I don't quite remember when I fell in love with tea but I do remember the most special moments of me drinking tea. I was eighteen years old and I went to live with my biological mother for four months. I had just met her months earlier and it was awkward for both of us. She and her ex-husband lived a very quiet life in Boulder, Colorado. He was a professor at one of the universities and she was a housewife. After years of drug addiction and being in and out of jail, she deserved the break. I was homeless so she and her husband agreed to let me come live with them. Each evening my mother and I would find a spot in the living room with a cup of tea and a book.

Now, years later, I'm a self proclaimed tea expert. I start each day with a wonderful English Breakfast tea to get me going. As the day progresses, who knows what wonderful tea I will crown queen. But for sure, I have at least three cups of tea a day. And yes, when I can, I have tea everyday at about 3:00 P. M. I love to invite my friends over for tea and cupcakes and so far everyone thinks it’s a delightful experience. I am always in search of the best blend of tea. Yes, I’m a tea snob, I prefer loose tea but I do like some bags also. I have learned not to judge a book by it’s cover. Some bags can be quite nice. And yes again, any Diva knows, what you drink your tea out of is very important.

Tea for me is a way of life. It's wellness for the mind body and spirit. Here, I will explore every expect of tea possible, with a high concentration on wellness. I will review the best teas, the best places to have tea, the best ways to brew tea, the best tea accessories, what tea goes best with what foods, and the list goes on and on. I plan to share my passion for tea with you. And I've been told, nothing I do is ever boring so be prepared to go on this tea journey with me.

RLT Collection Tea Ball Frosted Clear Beads!

Mint Medley by The Persimmon Tree Tea Company

About This Tea:

Until recently I had never drank Peppermint Tea made with loose leaves. And Honestly, I will probably never go back. The freshness of loose Peppermint Tea cannot be denied. When I open the can of Mint Medley, From The Persimmon Tree Tea Company, I feel as if I stepped into a garden of peppermint leaves. It is a perfect blend of organic peppermint and spearmint leaves grown in the US.

Mint Medley has become a favorite and I find myself reaching for this tea tin almost everyday. It is great for on-going nausea. The health benefits and endless. It relieves muscle aches, headaches, migraines, stress. And now that it feels like someone is sitting on my chest and I have a mean cough, I'm sure it will help to relieve some of this congestion in my chest. Mint Medley has been in my tea cup more than any tea as of late. It has really helped with my winter cough, congestion related to this bout of pneumonia. You can read my full review on The Persimmon Tree Tea Company Mint Teas.

RLT Collection AIDS Awareness Tea Ball!

Welcome to my world of books! As an pre-teen books changed my world. I fell in love with the writers of the Harlem Renaissance period and the more I read the more I wanted to read. The fiction of this period was powerful and empowering all at the same time. It spoke to my own degradation and gave me hope for a better tomorrow. It gave me purpose for my own life and the courage to fight the good fight and never surrender.

I love to read! Inside a book I escape into someone else's life. There is something wonderful about turning to the next page of a wonderful story. Something intoxicating about the smell of the book and the story it brings to life. Reading brings me joy, and these days with my health in the balance, I find solace in my books.

I spent hours in my bedroom sequestered with the door closed reading the classics from the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes, Larsen, Hurston, Wright and Baldwin. Books became my escape and my salvation. The fiction of this period was powerful and empowering all at the same time. It gave me purpose for my own life and the courage to fight the good fight and never surrender.

Reading is the one thing that the pain of my life could never take away from me. It was the thing that helped to make it better. And even today, living with AIDS, books continue to be the safest place for me. It’s the one thing that belongs to me that AIDS cannot take away from me.The RLTReads book club will be books that I choose. It’s me sharing a part of me with you that has nothing to do with AIDS. It’s actually in spite of AIDS.

The RLTReads book club will be books that I choose. It’s me sharing a part of me with you that has nothing to do with AIDS. It’s actually in spite of AIDS. I have read hundreds of books from many different genres and I will pick the best of my reads over the years. I warn you, it will not be exclusively white or black, male or female, fiction or non fiction, it will be all of them.

I’m so excited and I’m grateful to everyone who wants to be a part of this venture. We already have 110 Book Club Members. You can email me @ RLTReads@raelewisthornton.com. The Twitter hashtag is #RLTReads. We can make this book club as wonderful as we want to make it. Who says that Oprah has to have the only ownership to a wonderful book club?

This Month We are Reading In My Fathers House by E Lynn Harris

Read along and join our discussion July 19th at 7 pm CST

For more Tea with Rae "Vlogs" Click here to visit her youtube channel

Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday Reflection: What Kind of Care Giver Are You?

2 days out the hospital 2008
I have AIDS and there is no denying this fact. It doesn't matter how good I look, how wonderful I sound, or what schedule I push myself to maintain I have AIDS.

And while I put up a good front at normalcy, there is nothing normal about my life. The fact that I try to maintain, "Normal," isn't even normal. And over the years I have learned that people seem to focus on the wrong thing when it comes to my health. Like fresh out of the hospital people tend to focus on how "good" I look rather then what I may need to help me recover.

And I've often wondered if that is a form of denial for themselves to help them deal with the fact that I'm so terribly ill or is it their excuse to half ass on their support for me.

I've been giving a lot of thought to this because lately I've been pretty sick and this week in particular was designed by the devil straight from hell.  Over the years, I have had soooooo many people say that it didn't matter what I needed, that they would be their but in the end to find myself alone or doing it myself.

I've had people jump on my celebrity band wagon at its height and disappear at its low point. I've had people who started out with me and faded along the way because dealing with my health is exhausting. Just too fuckin much; so they just stopped calling and stopped doing. Over the years I've learned to accept their broken promises and keep it moving.

 Having a chronic illness is lonely. I can't even explain what its like to be in the hospital receiving IV medication on Tuesday by myself. I'm grateful for my Twitter family because they keep me laughing  and my mind preoccupied as best as they can and it helps to get me through that long day.  But then I have to come home and crawl in this damn bed and at that point it's just me and Sophie. And the trauma that my body is going through is nonnegotiable, I can't avoid it, I must endure it. Enduring the physical is a  hard hit to one emotionally.

And God forbid that I have to pull myself together  and be "normal" while my body is still traumatized.  Like the last two weeks. Week before last, I got on a plane and went to San Francisco to speak for the 100 Black Men and turned right back around to come home for a personal event that was important to me.

But then last week, after 6 hours of trauma, I had to make myself be "normal" again. Dress and then get to my Tweet-Up for National HIV Testing Day and that took every freaking thing I had in both my body and spirit. But I did it, because that's what I've trained myself to do. But just because I do it, doesn't mean that my body isn't going through the same trauma as if I were crawl in bed. And actually it's going through a tad more, because I've focused myself to do, when I should be resting. Any who, I wonder what people actually think about their role in care giving and what it really means for me to be sick. Like where do you fit in? And where do I fit in?

Care giving is hard!  I did it. My mother had cancer for 3 years and I took care of her and myself. It requires sacrifice. Unconditional love is even harder! Yep, I did that too, because my mother was the mean ass woman sick and dying that she was living. But what I did was in spite of her and because of me...Because of who I am and what My God excepts of me.

I've learned over the years, that people take caregiving lightly. They say, if you need something call, but proud people typically never pick up the phone and call.  Which frees them up of actually doing anything. And when people tell us, do we really hear them?  Like for example, when I say, I can barley hold my body up, I wonder what that means to people?  I wonder if they wonder how I'm eating or even making it to the bathroom for that matter? Or what effort it must have taken for me to get dressed, given the fact that holding my body up is an issue.

But let's take it a step further, if I can barely hold my body up, then cooking is not an option.  Even if I put it in the microwave, then do dishes ever get cleaned? I just wonder if you have ever just showed up on the door step of your family member, friend with AIDS  or another chronic illness with a meal in tote or a mop to clean for them. Or do you bring them a meal, look at their dirty dishes in the sink and keep it moving. I wonder do you know more about my life with HIV/AIDS than your family members or good friend? I just wonder...  Do you take them to the doctors and drop them off or have you actually stayed with them.  By the way staying says, I love you and I'm not ashamed of you.

Because you give in one area of their life, is it ok to be insensitive in another area of their life? The thing is, their health effects ALL areas of their life.

The person who is ill role will never change;That is to get better. Whether you show up or not their life will move steady and typically we adjust. I've learned to do what I must because I have no other  choice especially with no family. But for sure my life is NOT normal no matter how it might appear. And while I try hard normalcy, I fall short and that in and of itself is a crude reminder that AIDS dictates much of my life. 

Fighting an illness day in and out takes a tool both physically and emotionally on top of what they have to endure with the original illness. The side-effects along from the medication are a nightmare. I know they are for me. The expectation of normalcy is not fair. Nothing is normal for them.. Nothing... Yep I'm going on record my life is a bitch. I fight hard to keep it together but this shit is hard. It's even harder trying to go it alone.

I just want you to think about how you really care give to that person you love. Have you dismissed what that have told you about their health because they look good? Is it denial because to consider the real health issues is to much? Do you care give out of convenience? Don't ask them what they need and then don't show up  or show up with an unfair expectation of them, that hurts more then going it along.

 Or is  how that "appear" it an easy way out?  She's cool. I saw her on Twitter She's at an event so on and on.  Have you really taken time to think about the value you can truly add to someone's life based on the real information they have given you about their health?

And when you actually do give, is it predicated on their ability to give back?  Their capacity is limited no matter how it appears.  I will say it again, their life is not normal. And why do you have any expectation of that person other than for them to get better? Be better..

Have you really thought about what role you can play even if it's in a small way? I use to say to the church folk and I say it again, people need more than prayer. Jesus preached to the hungry souls of the 5000, but He also fed their hungry belly's.

Post Script: I am still very ill.. I will blog as much as I can, but I will have guest this week as well. What Kind of Care Giver Are You?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Guest Blogger: You Are So Very Fortunate

Rae, you are so very fortunate. Though you certainly are a Diva Living with AIDS, you also have the ability to turn it into opportunities. Though you have regrets, you also have the priceless experience and wisdom which come with them. Though you have limitations, you also have the intelligence and the energy to transcend those limitations and even to make them a positive factor in your life, and the lives you touch each and every day of your existence. Though you’ve known sorrow, you will never lose the capacity for joy and happiness.

Hanging out At the Heart2Heart Tweet-Up
Rae, you are so very fortunate. You have this day in which to act and make a difference. You’re able to decide what you would like to accomplish and then do whatever is necessary to make it a reality. You have life and you have time in which to live it, right now. You are surrounded by a universe full of beauty and possibilities that I don’t think God would’ve entrusted into anyone else but you and I as well as the people reading this letter now are very thankful for that.

Rae, you are so very fortunate. Though your life is always an effort, in that effort you have found genuine and lasting fulfillment. Your transparency is served as cupcakes, tea with no chaser. You are blessed with the rich abundance of being alive. Enjoy your good fortune. Make the most of it, and it will grow even more wonderful.

 Rae, you are so very fortunate. And at the end of the day, that fortune of yours motivates me each and everyday of my life to be the best man, the best father, and one day the best husband I can be. I AM so very fortunate to have a Rae Lewis Thornton in my life, and I want you to know that I hear you, I value you, and I respect you.
United In HIV Tweet-Up! #TeamRae Support!

Post Script: Ramel  Werner was the proud winner of the British Academy of Golden Twitt Award in Writing.. I was proud to share that honor.. Two Chicagoans, I won the Golden Twit in Public Service, except Ramel went to London to pick his award up; Now that was so cool! You can find him on Twitter @itsRamel Or hanging out at one of my Tweet-up's.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Guest Blogger: A Day In the Life When the Diva is Your Friend

Each morning that I wake up, my day is essentially my own.

 While I am a single parent who maintains full and complete custody of my teen son, I can pretty much dictate how I manage my day. I can take one pill or none. I can go to a doctor or not. Let me tell you, I loathe them and have not been all year. My extremely athletic child however recently suffered a concussion, but I think you get my drift here.

We are both healthy and I have Rae Lewis-Thornton to thank for that. Her sacrifice is on a daily basis. She has suffered, been scrutinized and had her most intimate details self-disclosed so that we, who are negative, can be free.

A Day In The Life of a Diva was not my first encounter with brave Rae's tale. I remember picking up that oh-so-famous Essence Magazine and thinking what is this beautiful creature sharing with us? What I read made my jaw drop. I was young and single but heterosexual. I did have many close friends in the gay community affected though and as result I was extremely sensitive to the cause. Never once was I made to think it would impact my health personally until Rae shared her tale.

From then on I was vigilant. My physician was reluctant, but I insisted on annual testing of all things related to my sexual health. Verbiage would surface like, “Have you been exposed? What makes you think you need all of this testing? Are you a IV drug user? Are you promiscuous?” Only with exasperation would they approve the blood tests which I just do not get! To this day! I am happy that I was insistent. Knowing saves lives! Being a responsible sexual partner is the only way.

Early in 1996 I delivered my first born child. I think it is profound that I am able to share raising my son with Rae, whom I now consider one of my dearest friends. She has NO idea how she impacted my life. She knows she sacrifices for the good of her community each and every day, but she does it so selflessly that I do not think she pauses to realize her impact. I owe my health, and that of my son whom she playfully refers to as Prince, to her message and her selfless living. I can only hope the little I have given to her since we met can give her a glimpse of my gratitude! June 27th will be National HIV Testing Day.

If you don't know your status go to this website: http://www.hhs.gov/aidsawarenessdays/days/testing/index.html #about for more information on testing in your area.

 Know your status! Knowing saves lives! Be responsible ~ your community thanks you.

Post Script: Dwana is a wonderful blogger. You can find her at Healthier, Happier, You!  You can follow her on Twitter also...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Monday Reflection: There is Hope In Time....

Telling someone to hold on when it seems as if their world is falling apart sometimes seems futile. I mean their heart and spirit are screaming: CAN'T YOU SEE, I'm hurting? But yet all you can really say to them is hold on. I say it often, I even repeat it to myself, "Hold on Rae, tomorrow is another day." I do it because the Bible says there is life and death  in the power of the tongue. I do it because in that instant it reminds me that I want a tomorrow. Asking to hold on for an hour or even a moment is asking for time... Time for it to be better... To get better... There is hope in time...

But we wake in the morning and nothing has changed, we say, "But I thought the Bible says that joy comes in the morning?" Well, I'm a living witness that joy does come in the morning. It may not be tomorrow morning. It may not even be the morning after because our time is not God's time. And I've learned through my own history with God, His time sometimes seems like whack time, like, ummm where you at God? You forget about me? Yep, when you are going through, it's like, gee God, why you so slow? You may not voice it, but you think it and your heart feels it. 

But if you look back over your past isn't it interesting that it seems like you came out of that other situation just in the nick of time? Right before you were at the point of losing your mind...

I'm writing this post for all of us today. I have some close friends who are going through very difficult times right now. Their world is falling apart as they know it. Change is inevitable and sometimes painful. I write this blog for me because my health has taken a major hit and the hits just keep on coming. 

I want us all to remember that there is hope in time. If you can just hold on in that moment, it becomes a second which becomes a minute, which becomes an hour and then another day.

Pain is an inevitable part of life. Change is also an inevitable part of life. And they both serve to make us stronger and better. I don't understand why there is pain in this world, but there is. Pain and evil were the two most debated issues in my theology classes in seminary. And no one really had an answer. The Bible says simply, "In this world there will be tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." With this in mind, I'm learning to be content in whatever state I'm in... Can't do shit about it anyway, except go through the journey... And stressing over the journey will only make the journey harder.

This is what I know for sure... God can use anything, even your pain, to enrich your life and the lives of others. So for all of us today, Hold On! Why? Because time will give you a better tomorrow. Hold on because each day you wake you are still a part of God's earthly plan. And life in and of itself is the most wonderful gift that God can render in your earthly journey.

Just think... If I had given up. Stop taking my medication, stop holding on in those days that were full with pain... Those days when I could barely hold my body up... When I could see death staring me back in my face... If I had stopped holding on, there would have never been a tomorrow. I would not be writing this blog today... So while we may not be able to see our way out of it at this moment... Hold on and allow your hope to rest in time... God's time!

PostScript: My health is not good... I plan to write a blog that outlines everything that is happening to help you fully understand how AIDS work... No, I'm not dying... But I am struggling... Keep me in your prayers as the doctors try to put me back together again. I will be taking some time to get better. I will not be blogging everyday, but I have asked some of my blogger friends to fill in the gap.

What's the point of having people who love and support you if you don't allow them to support you. You cannot want support on the one end and refuse it on the other. Sometimes God sends people to help us on our journey... Don't miss your blessing stuck. Don't deny the help that God sends your way out of pride. Its counteractive to your deliverance... Even Jesus had disciples...  Ain't no glory in suffering alone, you don't win a prize for that shit, you just create a harder and darker path for your deliverance.

So I hope you will continue to read as others help me fill in the gap.

The radio show Tea With Rae: Wellness For The Mind Body and Spirit will be postponed until after I'm completely off IV medication. The book club RLT Reads will be postponed over the summer. I will announce the summer read within the next week and we will discuss it in late September...

Thanks for all your support #IcannotdoitAlone

Yes, my next Tweet Up is tomorrow, Tuesday, June 14th at 7pm.... In honor of National HIV Testing Day. YES... I plan to have my IV medication on Tuesday during the day and get to SideTrack and have a blast with you... 

Please join us... I toured SideTrack Bar for the first time last night and it is freaking Fab. The guest DJ, Laura Branch, I understand is off the chain... We will be dancing, laughing, socializing, giving away wonderful raffles, tweeting and testing for and about HIV/AIDS. You can RSVP... I know a lot of you have said you are coming but have not RSVP'd. You can still show up but it would be nice to have you check in... HERE


Saturday, June 11, 2011

United In HIV! A Social Event For a Socially Conscious Cause!

I'm very proud of the groundbreaking work that I have been doing in social media to educate and challenge stigma and shame around HIV/AIDS. In just a little over a year, I have made a mark. When I embarked on this mission, I had no idea that it would take a life of its own. It's been good for me and the people that I engage daily, through Twitter, Facebook and this Blog.

I am exceptionally proud of my groundbreaking HIV/AIDS Tweet-ups. Taking a social event and carving out of it a social cause. To date, I have held two tweet-ups and on this Tuesday I will host my third in recognition of National HIV Testing Day. By the way, I'm taking my Tweet-Up's across the country to the cities where I'm speaking, beginning in September.

The thing that is really fun is that I have not locked myself into one type of Tweet-Up. The first one was held at Hotel Allegro Encore Liquid Lounge, with wonderful swag bags and raffles galore. A grand affair for sure. I was told it was one of the best swag bags ever. The second Tweet-Up was hosted by Kilwin's Chocolate, here in Old Town Chicago. I partnered with  my friend, Social Media Guru and Mommie Blogger, Dwana aka Houseonahill. We socialized, tweeted HIV statistics, ate chocolate and ice cream on that cold winter night, for National Black HIV Day.

Cyon in His Hostess Attire! 
Now on this Tuesday, June 14th, I'm going to SideTrack, a premier gay bar in the City of Chicago. Why? Well, because Gay Black men are our brothers, fathers, sons, grandfathers and cousins and yes, many of us  women have a BFF in our back pocket. The exciting thing is, I'm partnering with the Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus. And the Dynamite, Fabulous Cyon Flare will be hosting on this night. And I've been told that he is the best Host on that side of town.

Side Track Bar is rolling out the red carpet for us and I'm way excited. Now it's gonna be a rough day for me. Yes, many of you know that Tuesday's are my IV medication day. But I will have my 6 hour IV drip, come home, rest my body and spirit. Have a cup of tea, put on my Ruby Woo lipstick and 4 inch heels and get there to have a blast.

We will be testing for HIV throughout the night. There will be lots of information, condoms and just a lot of fun people united around HIV. We will be tweeting HIV statistics throughout the night. There are raffle prizes from spa treatments to tea, RLT Collection, and the list goes on and on. We even have a tea give away for the first 100 people. Cyon and Craig Johnson of the Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus have worked their tails off. I'm grateful that they took up all the slack when I became ill. And of course my wonderful assistant Latoya always does her part. If not for them this would not be happening.

What's so awesome is this, Boys Town will have no idea what hit them. The fact that a Black Woman is not afraid to partner with Black Gay men and unite around a cause is groundbreaking. We are showing Chicago that as a people, we are united around the issue of HIV/AIDS. And we have even invited the Mayor. We are keeping our fingers crossed that he will choose our National Testing Event, as he is planning to drop in on some in the city during this month.

This is going to be a lot of FUN! Laura Branch, former director HIV/AIDS Division of the Chicago Department of Public Health, will be our special guest DJ and I have heard that she is off the chain.

Ok, so come out and have a little fun with us. I might even dance in spite of how I'm going to feel from my IV treatment. Now if I can dare to take such an important stand on the need to work together with our brothers and pull my Diva together and get there after 6 hours of IV medication, then you can at least come hang out with us. With me and Cyon, ha, we will be the hostesses with the mostesses and all for a great cause.

You can RSVP Here. We just want to get a head count. The event is Free! But if you give a $10 donation you will receive a free drink. Yes, there will be spirits, but Starbucks will be there serving, yep, you guessed it, tea. And the money will be spilt straight down the middle between me, to support my work around HIV/AIDS, and the Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus.
See Ya Tuesday! We are United In HIV!  #UnitednHIV Like I say on Twitter everyday #ICannotdoitAlone and neither can Gay Black Men. We must come together if we are going to see a change happen for the best in our community around HIV/AIDS.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Monday Reflection: Lives Can Be Changed Through Pain...

I have so much on my freaking mind, it's just racing around and around in my head. And yes, I want to share it all with you, every single bit. Well, not every single bit but mostly every bit. But today I'm just gonna tackle one thing. Last night I got the biggest Aha Moment of 2011 to date. For Real... For Real....

So I was in one crappy ass mood all day yesterday. I mean with the sun shining through my picture window, it still seemed like darkness had invaded my living room, my heart, my mind and the very essence of who I am. And then in the middle of telling my male friend, in so many words, I didn't really want to hear about his bad day or week, shit my day is bad and getting ready to get worse. Yep, on Tuesday I'm going on IV medication for the eleventh time in 3 1/2 years, to treat this damn drug resistant, aggressive ass herpes that AIDS won't let me fight off.

I was like are you fuckin kiddin me? Huh? Don't you see that I need you? Then he said to me, "Stop it! Many people see your fight and your strength during this fight and say, if she can fight that then she can fight and handle anything with ease. I have been guilty of that with you from time to time."

I just broke down and cried... I cried for the truth of that statement and I cried because these truths didn't take away my pain... I cried for the woman who's pain is a Living Testament to God's Word. I cried because my pain cannot be changed, but lives can be changed through my pain.

And then I started to really think about my friend. He is going through some challenges now and I have been his number one cheerleader, that is, when I'm not bitching about my shit. But I came to this place of peace and understanding after a good Cry, Tea, a More Black and White Cupcake and Godiva Truffles My life is a ministry in it's entirely! While I want private space and should have private space, ministry does not mean that you shut down in that private space. If you can't minister to those closest to you, then who can you minister to?

No, it doesn't mean that my needs and concerns get overlooked, it just means that my comfort is not at the sacrifice of another's comfort. Ministry is what it is. God has not gifted me to squander these gifts stuck in my pain. To whom much is given, much is required.

There was never a time when Jesus didn't minister. Remember, after he preached to the five thousand, the Disciples wanted to send them away. The people all tired and hungry and the Disciples didn't want the responsibility, but Jesus didn't give it a second thought. After he had fed their spirits he fed their stomachs. And the text never said that Jesus and the Disciples ate with the multitude. He must have been hungry and tired too, remember this was Jesus in His human form.

So I got it... I got it... I got it...  Ministry never stops no matter what's going on in my life. Does it solve my problems? Does it ease my pain? No! But I gotta know, that I know, that I know, that if I stay about the business of my Father, my Father will take care of His daughter. And what's so amazing about God is that He will come in the least expected ways and at the most unexpected time. He never sleeps nor slumbers; He just does things His way. Yesterday, I was looking for comfort one way, and was reminded that the ultimate comfort comes from God; His way, His time and His space.

So as I go into this next 4-6 week journey on this IV medication, which will surely attack both my body and my spirit, I will remember that my pain cannot be changed... but lives can be changed through my pain.

And btw... that fellow, well my compassion, ministry and strength are the things he finds the sexiest about me, that is, next to my eyes. So why stop being who I am in private? Maybe when we meet a man we have too many expectations... And lose are freaking mind... I mean we forget the strong woman we were before he knocked on that door. Just sayin... Being strong might be the thing he loves the most about you...

Friday, June 3, 2011

Looking Back At 30!

Today is the 30th anniversary of the first diagnosed cases of AIDS. On June 2, 1981, five men were diagnosed with GRID, Gay Related Immune Deficiency in Los Angeles. Thinking back to what I was doing at the time... Let's see, that summer I was working at Paul Harris boutique in the Water Tower Place mall on Chicago's Magnificent Mile and preparing to go off to Southern Illinois University at Carbondale for school. I had been roughing it, trying to make my way in this world since my senior year of high school, October 1979.

I don't remember hearing about AIDS back then and if I did with a name like GRID, I probably would have dismissed it in seconds. I mean I am a heterosexual woman and gay had nothing to do with me. And given the fact that I was trying to figure out where my next meal was coming from, a disease like this would have been the last thing on my mind. I mean at this point in my life, I hadn't had one sexually transmitted disease.

I wonder if my life would have been different if they had diagnosed women that day rather than men. Or if they had not narrowed AIDS to the belief that this was a disease about men, that men gave to each other. If somewhere they had considered---if men had sex and women had sex, and according to my TV doctor House, everyone lies, that maybe one of these men had sex with a woman at least once in their life and that maybe women were at risk for this strange illness as well. But they didn't!

The medical community made this disease a scary boogie man that men did to each other and if you weren't one of them, then you were free. But none of that really matters today because in just two short years of those first cases, the summer of 1983, I had sex with a man and he infected me with HIV. And my life changed forever. I didn't know at the time and he probably didn't know at the time either. I wouldn't discover until the winter of 1986, a year after the HIV antibody test hit the market, that I was actually infected with HIV.

Since I was diagnosed it feels like I've lived three life times. For sure AIDS has had a major impact on my life and for sure I have been fighting for my life! And for sure I will be fighting for my life for the rest of my life. But today looking back on the history of AIDS, the thing I wish the most is not for myself. I've lived my life and made my choices. All I can do is stand and be a woman and accept with dignity and grace the choices I made about my life and body.

No, today the wish is not for me but for every person that does not have HIV today... My wish is that you never get HIV! The thing that we have known for almost this entire pandemic is the thing that gets overlooked the most: HIV is a preventable disease. We can change the course of this disease by changing our behavior.

We must put personal responsibility into the equation if we are to change the tide and not drown in this ugly disease. We must make condom use a normal, natural and vital part of our sex lives. We must understand one fundamental thing... The only sure winner against becoming HIV infected is either no sex or sex with a latex condom. Anything other then that is a stupid ass gamble. Honestly, I don't know if different information would have changed the course of my life. What I know for sure is that my life has been changed forever by AIDS...

I tweeted today that people don't really understand me... The drum that I beat to or the song that I sing. I do what I must so that AIDS won't kill my spirit before it takes my life. Yes, I do what I must... No, this isn't the journey I would have wanted for myself but it is the journey that I've accepted with Grace.

Looking back 30 years later... My prayer today is not for me but for you... That you will never know my pain or walk in my shoes. HIV is preventable, this I also know for sure.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

United In HIV!

Black Gay men are our brothers, uncles, fathers, grandfathers, cousins and sons. And for some they are our BFF's. No matter the label, for sure they are a vital part of our village. And I, for one, am fed the hell up with all the blaming that goes on in our community around the infection rate of black women from men on the Down Low.

Yep, I'm going there. The Centers for Disease Control has said over and over again the statistics just don't add up. Down Low brothers have not single handed caused the HIV infection rate among black women. They don't people! About half of the women infected with HIV in the United States are from the use of a dirty needle during IV drug use. And furthermore, we still have a large portion of men infected from IV drug use and those men do have sex with women.

Now, don't misunderstand me, YES there are men who have sex with men, and then turn around and have sex with women. They are out there, I have heard countless stories over the years. I have even dated one. Yep, I dated a brotha that was on the Down Low. It was a long time ago, about a year after discovering that I was HIV infected. He knew that I was infected with HIV and was purely comfortable with my status. On his death bed at age 29, I discovered that he had been living a double life. He did not infected me, remember, I was already infected when I met him. But I was angry as hell that all this time he knew my status, but never told me his. Thank God for common sense and condoms or he would have re-infected me.

He was one fine ass, like I mean fine ass brotha and he had lived this double life because people expected him to date women, cause a brotha that fine needed a sista. I will admit it took years for me to get over it, but when I had that Aha moment, I got it! He had been living this double life, with self-hatred, until the day he died. I got it! If the Black community had created space for him to be who he believed he truly was, he would have never lived this double life.

I accepted my culpability as a member of the Black community and I stopped playing into this covert homophobia that has infested the Black community. Even when we have a family member that is openly gay, we don't create space in our families for them to live and breath freely. Do we ask them if they have a partner? If they are lonely? If they are happy? Do we support them in their personal life the way they support us? This don't ask, don't tell policy in our community is unhealthy and it is killing our brothas.

Like how do you show love and concern for one family member's dating life and not the other and do it in their face. Like gee, you have no concern for their happiness? Your silence speaks a lot louder than your words. And don't tell me that your disapproval of their lifestyle is that thing that blocks you from loving them unconditionally. Who the hell died and made you God? This double standard I see is crazy. The shit we let straight men get away with in our community. For Real! I learned the other day that a prominent, prominent minister got his assistant pregnant and divorced his wife and never took any time away from the pulpit to get his act together and that was ok... Huh? Yep, double standard!

When you don't feel loved, you go searching for it. This alienation of Black Gay men in our community helps to fuel their low-self esteem and leads to unhealthy behavior and is a factor in their increased rate of HIV infection. So I'm going on record. I love Black Gay men and ain't a damn thing you can do about it.

Yes, there are brothers that live a double life and yes, the Down Low is a factor in the rate of  HIV infection for black women, but it's NOT the only one. In addition to drug use, there are brothas out there that sling their penis from woman to woman. Yep, they have sex with one woman and then turn around and have sex with another woman. Like the minister I was just talking about.

Yep! That's why I tell women to take control and responsibility of their own freaking body! You have no idea if the penis is with Bob or Barbara when it ain't with you, so why are you out there having sex without a latex condom? *confused look* #forReal. And then blaming everyone but yourself. *blank stare*

So anyway, I'm taking a stand! I cannot be concerned about the HIV infection rate within the African-American community and not be concerned about our brothers. The Centers For Disease Control estimates that one in two Black Gay men have HIV. We cannot throw our brothers away because we don't approve of their lifestyles. Shoot, if I took a looking glass into your life, I probably will not approve of everything that I see. For real! So don't go Holy on me. Please... Let me say it like this, DO NOT come at me with the Bible because I will come back at you with the same Bible and then tell you to stay the hell off my blog!

With that said, I'm so excited about my next RLT Event, #UnitedinHIV Tweet-up. Lip service is over for me when it comes to supporting our brothers, uncles, cousins, sons, fathers and BFFs who happen to be gay. I am very proud to be partnering with the Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus and the one and only Cyon Flare.  Together we are taking control through unity and advocacy! United in HIV Tweet-Up is in honor of National HIV Testing Day.

National HIV testing day is this month and it's true, the earlier you know your status the longer you live. And if you know your status the chances are slim that you will infect someone else. We will be offering HIV testing that evening because we want to stop this cycle in the Black community. We don't get tested so we die sooner than our white counterparts and when we don't know we are infected we infect others. About 38% of newly diagnosed cases are people infected by people that didn't know they were infected.

So join me and my friends as we Tweet about HIV and have a blast doing it. It's gonna be fun. The one and only Lora Branch (Director of HIV/AIDS division of the Chicago Dept. of Public Health) will be the guest DJ... This should be fun! And I will be raffling off  RLT Bracelets and yes, some tea items from my tea partners.

The Tweet-up is June 14th at the best gay bar in the city of Chicago, Side Track, 3349 North Halsted Street, from 7-9 P.M. And it's FREE... But a $10 donation will get you a free drink and all the money will go to RLT (me) and the CBGMC, half-straight down the middle...

Please RSVP... Here!!! I'm excited to be partnering with my brothas on this vital issue that has deeply affected our entire community. Be there or be square. But I'm #UnitedinHIV.

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