Posts in Life

I Changed My Mind, I’m On PrEP

I identify as a harm reductionist. I believe in the idea of being fully aware of the consequences of risky behaviors, and utilizing strategies to reduce the risk out of them. I look both ways before I cross the street. I keep my shoes tied. I wear condoms when I have sex. I do my part in trying to not put myself in harms way of anything that could be harmful — and ironically why I was against PrEP.

I couldn’t wrap my head around not using condoms, being tested regularly, and having to take a pill for the rest of my life. In the current state of Blackness and the way PrEP is marketed, I always felt like it was some racist target to medicate the Black gay community…or something. I mean, that’s not a far fetched idea right? The Tuskeegee Experiment comes to mind.

I guess I should explain what PrEP is, no? PrEP means Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, and it’s the use of anti-HIV medication that keeps HIV negative people from becoming infected. Essentially, a pill someone can take daily to greatly the reduce the risk of contracting HIV while in addition to practicing safe sex. We tend to always look for something quick to remedy us as opposed to focusing on the root of the problem. We see it with obesity, mainly. Hydroxycut, Phen-Phen, or those bad bitch teas they sell on instagram which is a one-stop-fix-this-problem magic potion without changing any of the behaviors contributing to the heart of the matter.

“Why can’t we just work out our issues with promiscuity, dating/sex apps, and dating by proxy? A pill is just contributing to the problem.”

That’s something I said numerous times, and it’s not completely off kilter. There’s this notion in the health community that we may be pacifying risky sexual behavior because HIV/AIDS campaigns aren’t aggressive enough in tackling reducing the community viral load — in other words, the ads suck and are too soft. “Oh, if I get infected I can take a pill, become undetectable and I’m cool? Bet.” That’s one argument. There’s a few others around. I was vehemently opposed to this entire concept until last week. I went to the doctor for the first time in years.

Full disclosure: the doctor is scary for me. Nothing ever has good with me visiting a doctor or a hospital so I stay away. I have had a change of heart recently due to a health concern (it was just acid reflux, I’m fine) and I went. I had a physical and had the doctor test me for everything. I got the results in two days, so naturally I was sweating bullets. I came back negative for everything…and I asked for a prescription for PrEP.

In March, Damon Young of VerySmartBrothas and The Root wrote about the reasons why Black men don’t go to the doctor. If straight Black men aren’t going to the doctor, imagine those who have sex with men. The stigma and fear, and lack of understanding from medical professionals is just enough for us Black gay men to rub some tussin on it and keep it pushin’.

What changed my mind?

Two things: statistics and quality of life.

We are becoming infected at an astronomical rate. I have no intentions on dating outside of my race to reduce the viral load due to it being concentrated with risk. In February of 2016, the Center for Disease Control announced that half of gay and bisexual black men and a quarter of gay and bisexual Hispanic men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetimes. The numbers show that it’s almost common place for Black MsM (men who have sex with men) to become infected. There’s a lot of us who are in committed monogamous relationships, and someone may be unfaithful and infect another person with the virus — a not uncommon story in the LGBTQ+ community. Also, people lie about their HIV status out of fear, denial, or them not knowing since, by large we don’t necessarily go to the doctor. There’s also a lack of sexual education in our community. Essentially, we’re socialized and learn how to protect ourselves in a heterosexual way, but not when it comes to having sex with other men. With that being said, it really lessens the dating pool.

Growing up gay, the golden ideal was to date and love someone who was not HIV positive as there was a fear you could contract HIV or some other social issue. There’s a lot of us who ideally would like someone who is not HIV negative, and whatever their reasons are it’s okay. But if the numbers are showing that half of us will become infected with HIV, and by large a lot of men (positive or not) aren’t compatible with you and trash, what’s left? This is all to assume that someone is being completely honest of course.

So, I decided to take PrEP in addition to condoms (because it does not protect against all STDs) as the air bags to my seatbelt. I did it for me.

And I feel good about it.

For more information, log on to http://www.whatisprep.org

For assistance on paying for PrEP, log on to https://start.truvada.com/paying-for-truvada

 

Happy To Be Here

My mother wasn’t supposed to have children.  She was told by a doctor in 1985 that I wasn’t supposed to happen. She calls me her miracle baby. When I was several months old, a woman stopped my mother in a store while I was in a stroller. The woman looked at me and then looked at her. “This is a special child. He’s going to do great things,” she said. My mother believed it. Today is my birthday, and I believe it too.

I thought about what to write for the longest. I thought what epic, award-winning, gut wrenching post could I write that would define this milestone, this…moment. But, then I realized the ability to even write and just being able to exist is platinum in the hood. Now that I’m here, things all of a sudden seem less complicated, less convoluted, less cluttered. Clear, even.

I’m just happy to be here.

 

— buy me drinks here: https://cash.me/$XavierDLeau

XD’s 30th Birthday Playlist

It’s my 30th birthday, everyone! I’ve decided to celebrate by putting a 10-track dope playlist on Spotify to commemorate where I am in my life at the moment.

I hope you all enjoy!

Almost

A couple of weeks ago, I sat with a friend in front of Sundaes & Cones on a bench. We caught up over artisan ice cream–I had two scoops of thai tea and taro, and he had thai tea and something else fancy. He told me about his boyfriend. They live together and their very much in love. In fact, we saw him later on that afternoon. They look so happy and excited every time they see one another, even if they had only been a part a few short moments.

On the bench, he asked me how I was doing. As usual, I began to talk about work. Work seems to dominate most of my conversations when people ask me how I’m doing. He stopped me and asked me about men. He specifically asked me if I had heard from and ex or if I was currently seeing anyone. I said no to both questions and then, for whatever reason, it all hit me.

Last year, a group of friends of mine on Twitter live-tweeted Bishop T. D. Jakes’ famous sermon “Woman, Thou Art Loosed.” We did it mainly for shits and giggles, only to find our spirits to be full and a word to carry with us. Jakes said a lot in the sermon, most of which didn’t apply to me, but there was one thing that stood out.

“We always wonder why we’re single. Whine and complain. Perhaps you’re single because God isn’t healing you yet.”

Sitting on the bench, I talked about what I was in the process of being healed from: Almosts. My life is filled with AlmostsAlmost were together but… Almost fucked but… He almost moved here but…We almost loved each other but…  Almosts add up and I don’t have any free mental or emotional real estate for someone to come in and be who they were sent to be in my life. As I’ve gotten older, I realize that it’s important to recognize what is holding you back, and ask God for healing from what you both recognize and don’t.

While I sat on the bench and finished my ice cream, God began to work before I even asked Him. I received a text message from an almost. I deleted it. And it felt good.

The Way Masculinity Is Set Up

“u masc” “Are you masculine?” “I prefer masculine niggas.”

I’ve talked about online dating here a couple of weeks back, and what I failed to mention is that online dating governs and dictates how a good portion of Black Gay Culture responds and reacts to things. It almost drives conversations at some point or another.

When I was a contributor at Mused Magazine, I’d often read Black Gay stories and the most visible, or shared, were ones about online dating in relation to preference. In essence, a lot of the things I read were about people being upset at the no fats no fems no whites credo that some folks to which adhere. I would never understand someone’s anger, hurt, frustration, or fear of someone else’s preference. I would always shove it off and say, “Well, let me focus on who likes men like me.” Whereas I do continue to share that same sentiment, the idea of masculinity has come up a lot in the thoughts I’ve had recently.

Folks argue that gender is a social construct and all that bullshit. Frankly, I don’t care about an ongoing sociological argument that won’t ever be palatable to an audience that would need to hear it most. What I’m trying to figure out is why masculinity is valued? And further, what does it mean to be masculine anyway?

I had a phone conversation with my good girlfriend who just finished her doctorate. We had an in depth conversation about…niggas. What rang true to both of us was something that I just happen to blurt out.

Well, I think men, straight and gay, do a lot of shit for appearances. They aren’t sure how to adjust their lifestyle to make it look a certain way. Masculinity is designed to be measured by another man’s worth….

That’s why I can’t get jiggy with gay men chasing this idea of a masculine man cuz it’s super insecure and silly

I’m not posing this as law, so much as this is something I’m questioning and leaning further to reject. We do a lot of shit for appearances, you know? Buy flashy things to “get women” or “get men.” We tend to honor this belief on making people feel bad about their circumstances. And don’t get me wrong, I do this. The other day, I tweeted something about “balling on fuckniggas,” because I mean…why wouldn’t you? I also think about tests of strength, like arm wrestling. I tend to think about men and their quest for their next nut to add to their list of bodies (this is more so for the straights, but it still rings true).

This all sounds so destructive, to me. Femininity isn’t the antithesis of masculinity as it comes with it’s host of issues. But in the context of us, or me, rather, I’m not sure I can continue to acknowledge masculinity as a commodity. In fact, it might just be a defense mechanism.

I’m still flushing this out. Maybe you can help. Share your thoughts.

When It Doesn’t Get Better

My mother was born in the late 1950s. A military family, she moved all over. Oklahoma, the Dakotas, Kansas, Missouri and finally settling in California in 1970. I call her Sis. 

Sis and her sister were one of the first Black children in an integrated school in Wichita. In the second grade, she and her sister entered the school with all eyes on them. She hated the attention. She also hated what she later learned as micro aggressions and…there was just flat out fucking racism. Her parents prayed through it and told her that this is just the way it is. Sis went on through life thinking this way–pray about it, ignore it and whatever it is, things will get better. 

She raised me to be this way. Ignore what’s happening, pray about it, it’s going to get better. 

It didn’t. 

I have gone through a lot, as a lot of us have. I was molested as a child. I was raped and gay bashed as a teen. My boyfriend committed suicide. I went through a lot of things that I probably shouldn’t have. 

Since then, I’ve unpacked and worked through those issues and I can thank God for being so well adjusted after all of these things. However, I never worked on addressing abuse head on. 

I’ve often told people to ignore abuse, you know? “Oh, just ignore them.” “They’re nobody.” “They’re not worth your time.” I’ve come to grow and understand that approach is more damaging than it is helpful. And I guess in turn, that makes me an abuser, too. I’m sorry for that. What’s helpful is to listen and support. 

That’s what I’ll do from now on.

For myself, too. 

Online Dating Is Necessary…For Now.

I belong to a couple of dating sites and apps. Jack’d, OKCupid, and Tinder as of right now. I think I’ve been on almost all of them at some point or another. It’s easy, convenient, and play into my insecurities of approaching men in public because of my crippling fear of rejection. I can admit those things, whether they sound awful or not.

My first taste at online dating was when I was 17. It was after Adam died and a classmate kept asking me, “Are you downe?” “What the fuck does downe mean,” I eventually asked because normally I’d just ignore him. He sent me a link to Downelink.com through Friendster and I signed up. I wasn’t too new to the internet dating thing because I would talk to twinks and men in the AOL chat rooms and on XYMag but it was rather harmless and I had no real clue as to who I was talking to or what I was doing. Downelink was like Myspace, and it’s still up and running, but for gay people. At the time, it was filled with a bunch of Gaysians (gay asians) and lesbians (note: Lesbians still love Downelink 12 years later). I posted suggestive pics on there that I took in the bathroom with the kodak digital camera I got for Christmas. It was just me in my underwear, because at an early age I knew how to sell a masterpiece. I received a bunch of messages and one stuck out. Jose  lived in Salinas, about 40 minutes away from me but he drove. We chatted and he wanted to come visit me. I lived at home and refused to have men in my mother’s house so I had him drive up to meet me at Starbucks across the street from my house. In hindsight, he looked like Roger Klotz from Nickelodeon’s Doug,  but I went a long with it. He told me to get in his car and we went for a ride around town. We talked and I showed him around. He was sweet. I ended up giving him head in the car, because even at an early age I knew when people RSVP for a party it’s your duty to come.

12 years later, I’m still online dating. I often hear that people refuse to utilize dating apps and services when they reach a certain age because they feel that it’s for young people. Too, I wonder how long am I going to remain using dating apps and services. After my hospital visit, however, I began to think that there’s no time limit on discovering companionship.

I was never taught how to be a Black gay man…and the Black gay men who happen to be reading this weren’t reared to be such either. In some form or another, we were taught to be Black straight men. I was always taught how to treat women as that was a part of not only being a good person, but being a man. Which, yes, it is, but what about how to treat a man in a romantic sense? The men in my life taught me how to talk to women in a romantic sense. “You have to go up to her and compliment her on her outfit.” “Take her on a nice date.” “Bring her flowers.” “Make her laugh.”  I was taught all the things, but never what to do about dating a man. Dating apps and services is one of the largest and relatively safest spaces we have as Black gay men to communicate with each other on a romantic level sans reproach. We don’t have the spaces that they do to commune and just be gay and meet folks. If we go, it’s the club or some forum about HIV/AIDS. Frankly, ain’t nobody got time for that.

So, I guess I’ll be on them until…

 

until.

Throwing Out The Trash Can.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from Jermaine. “I’m in your neighborhood, come down stairs in 5 minutes and let me up.” It was 2:34 in the morning. Normally, I never wake up for anything at that hour, but something told me to get up…

I met Jermaine in 2005 on a dating site. He was very forward, direct, and the first time we met, we had sex. It was never meant to be anything serious, and while the sex was the best we both had ever had, it was never consistent. We’ve had sex once a year over the last decade, each time more amazing than the last. With that, we’ve (meaning him) talked about, and maybe even entertained the idea of us,  but I always come back to, “Well, we’ve never been on a date. I don’t know his mother’s name. Is he pro-Black? What’s his stance on [insert any social justice issue]?”

I don’t know, and sadly…and honestly……..I don’t care.

He came over, I showered. He showered. And we had sex. This time it was different. It wasn’t about the positions, or the length, or the amount of rounds we went. I couldn’t put my finger on it until about 8 o’clock when woke up for a final round. Jermaine represents a lot of who I used to be: apathetic, emotionless, and selfish. He came at a time in my life when I was young and thought I knew it all. He was always there as a release for me, a sexual and emotional trash can where I can put things and never have to deal with them, and for whatever reason…he always stayed. I don’t want to be that guy anymore.

When he left, I told him good-bye and I hugged him. He said, “This is for good, isn’t it?”

 

Yeah.

Death is Dumb.

About three weeks ago, a friend of mine passed away. I didn’t really know how to process it, and I still don’t. My friend and coworker’s father passed away. She came to me for words of encouragement, and all I could do was provide a shoulder for her to cry.

I counsel for a living. I get paid, and essentially my life’s work, is based on listening, assessing, providing options, and support. And in order to do those things, you have to have some sort of grasp on what life has the ability to throw at you. I understand heartbreak. I understand drug addiction. I understand family issues, abandonment, trauma, rape, homosexuality, and a whole bunch of other things that I can say, “Okay, I can deal with this.” Yet, I can’t grasp death, especially not now.

My first experience with death was when I was 6. My grandfather passed away from a massive heart attack after a successful surgery that removed a tumor from his brain. I remember being able to see the form of the tumor. It was in his t-zone and I used to ask him why he frowned so much even when he smiled. I have faint memories of my grandfather. I petitioned at 3 years old for us grandkids to get a raise from $3-$5 because it wasn’t enough to get what we wanted from the ice cream man. Grandpa was a stout man. He had big hands but they were always welcoming, and warm. He was our jungle gym and let us play in the creek in the backyard even when G (my granny) said no.

We sat in the hospital for 6 hours for the surgery to be complete. We all saw him, and he was awake. He couldn’t speak because he had a tube down his throat, but he was responsive. He didn’t want us to leave because he hollered out when we turned our backs to leave the poorly lit room. The next day, we went to visit him at the hospital. He had died on our way there. There were a lot of tears, sure. I remember crying mainly because my G and my mother were crying. I remember crying because I didn’t know what was happening, but I knew I was supposed to do so. There was a whirlwind of family, stories, fights, and everything that goes with a funeral, and not once did anyone explain death to me. I didn’t ask either.

My mother always told me that she knew I was smarter that most and that I was able to navigate things on my own, and she rarely had to explain things to me. Where as I appreciate the compliment, I’m not sure this is one of those things I could’ve…gotten on my own. I’m 29 and I still don’t get it. I’m getting older, but I’m not supposed to be losing friends at this age, right? Isn’t that how life works?

There’s so many ideas and views on what death means, and I suppose I have the right to choose which fits most comfortably for my own good. But, what happens when the ones close to you, your age even, just…die? Is their life cut short? Were they here to fulfill a purpose? Did they fulfill it? Where do they go?

I think about children who die. They’re innocent. What lesson is to be learned? Why?

I think about people who live to be way into their centennial. Why them? Why do they get to live as long? Is it luck? Is their purpose not fulfilled?

I often joke about being pissed about dying early because I’ll miss a new Beyoncé album, or a new season of Love and Hip Hop. Laughter is the only thing that gets me through the unknown. It’s a scary place, and I honestly hate the shit.

What I do know is that I probably won’t figure it out until the end. And that’s…

 

yeah.

Companionship Is a Motherfucker.

On Friday, I experienced chest pains at work. I was sitting in my office (fake) working when, all of a sudden, it felt like the physical manifestation of a heatbreak. I lost feeling in my left arm and both of my hands. In true Black male fashion, I said that I was going to shake it off and drink some ginger ale. My director caught wind of me describing my symptoms to a coworker, and she called 9-1-1.

I was rushed to the hospital and I was pissed about it. The whole ride I kept thinking, “Nigga, you can’t die today. Do you know how many ribs you are missing for this bullshit?” Clearly, I have an issue with priorities (no I don’t.)

They did all of these tests and all I could hear was the cash register sound thinking about how much all of this is going to cost, even though I’ve been blessed with pretty decent insurance.

I was seen by a bunch of nurses and doctors. In between I did what any other millennial does while they’re waiting for anything: I took selfies.

A nurse walked in and asked me for my insurance information and medical history and all the standard questions you hate answering.

“Who’s your emergency contact?”

I drew a blank.

I have friends, a family network, that I’ve created for myself since the age of 18. As we’ve gotten older, they have their own families and I…I don’t.

I gave her my play aunt’s information and my eyes began to fill with water. The nurse left and said she was going to check on me in an hour.

At this stage, companionship is more important to me than it ever has been. I’ll admit, growing up as an only child conditioned me to be rather selfish and not “check-in” with others as I should and ought. It’s a difficult thing to break out of, but I’m working on it. In any event, who is the person I turn to for medical emergencies? Who contacts my family when I’m called home?

I often see people who are in their 30s, or even younger, dating people and it seems as though their settling from the outside looking in. And, perhaps I have it wrong. Maybe they aren’t settling, maybe it’s this idea that if you peel back all the bullshit, there’s someone who legitimately gives a fuck about you — companionship.

I got out of the hospital around 3.

I got ribs when I left.