Let’s Talk About Sex: Black Men & The Stigma of HIV
In a late night talk with a good male friend of mine, the topic of sex came up. It’s rare that black gay men can talk about sex honestly without it transforming into raunchy proposals, but it became a genuine, thought-provoking conversation. We discussed what we preferred, what we hated, what we feared, and what we desired in the bedroom. It wasn’t long before the discussion ventured into talking about HIV. HIV has wiped out significant numbers of a generation and is one of the most formidable enemies of the gay man of color.
As black gay men, we are consistently bombarded with an intense fear of HIV. We see its effects all the time, we hear the horrifying statistics, and we understand the dangers of unsafe sex and the need to be aware of our status. Yet, the rate that black gay men are being infected continues to grow and everyone wonders why. Why is that when the information is right in front of our faces we continue to be one of the biggest demographics hurt by the disease?
The question haunted me for some time. It’s difficult to think about a solution to something when you can’t quite figure out why it’s a problem to begin with. Another late night phone call with the same male friend brought up a lighter conversation where he told me about the adventures of a friend of his that doubles as a porn star and a singer. It then hit me like a ton of free condoms from the clinic. I had a clear answer and a solid theory as to why HIV is still such a mega problem in our community, despite us all being plenty aware of the dangers of practicing unsafe sex and not knowing our statuses: there’s a complete disassociation of our identity with our bodies, meaning our actions time and time again show that we separate our social, emotional, and mental well-being from the behaviors we partake in with our bodies. The story of the porn actor/singer made this painstakingly clear. Here’s a man with ideas, a clear plan for his future, and talent, yet he chooses one of the most public ways of damaging your reputation the world has to offer without giving it much thought beyond if he’d prefer to receive or give during the scenes.
This is just one example of the disassociation that black gay men suffer from with their bodies. If you look at the companies that are responsible for producing the bulk of black gay porn, they are usually owned by black gay men. Now, this isn’t a rally against pornography, but there is something to be said about a group of people that are both the exploited and exploiters. In comparison, the busty blondes you see in straight pornography aren’t usually the ones scouting models and creating these companies. Black gay men have a universal mentality that makes us okay with objectifying ourselves again and again. Of course, most of us aren’t porn actors, but the mentality is still the same. Even how we choose to publicize products and events outside of the sex industry usually still mirrors the strategies used in the sex industry. I’ve seen movies, books, parties, and even campaigns to promote reading books centered on objectifying them and hyper-sexualizing the culture. When you consider that, it makes sense that black gay men have successfully separated the body and soul. We’re in a community where we can’t seem to promote entertainment, intellectualism or unity without exploiting and using our own sexualities to garner attention and make the sale. We see our bodies and sexuality as just a ploy to make money and a reason to be satisfied.
If you approach a black gay man, he’ll indeed have passions and worries like most human beings, but once there’s a sexual encounter in front of him those ideals are thrown to the wayside. For the duration of the sexual encounter, he is wild and free of all responsibilities – essentially, an animal invested in nothing else but the carnal. That sounds fun, until you meet up with him and find out he is another black gay man living with HIV. In that moment, it becomes all too clear as to how pivotal the body is in this life. It’s the vessel that brings us closer to the great potentials we all have awaiting us, not just a plaything or marketing tool. Our bodies are nothing to be disassociated from, and the dangers of doing so can be seen in medicine cabinets in many homes. Once we collectively start respecting that idea, we’ll stop putting our bodies in harm’s way and be able to reverse the pattern that has followed us for so many years.