Reflections on National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day
Upon looking at various statistics on the HIV epidemic, the most striking realization was the percentage of those living with HIV, yet unaware of their status. In 2013, half of all youth and emerging adults aged 13-24 living with HIV, didn’t know they had HIV.
After talking with my friends, some of whom have been diagnosed with HIV, I realized that status operates in ways that are not just meant to inform one of their sexual health. There are ways in which status and sexual health discourses are saturated with divisive, violent ideologies that further confirm the subordinate status of black folk—an inherent reality to the American/Western imaginings of the human/Man. That said, this is not a polemic against knowing one’s status, but a reckoning with the violent ways that one’s status works to further perpetuate the already-excessive “diseased black body”—one must live up to a forced fungibility or a varied performance of societal expectations that essentially elides lived experiences (i.e. being an HIV/AIDS advocate thereby confirms your HIV status, or “coming out” with one’s status in ways that precede one’s own reckoning with their status).
In thinking about ways to illuminate the generative potential of talking about living with HIV, I immediately think of Marlon Riggs’s “Black Is…Black Ain’t,” where he captures scenes of his exposed body in nature and his complications with AIDS. In a scholarly critique of the film, black queer performance studies scholar, E. Patrick Johnson, articulates, “[Marlon Riggs’s] body discursively rematerializes and intervenes in hegemonic formulations of blackness, homosexuality, and the HIV-infected person. As a filmic performance, Black Is resurrects Riggs’s body such that when the film is screened…, the terms and the stakes for how we think about identity and its relation to HIV/AIDS are altered.”1
Riggs forces society to come to terms with his “diseased black body” in ways that escapes a mere statistic, forcing society not only to reconcile with the violences reared by the intersection of his HIV-infected, black, queer body, but also his personhood that exists both within and in spite of these oppressive signifiers.
Although I find myself outside of this particular lived experience, I think it is urgent and necessary that as we think about sexual health discourses around HIV, we must not only strive for preventive and informative strategies, but also conversations that illumine what it means to live with, not around HIV.
1. Johnson, E. Patrick. Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity. Duke University Press, 2004.
Justin C. Moore is a writer, artist, and scholar. He is interested in discussions around the intersections of race, class, and gender, with special attention to the lives of black queer folk. Justin is an Atlanta native and a recent graduate of Emory University. Upon the fall, he will attend Northwestern University where he will be pursuing a Ph.D. in Performance Studies, exploring the interstices of sound studies and black queer nightlife.