It was hell in that family, I was a little “sissy” who knew at early age he was gay. I was OK with it but knew others wouldn’t be. I was terrorized as kid–ass kicked a lot. My city didn’t like femme boys. Also, I am mixed: dad was white, mom Latina….looong before mixed folks were cool. :) We just were odd. So I grew up alone…and lonely. Went to college and didn’t just come out of closet..
I blew the doors off hinges! I became popular…and, most importantly, saw that men were attracted to me. So I became BHOC–Big Homo On Campus–who also partied hard at clubs. I felt what I thought was acceptance for the first time. I was an activist, a feminist, just thinking I had to it together…but I was promiscuous. It filled a need. Men wanted me; I was desirable. Because of my background I mistook it for love. At 22 I was in my first relationship with an AIDS activist [and] always used condoms. Broke up after 3 years and saw a man I had dated briefly in college.
I still remember the night we met. His smile shut off every thinking part of my brain. I know you know those fine types–your brain disappears. He asked me home. I accepted after he asked my friends (we had a rule–we come together, we leave together.) They agreed–he was that fine. We went to my place & began to have sex. I noticed he wasn’t going to use condom. I thought about it but was afraid he would leave me. Yes, I was more afraid a man would leave than protecting myself. We never talked about status until 3 months in…he said he was too scared. That made me pause…
I moved to Detroit and was in meeting where someone talked about HIV testing. I thought, “Let me go find out to stop worrying.” Got tested and went back three weeks later. I was working at a Catholic university & went to the center with friend who was a nun. (Yes, a nun.) A man walked in, sat down, and said “Results say you’re living with HIV”.
I said, “What?”
He repeated himself. He asked if I need hug. I said, “Hugging strange men is what got me this disease, so no thank you.”
He laughed and said: “I can tell you’ll be OK. You can tell in the first moment..”
I went downstairs, put my head in Sr. Beth’s lap, and cried. I said “What am I going to do?”
She said “Live, that’s what you’ll do.”
I got retested because the test was 99% accurate. It came back. The woman picked up wrong sheet and said I was negative…then said, “Oops.”
I was devastated.
I went home and called all my friends. Because of my past, I never believed people loved me. I found out they did. One friend called after I told her and said, “I am at airport to take care of you.” People reached out. But I was scared. I remember the first time I brushed teeth and bled. I said, “People will be scared of me.” I told all except my mom–my brother had died in jail and my dad died already—so it was just us two. I couldn’t do that to her.
I moved to New Hampshire because I was convinced I would die. I worked at a very rural college—I had to reflect, think about my future. Dating there was hell: guys would fall for me and then say, “But I can’t deal with that.” I considered ending my life one night. I couldn’t stand the thought of being alone forever. I thought of my nan–she was just like Sophia Petrillo, a straight shooter. I pictured her saying, “No! Look at you. You will make some man the luckiest man in the world. You are too cute to go.” I went to bed and said, “No more pity.”
I went to get a doctorate and intensive therapy, which helped me to learn to love myself. It was hard–years of self-hate. Not about being gay though I felt so abnormal because of my past. Life was good, but I was lonely.
In 1999, I attended conference in Atlanta and sat next this guy. We started to talk, and I asked him if he was going to dance conference going that night. He said yes. I took disco nap.
I was talking to friends on the hotel veranda. I looked up, saw him, and my breath was taken away. He wasn’t like the “pretty boys” I had been with: here was an African American gay man who was shy, very Southern, and vulnerable. We danced that night and talked all night. I told him about my status, and he said “I’m a gay man, I knew this could happen. I don’t want best thing to end because of fear.” We hung out at the conference. At end, he asked where we’d go from this point. I said “I can’t imagine getting on a plane and never seeing you again.” I fell in love in 2 weeks and in a month knew we’d be together.
I finally went home and told my mom about my HIV status. She fell in my arms and said, “Don’t die, baby.” I said I wouldn’t. We haven’t talked about it since. I love her, but she can’t be there for me. I have come to accept that.
HIV has been greatest gift for me. I’ve learned to face fear, conquer my doubts, and stand with my head high. I know I’m privileged when we look at people with HIV across globe. I have access to health care, good doctors, support. Many, many don’t have that. I have only been sick once–when my immune system destroyed its red blood cells in my fight with HIV. I take one medication twice a day.
But it impacts me today: many of you know I got great job offer in Canada. I went to psychiatric hospital because of depression and declined offer. My fear? I would die in Canada because I wouldn’t know how to access healthcare. I know that wasn’t rational, but I grew up in family that only went to hospitals to die. I’ve had to overcome deep fear to take care of myself. But I don’t know the other system.
I also found spirituality because of HIV. My birth dad is Jewish, but I never knew him. After finding out, I walked into synagogue, and my heart found a home. I have now been a Jew for 12 years….
People ask why I am open. I’m open because I want folks know: you know someone living with the disease. I am Dean of Intercultural Affairs at Bryn Mawr College, outside of Philadelphia. I talk to my students about this. If I can help one person remember: if zie walks out door, zie wasn’t worth it. That you are worthy of protection.
About This BlogRacialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable
Keanu ReevesJohn Cho newsflashes.
Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at email@example.com.
The founders of Racialicious are Carmen Sognonvi and Jen Chau. They are no longer with the blog. Carmen now runs Urban Martial Arts with her husband and blogs about local business. Jen can still be found at Swirl or on her personal blog. Please do not send them emails here, they are no longer affiliated with this blog.
Comments on this blog are moderated. Please read our comment moderation policy.
Use the "for:racialicious" tag in del.icio.us to send us tips. See here for detailed instructions.
Interested in writing for us? Check out our submissions guidelines.
Follow Us on Twitter!
- Friday Foolishness: Selena Gomez Is Wearing A Bindi?
- The Rise Of Beyoncé, The Fall Of Lauryn Hill: A Tale Of Two Icons
- Retrolicious–Mad Men 6.7: “Man With A Plan”
- Open Thread: The Great Gatsby
- Scandal Recap 2.22: “White Hats Back On”
- Quoted: Lucy Liu On Racial Image And Romantic Comedies
- The Perennial Plate Visits India And Sri Lanka On Its World Tour
- The Racialicious Links Roundup 5.16.13
TagsABC activism advertising african-american asian asian-american barack obama black blackface celebrities comedy culture diversity fashion feminism film gender glbt HBO hip hop hispanic history hollywood identity international interracial relationships latino media mixed race movies music muslim politics race racial stereotypes racism religion sex sexism sexual stereotypes stereotypes tv Uncategorized white youtube