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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Johnny’s labyrinth and the reality of the AIDS epidemic

By Graham Danzer

 Special to CSMS MagazineJohnny’s heart beat thumped in his head at a geometric rate. His palms were sweating, his stomach was beginning to cramp. He barely knew which was up. As he awaited the results of his HIV test, he wondered whether it even mattered any more.He played tapes in his head of the meeting he was soon to have with the results counselor, down the hall, at far end of the waiting room he sat in ever so impatiently. Positive, negative, positive, negative. His thoughts were beginning to keep pace with his heartbeat. Breathing a heavy sigh of resolve, he began to regain his composure and think through the recent events surrounding his suspense.21 years old, Johnny has spent years “on the down low.” Doing what he could to lead an outwardly appearing “normal” life, though sleeping with other men far from the auspicious notice of his family and peers. Living in his mother black community was hard, and would be painstaking to live in as a gay man. Painstaking in how the torture and teasing he endured daily was hard enough, while copping to it would essentially be admitting to being as dirty and awful as he was told he was by the world he knew.Or at least so he thought up until the end of high school. Entering the adult world, he became frustrated and alienated by his hidden life, with a sweeping decision to bear it no longer. Coming out was a relief, no more acceptance from others was he to receive, though a newfound self-acceptance was more then a relief, it was a re-birth. He became a new person. With his new identity as an out gay man, free of the dormant status of life on the down low, he hoped mightily to find a special someone. Someone open and honest, who had struggled as he had, who could feel what he had been through and who he really was, behind the taunts of “faggot” this and “homo” that.It was heavy to find only remnants of his past life available to him. His past life in the sense that his new out-ness brought him attention from others on the down low. Far from the public view, Johnny met other young men, ghetto enough for him to relate to and cute enough for him to be attracted to. However, it was all very secret. He heard his sexual partners talk long of their conquests with women, their denials of being gay. Johnny’s relation to this was almost bitter as he found himself having grown from where he was, and yet only having relations with himself a few years earlier. With no other options, Johnny begrudgingly took what he could get.Only to later find through “the wire,” or talk amongst his brothers and sisters in the neighborhood that his most recent partner had been quite busy. Though they fought constantly with Johnny the target of his partner’s self-hatred for his own denied sexuality, Johnny had assumed there was something between them. They had slept together on many occasions and must have cared for each other if they continued to return to one another for months on end. Surely something must have been there. So Johnny had hoped to believe, though not without a fear that he may know otherwise. The wire confirmed his suspicions. His significant other had been with many others. Girls on the corner, in the club, pick a place. Unfortunately not too uncommon in the heterosexual community.            Where as the AIDS epidemics of the 1980’s brought harshly critical awareness of the issue to the gay community, heterosexual communities are far behind in terms of knowledge of the disease transmission process, awareness, and the ramifications of unsafe sex practices. Though rates of HIV infection are higher in the gay community then in heterosexual communities, it is thus unsurprising that rates of HIV infection are sharply on the rise in heterosexual communities for the very behaviors carried out with impunity by Johnny’s at one time significant other. Promiscuity, a lack of protection, and insolence if not indifference to the risk posed to themselves and others under the painfully heterosexual notion of “it could never happen to me.” Or the idea that HIV was a “gay disease,” a stereotype irrespective of rising rates of infection in heterosexual communities, and perpetuated stigma leading to discussion of testing and risk factors becoming taboo, thereby spreading infection rather then awareness of often effective preventative measures.Johnny’s rage was overpowering, growing to be intoxicating when his “partner” non-chalantly confirmed these rumors of his unsafe behavior, as well as his sexual escapades having taken place without protection. The thought was chilling. Johnny knew that he had thereby slept not only with his disloyal (at one time) significant other, but furthermore everyone else that his partner had slept with. Who knew where else he had been, let alone where they all had been? The chills were unbearable as Johnny had nowhere to go.There was no such thing as an HIV clinic in his mother black community. The very 3 letters were like daggers. They went largely unspoken, if not only as associated with a “gay disease.” As it was taboo, little education took place on the topic, rarely did he hear his brothers and sisters speak of getting tested, risk factors, and other such information vital to staying safe and free of a potentially deadly disease. All the reason Johnny knew his mother community to be rampant with infection. People often seemed to believe that if it went undiscussed, it ceased to exist. He smiled bitterly to himself at the thought, in the clinic waiting room 15 miles from home. Seeing the HIV counselor’s door open and a hand wave him in to his fate, he wished it could be true.Also see Barack Obama au grand rendezvous with history: Facing it or be condemned by it Love and Tolerance: a gut-wrenching story Safe Again: The compelling story of Bobby The Powerful Voice of Your Vote: Six-Years and Out Note: Graham Danzer is a writer who lives in San Francisco. He wrote this piece exclusively for CSMS Magazine. Mr. Danzer also holds a master’s degree in Social Work. He is our new collaborator.

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