In Their Own Words

Sunday, 01 November 2009 18:33 Written by  Frances Moffett

December 1 is World AIDS Day. Every year it is observed to raise awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. According to the CDC, at the end of 2006, an estimated 1.1 million persons in the United States were living with diagnosed or undiagnosed HIV/AIDS.

stanThey say that it’s a gay white man’s disease. So what is it when a straight black man is infected with it?

HIV. Who knew that those three letters could cause such terror, heartache and chaos in someone’s life? Those three simple letters.I don’t like to put labels on myself, but the media have already done that. I’m what they call “on the down low,” “the DL,” or “the low low.”  Whatever term you choose to use, it all has the same meaning. I am heterosexual, but I have sex with men. No, that does not mean I’m gay. As a matter of fact, I’m happily married with two children; a son and a daughter. I’m sure most people, especially women, think that I am confused, but I’m not. America is so set on putting labels on people sometimes it leaves me asking, ‘Why can’t I just be me?’ Why do I have to be labeled as homosexual just because I have sex with men? I don’t live a gay life. I’m not immersed in the gay culture. You will not see me marching in the Gay Pride Parade, nor will I ever be waving a rainbow colored flag. I do not desire to have a relationship with another man, neither am I emotionally attached to one. It’s just not me. That is not who I am.

What I am is a black man who loves his family and gives back to his community. The same community—the black community—that would condemn and chastise my behavior. It’s taboo to even think of the black man having sex with another man, homosexual or not. It defies everything we are supposed to be. Strong. Defiant. Warrior-like. The supreme symbol of masculinity. I consider myself to be all these things and more, yet when I admit that sometimes I submit to the demon of sexual relations with another man, suddenly I am less of one. I don’t ask for anybody’s judgment; that’s God’s job.

A young woman once told me that not only did she have to worry about losing her man to the streets, the system or another woman, but now she had to worry about losing him to another man who may be infected with HIV. Of the 850,000 to 950,000 Americans who have HIV, one in four is not aware that they have it. I was in that category until my lover revealed that he was infected; then I got tested. Positive. My wife did not find out about my secret life until she tested positive for the virus. The stats say that black men are nine times more likely than white men to be infected with AIDS, and black women are 23 times more likely than white women to be infected. I guess the down low can take some responsibility for that.  Some people say that being on the down low is totally selfish since we do not consider the feelings of our wives and children. But sometimes pleasure is one-sided. Sure I think about my wife and kids, but they cannot satisfy the particular yearnings and needs that I have. And I don’t think that is being selfish at all.

Most people think the “down low” is not as prevalent as the media make it seem. They can believe what they want because I am everywhere. I’m your husband, your father or your brother. I’m the deacon at your church. I’m that neighborhood thug selling rocks down the block. I’m that rapper plated in ice, rolling in luxury cars with women galore. I’m the man sitting right next to you. Hell, I could be you.

Those three letters will alter your life forever. Men. Gay. Sex. HIV. You never realize how much those words will impact your life. Those three simple letters.

Perfect, yet far from it. It’s always different from the outside looking in. This is the story of my life. My friends used to always say, “Man, I wish I was you.” I only laughed, knowing that if they knew the truth, they’d quickly change their mind.

We were the typical American family. Dad, mom, my brother and me. We lived in a huge house in the suburbs with cars and hella cash. We didn’t need anything, and whatever we wanted all we had to do was ask. My brother and I were the stars on all the sports teams in school. Dad had a great job and mom was a housewife. But my father was an attorney who couldn’t separate his business from his family life. It was certain that everyday he would come home and take his aggression out on us. Especially my mom. He’d blackened her eye so much it was permanently discolored. No one would ever know it though because she covered it up so well. My dad made sure of that. He was not about to let his perfect image be blemished by being known as a wife beater just like his father. Often times my brother and I wondered if we would end up like that. But we soon discovered that we’d have too many other demons to battle to worry about domestic abuse.

Since my brother was two years older than me, he got the butt of the extreme pressure from my dad, especially once we went off to college. This was also the time our mother became an alcoholic. Our dad would make my brother train excessively so he could continue to take the spotlight on the college football team. He hated that because he couldn’t have a “normal” life, whatever that was. My brother and father would fight on the regular.  Physical brawls that would make a stranger think they were just people on the street. I remember the last fight.  Took a toll on my brother. Drove him right into a depression that eventually led to him committing suicide. Needless to say, things were never the same.

I dropped out of college and cocaine, along with some members of her family, became my new best friend.  Addiction is no joke. This I discovered the hard way. I found myself doing things that I would have never fathomed in a million years, although I suppose every addict would say the same. That included stealing from my parents, robbing people and even performing sexual favors. But that’s not how I got infected with HIV. Sharing needles has the highest risk of contracting the disease. And when you’re high or need a fix, you don’t care where you get the syringe or who used it last. Sure some of the community shelters gave out clean needles, but so what?  When you need it, you need it. Clean needle or not.

HIV can survive in a syringe for at least four weeks. We shared a needle for almost that length of time. Don’t know where I got the disease, who I got it from or when. All I knew was once I started getting sicker and sicker, something was wrong. Thought it was the flu at first. But that’s how it starts out. Time passed. Weeks, months and even a couple years rolled by and still I did not get tested.

I caught pneumonia and almost overdosed on crack around the same time. Someone found me and once I finally woke up, I was in a hospital. Can’t even remember how much time had passed. My parents were standing over me.  Who the hell called them? I recall thinking to myself. My mom was crying and my dad had that same demented look in his eyes. The look of utter disgust and complete disappointment. A nurse came in and said they conducted a blood test and my T-cell count was less than 200 cells per milliliter of blood. As if I knew what that meant. Then she came out and told me that I had full-blown AIDS. It all made sense to me then. I thought that living on the streets of the Windy City had given me the flu. Thought the cocaine had taken away my weight. Thought the crack had sunken my ghastly, pale face. But I guess I had thought wrong. It was the AIDS.

stdI remember when I was younger how my mama used to tell me over and over again not to let these little knucklehead boys get inside my mind or my pants. She was the type that kept it real with you. And I always listened to what she said. She had that knowledge that let you know she had been through something. Only experience would allow such wisdom. I wonder what she would say to me now. Now that I was HIV positive.

I’m not a little girl anymore. Hell, I’m not even a young woman anymore. And honestly, I don’t know how I got myself into this mess. Wait a minute, let me stop lying. No matter how old you get, you will always have that one person who will have your heart. And he just so happened to walk right back into my life at one of my weakest moments.

More women, college students and people over the age of 50 are at greater risk of contracting HIV than ever before. I guess I would fall into that last category. When you’re older, HIV is not the primary concern on your mind. And neither is sex. At least for me it wasn’t. I was more worried about my retirement, my children and their children, and my relationship with the Lord. Attending church, Bible study and some prayer sessions could fill any void almost immediately. I didn’t need any physical companionship. God was my husband.

But…as much as all that kept me strong in the daylight, it always became harder in the midnight hour. I’d lie in my bed all night staring at the ceiling wondering…wondering if and when God was going to bless me with someone to share my life. I had been married and divorced after my husband cheated on me and left our home. He’d already remarried and started a new life, whilst I was left sitting around questioning when mine was going to begin. But I kept my faith because I knew that God was going to bless me soon. It’s funny, though, thinking back. I guess soon wasn’t fast enough for me.

It was a Saturday night. One of my friends from way back called me and asked if I wanted to go to some lounge with her. A lounge was just a nightclub for older folks. I told her my hanging-out days ended once I became saved, but she wouldn’t let me get off the phone until I agreed. What’s the harm? I thought to myself. It’s not like I’m going out to drink or have sex. That’s how I convinced myself, and it worked. But as soon as I walked into the building, I knew I was out of place. I didn’t belong there. I remember asking myself, 'what are you thinking?'

How quickly things changed, though, because once I saw a familiar face, all those doubts vanished. It was a former boyfriend, or should I say a former lover. Looked like he stepped fresh off the cover of GQ or Savoy magazine in his smooth Ralph Lauren three-piece suit and Kenneth Cole dress shoes that looked more expensive than my entire outfit. He was distinguished and obviously confident, something that I had always liked about him. No other man in the place could match his demeanor, and he was coming right towards me.

I used to know him. We used to know each other. Time flew and things changed, and somehow we ended up back at my place. Talking. Touching. Kissing. You know the rest. I don’t know how I allowed him to get inside my mind like he did. He was no good for me back then and I knew that hadn’t changed. But I couldn’t resist the attention he gave me and the pleasure I felt when he placed his hands on me. I wasn’t too old to be aroused, but I was too old to be persuaded into doing something I knew was wrong. My actions were so brainless. In a moment of weakness, all things rational seem foolish, but when it’s all said and done, you figure that you’re only being the fool.

For lack of a better phrase, we could say I “lost my religion” and never fully regained it. Sometimes I feel like this disease is my punishment. My family doesn’t even look at me the same way. No one treats me the same. My church family said that they were there for me, but when I look into them, I can see that they are silently judging me. I would have never thought I would be HIV positive. And I’m sure most older women do not think they will, or that it won’t happen to them. But the truth is, senior women account for 18 percent of female AIDS cases. Growing up, we weren’t taught sexual protection against diseases; only against pregnancy. But there’s no excuse because in today’s society awareness is common knowledge.

So many people tell me that I will be alright. They try to give me advice and let me know that I am not alone. But nothing they can say will change my status. Nothing they say will make things the way they were.

HIV positive. I wonder what my mama would say…



I had big plans. I was never the type of person to let things slow me down. Always on the go. Always doing what I had to do in order to get where I needed to be in life. I’m one of the most hardworking and determined people I know. I knew where I was going. But sometimes obstacles are thrown in your path that can cause you to stumble and lose your way. My obstacle came in the form of HIV.

Some young people think that HIV or AIDS cannot affect them, or that maybe they won’t be infected. That’s kinda what I thought. It’s something in our minds that makes us believe we are untouchable, which is why (for the most part) we as a young people are so cavalier. I remember being in high school and some of the girls talking about how they let their boyfriends have sex with them “raw,” or without a condom. Most of them ended up pregnant or having abortions left and right. Yet nobody thought about being infected with an STD, let alone HIV or AIDS. They figured that birth control pills were enough. No one thinks about diseases, only pregnancy.

During my first year of college, there was a rumor going around my hometown that more than half the population in my old high school was infected with HIV. Now I don’t know how true that was, but I doubt it was far from it. It never ceases to amaze me how sexually promiscuous some young people can be. Honestly, I never was. Too bad I can’t say that for my ex-boyfriend.

We started dating during my last year of high school. Didn’t start having sex until I went off to college to study journalism. You could say I was one of those girls with the strict parents who got wild once she got the chance to do her own thing. Except I didn’t get too out of control because I understood that I had a purpose to fulfill. Nothing could interfere with my destiny. At least that’s what I thought.

It’s amazing how far some sweet words and soft touches could go. In my younger days, I had pledged to stay abstinent until I got married, but that didn’t last long. My relationship with my boyfriend got to the point where we would have sex damn near every other day. And once we got comfortable with the situation, rubbers were no longer apart of the experience. “I don’t like how they feel,” he would tell me. “C’mon, if you love me you’d do it. You’ll like it better too.” Sounds silly, but those words actually got me. Now that I think about it, I don’t see how I could have been so blind. But I guess we all have to learn our lessons.

Not long after we stopped using protection, my friends started coming up to me saying that my boyfriend was not only having sex with me, but damn near every chick on the block. I didn’t want to believe it, although in the back of my mind I knew they probably were right. I have to trust him, I would tell myself. But trust in a young relationship could only go so far. Who was I kidding? I had to be real with myself. So I asked him one day and he confessed that he was sleeping around. Not only did he admit that he was cheating, he also said that I may need to get tested for HIV because one of the girls he slept with found out she was infected two weeks after they had unprotected sex. I could’ve died.

But after I got tested, I dealt with the reality that life is imperfect. That’s what adds the essence, if you ask me. I can’t use this disease as a death sentence. I have dreams of writing for XXL or Vibe magazine once I graduate. I have dreams of making a difference in this world in my lifetime. I don’t want people with this disease to think that life ends after this. I am a young, black woman with HIV. Black women account for 72 percent of new cases of HIV in women. AIDS is the number one cause of death for Blacks between the ages of 25 and 44. We can prevent this. No amount of charm, allure or attraction should permit you to put yourself at risk.

Now I go to different schools in order to educate, inform and alert. You’d be surprised how many people do not realize how apparent this disease is in the community. And it’s a shame how many people that have HIV think that death is inevitable, although it is because we’re only human. But that shouldn’t change dreams, goals and aspirations. We just have to protect ourselves and keep our wellbeing in mind. Be heedful to everything and every situation. And most importantly, wrap it up.


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*All Photography by Billy Montgomery except the top photo from GMO Featured Photographer Michael Christopher.

Frances Moffett

Frances Moffett

GMO Editor-At-Large Frances Moffett is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism. She has worked with GMO since its inception. With a love for journalism and all things writing, she is currently pursuing her master’s degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. Frances is also an editor at the country’s largest association management company and has written for a variety of publications, including Jet magazine, The Chicago Defender and The Chicago Reporter.

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