Got Your Back

Ever wonder if at that certain moment someone might actually be there to help? I always tell people when I put on my activist hat that I get bail money pre-arranged, three-fold. I just want to be prepared, just in case. I don’t want to wonder if, when I make the call, someone will answer.

The transgender community faces a lot of challenges just to exist. Each of us move along our own journeys without knowing what is up ahead of us on the road. For many of us, being able to live an authentic life is the goal. Certainly, for me, that is the goal. This doesn’t always present itself in a nicely wrapped package. We sometimes have to learn some hard lessons. Well, I guess, that is just life. Unfortunately, sometimes when a transperson puts themselves in harm’s way, they ended up injured, or worse, dead. As of mid-July, there have been 15 confirmed transgender murders in the United States this year. This puts us on pace to exceed last year’s total. This doesn’t begin to represent the number of transgender people who “just” get hurt. Well, when they do get hurt, sometimes this leads them down a path to possibly becoming another disheartening statistic connected to the transgender community.

Suicide for the transgender community is a big concern. They happen all too often. I dealt with this myself during my self-discovery time. I never really felt then that I had anyone to call. I struggled along the way just trying to avoid getting to that point of hopelessness. I will confide that it may have only taken one event to put me there. I was reminded of this recently as I, along with a friend, sat anxiously on our phones, they with a young trans person and me with their mother, as we tried to get them to drop the knife they held against their own body with the intent of doing self-harm. I sat wrenching inside with flashbacks but not being in a position to allow my emotions to flow freely. I wanted to cry, scream, lash out in pain, anger and frustration. I held it together until we were successful in saving this young life. By that time I was numb. I couldn’t cry, scream or lash out. Well, not until about 3 hours latter when it all came gushing out. I felt better and had thought I had let it all out. But, I hadn’t. I am still feeling the affects of this event. Although the results were favorable, I can’t help but wonder if a life event like this person experienced is right around the corner for me. Am I strong enough to meet it head on? Who do I call? Will I even make the call? These are the questions I am carrying around with me. Well, I guess this is just life. Right?

ps. I am crying as I end this blog post.

Suicide is never the answer, if you are thinking about or going to attempt suicide please call With Help Comes Hope 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. You are not alone.

“I’m Gay,” How Two Simple Words Changed Television & Lives

Ellen DeGeneres on the cover of the April 14, 1997 issue of TIME magazine.

This weekend marks the “milestone” of Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office as P.O.T.U.S. There is also a another milestone happening this weekend, a more helpful more tangible milestone. The milestone I’m talking about continues to influence peoples lives and it changed the face of American television forever. A milestone that continues to empower the LGBT community of this country. A milestone that set the stage for not only TV characters but real life celebrities and everyday people to ‘come out of the closet.’ 20 years ago today, April 30, 1997, Ellen Degeneres came out not only in real life but in her sitcom “Ellen.” Ellen’s TV personality on her show, the character Ellen Morgan was the first main character of a TV show to come out. A show that was about her and named for her, during a time when there was no “Will & Grace” or “Modern Families” Cameron and Mitchell. This was a first for American television.

To commemorate the occasion I watched the episode in it’s entirety on You Tube. In quirky Ellen fashion it was entitled “The Puppy Episode” “The Puppy Episode” part one“The Puppy Episode” part 2 and it brought back bittersweet memories and emotions. Emotions and memories that I thought buried long ago. As with a lot of people my own coming out was not easy, but whose ever is?

Some of what made coming out so difficult was my own doing. I’m famously known for my procrastination or just simply not dealing with things that I don’t want too. I didn’t want to ‘deal’ with being gay and as Ellen put it when her character came out on the show, she thought these feelings “would just go away.” My “gayness” for lack of a better word didn’t just go away and neither did Ellen’s. In the show her character  couldn’t even say the word “gay,” but as the show progressed she said it and the world was listening. This was one of first times that I realized that art can imitate life. I couldn’t say the word either, until I did. At some point I came out to a close friend. I said, “I think I’m gay.” My friend looked me dead in the eyes and said to me “That’s okay, YOU ARE OKAY.” Amazingly lighting didn’t come from the heavens to strike me down and at that point that’s when I really knew that I would be okay.

The cast of “Ellen.”

 

“I’m gay.” Those two simple words uttered on a sitcom, simple words that changed the world of television forever. Simple words that have changed and will continue to change the world of the person saying them no matter who they are. After I said those words my world changed. I’m not going to lie and say it’s always been easy but it hasn’t always been hard. I’ve had my ups and my downs, but doesn’t everybody go through ups and downs in life, gay or straight? I will say this, the victories in life are a lot sweeter when you are living out of the closet, living your authentic life. At the same time life’s journey can be a lot harder to navigate if your are continuously watching over your shoulder worried that someone might figure out your secret. Carrying a secret burden can keep you just two little words away from the chance of happiness.

I don’t know if in 20 years anyone will remember what Donald Trump did in his first 100 day milestone, but I do know that on this same day 20 years from now we will be once again be looking back at how Ellen came into our living rooms via our televisions and told us all what most of us already knew about her and ourselves. She gave us the “OK” to say “I’m gay.”

And that my friends is my view from the other side of the lake on this 30th day of April 2017.

John M. Livelsberger will be talking about his own coming out on the podcast “The Coming OUT Lounge” airing on May 10th, 2017.

 

Does HIV Make Me Undateable, Part II

Gay men living with HIV is what are we talking about.

Over the years since coming out as HIV positive, friends have asked me if my status makes me ‘undateable.’ The answer is “no,” I’m just as datable and I have just as much to offer in a relationship as anyone else. However, it there are several points that need to be addressed when dating someone who is HIV positive. 

While it’s been said, “There are plenty of fish in the sea,” and while I do believe there is someone for everyone, it seems that most men not all but most who are themselves HIV negative will not date a guy who is HIV positive. This can be difficult if you’re POZ because everyone wants to be loved and valued. There are a wide range of men in the world and there are men who do put the stigma of HIV aside and look past the word positive. The key is keeping informed and keeping communication open. Isn’t that the key for all successful relationships anyway?

The terms Neg and Poz have become the new normal in the vocabulary of our community. Sometimes that’s the first thing one asks when meeting. It’s now standard on every profile in every hook up app from Grindr to Adam4adam to BBRT.  You can find it somewhere towards the middle of a guys profile just after ‘position’ but before relationship status. Yet there is another label which we should start using as much as “top,” “Bottom,” or “Poz,” and “Neg.” That label is Undetectable or U=U (Undetectable=Un-transmittable). Undetectable and un-transmittable is when a person living with HIV has an undetectable viral load. An undetectable viral load is typically under 40 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood depending on the diagnostic tests.

The Prevention Access Campaign https://www.preventionaccess.org started U=U or #UequalsU to fight the stigma of being HIV Positive.
 
According to the Prevention Access Campaign’s web-site: “Collaborated with leading researchers to help people living with HIV who are on treatment and who have undetectable viral loads answer a fundamental question: ‘Am I at risk to my partner?’ The answer is NO. You can feel confident that if you have an undetectable viral load* and you take your medications properly, you cannot pass on HIV to your sexual partners.” 

Let’s start using U=U in our online profiles, lets start making HIV positive men feel welcome back in the ‘dating scene.’ Let’s end the stigma. 

As always it’s about choices. Some still choose to practice “Safer Sex.” You will always want to take care of yourself and your sex partner or partners. Safer sex could be the universal protection of wearing a condom or being on PrEP-Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. Having sex with someone who is undetectable can mean a zero to little negligible risk, as long as they are under the care of a doctor and as long as you and your partner are honest with each other. 

There is a lot more to the story than just Negative or Positive. Inform others, start the conversation and share your story. Be part of the HIV Positive Proud community that live with a chronic health condition everyday. Get support from the people you love, whether is your biological family or your chosen family and remember the only way that you are undatable is if you let yourself become undatable and last but not least always keep a positive perspective. 

*An undetectable viral load is typically under 40 copies/ml depending on the diagnostic tests. However, studies show a person living with HIV on antiretroviral therapy (ART) with a viral load under 200 copies/ml also cannot sexually transmit HIV. This is called being “virally suppressed.”

Don’t Read a Book By Its Cover

I grew up in a small Midwestern town. I had a pretty standard childhood growing up in a family where my dad was an educator, my mom a homemaker and having to share a single bathroom with 2 brothers and sisters. On the outside it would appear that all was well. However, this was far from the truth.

How a person chooses to live their life is just that, living a life. It may, or may not, match how they feel about themselves inside. I’m not talking about whether they secretly dream of being a movie star but work in a corporate office. I’m talking about their internal sense of identity. This was my existence. What people saw on the outside wasn’t what was on the inside. What am I talking about?

A person’s internal sense of gender is known as their gender identity. Every human being has this. For a great majority their gender identity matches their physical body. The term for this is cisgender. Having your internal sense of gender match your physical characteristics causes no strife or emotional reaction. But for other their gender identity doesn’t match their physical body. This is the most common condition for transgender or gender nonbinary identifying people. There is a disconnect which causes varying levels of discomfort. This is the actual struggle that most trans/nonbinary face on a daily basis.

So what does this all mean? For me this meant living a life for 30+ years that fit more into the expectations of my surroundings such as family, friends, community and work. It meant suppressing feelings and aspects of my identity in order to not exist on the periphery of society. It meant carrying a heaping load of guilt and secrets with me everywhere I went. I always thought I could run away from this thing. No matter how fast or how far I went it never was enough to make the separation. So, one day, I stopped and finally faced it head on. It was the day when I first heard the term transgender and said “ok, whatcha got for me?” It was at this point that my life changed. It was the day I stood up and said “I am transgender hear me roar”.

The moral of the story is that people are always striving to create a place where they feel they fit in so give them a chance and a place to be themselves.

In the Shadow of HIV Relationships are not Always Black and White

I remember the first time I saw Ed at the bar. It was the weekly “Gay Night”. He was standing at the bar by the dance floor, drinking a mixed drink with his circle of friends. He was, in my mind, the sexiest black man I had ever seen and completely out of my league.

A few months went by and we happened to be at the same New Year’s Eve party and  ended up talking, he even sat on my lap. When college classes started back up he and I started texting and we even went out as friends for a drink at a Mexican restaurant. This happened several times. After a night of going out to eat he invited me back to his place where I sat down on the floor by his bed. I guess I was a little nervous. He went on to explain to me he never makes the first move. That gave me the courage to take that chance and we ended up making out. A relationship grew and I moved out of the college dorms and in with him, my boyfriend.

I was accepted, for the most part, by his friends and even his family. On Thanksgiving and Christmas we would go to his mother’s who cooked true “Southern Home Cook’n.” I was the only “white boy” in the house during our holiday celebration, but it never was a problem and likewise at his family reunions, I was made to feel like part of the family, I even took his sister to her prom. He taught me how to twist his hair and use grease, it’s silly but I liked how his hair was like curly lambs wool. When we would travel 800 miles to the North to see my family they left no doubt in my mind that they accepted him without question. When my little sister was learning to talk, she made it a point to learn to say his name before mine.

I wish everyone would have been as accepting as our families. We would get pulled over by the police, this happened more than once and it happened for little to no reason at least none we could see. The police would make it a point to search the car and pat us down. Love is love despite color, age, or race. Love does not discriminate, but we found out the hard way that people do.

Being in an interracial relationship was just like being in any relationship and just like all couples we had our ups and downs. Sometimes relationships change, people change and circumstances change. We had been together for a year when I found out that I was HIV-Positive. I was tested annually at the college health fair and every year my test came back negative. Then the unthinkable happened and my worst fears were realized. There were so many fears. There was the fear of telling him, there was the fear of the stigma of HIV/AIDS and there was the fear of the unknown. Later on he was tested, and he found out that he too was HIV positive, his CD4 counts were lower than mine and it was determined that he had it first and had transmitted it to me.

After we found out he didn’t want to tell anyone about our HIV status, it became our ‘little’ secret. Maybe his silence came from being a proud black man that just happened to be gay, but it was my burden to bare too. He seemed to have become emotionally shut down. We would go to the doctor together, yet we would not talk about the elephant in the room. We never talked about anything having to do with what it’s like being gay and HIV positive in East Texas. He never wanted to talk about the guilt he felt for infecting me, but I could see it in his eyes. It’s hard to keep a secret like HIV to oneself and not feel like you are perpetuating the stigma. It’s doubly hard to be each other’s support system when we all we do is carry our burdens instead of carrying and supporting each other.

I thought we still loved each other. He was my support system, boyfriend, and lover. I would advise against staying silent keeping your status to yourself even in the face of Stigma or harassment for whatever the reason we are all human we are all individuals which makes us all different we must embrace that.

Has HOPE Left the Building?

Donald Trump’s election has literately torn families apart in a way that hasn’t been seen since the Civil War. Maybe that’s a little extreme, but I certainly have never seen anything like this in my lifetime.
 
My family is no different. My younger brothers support Trump. My mom, my daughter, my husband and I disagree with them on a very fundamental level. There is no easy fix for this, it’s not something I can ‘just get over’ or even forgive, at least not now and maybe not ever. It goes beyond simple politics, it hits at the root of racism, misogyny, gullibility, and common sense. I love my family I especially love my bothers and I have always supported them, they have never done anything to ever make me ashamed or be disappointed in them, until now. Their support of a reality TV star, who is proud of the fact that he feels he can do whatever he wants to women because he is successful not only leaves me disillusioned with my brothers, but with half of this country. I accused one of my brothers of loving his addiction to ‘White Privilege.’ His response was “if working hard to raise a child and paying my bills is white privilege than yes I have white privilege.” After that statement, I simply asked him, “When was the last time you were pulled over for driving while Caucasian?”
 

As a typical Trump supporter he did not ‘get it’ nor will he ever because he and a lot of other Trump supporters, or should I say insecure white guys. Insecure white guys who want to go back in time and live in a world that never really existed. The idyllic world of post World War II 1950s where woman were women and men were men and there was not a person of color in sight and no one had ever heard of a same sex couple. They want a world where Bruce Jenner is still Bruce Jenner, where he’s on the cover of the Wheaties box and pees in the men’s room. They want a world that if a President of the United States visits Japan he would shake hands with Japanese Prime-minister. As is Japanese custom the Prime-minister would bow to a visiting dignitary. President Obama in showing respect to that countries people and culture while visiting Japan bowed to the Prime-minister. Angry white guys didn’t like that, “American’s bow to no one, especially the President!” 

PHOENIX, AZ – JULY 11: Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters during a political rally at the Phoenix Convention Center on July 11, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. Trump spoke about illegal immigration and other topics in front of an estimated crowd of 4,200. (Photo by Charlie Leight/Getty Images)

There is such a thing as ‘healthy fear’ and ‘healthy shame’. Healthy fear protects us and others from engaging in behavior that doesn’t get us or others hurt or killed. Healthy shame keeps us out of jail. You can find both of these qualities in leaders. Mind you I said leaders, NOT bosses. All leaders are bosses but not all bosses are leaders and right now Donald J. Trump is going to be sworn in NOT as America’s 45th President, but as America’s boss and anyone who does not follow the employee hand book is going to be written up, written off, and fired.

Donald Trump has never had to fear anything or feel ashamed of his behavior. I do not think that at his core he is able to feel or understand those concepts. That does not make him a strong leader, that makes him a dangerous leader. When leaders have no fear, shame, humility, and no conscience, people die. Real leaders set examples and earn respect. Bosses give orders and expect unquestioning blind obedience.

I want to believe President Obama with all of my heart when he said at his final press conference, that he believes we will all be okay. ‘It will be okay.’ That sounds suspiciously like something your Dad would say if you had to go to the hospital for surgery as a kid. You KNEW deep down it would be okay, but you also knew that recovery was going to hurt like hell.
 
Eight years ago at this time I felt hope. Eight years later hope has left the building, it left the building  when intolerance and uncertainty showed up.
One of the last things my brother told me was that I was ‘everything that was wrong with this country.’ I’ll own that, and I’ll wear it on my sleeve like I do my heart and my attitude. In the mean time an ‘Amber Alert’ has been issued for ‘HOPE.’ I don’t think it will be missing for long, just long enough for us to miss it. 
And that my friends is my view from the other side of the lake.