Friday, August 30, 2013

The Price of Denial

I prefer to approach things from a humorous angle even if I have to turn the issue on its head and find the absurdity in the topic. It’s easier for me to defuse the anger and keep a rational perspective that way. I’ve tried for weeks to find the humorous absurdity in this topic but there isn’t one so forgive the lack of snark. This one is straight from the heart.

Do you guys find discussions about why safe sex is a good idea, why condoms are important and why it’s vital to know your STD/HIV status as surreal as I do? I sit at the computer shaking my head a lot these days wondering how the hell we got back to this point so fast. For a while, safe sex was a no-brainer. Yes, condoms and dental dams are annoying but you didn’t leave the starting gate without them unless you had a death wish. Apparently, that’s not common knowledge anymore. I don’t know about you guys but to me that’s disturbing.

Many of you remember the panic of the original scourge that wiped out entire communities of gay men and ravaged the population of artists on both coasts of the US. I know I do. It’s impossible to forget. I remember Ryan White and his reluctant rise to gay poster child despite the fact that he was heterosexual. I remember the panic as hundreds died in a matter of months with thousands more ill and a pointed lack of concern among public health officials until it was too late. So the gays are dying? Who the hell cares? (Insert callous comments about it being god's will here.) I remember the quilts and cremations and the feeling of hopeless despair. I remember men coming out to their families on their deathbeds or in eulogies because they hadn’t had the nerve to tell them they were gay before then.

Like many others in the LGBT community, it wasn’t just a news story to me. It was reality. I lost my friend Loren to AIDS 13 years ago this summer. I don’t remember him through a haze of denial. I remember him just as he was vibrant, energetic and sometimes fussy as hell. He was fun loving and occasionally bossy and I adored him.

Like many others, he thought he knew his HIV status and didn’t give it a second thought. He’d been reckless in his younger days but age had matured him and taught him the wisdom of being a bit less impulsive. He was in a committed relationship and hadn’t engaged in anal sex for years because his partner wasn’t into that. They thought they were safe.

Reality crashed through the ceiling one scorching day in 1994 when a rash on his arm drove him to the doctor to find something to make the damn thing stop itching. I remember him telling me how his doctor, a man with a predominantly gay patient roster, had broken down while telling him the cause of the rash. Loren was sick and the prognosis was black. He had advanced AIDS with a t-cell count in the teens. For those of you unfamiliar with t-cell counts, I envy you. For those who aren't I sympathize with the goose bumps and muttered, “oh shit”. It was bad…very bad. Effective drugs were still years away and the few semi-effective ones on the market at that point only worked for those in the early stages of HIV. AIDS was a death sentence.

Thus began our introduction to the world of medical ambiguity known as We-Dunno.

How long does he have to live?
“We don’t know because every case is different.”
What can we expect in the way of symptoms?
“We don’t know because every case is different.”
How long will it take from the time he gets obviously sick to the time we lose him?
“We don’t know because every case is different.”

The only thing the experts could tell us for sure was that a man with Loren’s t-cell count should have been dead already. They had no explanation for why his only symptom was localized hives but it was only a matter of time. AIDS left no room for hopeful speculation that he would beat it. With his weakened immune system, even a simple cold could kill him and there was no drug to prevent it.

Loren wasn’t the type to run and hide so he took his diagnosis and his drugs and went on with his life. He learned to figure skate. He traveled. He sang professionally on the occasional weekend in a Podunk BBQ place several miles outside of Phoenix. Toward the end, he went through a period of nesting doing improvements on the house he shared with his long-term partner one room at a time. One such project produced the infection that killed him six years after his diagnosis…almost to the day.

Why am I telling you this pitifully sad story? Trust me, there’s a point other than wandering down memory lane in a fit of self-pity or trolling for sympathy. It’s this: for the love of god DON’T BE AN IDIOT! The rise in STDs among gay men in the past few years says far too many people are taking stupid risks with their health for the sake of sex. Ok, so it’s mind-blowing so-good-you-almost-pass-out sex. Fine but trust me you won’t give a damn how good it was when you’re rotting away in a bed somewhere. Soul-sucking diseases don’t just happen to “other guys” and no, you’re not that lucky. Syphilis and HIV are on the rise worldwide in the gay community for one reason. People aren’t being careful and they aren’t being tested. Loren was the same way. He thought he was safe and he never bothered to check. Well, he was wrong. 

AIDS might not be the death sentence it used to be but HIV still destroys lives, costs friendships, and inspires fear in prospective partners. That wonderful guy you're dreaming of meeting and settling down with one day is going to have to learn to love you despite the HIV, syphilis, or gonorrhea label around your neck. So for the sake of those who love you, don’t be like Loren. Get tested and if you’re too embarrassed to go to the clinic order a test online and do it at home. Have a friend order the kit for you. Go to a free clinic under an assumed name in a disguise. I’ll loan you a baseball cap and some big girly sunglasses. We can even dye your hair. Just do it! Don’t assume you know your status and NEVER assume the random guy you just spent a hot, steamy half hour with was clean.

Denial isn’t a cure. It’s a mistake and it could cost you a lot more than you think. 

Subscribe to the blog and don't mist a post!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Not What It Seems

Sometimes it’s difficult to understand what's really going on behind the scenes of the current shouting match over LGBT rights in the US. On one side, we have the LGBT activists and champions telling the public what they shouldn’t have to tell them: LGBT people deserve the same rights straight people have. It seems like a no-brainer but sometimes you need to say these things aloud.

On the other side are the vengeful hatemongers that take issue with anyone who isn’t a straight white Christian male. The LGBT community is the current target but we’re far from the only one. It changes every few decades when another minority stands up and demands respect. Such demands get their panties in a bunch. They break out the poster board and the bullhorns and wave their smug superiority around like a flag.

In between is a vast expanse of citizens who have opinions that aren’t making it into the press because it’s hard to shout down a guy with a bullhorn. I’ve suspected for several years that the opinion of the “average American” isn’t really being heard. I know quite a few Christians who have a deeply rooted faith in their religion but also think the butter has slipped off the noodles of the extreme conservatives. They find the rhetoric as insulting and depressing as we do because those extremists who claim to be speaking for all religious people have stolen their voice and used it to profess things they as average Christians don’t really believe.

According to the polls, the balance on the marriage equality scale has tipped in our favor but according to the news all religious types still hate us with a passion and would love to either cure us or kill us. The disconnect isn’t a shock. The press prints what sells and let’s be honest hate sells. Still, under all the bold-print headlines claiming a black and white divide are smaller stories that say something different. They are reports of a well-known Mormon athlete making a public stand in favor of LGBT rights, the Pope softening the Catholic Church’s approach, the increasing number of voters approving marriage equality. These provide a much more accurate representation of the current climate.  

Here are the facts that aren’t making it into the papers. According to a recent article in The Atlantic, ten years ago marriage equality was supported by 34 percent of Protestants and 36 percent of Catholics. The numbers are currently 55 and 57 respectively. The Evangelical Protestants, which are notoriously the biggest source of religious hostility toward the concept, have grown from 11 percent to 24.

Does that mean our battle is over? Hell no but it means we have a lot fewer enemies than we’ve been led to believe. Yes, there are still pockets of extreme homophobia that need to be dealt with but the next time you read a story where a nutcase in a fancy suit says all LGBT people are evil and everybody hates them feel free to take it with a grain of salt. Just because they speak as if they represent the masses doesn’t mean they actually do. More likely it’s the ranting of a person with a bloated ego and a FOX News addiction…somebody really needs to start a 12-step program for that.

Subscribe to the blog and don't miss a post! 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Guest Blog with Brandon Shire

This week I'm over on Brandon Shire's blog talking about LGBT teens and hope for the future. Drop by and say "hi"!

I read a story recently on a new website called Ok, so they’re not exactly “new” but they’re new to me. The online resource run by LGBT youth for LGBT youth isn’t flashy or impressive but it addresses the basics from how to come out to your parents and topics like HIV. It also has sections where youth involved in the peer program can share their stories. One of them ended a tale that I know glossed over the worst parts by saying, “Sometimes you have to make your own light at the end of the tunnel but you don’t have to do it alone.”... read full post.

Friday, August 9, 2013

More than Videos

If you’re even moderately interested in LGBT rights, you’ve heard the statistics about how tough it is for teens. We all know it’s difficult enough being a straight, white teenager. Add any kind of oddity to that mix and things get exponentially worse. High school is not a friendly environment for a gangly, awkward 15-year-old nerd whose limbs grow faster than his coordination and a brain that draws him to things besides sports and girls. Add to that an attraction (or perceived attraction) to other boys and you have the makings of a nightmare. Some of you don’t have to imagine that scenario. You’ve lived it.

Bullying is a long-standing rite of passage in North America and beyond. You graduate from elementary school to junior high and spend four to six years struggling to survive. For some it starts earlier than that. You reach the other side emotionally damaged and try to get on with your life. Most of us have been there. The problem is the bullying of today’s LGBT kids doesn’t stop at school.

It’s on their phones in the form of text messages. It’s on e-mail, websites, chat rooms, Facebook, and all over Twitter. They could cut themselves off from the internet and get rid of their phones but that doesn’t stop the taunts or the rumors and pictures from circulating amongst their classmates. Even without the personal aspect, the struggle for marriage (and overall) equality keeps the topic in the news and draws the haters out of the woodwork like roaches to a Twinkie fest. The barrage of “you’re evil and disgusting” doesn’t stop with their peers. It comes from strangers on the news, hateful signs during Pride Parades and comments by unsuspecting neighbors. Depending on the household, it’s also preached from the pulpit and enforced at home. The result of this constant negativity isn’t much of a surprise.

  • 9 out of 10 LGBT students are harassed or assaulted at school.
  • One third of LGBT teens have attempted suicide despite coming from accepting households. That’s more than four times that of their straight peers.
  • Teens from anti-LGBT families are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than their family supported LGBT peers.

What that means is kids like AJ Betts and Carlos Vigil are representative of hundreds of LGBT kids who commit suicide but never make it into the news. They die believing they are worthless and alone. Many of them have family and friends who care but it’s difficult for those positive voices to get past the daily barrage of negativity and hate.

I wish I had an easy answer for kids like these but making schools safe is a battle that must be fought one school district at a time and it won’t happen fast enough to save the next life. That leaves national organizations like The Trevor Project and local ones dotted across the country to pick up the slack with online and telephone counseling. It also leaves us as adult survivors of bullying with a responsibility that goes far beyond words of hope. We need to demand action instead of lip service from the schools. If we can’t stop the hate, we can at least work with faculty and students to create LGBT friendly student groups where kids can go and spend an hour or two a week remembering they’re not alone.

I’m a big fan and supporter of the It Gets Better program but the message doesn’t mean much to a 14-year-old kid facing four more years of abuse and assault by her peers because she’s different. Four years is an eternity, especially to a kid already on the edge. We need to get angry enough about the abuse of our younger brothers and sisters to take positive action. No one should have to suffer the way decades of LGBT people have already suffered. The physical and emotional battle scars of youth need to stop. Yes, it gets better…when we make it better.

Subscribe to the blog and don't miss a post!

Friday, August 2, 2013

The World's Best Brew?

Today’s blog is about one of my favorite topics…COFFEE! 

I’m a big fan of the amber elixir of the gods and that’s not news to anyone who knows me. It’s as much a comfort food as a pick-me-up but while I’m never happier than with a fresh mug in hand, no one has ever mistaken me for a coffee connoisseur. I’ll drink whatever is handy as long as I have enough artificial sweetener and creamer to take the edge off it. In the absence of better options I’ve even been known to drink the stuff provided by my employer, a coffee-colored substance I suspect is made from industrial floor wax.

Despite being a neophyte of sorts my interest in these wondrous little beans means I hear a lot of chatter about it online and every now and then something gets my attention. For example, the story of the world’s most expensive coffee. Black Ivory goes for $50 a cup in select 5-star restaurants in Thailand. Yes, you read that right. $50 a cup. We won’t even get into what it costs a pound.

Personally, I can't justify paying that much for a single cup of coffee, though if someone had offered I might have been willing to mooch a $5 sip back in the day. Now I’d be willing to watch in nauseated fascination and try not to be too obvious with the grimacing as they downed every last drop. That’s the best I could do.

Black Ivory isn’t ordinary coffee and the price is reflective of the simple but expensive process it goes through before it ends up in your gold-plated cup. The website describes it as “…naturally refined by elephants…” For those of you familiar with the almost affordable Kopi Luwak you know where I’m going with this. For the rest of you I think it’s safe to say if you knew what happened to the beans before they were packaged and shipped to the restaurant, you’d join me in my slightly nauseated grimacing.

The process beings with Arabica beans. Once they’re picked, the beans are fed to elephants tended in a special sanctuary. When they come out the other end of the pachyderm a lucky person gets to pick them out of the dung and clean them before roasting. A short trip through the packaging department later and it ends up in cups where couples pay $100 to sit and slurp while their dinner settles.  

I know it’s the latest addition to the list of acquired tastes associated with wealth like fish eggs and snails but I think I’ll stick to my Kahlua Coffee, thanks. 

Subscribe to my blog and don't miss a post!