The Work of Healing
by David Waggoner
Juneteenth, the June 19th holiday that commerorates the emancipation of individuals who had been enslaved by the United States, is far off, but I have been thinking about it as we wind down the winter holidays and look foward to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at the end of this first month of 2020.
It’s no surprise that Juneteenth, while celebrated by many African Americans, is barely known to the wider public. As a country we tend to forget what heals us and remember what divides us. How many films do we see about post-Civil War Black life? Surely there are stories to tell about formerly enslaved individuals wrestling with trauma and confronting racism in new forms, but also the experiences of building lives and navigating freedom.
It pains me to note that the dominant narrative of this presidency has been division. Both sides of the aisle seem to be engrossed in “us versus them” thinking and much of the country seems to have followed suit.
Social media conversations are awash in vitriolic exchanges. It would be easy to blame Russian trolls for our online debates but I am pretty sure not all of the Twitter followers and Facebook friends that engage in discussions are such exotic antagonists. No, I believe we have devolved into words that wound.
This suggestion is especially true in the HIV communtiy. Lately I have seen heated debates on whether or not we should stop saying “AIDS” and start using “HIV” only. Each side had good points, but no one made any progress persuading the other side, as far as I could tell. Yes, the word “AIDS” carries with it the stigma of the past with it into a present that is often more about managing “HIV disease.” Yet, some of us still have “AIDS,” and it is disparaging to dismiss the fact that we received this diagnosis and struggled through opportunistic infections and continue to weather comorbidities. I wish we could gather everyone in a room or group chat and hash this out. But it is the Internet and users pop in and out of conversations at will. There is no closure. Not even a slammed door, just perhaps a silent deletion of unwanted posts or a quiet un-friending.
It’s not that I am against pointing out what divides us, or airing differences, but we must always work toward the solution. We must always work toward what heals us.
The emphasis on what heals us is why I applaud Merce, the web series which is this month premiering its second season. Merce normalizes living with HIV; its titular character has struggles but he rebounds thanks to his upbeat attitude. As Charles Sanchez, creator and star of Merce, tells A&U’s Managing Editor Chael Needle in this month’s cover story: “We decided to show somebody living with HIV who isn’t sad, sick, or dying. Or isn’t a tragedy. [But where HIV is] just part of his life, where no one treats him differently because of his HIV status—which is revolutionary, even still!”
Positive representations of living with HIV/AIDS—holistic and wholesome—are what we offer in the pages of our magazine. In this issue alone, we feature the stunning work of Gabriel Garbow, an artist, interviewed by Senior Editor Hank Trout, who finds beauty in men aging with HIV/AIDS. And also check out Trout’s interview with Greg Mahusay, a long-term survivor and AIDS fundraiser who is resilient in the face of hardships. One of our columnists, Corey Saucier, offers a funny, heartwarming and honest take on empowered sexuality as a man living with HIV in this issue as well.
Healing comes in different forms. We know of course about healing our physical bodies, but we need intellectual and emotional healing as well. And besides talking to someone we know, the best way to learn about how to heal is to read about the experiences of those who closed old wounds and have moved forward from trauma both individually and within our communities. In this new year, I wish for less diviseness and more unity. Less war, more peace. Do you agree?
David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.