For many of us, being diagnosed with HIV may come as a total surprise. Oftentimes, we’re made to believe that we’ve done something wrong, that we’ve single-handedly ruined the rest of our lives — the “end of the world” as many still proclaim. There is this societal misrepresentation of black gay men which, in turn, creates this constricted view of us and reinforces the stereotype that we are promiscuous and that HIV is primarily a “gay” disease. As black gay men, we have the power to shape the narrative and change the trajectory of this vicious cycle.
Find people to talk to. Yes, the fear that has been instilled in us has an impact on how we approach the issue of disclosure. However, whether you are newly diagnosed or someone who has been living with HIV for years, finding people to talk to is crucial. Even if you don’t know what to say or how to say it, let someone know that you need a shoulder. Make it known that you’re in an unfamiliar place and you need guidance to get through. Mental health professionals can become your best friend. Just don’t feel that you are in this alone.
Arm yourself with information. The more you know, the better equipped you are to manage your life and help educate those individuals who may be adding to the stigma with their lack of knowledge around the virus. Find out the ways HIV is spread. Educate yourself on PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), the once a day pill to prevent HIV in negative individuals. Visit CDC.gov or POZ.com, along with a plethora of other sites that would be useful resource guides. If you feel that you still lack the proper understanding, refer to your medical provider for clarity.
Be patient with yourself. Give yourself time to process your diagnosis. Don’t be in a rush to tell the world. That could potentially create more issues, especially if you’re not mentally or emotionally in a place to grasp the true concept of how your life has truly been impacted. Yes, you’ll want to have someone to talk to, but do it at your own pace and don’t feel pressured to disclose when it’s not necessary.
Don’t forget to love yourself. There’s a lot to think about and various factors to process. Don’t forget the most important piece of the puzzle when dealing with life after diagnosis: YOU! Love yourself enough to take care of yourself and get the help you need.
There are many other avenues and steps that can be taken to address the misrepresentation and ever-growing stigma within the community. The stigma keeps us oppressed. It keeps us trapped in this space where we often feel suffocated and can’t move freely throughout life. Pick your head up, beautiful one. Exhale.
I want you to open that door and look stigma in the face and say, “Get yo’ s#!t. Get yo’ s#!t and get out!” Yes, a little Bernadine never hurt!