Friday, August 31, 2007

HILLARACK says, "We Won't Be Going to Your Gay Wedding!"

Well, I never thought I'd want to live in Iowa--until yesterday, that is, when Judge Robert Hanson decreed the state's Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. That opened up a window of opportunity for a few gay couples to line up and get their marriage licenses until Judge Hanson put a stay on his own decision. A higher court will now review his ruling. Hillary and Barack have been extremely disappointing in their comments on Judge Hanson's decision, arguing that questions of marriage are best left up to the states to decide. This is just legalese for, "I don't want to touch this issue with a 10-foot dildo." If Congress had not enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1968--and simply decreed equal civil rights for minorities as an issue "best left up to the states"--we'd still be looking at racial segregation in large parts of the country. Hillary and Barack are sounding more and more like the tired old politicians in Washington that they are trying to replace. It takes courage to speak up and step out of your comfort zone, a quality that increasingly and incredibly appears to be shrinking as election time nears. Once and for all, it is time for Congress to create a law that guarantees gay people the right to marry.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What Have We Done For Her Lately?

I can now check off "See Aretha sing live" from the list of things I have to do in this lifetime. Last night at the US Open, there she was, singing "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" in honor of the late Althea Gibson, who won the tournament fifty years ago. A few bars into the music, it was plain to hear that Aretha still got it. Too bad the predominantly white upper middle class tennis fans didn't--unsure whether to clap their hands, or stand up, much less sing along. Anyways, Althea won the US Open and Wimbledon back in the 50s when the phrase "You go, girl!" wasn't quite what they said to fabulous female blathletes. Out in full force to acknowledge as much were Phylicia Rashad. Roberta Flack. Debi Thomas. Then during one of the breaks between games, blaring over the speakers was Janet Jackson music and lo and behold, the stadium camera zoomed in on Nasty Girl! My friends and I oohed and aahed, as we waited for her to acknowledge the crowd. Exposing a nipple would have been too much to ask, but maybe dance a little the way Aretha had? No. Nothing. She just sat there. And sat there. And sat there. On an escapade, baby!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The X on My Chest

Watching the X-Men movies, I always thought that the "X" gene was a metaphor for the gay gene. That the evil Senator Kelly, who wanted all mutants to be registered for tracking, was a metaphor for a society that saw homosexuality as a disease that had to be "X"ed out, so to speak. Like the characters in the X-Men movies, I too feel as if this mutant strain called HIV has given me powers whose full extent I don't understand. Powers I am not always sure when and how to use. That I am afraid to use. Over the course of four years, I have grown increasingly empathetic. I don't claim to read minds, but I am acutely aware of pain and suffering in others. In these situations, do I keep silent and allow the suffering to continue? Or do I offer a kind word or a helping hand at the risk of being told to mind my own business? There are days, I admit, when HIV feels like the mutation that forever changed the life of Bruce Banner, aka, the Hulk. With a soul inside that's capable of tremendous anger, I feel there's no way I can get close to anyone at the risk of putting that person in danger. Like Bruce Banner, I roam and wander in the search for a cure. Among the X-Men, the character that intrigues me most is Mystique, the shapeshifter. They say that she has changed forms so many times that she can't remember the person she originally was. Your greatest power is ultimately your greatest weakness.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

An Audience With King Arthur

A devout tennis fan, I have been going to the US Open every year since I came back to NY. For my money, nothing tops the evening sessions when the air has cooled down and the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium create an intimate, expectant atmosphere. But I also feel a sad, heartfelt connection sitting in a place named for a man who died from AIDS. It makes you wonder. Do people remember that he won the US Open in 1968? The Australian in 1970? Wimbledon in 1975? Or is dying from AIDS what comes to the average mind when the name Arthur Ashe is mentioned? HIV is a powerful virus, sure to have a say in dictating the terms of death. That doesn't mean we grant it power in dictating the terms of life. I will keep playing tennis (for as long as my legs allow.) I will keep being curious about the world and my fellow humans. I will keep growing things in my garden. I will keep watching movies on Friday nights. (Go see Death at a Funeral--outrageous and hilarious!) I will keep searching for someone to love me. And I will keep sitting in Arthur Ashe Stadium, this time on the first Monday, thinking these thoughts. And I'll look out onto the crowd and wonder if anyone else is feeling what I'm feeling.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Top 10 Ways How HIV Has Changed Life

10. Had to find a new job. (One where money was not the objective. HIV makes you realize there are things more important than money, though I should have realized that before.)
9. Had to find new friends. (I've found some very nice tennis partners. The practice courts at the US Open in Flushing are super sleek. The courts in Harlem are lit up at night! You'll wait two hours to play one hour on the Upper West Side...)
8. Had to build up a wardrobe again since my so-called "friend" never sent me any of my stuff back. (I will always miss that black jacket from Paul Smith that I bought in Tokyo.)
7. Had to get used to taking medicines twice a day. (2 pills in the morning, 3 in the evening. They are yellow and blue, and are turning me into a Swede.)
6. Had to watch what I eat. (Currently drinking a daily boiled concoction of carrrots, daikon, shiitake mushrooms and burdock that a Japanese researcher said helps control HIV. It tastes pretty yucky, but it has helped keep my cholesterol level down.)
5. Had to find a new boyfriend. (Still looking, although my old BF recently came to visit me in NYC. That was pretty emotional since he has now found a new BF.)
4. Had to realize that I really will die some day. (I thought I would live forever.)
3. Had to forget my entire life in Asia since an HIV+ person is prevented from re-entering the country I was living in. (Equally outraged that a foreigner in America found to be HIV+ can be deported as well.)
2. Had to understand that I am so much luckier than the many people in Africa dying from HIV. (Oprah opened my eyes on this one.)
1. Had to understand that life is too short to not be happy every day.
(Still working on this one.)

Truly Madly?

The openly gay, Australian singer Darren Hayes, former frontman for Savage Garden, is currently being investigated for using a racial epithet on a waiter in a Thai restaurant in London. Unlike in America which brands its First Amendment on both ass cheeks, hate speech is a serious crime in most of Europe. Conventional wisdom has it that gay people, as minorities who are still deprived the full legal rights accorded straight people, would be more open-minded and accepting of other minorities. Like people of color. People with HIV. But the longer I live in New York City, the less certain I become of the soundness of that wisdom. Hard as it was for me to come out to straight friends and family, I have grown to find it much harder to "come out" to other gays about my HIV status. Because of HIV, I have been turned down for sex, for dating and even for friendship. Is it foolish of me to think that gay people should naturally be more open-minded and accepting of others deemed "outsiders" by mainstream American society? Or is being gay not quite as fabulous as I originally thought?

Monday, August 20, 2007

A Diamond Is A Boy's Best Friend

Every six months I am very lucky to visit my nurses and doctors at the Clinical Program of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center. Located on the campus of Rockefeller University on York and 66th, the center is at the cutting edge of AIDS research and was recently awarded a $24.7 million grant from the Gates Foundation to launch a new vaccine effort. Numbers, however, are never the entire story. That's what the doctors and nurses made sure I understood when I first went to see them.

That would have been a few weeks after I arrived back in New York. Staying with my family, I knew I didn't have the luxury of sitting on my ass on an uncomfortable couch feeling sorry for myself. The virus coursing through my body may have triggered something that kicked my body and brain into survival mode. I surfed the Internet until I landed at Aaron Diamond. (You can find them at I sent off an e-mail, and got a response in no time inviting me to come in for further tests. The initial results were pretty grim--a t-cell count below 200 and a viral load in the hundreds of thousands. (A number of doctors recommend starting meds if your t-cell count drops below 350, or if your viral load is very high, but these are personal decisions that are best made after consulting with a doctor.) But the doctor I spoke with calmly and caringly reassured me that everything would be all right. And sure enough, the numbers would bear him out. My last checkup a few months ago showed a t-cell count of 1000 and a viral load that continues to be undetectable after three years.

As of late, there's this Verizon commercial on TV where an individual is constantly followed by his "network" of technicians, engineers and customer service reps, the point being that no one gives you better service. That's exactly how I feel about the people at Aaron Diamond. At every 7am appointment I have, I always feel like all those nurses and all those researchers and all those doctors got up early just for me. If there's anyone out there who's still looking for health care, you might want to check out the network at Aaron Diamond.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

On the Road to A Pozitive Life

It's been close to four years now. I was an American expatriate living and working in Asia at the time when I found myself summoned to Immigration Headquarters. There, a phone call was made on my behalf. It was my doctor. Who informed me that I was HIV+. I handed the receiver back to the immigration official. To his credit, he wasn't without sympathy--as he hung up and then placed me in detention. Two days later I was deported home to New York City with nothing but the clothes on my back. I'll never forget the anguish and solitude of that two-day period, three if you count the 15 hours I was sitting on the plane. It just so happened to be January 1st, and after crossing the international date line, it was still January 1st when I landed at JFK--a new year's nightmare that refused to end. In three days I learned that HIV could take away friends, family, job and everything you had worked so hard to accumulate for the past ten years. As I stood outside the airport, I felt the coldest welcome in the world.