When I was nineteen, a family friend who was also a doctor terrorized me.
In addition to misdiagnosing me, I was made to feel ashamed, stupid and just plain bad about myself for being both attracted to men and acting on this attraction. To this day, I still hate and dread doctors. This was my introduction to sexual and social responsibility.
The message was clear and relentless : sex bad, gay sex worse.
Growing up with folks who started in one class then ascending into another, they neglected to shed their “black fear ” regarding doctors and the healthcare system. Like most black folks, we only saw doctors if there was something wrong and then of course believed the diagnosis they decided to met out.
Most black folk do not practice or believe in preventive health matters.
At nineteen I was scared, had been peeing blood for over a week and was too afraid to talk with my parents about it. I sheepishly went along with the sublime idea that I could take the eleven hour bus ride from my first year of college with my 102 degree fever. I was willing to not speak about my health concerns and suffer because being sick would raise suspicions and garner too many questions.
If a well-educated individual with well-educated people raising him could make such a stupid decision, what chance does a homeless economically challenged individual have for taking his well being into his own hands ?
None. No discussion regarding safer sex practices and sexual behavior can occur without an honest approach to how health matters (physically, sexually , mentally) are viewed and mishandled within the black community. As a forty-three year old black gay male , I have been tested for HIV in excess of two dozen times.
I have only had a full physical once.
I know that diabetes, high blood pressure and other “silent killers” are rampant within my family of origin and yet only respond when there is pain or an inability to do what I would like ( I once directed a play while having a hearing loss). I didn’t want to let anyone down. I am also guilty of not practicing preventive health measures with the exception of HIV prevention.
Perhaps, it is because I have seen the devastation this very preventable disease can bring. Perhaps it causes me fear knowing I have been intimate with people who were infected.
This is an area where I have not allowed for chance and the best of intentions. I have learned to trust no one in regards to staying HIV negative. I wish there was a magic wand that would somehow allow young black males to clearly see and understand their value. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see a generation of young black males who truly understood their value and valued themselves ?
When an individual fails to see his value or worse allows someone else to determine it, he will make incredibly stupid decisions.
I thought being sexually attracted to men was the worst thing I could do to my parents. As a result, I allowed a white jacket and family loyalty to silence and subsequently terrorize me. Today, the white jacket would be offered a quick bitch slap and a kick in his bathroom parts.
We must teach our young men that they matter.
Not because of what they can provide for others or how they can be pimped culturally but that they matter simply because they are here. When I felt as if I didn’t matter (as a result of developing a healthy dose of self hatred via homosexuality and what being black and male represented) I allowed much nonsense to take place.
It would take five years (three spent having unprotected sex with my then bf and one year with another bf who was infected but “forgot ” to mention it) before I even dared to get tested.
Why did I wait so long ? Fear. I had no idea what I would do or what my options were should the test result come back positive. Not making my health a priority allowed me to not take full responsibility for my life in a way that was just plain frightening. I have repeated the emotion of fear to underscore what is going on with many of our young people.
Like so many of their older peers (myself included) and adults , the thinking might be “ain’t nothing hurting or out of the ordinary so I must be ok.”
We, the older and hopefully wiser adults, have got to challenge and change this outdated and devastating way of looking at our health. In a previous post, I mentioned a friend of mine who is a hustler. He is always sick. Although I see him sporadically, he is often getting over a cold or some other illness.
He is in recovery and attends twelve step meetings. He is sometimes job hunting and struggling to find a place to live.
He never mentions finding a free clinic, checking on his status or taking care of his health.