When I recently read this, I was shocked and disturbed by the statistics. The HIV infection rate for young black men who have sex with men is growing at an "alarming" rate.
I was angry that not only was HIV still around and attacking our community, it now seems that it has a focused target: young, black males. A while back I wrote four posts that detailed how I managed to both come of age sexually and avoid infection at what we all assumed was the height of this epidemic.
It never occurred to me that so many of our beautiful young brothers are still navigating this battle and losing it daily.
In my very limited and admittedly ignorant state of living, I foolishly assumed that with all of the information and free resources (condoms, lube, etc.) that nobody should still be getting infected.
This is the big mistake and faulty thinking that anybody beyond forty carries with them. Clearly having the information is not enough to stop the inordinate amount of infections.
It has often been said that knowledge is power. A very wise mentor of mine likes to say that it is the "application of knowledge" that gives us true power. I agree. I am often floored by the willingness we have for trusting people we have no business at all trusting. I've done it.
For three years, I engaged in unprotected sex with my first partner. I was willing to negotiate my very existence with someone I didn't know.
Upon getting to know him, I should have put the kabosh on the "raw doggin." I didn't. For me, it was far more important to be cared for and loved. In reality, I was alone and isolated.
Still in the closet and far from my home and any bit of familiarity regarding my upbringing, I was a prime candidate for being manipulated and infected.
Keeping this in mind, I can offer both heartache for these young people and the determination to speak up and out. I understand the need for safety, familiarity and love. I understand being in the closet and scared and feeling more than inadequate regarding what you have the right to demand.
With young black males between the ages of 13-29 showing an increase of 48% infection rates between 2006 and 2009, this is a problem that can not and will not be ignored.
I could have been a statistic.
In Justin Goforth's recent five point study regarding the decisions that lead to early infection, there are three points that I would like to attack and offer greater investigation.
The first cause of the infection (according to this study) is young males interaction with older men.
In the same study it is stated that 30% of men of color over thirty are infected. If young men are involved with older men sexually, this increases their likelihood of becoming infected for a couple of simple yet extremely complex dynamics.
While many young men simply think they are immune to becoming infected because this epidemic is now "over," older men often have greater financial resources which increase their bargaining power in terms of sex and companionship.
I have a very sweet buddy who is a homeless hustler. He is also drug addicted and lacks a solid education and economic foundation. This charming and attractive man is at the whim of tricks and his addiction. I am certain that he does not negotiate "safe sex." It is pretty difficult to demand safer sexual practices when the person is paying for dinner and or letting you sleep indoors for a night or two.
In addition, wrestling with the monkey on your back that is addiction doesn't leave any time for a jaunt to the clinic for a quick HIV test and the subsequent counseling.
I have known more than one homeless guy who has sex with men not for the enjoyment of it but simply because it is the bargaining tool (young flesh and a raging constant hard on) that allows for food, clothing, shelter, and, in some instances, cars and drugs.
In a capitalistic society everything has a price and is negotiable.
Without sufficient educational skills, the person who only has their body to exchange will offer it in return for things that are beyond the emotional.
While this exchange happens daily, many of these young men do not classify themselves as gay.