Above: Follow AIDS Walk New York on Twitter @aidswalkny.
By Beastly | @BadAlexCheves
I’ve never done this before. This Sunday, May 20, I will walk in my first AIDS Walk. And here’s the part that totally blows my mind: my mother and sister will walk with me.
These are the people who I don’t share that part of my life with. My sex, my relationships, and my virus, the particulars of this, my private world — a life played out in bedrooms that aren’t mine, sex clubs across the country, countless dark and delicious nights, countless warehouses filled with blaring dance music — is off-limits to them. HIV is indistinguishable from all that stuff to me because it marks the moment I became an adult gay man. I am one of the innumerable men before me who faced the thrill and bacchanalia of our culture and came back burned. Through HIV, I discovered the other world — one of community organizing, sex positivity, kink and BDSM, and so much more. My virus is linked, arm in arm, with the most wonderful, erotic, core parts of my life.
When I was in high school, that part of my life didn’t exist. All I had were urges and desires I didn’t know what to do with. And when I finally got the strength to tell them, my parents told me I was dealing with evil spirits and sent me to weekly meetings with our pastor to cure this “illness.” The shame and anger of those years have never left, and I can’t say I’ve ever fully forgiven them for it.
Eventually, I got out. I went to college. I found others like me. I learned. Just two short years ago, I called my mom on a sunny sidewalk in Los Angeles to tell her I was HIV-positive, and that I had been living with HIV for three years. My sister found out from my mother and father, as I knew she would.
I dumped the news on them like that following a personal piece I wrote in The Advocate magazine in which I came out of the “poz closet.” In it, I talk about my family and our rocky relationship, and why I never felt comfortable telling them about my status — not even in the dark days following my diagnosis, when I was contemplating suicide. They had no idea I was so close to the edge.
I knew they would feel guilty when they read the piece, and they did. They called me later. This time, I was standing outside a movie theater in Hollywood. Glamorous people in chic LA clothes passed me. I was crying on the phone.
“We’re sorry,” she said. My mother. The words I never dared ask for. The words I never thought I would hear. We’re sorry.
What, in the end, did they really do wrong? They loved their son and responded in love and fear to something they didn’t understand, using the beliefs they had. It wasn’t the right way to respond, and it didn’t help me, but sometimes that’s what love does. It makes us protect our kids even when they don’t need protecting. It makes us fearful and envious and ridiculous. Love has made me do cruel things too. I can look at them now as adults in this, our shared world, and see how closely my sex-fuelled, intimate life borders on their soft, safe, religious one. Maybe, I wonder, they looked down the dark hallway of the sex club into a life they might have lived, and decided, for their own reasons, to do something else.
I have kept too many secrets from them and hidden too many parts of my life. I didn’t want to hide this one.
They helped me move to New York City a few months ago. I immediately saw the posters for AIDS Walk New York 2018 on the train. The annual walkathon benefits Gay Men’s Health Crisis and several other local HIV and AIDS organizations in the tri-state area. Founded in 1986 — one year after the first AIDS Walk happened in Los Angeles — AIDS Walk New York is the largest walkathon in the world and the largest AIDS fundraiser by participation. I knew immediately that I had to get involved.
I never thought they’d join. But the only weekend my mother and sister could visit was this one. My father, too, wanted to come, but work kept him back. And so I asked them to walk with me. And they said OK. I am so excited for Sunday.
Fort Troff has donated to my campaign and you can too. Every dollar helps.