Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
2013 is certainly giving us reasons to celebrate in the American LGBT community: with DOMA being shut down and Prop 8 overturned. However, there’s also plenty of reason to mourn and help fight – yes, I’m looking at you Russia. As important as it is to discuss such horrific matters, the topic of conversation in this entry stems from upcoming events taking place in my home of New York City. And more notably, the closing of the staple club in Chelsea known as Splash.
Before I get into details let me give you a brief history of my life as a gay man in this city. For starters, I was raised in Long Island, a mere thirty-five minute train ride to the city. As a family we frequented the city; I remember many-a-day-trips as a young child in the early 1990’s with my father. One time we were on our way to visit lady liberty (I haven’t been back since - what shame!) and I was so scared to leave my father’s side that I remember grabbing the wrong man’s hand and I cried until my father decided to finally come fetch me. My first gay bar experience was in the city at the age of 19 when I finally came out of the closet as “bi”. It was 2002, I was home for college break, and I went to a bar called Posh because this guy I was speaking to on Gay.com (yes, Gay.com!) asked me to meet him there for a drink. Still to this day Posh is my watering hole of choice, but at the time for years to come I spent half or my time in Chelsea and the other half broken down between HK and the East Village.
Picture NYC in 2002. There were half the gay bars in HK there are today, and Chelsea was “the place” to see and be seen. I was a young twink so I never really fit in there as it was covered with muscle heads; still I LOVED hanging out in Chelsea, especially at the Big Cup and eat at Food Bar. Roxy, Heaven and Avalon were still open. In 2004, I graduated from college and moved to Astoria, Queens to be closer to the city I knew I wanted to call home.
Friday and Saturday nights the conversations with friends were always, “Should we go to the HK area, East Village or Chelsea?” And the response was typically, “We always do Chelsea, let’s try something new.” Somehow, even if we didn’t start there, we ended up in Chelsea. Splash bar was frequented by me because I loved to dance and take my shirt off and I really felt free- incidentally it was the place I experimented with “Special K” in the downstairs bathrooms. (But, only experimented mom, I promise!)
What’s my point? With Splash now closing there has been so many arguments as to whether or not Chelsea is a “has been” area or if New York City’s gay culture is changing as a whole. While I have comments I could add about both sides it seems to me that online publications is taking well care of that so I’ll leave them to it. However, since this announcement arose there has been something I can’t get off my mind: My generation is the forgotten generation in the LGBT community (roughly if you were born between 1977-1987). That can vary depending on the individual, so please don’t bite my head off if you agree/disagree.
What do I mean the forgotten generation? The quick answer is the generations before and after me had advantages that we didn’t have and they don’t seem to realize they had, whether or not they actually realized it at the time. The world for gay guys 25 and younger today is much different than the world I lived in before 25. The Big Cup in Chelsea was my “Grindr”. We had phones, but it was only to call people – texting was still not fully launched. So people looked at each other in person rather than a piece of equipment. I wonder if the young gay guys in NYC care about the dying culture of the Chelsea area and the many memories people of my age share with it. Then on the other side of the coin there is the older generation. My heart goes out to them because they’ve gone through so much to get us to where we are today and I will be forever grateful for their efforts. They come from a world where everyone around them was still dying of AIDS and they fought for not only LGBT rights, but also civil rights for their health. Now, as an HIV positive man who wants to be part of the future movement for help in that community (as well as LGBT rights) my experience with most (not all) is that we are dismissed because we “weren’t there.” They established these “gay ghettos” for us and I know they are saddened to see some of them die, but when I want to share memories with them, I am dismissed, just like I am dismissed from guys under 25. I wish I was my age back then to be part of the disco years and to feel free and safe around my peers rather than having to worry about getting run over by a baby stroller and making too much noise. The point about the older generation is they had the sense of community. I don’t have that feeling because we are all not united in that way.
It’s bad enough that I see these “kids” on Grindr that are around 23 years old and their headlines are “no one over 27”. And older generations still think me being 30 is kind of young and inexperienced. So, I’m stuck in the middle drinking some wine alone while I type this blog – actually I’m so old school that I had to write it down first before typing up the final piece. I reminisce about my “good old days” - before there was Grindr and Facebook; Before all the mom and pop stores in New York were being closed by corporations looking to gentrify the city. So yes, I can’t say I’m surprised that Splash is closing, and I will admit I was one of many that heard about it stated that Chelsea is dying. But, when I say that statement I say it with great sadness.
Sure, there is plenty of reason to celebrate in New York that we are being welcomed by the rest of the city and populations (mostly) and we can all comingle and live together and spread gay run businesses throughout the city where the rent is relatively reasonable still, but what was so bad about having a neighborhood dedicated to our community where still to this day (whether or not gay men will admit out loud) they feel the safest? What’s wrong with that? How would you feel if you were told they are tearing down the house of which you grew up?
Okay, so the management style and the overpriced drinks, etc., wasn’t ideal anymore for attending Splash these last few years. However, I’m looking at Splash right now as a symbol rather than a business. It was one of the last surviving places I remember feeling gay and free in my early days coming out. And now my own gay history is slowly dying – and I know for many gay men I’m not alone here.
I know we can argue that we probably did the same thing when Chelsea was birthed for gays and we abandoned the West Village, where it all began with Stonewall (Yet, the West Village is still going strong for a certain population of gays – food for thought). And then we moved from Chelsea to HK, and slowly to Harlem (and so on). One day (and not so in the distant future) the same movement of closures will happen in the HK area – and that’s a big WHEN not IF. When Posh closes its doors for good I will actually cry. Who’s to blame – the city? Our community? Both? Neither?
The culture of New York that once was praised and envied by others is now dying and many don’t realize it. It’s for the rich and also for a gay community divided in their opinions and efforts. We just accept all the change around us. While some of it good, some is not so good. It’s time we as a community in New York start re-evaluating what we want to see in the future of our city – and remember the large population of us 30 and 40 year old gays who have been caught in the middle of all the change – are begging to be heard.
Continuing down this path I just very well may die here – as planned.
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
For I've been a distant blogger for the past year (literally one year ago last week). But, I was distant for good reason, of course. Actually looking back at some of my entries on here reminded me that I wasn't in the best of places at this time last year. It’s not that I haven’t thought of you, or this blog. The comments show up in my inbox on a daily basis – still to this day - and I thank you for them. The real reason for my disappearance was that I needed to take some time away from the HIV world to get my live in order.
I’m happy to report that my life indeed is in order – I have a great job, a loving family, a large support group that keeps me strong and most importantly, stable health insurance.
Yet, the most important point I’d like to say is that I've been re-inspired to return to my advocacy and my work in the HIV and AIDS community. And I thank everyone in the community, including you, for pushing me to do so. How’d it happen? Well, pull up a chair, grab a glass of wine and I’ll tell you.
On July 7 and 8, I attended the aaa+’s (formerly known as the ADAP Advocacy Association)in partnership with the Community Access National Network, 6th Annual Conference entitled, “AIDS Drug Assistance Programs: Renewing the Commitment”. We had people of all backgrounds attend – advocates, doctors, specialists, case workers, PLWHA, pharmaceutical representatives, individuals in politics and more. Topics of discussion included, but not limited to, HIV criminalization, the current state of The Ryan White Care Act, including where it stands come time for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Medicaid and the pathology of HIV and its antiretrovirals.
I was asked to sit on a panel of fellow bloggers to discuss Access to Care as it related to when I was newly diagnosed three and a half years ago, which still seems like it was yesterday. I’ll get back to the background of this panel in a moment.
Before any of the meetings began I was warmly greeted by friends and advocates – many of whom I had no idea would remember me – that I hadn't seen in over two years since the last time I attended aaa+’s conference. It was after I was reacquainted with everyone had it started to dawn on me the mistake I made for turning my back on this community. However, I do believe my breath taking was needed for my own sanity.
Sitting on the discussions I re-educated myself on the current stages and next steps for different advocacy efforts. During the evening reception I spoke with several women and we had a seemingly lucrative discussion regarding disclosure of status. This unexpected, yet stimulating conversation gave me an idea for my next blog entry; with the help of Wanda Brendle Moss I’ll get a woman’s view to side with mine regarding disclosure and how it should be addressed differently for gay men from straight women and other categories – stay tuned.
Back to the conference. At the end of Day 2 was it time for the bloggers to facilitate what at the time I didn't realize was going to be a most successful breakout session. Hosted by Robert Breining, Founder and radio host of POZIAM.com, I sat beside Candace Montague of TheBody.com and the always lovely and entertaining Mark S. King of “My Fabulous Disease”. We were off to the races and each told our stories in addition to sharing our views regarding access to care following our diagnosis. Candace, who was able to provide her insight from an HIV negative perspective, spoke about recently released convicts and returning them to civilization while making sure they, too have access to care and every day necessities. The reaction from the audience was beyond gratifying. Here I thought to myself prior to the start of the panel, “Why would these people care about what we have to say?”
Boy, was I way off.
Meanwhile, the reality is that the community does read our work(s) and care a lot more that I could have imagined. In fact, just before the session came to a close, the last comment during the Q&A came from a lovely lady by the name of Terry of Philadelphia. In a nutshell, this grandmother explained how when she learned of her diagnosis she never felt more alone, with no one to turn to for help because she didn't know of anyone in her life that actually had the virus. Thanks to our contribution of taking HIV and putting it at a human perspective rather than a clinical one, she felt that she had a family and that she wasn't
alone and was going to be, “OK”. While saying all this she began to tear up (and so did a few others). Everyone clapped at Terry and another woman got out of her chair to give her a hug.
Terry, from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU for solidifying my re-inspiration. You’re an angel in so many ways and we need you just as much as you needed us.
The result: here I am – returning to my blog and my YouTube page to vocalize myself, once again.
So, to all my avid followers: Many thanks for reading, thanks for your patience and thanks for allowing me the time for my hiatus. However, I’m back now and ready to apply ink to the paper and reintroduce my voice, including HIV policy, disclosure, advice for the newly diagnosed, etc., in addition to any HIV-related topics you’d like me to discuss.
With that said let me reintroduce my voice to those that remember me, and to those that are meeting me for the first time:
MY NAME IS CHRISTOPHER, I’M 30 YEARS OLD, I LIVE IN NEW YORK CITY, AND I’M HIV POSITIVE AND HAPPY.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (Note: HATE MAIL will be reported)
Links from this post
Host of the conference
ADAP Advocacy Association (aaa+): http://www.adapadvocacyassociation.org/
Community Access National Network: www.tiicann.org
More info on HIV Criminalization
Sero Project: www.seroproject.com
Robert Breining: www.poziam.org
Mark S. King: http://myfabulousdisease.com/ (also find him at www.TheBody.com and the Huffington Post)
Thursday, July 5, 2012
IT’S MY LIFE TO GOVERN, NOT YOURS TO CRITICIZE
This ongoing pattern in my life is beyond frustrating. Just when things seem to go so well for me is when my entire world crashes before me. What makes it worse is listening to everyone’s opinions about what I should and shouldn’t be doing. Actually, instead of opinions they are more like criticisms towards me. People think they have the right to say whatever they want in judgment towards the way I live my life (as if theirs is so perfect) without knowing anything about the demons inside me. And if there’s anything I can’t stand is when people state the obvious to me like I didn’t consider all avenues.
For instance, when people ask me what I want to do with my life and I don’t have an exact answer for them they freak out on me. The best is when their response is, “Well, you need to figure that out.” You should see their faces when I respond with, “And why is that?” No response. When was it decided in our society that one HAD to have a plan? I’m sorry but people don’t hold jobs for thirty plus years anymore- in fact people change careers like bed sheets these days. Sure, I have goals and ambitions, but I’m not one to talk about them as freely as one might think. I get annoyed when everyone seems to think they know what’s in my best interest when they can’t figure it out for their own lives.
Let me rewind for a second so you can understand where I’m coming from. I quit my job. It was a hectic environment filled with ungrateful superiors and lack of productivity that made me a bitter person with “knots on top of knots” in my back, as my friend quoted, and unnecessary stress. Being HIV positive one of the best medicines out there is to relieve any unwanted stress and that’s just what I did. People told me to stay because of the money. Of course finances are important, but I don’t let it dictate my sanity. Next, I’ve decided that Florida isn’t the place for me to pursue my time. It was only supposed to be a two year pit stop so I can take a program at a local college. When I didn’t get in I found myself stuck in a state that lacked jobs for the unemployed and no resources for HIV positive people.
So, I’ve been on the fence about returning to New York or trying Los Angeles. In come the criticisms. People tell me I need to stop moving so much. “Why?” Do they forget I had longevity recently in New York for a few years, holding a steady job in a horrid economy? Do my close friends forget that I’ve wanted to live in Los Angeles since I was in middle school? Not to mention does one think I enjoy moving from place to place? A major reason not to stay in Florida is because with a waiting list still in place for HIV and AIDS individuals I’d be cut off from my medications and treatments. My response to my critics, “Is my health a good enough reason to return to NY or consider CA where the programs are vastly funded?” No response. Again, you should see their faces.
Since I was a child I allowed myself to influence my life (from the clothes I wore to the activities in school I chose to partake in) around what others would accept. It was about halfway into my college years when I was also freshly out of the closet did I sit down one day and had a long conversation with myself that made me come to a saddened realization; I wasn’t talented at anything and didn’t have a desire to pursue anything in particular. The only thing I tried to do after that was to take a stand and say, “enough is enough.” Unfortunately, I convinced myself that I already lost precious time from doing the things I’ve wanted to do. And as I approach thirty I’ve tried my best to make up for the time I lost growing up isolated and finding the things I enjoy in my time.
If I could hit the rewind button and was able to do one thing over again it wouldn’t be to take away my HIV status. HIV was the stepping stone to finally take control of my life. No, it would be to start school all over again. This time I would be a better English student so I could be a better writer. I would have pursued those dance classes and starred in the school and community plays and really got on that stage. I wouldn’t have quit the piano, the violin or singing classes. Oh the humanity!
Going to school for medicine was only to play it safe in an unsure economy. I’d love to help people, but I don’t believe my heart would’ve been in it. Going to school for teaching would have been nice, but again I only wanted summers off. I’d be passionate to help children learn math, but I don’t think I’d be truly happy.
Which brings me back to the question, “Why?” Why do I need to have a plan or an answer right now? I didn’t get to back pack through Europe after college, I didn’t get to travel the country “finding myself” and do all those wonderful things others were privileged to do in their younger years. I’ve been working since I was ten years old because my family was poor and when I was in school I spent every waking hour studying in the library trying to be a straight A student- in my head I was doing all the right things because I was told this was the right thing to do.
So, when people don’t let me be on my life and how I live it I tell them, “I’m an HIV positive individual that made a lot of mistakes in life and I’m trying to pay myself back for all those lost years.”
With that said no more fooling around and wasting time. It’s time for me to really focus on my writing under the proper set of palm trees- a place I’ve wanted to be since I was in the 8th grade- Los Angeles, California. Perhaps I’ll pick up the violin again while I’m there- you never know.