[dropcap]I[/dropcap] remember the days a few years back when I was nervous about reading about anything HIV-related. I would literally wait until the late hours of the night, or make sure nobody was around me when I would pull up an article, or just simply look up places to go get tested hoping that no one would see me. You see, the fear for me was that if anyone even saw me or could pull up my history to see me reading about HIV or researching it, they would assume I had it.
Fast forward almost ten years, now a bold proud activist in my own right (and quite the opposite of that shy information-seeker I once was), I can honestly say that media and platforms around HIV continue to grow in the black community in creative ways that bring the issue right into our living rooms.
Take me, for starters. I was originally a writer for many other publications talking about gender and race and sex, and working heavily in the field of HIV services. Wanting to expand my work portfolio while also increasing the voice of the epidemic from the Black LGBT point of view, I reached out to A&U Magazine just hoping for a pitch to be accepted. To my surprise, a world of opportunities was presented me to give a voice to the often marginalized black side of the epidemic in the form of this column. More and more, I am seeing major media publications give opportunities such as mine to people who can actually speak about the epidemic from our own perspective. I am also starting to see a shift in the traditional ways that the message is being spread to the people most hurt by the epidemic.
Living in D.C., I am privy to many of the black gay Web series that have huge followings. I am able to meet with the cast, the writers, and the producers and really get involved with the storylines being presented. These series are telling the many different stories behind the stigmas that we live through, but also bringing a new awareness around the virus and how it is spread throughout our communities. On the series Whorizm by Liam Caldwell, he brilliantly displays one of the newest initiatives in locating HIV-positive individuals called Social Network Strategies. In a scene where one man is discussing breaking up with his boyfriend with three friends, it flashes to show that the three friends have all slept with his boyfriend at some point in their relationship.
Later in the series, we find out that the boyfriend is HIV-positive and now they all have potentially been exposed. Social networks and circles of sex among friends have become one of the best ways to find newly diagnosed persons in the community. The great thing about media, is that it has now transformed to more than just words, but actual video representation of what it looks like, which makes it easier to visualize, and has a more powerful effect on those viewing it.
In another web series Triangle: The Web Series, the creators take aim at a stigma that I have long fought against in much of my work is around the topic of “wasting” and what HIV-positive individuals look like vs. what the old stigma and media portrays. In one episode, the character is discussing his illness which happens to be leukemia, but because he is a black gay male people are assuming that he has HIV. He discusses his challenges and problems around the way people are viewing him. HIV-positive individuals come in all shapes and sizes and you cannot just look at someone and know they are positive. It is great to see shows like this bringing awareness to an issue that may seem small to some, but can be important in changing people’s views around the shaming of body image in HIV-positive individuals.
Outside of the Web series, I also have an appreciation for the way that Twitter and Facebook are bringing light to the epidemic. I only recently started making posts in regards to the importance of testing and knowing your status and HIV-related information. I charge my apprehension around these types of posts to my own fear of being stigmatized by my openness to talking about the topic. Many of us in the community have echoed their concerns around discussing issues out of fear of people attributing the topic on them. To my surprise, I was delighted by the positive response as well as the amount of attention and awareness it brought to many people inside and outside of the black community. It became a catalyst for me to speak and do more work on HIV in the black community in effort to eradicate the stigma and helped me reduce the fear I had placed on myself.
Social media has become one of the most powerful mediums we have in terms of sharing and spreading important information to a huge demographic in an instant. The continued trend in major media is only helping us to get the information to those who most need it. So the next time you see me make a Facebook post or Tweet, don’t be afraid to share. You may just be saving the next life.
For more information about Whorizm, check out the series’ Facebook page by clicking here.
For more information about Triangle: The Web Series, check out its Facebook page by clicking here.
George M. Johnson is an HIV advocate who works for Us Helping Us, People into Living located in Washington, D.C. He has written for Pride.com, Musedmagonline.com, Blavity.com, Rolereboot.org, and Ebony.com. Follow him on Twitter @IamGMJohnson.