The Power of the Positive
Guy Anthony Wakes People Up
by Angela Leroux-Lindsey
‘Dear Little Guy: Being different won’t be such a bad thing in the future. The smile you’ve hidden your entire life will inspire others, so smile long and smile hard.’
This is Guy Anthony, author and advocate, addressing his younger self. He’s only twenty-six now, and possesses an almost otherworldly positive energy, considering the adversities he’s overcome since childhood, and since 2007, when he was diagnosed with HIV. Then, he was overwhelmed with a feeling of isolation: where were the other black, gay, HIV-positive men he could relate to?
“Ever since I was HIV-positive, I would go into bookstores and attend panels and try to pinpoint someone who looked like me—a black gay man,” he said. “I could never find him. I felt inspired to produce something that reflects who I am, the beauty we all hold inside. I felt boxed out by so many things, rage against things that happened to me in the past, my complexion, my disease. I wanted to be set free.”
Determined to provide for others what he’d hoped to find, Anthony designed and wrote a book, (POS)+ITIVELY BEAUTIFUL. Its pages are filled with affirmation, advice, and advocacy for his peers, and also provide a resource for those struggling with the same insecurities and doubts that Anthony struggled with when he was diagnosed. Hearing Anthony tell his story and recount how much he has overcome, it is indeed inspiring to see him grin. Growing up in a religious suburban community was difficult. He was molested as a child; his family rejected him for being gay; he lived on the streets; he was forced, at times, to have sex for money. His sense of self-worth was nonexistent.
Today, Anthony has the energy and optimism of the converted. Through therapy and treatment, he has rediscovered self-confidence, and is armed now with the lifestyle and attitude that has allowed him to become a popular role model and outspoken representative of his community. In addition to his book—which was named to MUSED Magazine’s “Ten Books Every Black Gay Man Should Read” list—Anthony is an advocate, a volunteer, and a mentor to hundreds of young men who connect with him on-line.
“In order to combat anything in life that could be a hardship, you have to get to that mindset where you know that you’re worth it. I want people to remember who they are, and to reinforce things they know about themselves, things they know to be true but can’t believe in. ‘You are beautiful, you are worth it.’ Things I was never told as a child that I had to make my business to tell myself. It’s not always easy. But I hope I’m forcing people to look into themselves and see the truth.”
The book is gorgeous and thoughtful, and mixes graphic design with portraits, testimonies, and statistics. Anthony also includes a poignant series of affirmations (“I’ve never lost my laughter. I choose to laugh in the face of adversity”) anchored by a message of action: how can we all do our part to stop the epidemic? Anthony himself appears frequently in the book, a last-minute decision spurred by his friend and graphic designer who threatened to abandon the project if Anthony didn’t include himself in its pages. Anthony describes this as a defining moment in his trajectory as a public advocate.
“I never thought I’d be able to be this open about my status, to do an interview about being HIV-positive for a magazine that anyone can read,” he said. “But I thought, how can I write this book, and embrace this message of acceptance and positivity, if I remove myself? I decided that I can be the change I’m advocating for. I can be the person people can relate to. My struggle is their struggle. It’s about the fact that no one is alone.”
When our conversation turns inevitably to politics and culture as elements contributing to dominant AIDS narratives, Anthony argues that grassroots advocacy remains a powerful tool, but that many prevention outreach efforts miss the mark and fail to consider how communities face diverse challenges. He says his sex ed classes failed to reach him because issues he dealt with at home were more potent in terms of affecting how he made decisions. His family rejected his identity and forced him to the streets. He didn’t have health insurance and was initially misdiagnosed at a local clinic. He witnessed friends commit suicide. He had no perspective with which to deal with these setbacks. These factors all contribute to the fact that blacks have the highest rate of new infections and diagnoses than any other racial or ethnic group.
“AIDS is a billion-dollar industry, and I think we spend too much money on prevention,” he said. “Change has to come from within the black family. There needs to be a focus on counseling, on tackling family issues, before we talk about prevention. By the time I turned seventeen I was already out of sight. Trends are showing that HIV rates are starting to grow around age thirteen. Get to me there, tell me I’m worth it there. Reaffirm these things when kids are still impressionable.”
The rates of infection among young black men remain alarming, and Anthony believes that new tactics are required to inspire action. He hopes that by encouraging other young black gay men to identify with his struggle, they will reclaim the confidence and hope that will help them make good decisions, and in turn inspire others. Anthony quotes Malcolm X: ‘The greatest mistake of the movement has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first, then you’ll get action.’
Anthony fears that many of the most public faces of HIV/AIDS advocacy aren’t transparent enough in their struggle. It’s too easy to look too healthy, to avoid talking about the symptoms that persist even on a regimen of ARVs, to avoid addressing the core socio-economic inequalities that form the root system of increasing infection rates among blacks. “We have to be on the ground in order to wake people up, to humanize HIV,” Anthony said. “We need to be that generation that keeps the dream of a cure alive. I want to be there with other gay black men who have been diagnosed, not sitting on a panel. My story is not mine alone. I want to live by example.”
Anthony now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where he has found a community that helped him get to this place of positivity. Through therapy and treatment, he exudes good health. The life Anthony has discovered since he became a storyteller has led him to believe in himself as part of something bigger than just his diagnosis. His religious faith remains a driving force in his altruism, but faith in his story, and in its narrative power, is just as important.
“I know that the things that have happened to me have not happened in vain. They are not by chance. This struggle has allowed me to have a platform to help other people, to inspire them to have better lives. It has to be a community effort. We really need to care for each other.”
Angela Leroux-Lindsey is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn.