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Category Archives: HIV/AIDS

A Meditation on Love: City of Refuge

I been missing something, I did not know to miss.

When I was 19, I spent way too much time watching wedding shows. That is the only time I can recall ever wanting a wedding. Outside of potential tax breaks, marriage was never something I desired. My visions of a future did not include images of a romantic partner. I told my parents long ago that I will be there one child who does not get married. No worries, my siblings got married enough for all of us.

I firmly believe that marriage is an archaic, patriarchal and oppressive institution. However, this belief does not explain why I never desired long-term romantic partner(s). Perhaps subconsciously I didn’t think it was possible for me. The examples of long term partnerships that I saw did not interest me. Perhaps, I did not think long term partnerships were available for someone like me. Especially as I begin identifying as queer.

I was raised in a world that taught me that queer folks were not worthy of love. While, I have done a lot of work to correct this belief- It is still something that lingers in the corners of my mind

At the end of 2017, I finally made it to “The Bay.” San Francisco and Oakland are kinda iconic for Black Queer Folks. This is where Marlon Riggs, Sylvester and Pomo Afro Homos created iconic works. Oakland is where the Black Panther Party was founded. for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf debuted in Berkeley bars. “The Bay” has always been a place I felt I knew, without ever being there. So you you know I had to stan out as a “tourist.”

Attending Bishop Yvette Flunder’s City of Refuge Church, was at the top of my to-do list. I have been following her ministry and work for years. I skipped out on going to SoulCycle with my friend to attend service. The last time I went church I left in tears and the reminder that church is a violent place for people like me. However, I knew that Bishop Flunder made space for people like me.

I don’t have the words to describe what it felt like to watch queer people of color be themselves as they worship and praise. What it meant to hear queer folk talk unapologetically about being HIV positive. To know how much harm the Black church inflicted during height of the AIDS epidemic, while also being in a church that was giving free HIV test during the service. The Sunday I went happen to coincide with World AIDS Day and the sermon was done by a HIV+ minister. That despite not being a believer, that I could fully show up and be seen.

Up until I was 20 years old I thought all Black lesbians were chronically unemployed who got kicked out of their mother’s houses. I was probably 23 before I stopped associating lesbians with predators. While my access and understanding of the queer community has grown significantly, it is still limited. Sitting at City of Refuge, I was surrounded by Black queer people of all ages. I saw something I rarely see in our youth obsessed culture, mature and elderly queer Black couples. I can’t think of ever seeing a representation of an elderly queer Black couple in the media or in my life growing up. But here I was surrounded by queer Black folk with grey hair and aging bodies-holding hands and loving each other. I could not help but wonder how my capacity for love might have been expanded if I knew this was possible at an earlier age. Would I have had the desire to share a life with a partner(s)? Having access to only heterosexual and monogamous models of love does us such a disservice.

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Walking thru the Casto and found the Bishop giving cover girl looks

Bishop Flunder wasn’t there young Tab would have left, but her wife Mother Shirley Miller was. Their love story has lasted over thirty years. They were open about their love in the highly homophobic gospel music industry, while also doing ministry as an out lesbian couple in the 90s. They toured with Walter Hawkins and The Love Center Choir. Shirley is also Walter’s cousin. Hawkins’ church, The Love Center would come to embrace the Sylvester James at the end of his life and Flunder would serve as his spiritual council. So much Black queer iconic history wrapped up in Hawkins and Flunder’s ministry. (Go watch Sylvester’s Unsung).

When speaking of their love in a 2014 interview, Bishop Flunder states: “You know, one of our church members said the reason why our church has grown so much over the years is not because of our programs. It’s because of our love for each other. Our love has shown people that a great love like this is possible.”

I wholeheartedly echo her sentiment, the love that was evident at her church, through Mother Miller’s words and the many Black queer people present in the sanctuary challenged me to think about love and expand my own desire for it in my life. I left City of Refuge wanting to cry, thinking about all the time I spent never even considering the possibility of having someone(s) continually love me. That somehow, I was taught that being Black and queer meant love was temporary and fleeting- that in the end I would be alone.

That day I learned how much I needed mature and elderly Black queer people in my life. I get so much joy from being around and seeing Black queer families and couples. But I can’t help but feel angry, that I was deprived of these representations and models for much of my life. While I still have no desire to be married, experiences like the one I had at City of Refuge opens me up to love in new ways. It reminds that I can create define partnership and family in affirming ways.

Shirley Miller is 12 years older than Yvette Flunder, their age gap love gives me hope. You know I like em’ older.

~JustTab

 

 

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A untimely love letter…

Hey you,

I remember your grandma.

She was so mean. Mean to a 5-year old is anyone who restricts her chance to play. Your grandmother’s funeral is one of the first I remember attending.

I remember your mom, she wore a lot of jewelry.

Your mother was my kindergarten teacher. At least until she decided she didn’t get paid enough to deal with a too smart child who tried to throw a chair at her. It was decided that Mrs. Knight’s class was more suited to dealing with a child like me. Despite our “interactions,” I always liked your mom.

I remember you.

You would visit your mother’s class. You were in your 1st or 2nd year at State. I thought you were so cute. Funny the things I remember about my 5-year-old self. Your mom and everybody was so proud of you. You were the “dream.” An example of the kind of child a Black single mother could raise- excellent student, man of God and handsome. You stayed with a fitted shirt showing off those muscles. I can see the pressure you were always under to be perfect, to be an achiever. I think people like us- who are what our elders deem as respectable and admirable (minus that one thing) struggle with perfection. Our difference, our queerness drives us to achieve these unrealistic standards of perfection. You were a Black male coming to age in a Black religious working class community. You were the dream…the hope.

The early 90’s were a time that more and more Black people had to face the fact that AIDS was not just a white gay male disease. It was something that infected us, too. Many times we never put a name to the disease that claimed our brothers and sisters, the official statement from families was that it was cancer or pneumonia that claimed their loved ones. Which of course, was true in many cases, but they were opportunistic infections due to immune systems being compromised because of HIV/AIDS.  Often our churches and places of worship failed us. Be it through preaching that HIV/AIDS was a plague sent by God to punish those engaging in sexual deviant acts. Or through the defining silence.

My Lorde, I can’t imagine what it was like growing up in this era navigating hegemonic notions of Blackness with your own sexual desires. I will never know your internal journey, but you presented excellence. Pledging a NPHC frat, graduating with a Masters and having one of them good jobs.

Growing up I saw you at conventions and church events. From afar I observed your journey to the ministry. Big Daddy had everybody preaching at that church. You had grown up in that church, you were everybody’s golden boy. An example of the type of good Black man that the church could raise. But then again you were always suspect. Never really received fully by the men in the church.

In high school while I ignored my queerness in many ways, I was also surrounded by many young men. Men I imagine who were not much different from you. Young men raised in the church but who struggled reconciling their sexuality and their relationship to God. I would hear stories about you.  Particularly your friendship with one of those young men. Your falling down and getting back up. The shame you felt after sexual experiences and your desire not to do those things anymore. I am trying to remember what gay dating site you were on then.  My mind is blanking. The young man you had that friendship with, is now on Facebook testifying about the power of deliverance.

As I moved away from home I heard less about you. I would see you from time to time on breaks. Looking buff and shit. We were Facebook friends. When I think of you- I envision the picture you took at the southernmost point in Key West. Beautiful brown skin and muscles rippling. You were a beauty.

Flash forward to early this summer, pictures of you came across my newsfeed. Pictures that claim to be you but they did not look like the man I have known almost my entire life. Physically you were smaller and look tired. There were no muscles, your clothes looked to big. I immediately called my father and asked him what was going on with you.

He mentioned he thought he saw you at a church event. When he saw you leave you looked like a ghost of a man. He wasn’t even sure it was you, but the person he saw got into the kind of car you drive. After asking some people at your church, he relayed the news that you were sick to me. I ask some of our mutual friends about you, but they didn’t know much.

The images I saw of you haunted me.

I posted on May 17th 

“When Deliverance was never enough”(Random thoughts to a man):
I sure hope it was worth it. Spending your life never really being true to yourself. Trying to please your church and your frat and whoever else. In the end what do you have? Cause with all your fronting and searching for deliverance they still never picked you. You worked harder than anyone but still they never saw you. From my outside perspective all I see is a middle aged man searching for happiness and fulfillment externally- all the while self-hatred is eating you up internally. Here’s to hoping that one day you will say “Fuck you” to whatever religion or entity that taught you to hate the divine being God created you as. It’s never too late to live an authentic life.

Reading that I see that my response was riddled in judgment. It lacked empathy and critique of the systems that regulate Black masculinity. Who am I to judge anyone? It’s been almost 2 years since I have been home and the sexuality thing factors into my absence more than I care to admit. My critique should have dealt with systemic and institutional oppression. I don’t know what internal struggles or resolutions you came to in your life. I do wish you knew that it was a better way.

A little over a week ago, my newsfeed was flooded with prayers for you. I called my dad, asking what happen to you. He found out that you were in a coma, dealing with the advance stages of cancer. They said the family isn’t disclosing many details. My heart sunk. I watch people flood your wall with well-wishes, prayers and later remembrances. I wonder how many of these people who professed to love you were complicit in your death. I wonder how many people really knew you. Allowed you to be the divine creature God create you to be. I wonder who was with you as you took your last breathe.

I asked my dad did he know if you had a partner. He said at your ordination there was no woman there as your girlfriend. No woman sitting in the area reserved for wives or wives to be of ministers. I asked my dad was there a male there. He said he didn’t think so, but if there was that person would not have been recognized.

I wonder who you loved. Who loved you. I wonder if at the end of your life did you have a lover holding your hand…someone to ease you into the next world.

I hear your mom is not doing good, she is also in the hospital. She wasn’t even able to make it to your homegoing service.

I don’t know your official diagnoses, but I do know what killed you.

Toxic theologies.

If we did not internalized some of the homophobia we were feed, where would we be?

I want to end this letter with an excerpt from a book (I stay quoting this book). The character George has secretly engaged in relationship with males his whole life. Something he was ashamed of. At the end of the book, he dies. Due to the details given and time period we can assume the disease is AIDS.

George’s senses were the first parts of his soul to die, so that the boundaries of one passed away into the others, and for a few of his last moments in the work he could see touch, and hear smell, and feel taste. As he lay sunken in his sickbed, undignified and emaciated, little more than a pile of twigs, a cricket of a man, on the threshold of a shameful death, he suddenly remembered his boyhood. Down Georgia. Where he once ran barefooted in tobacco fields, his feet barely touching the hot ground, his face to the sun. As he lay in bed, now too weak to move, the crumbly smell of Georgia bird songs danced before his clouded eyes. The salty tastes of down-south sunsets were loud on his lesioned skin. And he remembered knowing he was good then. A good boy who did what he was told and helped his mother with the washing and knew God. He remembered climbing trees and how his skinny legs looked like two more branches as he sat high and leaned his head against the breathing trunk. He had known then that he was part of creation, made by God with intention, pure and right as grass and bees. He did not know the moment when he had forgotten it, the moment when his desire for other boys’ mouths and hands and things started to mean that he was not good, not something the Lord made. He had spent his life since  moving from moment to moment between longing and shame, and as he lay on his deathbed he could no longer remember or understand the self-hatred he had carried for so long a time. He could no longer taste the scorn, once like a stew on which he had gorged and fattened himself all the days of his life.

But he could remember the taste of Chuck’s quiet eyes, and the ruddy smell of Butch’s voice. He could hear Robert’s smooth skin now, and see James’ silly and abundant heart. And the same for all of them. Louis. And Bud. And Tony. And Richard. And Red. And the boy with the cigarette behind his ear and the eight-shaped scar above his lip, who never said a word but smiled almost to laughing the whole time they were together. And the man behind the shed by the train tracks, who shuddered and cried like a child when he came, and held George to him for hours in the dark. And so many others. He remembered them now, not with the deep hatred of himself with which he had always tried to forget them, a deep hatred which his dying mind and body could no longer clearly recall, but with as much joy and light as the coming of sure death would allow him. They had all been so beautiful, black and soft, brown and wiry, red and lithe. Southern boys the color of Georgia earth, who had run in the same tobacco fields, with their faces to the same sun and the sounds of the birds on their same skin. They had been more than his lovers, more than secret tousles in tree-hidden places. They had been his kin, too, they had been of him and of God. In his last moment, he did not have to wish that he had seen that truth before, that he had understood more, that he had loved them better, and himself. When the shame fell away, ashenly, quietly forgotten, it was as if he had always known, and that trick of memory was a tender mercy before he died.”  (McKenzie, The Summer We Got Free)

I don’t pretend to know where we go when we die. I don’t believe in hell, so I question if there is a heaven. But I pray you received the same type of solace when you took your last breathe. That whatever shame you held drifted away. That you knew you were something the Lord made, that you were/are of God, that you were made with intention. That you were/ are loved.

Your death is a reminder and a push for me to go back home. That in our hometown we need more examples so that those that come behind us don’t suffer the same issues we did. You are a reflection of me.

I remember you and all that you push me to be.

Rest in Power.

~Just Tab

These are my memories and my perceptions. I do realize that they may not be his truth or his expierences.

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2015 in HIV/AIDS, Learning bout Tab!

 

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Practice what you preach…

I tend to post a lot of things about HIV/AIDS on my FaceBook page or even here. It’s a topic that is important to me. Maybe this is because I was a HIV/AIDS peer educator in high school. Or because I know people living with HIV/AIDS. Perhaps its because too many talented people died because of AIDS. Or that I know my friends are not practicing safe sex. Or because 1 in 5 people with HIV/AIDS or aware of their status. HIV/AIDS affects me.

June 5th marked 30 years since the first confirmed AIDS case. Thankfully, HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence anymore.

I been stepping up my posting HIV/AIDS posting game on FB. Yesterday,  I posted things about Sylvester James a music icon who died of AIDS.

I started thinking- I hope people don’t think I have HIV/AIDS since I post these things. I remember going through anxiety over whether or not I should “like” the FB pages for Greater than AIDS or The Black AIDS Institute, not wanting people to think that because I am interested in HIV/AIDS activism that I am infected. Typically when I start worrying about what others will think, that’s a sign for me to do it anyway. Which is why i “liked” Trans Queer: A Trans Fag Sex Journal on FB last week. I like to think that I am not afraid to talk about anything. This internal conflict in my head shows how strong the stigma is around HIV/AIDS. Not even wanting to be associated with it because of the fear that people might think I have it. It should not even really be about whether one is positive or negative, more about knowing your status. So I posted about HIV/AIDS online yesterday and I realized that I haven’t been tested since October. Generally people should be tested every 3-6 months. But since I don’t “really” have sex, I don’t really think about getting tested. I guess its my Christian background which gives me the tendency to not practice what I preach. I remember how difficult it was last time I was home in WPB to find a place that did HIV/STD testing, especially after 5:30 when people who work are free. I really do understand why some people don’t get tested, you would think the process would be easier with the rates of STD’s here in Florida. Getting tested even when you are pretty sure that you are negative is extremely stressful. In my head I replay all these redicouclous ways that I could have gotten infected. Like…the time I got a paper cut…who knows what bodily fluids was on that piece of paper or some other highly improbable way. So I went to www.hivtest.org to look up free places that did the rapid testing last night and planned to go today. Later that night I came across this video. The guy is hillarous but still addresses a lot the issues that one goes through when they get tested for HIV.

So I got tested this morning. In this random community/faith based testing facility. It was small and had bible quotes all over the place. The test was easy enough, a prick on the finger for blood. Then I was asked questions about my sexual history. The norm. Of course, I was sweating bullets as I waited for the results even though I don’t “really” have sex. I got my results back…negative AND they gave me a free $10  giftcard to Publix just for getting tested. That is motivation to take a HIV/AIDS test everyday…food is expensive.  Even though I was not really worried about being infected it felt good to have my negative status confirmed. Knowing is truly beautiful. Talking about it helps remove the stigma.

In other news I have this great post about me and Oprah that I started writing on May 20th and have yet to finish. No worries I am getting my life together and I will finish that within the next 2 days. In the meantime I will be leaving the country to begin my summer travels on June 19th. This year I am going back to Guatemala, as well as visiting El Salvador, Honduras and El Salvador. I am planning to be away for about 5 weeks.

Be Safe.

~Just Tab

 
 

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