A Young Man Died of AIDS Last Week

My name is Doug Hagler, and I am HIV positive.

My first post on icanhasgrace was on May 16, 2009. That was 9 years and a few months after my HIV diagnosis. I have known my HIV status for over 17 years. It has taken me this long to share my status on this blog for one reason: Stigma.

I started icanhasgrace for many reasons. The blog has meant a great deal to me, even though its place in my life has waxed and wained. But for all these years, I have denied, suppressed, and hidden, the main reason I started blogging: I wanted to claim grace—unconditional love—over the fact that I am HIV positive. Why didn’t I do that until now?: Stigma.

When I was diagnosed, I immediately started treatment. At my first appointment, the nurse who cared for me said, “Be careful who you tell. It will change the way they think of you.” Why this warning?: Stigma.

I am ok. I have my problems, but HIV isn’t one of them. After 17 years, through medical advancements and by the grace of God, I have figured that shit out. I have amazing support from family, friends, and from the medical community. Seriously, HIV as a disease is not an issue for me now and it hasn’t been for quite some time. Concern about my health is not why I am disclosing my HIV status. Stigma is why I am disclosing my status.

A young man died of AIDS last week. I want to share his age. I want to disclose his location. I want to say his name. But I cannot. Why? Why can’t I honor him with the details of his life?: Stigma.

So what I wrote is wrong: This young man did not die of AIDS; he died of stigma.

Even though we have all we need to not only treat this virus, but also to prevent new infections, stigma infected him, and stigma kept him from getting the treatment he needed.

In the gay community (HIV is not a gay disease), stigma comes from families who, in overt and subtle ways, tell their children it is shameful to be gay, and shameful to get infected with this disease. Stigma comes from churches that write into polity phrases like, “Homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Stigma comes from a gay community that is too lazy and self-absorbed to educated itself about the virus. Stigma comes from a society that would rather live in fearful denial than in light-bringing truth.

I suspect (for I can only speculate regarding his experience) some or all of the sources of stigma coalesced on this young man and froze him in fear. I remember that fear. I can name the time, the place, the state of the weather, the first person I called when I found out I was positive. The paralysis was overwhelming, but only for a time. That paralyzing, stigma-based fear didn’t let this young man go.

I never met him, but I know he was black. I hesitate now because my ignorance warns me to remain silent. But I know it is a fact that “blacks are the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV in the United States.” It is a fact that 1 in 2 black men who have sex with men will get this disease. It is a fact that resources meant to combat HIV are more easily available to white folks than to black folks. Now we’re talking about racism in addition to stigma, which itself is magnified in the black community.

These facts overwhelm me, but they killed this young man.

I struggle with my thoughts and words because I want this post to be about him. Instead, it keeps coming back to me. I feel the need to reaffirm and strengthen the promise I made at my baptism “to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” The only way I know to do that is to combat the evil, injustice, and oppression of HIV stigma with the faith, the hope, and the joy of grace, of unconditional love.

I want to proclaim grace—unconditional love—to this young man. I want to proclaim grace—unconditional love—to anyone who is paralyzed by stigma, but especially to those who are disproportionally affected by it. But first, I have to renounce the last remaining hold that stigma has on me and claim the grace—the unconditional love—already given.

So on this day, while this young man’s family and friends gather to mourn and to celebrate his life, I claim the grace he now knows in full, as I sever stigma’s hold on me and declare: My name is Doug Hagler, and I am HIV positive.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Grant [this young man] eternal rest, Lord, and let perpetual light shine on [him].
Amen.

(UPDATE: For more information about racial disparities relating to HIV treatment and prevention, see this article at nytimes.com.)

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Mood

With a smile, he said, “Lift your head up.”
I smiled back as I replied, “I’m almost there.”

I assume he thought I meant we were almost at the end of our collective work days and, it being Friday, our work weeks. Once off work, we would be free to enjoy our weekends. But my words were a deflection. He had caught me in an unguarded moment. He saw more than I intended for him to see.

This is the interwebs, and this blog is not anonymous. I’m not going to list the issues that weigh on me. Suffice it to say that if I did, that list, while not long, would be major. Several goings on are hitting all three aspects of what make up a person: mental, physical, spiritual. These issues are targeting me simultaneously.

Someone who knows me well recently asked if I thought I needed prescription antidepressants to help me through. Lovely. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t discount the drugs. However, my experience in the past has been that the side-effects of medications were worse than the depression itself.

It doesn’t help that I’m due for a testosterone shot. I have to remind myself that my mood always winds down into a funk just before a scheduled dose. (I took care of that this morning. It should take effect in a day or two.)

It doesn’t help that the circumstances bothering me seem to be forever open-ended with no resolution. (I know they are not. The reality is I am not in control of the endings, neither the when nor the what in most cases, and that lack of control messes with me.)

It doesn’t help that it’s raining. (The sun will come out tomorrow.)

What. To. Do. ?. Inevitably, I simply must follow my colleague’s advice. I have to lift my head up.

But wait: Did I mention I have a pinched nerve? Yep. I’ve been dealing with that for over a month. When I hold my neck straight and back, it fires off. It runs down my shoulder and continues all the way to my fingers, making my arm and hand go numb. So if my head isn’t all the way up, that’s why. I’ll deal with that nerve as soon as I get some of these other things moved a little further along.

Even so, when “soon” comes it will bring it’s own set of problems. Mood, my mood, is my choice. Despite the numbing, I choose to hold my head UP.

10 Things That Happen in Your 50s

  1. You wake up at the same time every morning no matter what time you went to bed and no matter what you have planned for the day. 
  2. Your skin loses its elasticity. Under your chin, above and around your eyes, the creases of your elbows, the sides around your stomach, your butt, your ankles.
  3. You care more about some things, and care less about others. 
  4. Your happiness increases, or your bitterness does. 
  5. You have to find this middle ground regarding clothes. You don’t want to get stuck wearing what you wore when you were in your 20s, but wearing what 20-year-olds wear now makes you look like you’re trying too hard. The same thing applies to how you cut your hair. 
  6. You spend more time in doctors’ offices. 
  7. You begin to look at material processions differently. 
  8. You have to form new relationships with your adult children if you have them. 
  9. You lose track of how many mid-life crisises you’ve had,  and you realize the words “mid-life” no longer apply. 
  10. You write about being in your 50s. 

Just Breathe

A friend messaged me this morning and asked me to pray for him. That alone is holy in itself: that my friend would be vulnerable enough to ask (vulnerability doesn’t come easily for him) and that he knew I would pray if he asked.

“I’m about to start yoga,” I replied. “I’ve been stuck setting my intention as inner peace for several days. I’ll include you in that today.”

Things played out differently on the mat, though. Instead of inner peace, I started thinking Love as I inhaled and power as I exhaled. These words felt like they fit the need my friend expressed. They also worked well for me.

As I began breathing and moving through the practice, I was surprised by how I focused on the words and the breath much more than in other sessions. It felt good. 

My mood changed when I started a sequence of poses where I began to exert myself. I started to breathe rapidly. That made the words that were contemplative before (Love…Power…Love…Power) become demanding and forceful (Love…Power…Love…power…Love power). Love power? That didn’t feel right at all. I started to feel uncomfortable with the words even as the flow was making my body uncomfortable. 

Despite the discomfort, I kept going and I kept breathing the words. Eventually I slowed my pace, moved into stretches, and switched back the more acceptable, Love…power.

Savasana, or corpse pose. My breathing began to slow even more. Not long into this restful state, my exhale word became Love, too. Love… Love…Love…Love….

The morning breath prayer stayed with me throughout the day. I thought about how I have to inhale (love)  before I speak. In the space between the inhale and the exhale, I choose what words I will say with the breath that supports them. Will that breath carry with it love? 

The same holds true for an action. I breathe before I take a step, make a decision, react to a situation. Will inhaled and exhaled breath, supporting my actions, be cradled in love? 

What is more powerful than any power? Love. And it took the little death of corpse pose for me to remember this truth. 

Dear 2017

Dear 2017,

Welcome to the world! It is a marvelous time to be alive.You’re going to love it! Your siblings gave us all the time we needed to resolve our issues. 

We finally realized that possessions offered little long-lasting happiness. We saw that there were those among us who lived in excessive abundance while others could not meet their basic human needs. So we pulled way back from the failed experiment called capitalism and started sharing the resources meant for us all. This did wonders to help heal the earth, an additional benefit! 

When we stopped being so concerned about money, we had time to focus on relationships. We stopped thinking that people who are different are also less-than. Not long after that we came to understand that the differences between us were interesting and beautiful. We started listening to and learning from each other. Hearing one another, we confessed that some of us were:

racist, 
misogynistic, 
homophobic, 
transphobic, 
ageist, 
nationalistic.

Those of us with power equated that power with privilege. But we found a way to overcome that evil for everyone’s sake.

How? How did we do it? How did we let go of hate and fear? We started to love on purpose. We loved intentionally. We loved without judgment. We loved without condition. We loved without expecting anything in return. We loved freely and we loved often. 

2017, we are far from perfect. But we believe that every time we choose love we experience a moment of perfection. Loving is a joy! Our hope is that your arrival will bring with it unimagined opportunities to love and that we will choose love over and over again. 

2017, welcome to the world! You’re going to love it. 

Be love,
Ann

Sister Ann Wenita Morelove
The Valentine Nun

Merry Christmas

I attended my first Gaytivity last Sunday. It’s a Christmas pageant held every year at a gay bar. Imagine every raunchy, off color, some would say blasphemous joke possible applied to the Christmas story, add a bar full of mostly gay men, alcohol, and you’ll have figured out Gaytivity. For example, dressed as Sister Ann Wenita Morelove, I was one of the three wise-ass bitches. I gave baby Jesus a merkin instead of myrrh. The Dickson Chicks, two part-time campy queens, write the script and narrate the farce each year. 

Two profound observations came to me at Gaytivity. One, everyone knows what it’s supposed to look like even though there’s no rehearsal. The “actors” move to the traditional spot associated with their role without direction. The image of nativity is imprinted upon us. That doesn’t and shouldn’t mean anything to a person from another faith. I’m not one to force beliefs on anyone. But I find it significant. 

Second, there was this wonderful moment on the patio. I’d heard that the baby Jesus’ entrance is always a big deal. Last year, baby Jesus flew on a zip line through the bar to the manger. Knowing this, I was surprised when Joseph asked me if I had any ideas about how it should happen this year. 

“Hasn’t it already been planned?”I asked.
“There was a plan but it didn’t work out,” Joseph answered.
“Let me think a minute,” I said.

“I’ve got it. You know that big trash can full of ice that the barback rolls from back in the kitchen up front to the bar? Put Jesus in that and roll him to the manger.”

I thought more about it and I decided this was inspired in the true sense of the word. I’m saying the idea came from outside of me. That barback rolling around ice is disruptive on a crowded night. He cuts right through the dance floor. Jesus’ birth was disruptive. Run with that in your imagination. 

A few days later, I was talking to the bar owner. I told him it had been my first Gaytivity and that I had had a blast. He said some people think it’s blasphemous. I said, “It is blasphemous!” But the idea of incarnation is blasphemous. God becoming flesh, becoming human, is blasphemy. God born in a manger, or rolled in a trashcan through a bar is blasphemy. We can’t stand it, so we add lights, delicious food, often a lot of liquor, gift giving, and even Gaytivity in order to distract ourselves from the outlandishnesss of the original story. 

That story still cuts through the distractions, even in a gay bar in Nashville. It is the story of a God who is with us, who loves us–loves creation–so much, the story of a God who is love, and who is willing to do anything to be in love with us. 

This is nativity. This is incarnation. This is Christmas. 

Merry Christmas from icanhasgrace. 

Birthday Greetings: New Mugs

Good morning, lovely people!

My first thought when I woke up this morning was how grateful I am to be connected to people. I felt that connection STRONG yesterday through the birthday video, memes, messages, and gifts. 

Actually, that’s a lie. My first thought was, “What the hell is that noise?” Then I remembered Rosie, Sister Wendy ‘s pug, is staying with us for awhile. If you’re not used to pugs, they’re just weird. Are you upset? Excited? I can’t tell what that snort/grunt means! So after hearing all that, I thought about y’all. 
Then I thought about coffee. I  brewed some and I’m enjoying it right now in my new cock mug, a gift from son Ben and his wife, Bre. They’d noticed that Sister-Husband Pursefonee and I collect cocks. To keep us from fighting over the one cock, they gave me two! I’m perfectly happy to share a cock with Purse. 

Lord, what am I? A fifth grader? Yeah. Pretty much.

Thank you for all the birthday love yesterday. More post birthday posts later.