December 04, 2011


I'm going to shock you: a drag queen is late! Sorry I missed the World AIDS day memo, but I was very moved by everyones' remembrances of their losses and touching personal stories which they shared on Dec 1st. And I join you in mourning--we all know that the drag community was one of the hardest hit. But World AIDS Day is also about educating in the hopes of reducing the spread of the disease, so I'd like to share my personal story in the hopes that it resonates with some of you.

What are the 3 high risk groups? Gays, people of color and IV drug users. Well, I'm the gayest thing on earth, a bottom who only dates black and latino guys and I spent most of my 20s and 30s in NYC's East VIllage, which probably has the highest percentage of junkies in the nation. So chances are that I'd have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel by now. I also love to party and we know how altered states can lead to poor judgement in sexual situations.

So I spent the last few decades assuming that either I had HIV or that I'd get it. I'm a bit of hypochondriac so I feverishly imagined that every pimple was a lesion and that every cold was pneumonia. I could never bring myself to get tested because I was certain that if diagnosed positive, my gloomy disposition would worry me into the grave within months when I could live for years. While my doctor repeatedly urged me to get the test, I was too scared. I assumed that I had HIV so I never did anything which would transmit it or allow me to get it from someone else on the off chance that I hadn't contracted it yet. It didn't help that if you test positive for the virus in NYC, the results are given to the government. With religious freaks like Sarah Palin running for the VP with old John McCain who could blow at any time, the government is not who you want to share delicate info about your health with. Thinking they were doing God's bidding, religious freaks like Bachmann or Palin could round all the infected people and quarantine them if (GOD FORBID!) they ever got into office.

But I had a day off in LA and with the moral support of a friend, I steeled myself to go into an anonymous testing center--which we don't have here. The Valium was in hand because the results were quick but not instant and I just didn't know how I would cope with even taking for the test--much less the results. Just to add a little edge, some queen who was also there for a test arrived with his pit bull. I thought "Fab! Watch me get avoid a killer disease just in time to get mauled by a killer dog."

The test came back negative and I can't describe the joy and the marvel of it. But once that subsided, I realized that I now bore a new, tremendous responsibility to stay negative. Through all of my drunken sprees and the promiscuity which covered all 3 high risk groups, somehow I had avoided this virus. It seemed like a miracle to me.

People probably look at a flamboyant drag queen and think of them as fearless and not bound by the social norms which box others in. But I wasn't born a drag queen, and as much as I frown on organized religion, I was raised as a Christian in Tennessee. The predominant message from the backward church folks in that part of the country was that gays are sinful perverts. I don't care how strong a person you are, these messages sink in when you're young until on some level you can start to believe them. On some level, I believed that I deserved AIDS because of my lifestyle so my infection was inevitable. Sometimes this dire outlook can lead, as it did in my case, to wild abandonment with alcohol and drugs and why not, I felt? It was only a matter of time until my trashy ass got the virus. I know I'm not the only one among us who feels this way. I can only imagine the struggles that a religious gay endures while trying to reconcile their disapproving church and their lifestyle.

But I'm here to tell you that infection is not inevitable if you protect yourself. While part of it was luck, I've also always practiced safe sex. Have there been slip-ups? Of course! Human beings make mistakes. But there as much of a slut as I was, I was always vigilant (when not blacked out and blithering) about safe sex. A safe slut, I call myself--because the more sex you have the more vigilant you have to be. And let's face it, many gays are very promiscuous.

What's going on here? We know how the disease is spread and we ignore it? While I understand the importance of early testing if there's been an accident, I never understand my friends who get tested every 6 months. That means that they obviously aren't having safe sex--or they would have no need to get tested that often. I discussed this with a straight friend and he said "So they are basically just waiting to catch AIDS." That really stung me, probably because the truth hurts. Many of us aren't using safe sex. Maybe it's low-risk behavior like sucking without a condom, but when you're dealing with your one life should you choose low risk or no risk? Everyone I mention oral sex with a condom says "I could never do that" and that it's low risk.

We all choose which risks we're prepared to take. I'm fat and far from young so eating cholesterol-rich foods is risky behavior. Smoking and driving are risks which many of us take on a daily basis. And I understand that many can't warm up to the idea of sucking on latex. Some guys I ask to use one gripe that it reduces their sensitivity. To which I say "Not as much as being in my grave reduces my sensitivity." And oral is low-risk ONLY if there are no cuts in the mouth. Haven't you ever bled from flossing? Does that constitute a cut? Eating pizza or potato chips--I just gave away my diet secret--can abrade the skin on the roof of your mouth. There's no blood but I feel skin flapping sometimes after eating these foods. Is that a cut? So does that mean that oral after flossing, which we're supposed to do daily, is higher risk? How long after we floss is it safe for us to blow someone?

I just don't think we're talking about these things enough. We file these uncomfortable questions away under the file called Denial even though they concern our protection. I see reckless behavior and plenty of new infections so the information is either not getting out there or we're choosing to ignore it. We know how to prevent the spread of this disease. A friend with full-blown AIDS told me that just-infected youth imagined that he'd be sympathetic but he wasn't--because when he caught HIV, we didn't yet know how to prevent it. Now we do. So get on it. Contrary to what anyone else may have told you, you're worth it!