Friday, October 5, 2007

Living Now

This crisp morning I took a tram south along the edge of the bay to a securely locked up building on 3rd Street at 24th. (I'm not sure what neighborhood that is considered to be.) This building houses the Black Coalition on AIDS. I was buzzed in. I hurried up the stairs thinking I was late for my intake appointment with a man I will call Andrew. I signed in and the welcoming-voiced receptionist told me Andrew had stepped out, but would be back in a minute. It turned out that there was confusion about my appointment time, so I had to wait awhile, but that was fine with me because I could sink into the couch a little and get a feel for the place. The building is very big exposed-beam renovated warehouse. It is spacious, open, comfortable, and safe feeling. There are oriental rugs over more practical carpet to define areas into little rooms within larger rooms.

A tall, handsome African American man in a suit came out and asked the receptionist, also African American, about something about some stationary. Over his shoulder the man said a warm hello to me sitting on the couch with my backpack. Another man passed by after she had assisted the first one. He also greeted me on his way by. The first man later asked a quickly efficient Asian man about something about the copier.

I passed the time reading brochures and pamphlets. Most were for various medical and health care services for African Americans. The most recent issue of POZ magazine was there with its cover story on gay black positive men and straight black positive women, and their recent advocacy work together, united by the double discrimination against both, for being black and gay, or black and female. I was irked (to understate it) in a way long familiar to me--that straight positive men (of any color) were made to seem as though they didn't exist. I wonder sometimes if they don't. Why does everyone assume straight men with HIV or AIDS would be accepted and well-treated just because they're straight and men? They wouldn't have difficulties with relationships along with the rest of us? Aren't they (if they exist) being discriminated against by the HIV community along with whatever else they face?

Andrew arrived and nodded for me to follow him; he checked my appointment time and apologized. We went into a big freezing cold, --to me, conference room. (One of the side-effects of one of my medications is difficulty with temperature regulation). Andrew noticed my shivering, and that I hadn't brought a sweater or jacket, and he looked concerned and asked if I wanted to reschedule. I said, emphatically, No. (I had missed the first appointment--I was paranoid that that was why he was late to this one, that it was on purpose--and, also, it had taken more than an hour for me to get here from my apartment.) We went through the questionnaire--my identification, address, doctors' contact numbers, diagnoses, medications, drug-use history. We discussed some physical and mental health care challenges not on the forms. I answered by rote, waiting for my turn to ask questions. I signed a lot of understandings and permissions.

The intake was for a ten-week support program called "Living Now" that I was referred to by a "peer advocate" --(I don't know if "peer advocate" means she's positive, which is what that term means that to me)--at Shanti, an agency closer to home. "Living Now," I've found out since, has a primary focus on treatment adherence, that I don't need. I know a lot about my medications, their side-effects, and I take them anyway. I am interested in "Living Now", and was referred to it by the woman at Shanti, for the company.

I receive good medical care at San Francisco General Hospital's Ward 86, and I receive excellent psychiatric and therapy services at UCSF AIDS Health Project (AHP). My problem is isolation. I identify as a positive person, and I am only really comfortable around positive people, but I can not stomach the segregation of HIV/AIDS social support services in San Francisco. I feel fragmented by the targeted fragmentation of the HIV/AIDS community. I appreciate women's services but I personally have never wanted them and won't go to them. And I understand, but am sick of the array of support service descriptions that apply specifically and perfectly to my feelings and situations, that are reserved for men. [Supposedly for gay and "bisexual" men--It's not that I don't believe that there could be such a thing as a bisexual man; It's just that if services really were designed in part for them, wouldn't there be some--not as many, but some, or at least one--service for their relationships with women? And I say "services for men" rather than "services for gay and bisexual men" even though that's what they say, because if I were a straight man I would go to what applied to me anyway. I would be able to "pass."]

I need some small kind of diverse collection of HIV positive people somewhere. (Diverse people, not diverse women, not diverse gay people. People.) I'm not trying to find and pick up some positive straight guy (although that would be nice too, in some kind of circumstance appropriate for that whatever that would be.) I just need to feel like a human being, albeit a positive one, with all my different kinds of relationships aware of each other, in one room. "Living Now" is open to all kinds of positive people.

I answered in some way to that whole effect when Andrew asked what I hoped to get out of the program and services at Black Coalition on AIDS. And when at the end he did ask if I had any questions, I said, "Yes--Black positive people are under-served, and this is the only agency serving the needs of African Americans specifically, so why am I welcome here at all?"

He said the programs he runs are open to all positive people. He said that the Black Coalition on AIDS (BCA) was created to serve the needs of black people with HIV/AIDS who were not being served. But once BCA was established, they did not feel it was right to exclude someone in need on the basis of gender or sexual orientation, or color.

They do have programs and services there specifically for people of color. And I have no doubt that the needs of positive people of color are still under-served. And I am aware of my own feeling that I am trespassing. But Andrew's answer--I have waited for that for years. Just that anyone would think this way is healing.

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