Thank you, Billy Porter

Sunday, May 21, 2021, I made it back to Houston, TX, after a good weekend vacation to New Orleans. During this trip, I got to bond with new people and build stronger relationships with others. Feeling loved and freedom for the whole trip.

Making it back into Houston, I dropped my bags, grabbed myself something to eat, and turned on the TV, wanting to relax after the 5-hour rainstorm I drove through. It's now after 10 pm, and I have my recordings to watch. The first on my list is Pose season 3, episode 4, "Take me to Church." This episode is centered around Bill Porter's character, Pray Tell, going back to his childhood home and church to confront his trauma and tell his mother that he loves her because he is dying of AIDS-related lymphoma. As I watch the first 5 minutes of the show, I see him waking up at 2:23 am in the morning soaked in sweat, checking the sheets only to find they are as wet as his clothes. He changes his clothes and sheets, and it happens again. This hit home for me because I remember not getting a good sleep because of waking up to soaked sheets and clothes having to lay on the other side of the bed just to escape the wet spot.

The episode then progresses to Pray Tell hearing from his doctor his HIV has progressed to AIDS. He then decides to go back home and tell people that he loves them and that he forgives them. Watching him sit at the table with his 3 aunts, I related to everything that was presented. One aunt was telling him how his life is shameful because he stepped away from the church. The other aunt saying they support him no matter what and the mother sitting waiting to hear the thing he is hiding.

When he said, "there is no easy way to tell you this, but I have AIDS, and I'm dying", I found myself anxiously waiting for the mother's reaction. I begin to remember when I had to tell my mother about my HIV status; fearing her own reaction. In all honesty, the character and I are both black same-gender-loving men raised in the church telling our mothers that their only child has HIV. For me, the ‘what's next reaction’ was scarier than getting the status. The fear of disappointing somebody weighed more than the thought of dying, as crazy as that may sound.

As the episode goes on, Pray Tell goes to the church and instantly felt connected to the gospel duet singing. He then began to talk to his past lover, the preacher of the very church he ran away from. I began to remember how much I loved going to my church but hearing from people that ‘same-sex is the ultimate sin’, ‘you aren't born like that’, and ‘it is your choices that make you this way’. I wasn't sure if it was nature or nurture that allowed me to have the interest I had, but I did know that it seemed to be a bad thing for everyone else around me. I suppressed, prayed, cried, and did everything I thought I could until I realized that my relationship with God does not need to be explained or understood by anyone but God and me. The thing is, I didn't learn that until the end of 2018.

The bulk of the episode had me replaying the steps of my life as pertained to the story. Remembering the blame I placed on the LBGT community for not accepting me enough because they wanted me to be "out" in a way that was comfortable for them. The black community, that wanted me to be "man enough". The religious community wanted me to walk by the words of any preacher who teaches the bible based on their interpretations. I blamed all of those spaces because I lived in the intersections of each one who never quite accepted me.

I felt if I could have brought whoever home (woman, men, or whatever gender expression I was interested in), I wouldn’t have falling prey to the statistic that 1 of 2 black men who have sex men will contract HIV in their lifetime.

The thing is, I can blame all of those things or none of those things because either way, I have to take self-accountability. I did not ask; I assumed. I did not worry about myself as much as I worried about others. I was more concerned about what people would think, what my family would think, to where I forgot to think for myself.

On May 23, 2021, I got a notification on my phone saying, 'Bill Porter disclosed his HIV status after 14 years, and the first person he told was his mother.' I was shocked to watch his interview and read the article to see the parallels to Pray Tell, Bill Porter, and my story. On March 20, 2013, I was out on a date with this girl when I got a phone call from my mama, crying and panicking over the phone.

She said, "Jordan, WHERE ARE YOU? ARE YOU OK?”

I said “Yea, I am. What happened?”

She told me that there was a tall white man who came to the door and said that he needed to speak to you, and it was a matter of medical emergency.

She asked, “What do you mean; is he ok? He is my son. What is going on?”

The man replied, “I can't tell you anything, but have him call me right away.”

I was lost as to what the problem could be, but I said "This is a small town, and I just got a check-up recently and maybe they couldn’t reach me, so they came to the house." I told her I'll call and take care of it. I ended up calling and was told I had to come in. Once I came into the office, this woman had me sit down and say that we tested you for everything and you are clear for all STDs, but my HIV test came back positive. She also informed me that I could live 50 more years with this diagnosis. I left out of there crying; asking my ‘What the - did I do?’

I knew what I did. I made a call to those I’d had sex with between the periods of me getting tested. While doing so, I found that the person who I contracted HIV from knew their status, and didn't tell me they weren't taking their meds because they chose to get high instead.

I got home and began to put on a brave face to calm my mother by saying, "I have to wait for my blood work to come back, but I'm sure I’ll be fine with whatever it is they find." My mother wasn’t stupid, at that point I'm sure she was focused on praying to God that everything was ok. She replied, "Ok, I'm sure everything will be good."

I then walked to my room and sat on my bed to begin my regimen of One Atripla tab once a day at bedtime. Every night moving forward, I found myself waking up almost every hour to wet clothes and sheets due to night sweats, deep realistic dreams, and changes in my will to live. After one to two weeks, I realized that I needed to tell my mother what was going on before she possibly found me dead in my room.

I went into the other room to finally tell her. As I told her, I could barely get the words out of my mouth without crying. She said, reaching out to hug me, "Everything is going to be OK, and mama loves you."

HIV has added plenty of things to my life. I have now chosen to stay as positive as I possibly can about my status. The person I was before I was living with HIV is just as worthy of being heard and loved as much as the person I am today; living with an undetectable status.

Sometimes being heard allows you to understand how much you matter. I want to say thank you to Billy Porter because there isn't a time frame when you have to disclose or say anything. It is about finding yourself, with your truth, and allowing that to guide you to your voice. Whether that is to keep silent or speak up, it's your choice. I did not personally choose to be the 1 out of 2 black men who have sex with men to become HIV positive, but I did decide to live within all the intersections that brought me to the path I am on today.

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