I just reconnected with my family last year and in some ways I think it was the best timing. Being one of the most outspoken openly gay figures in my family I was surprised when I discovered that I had a couple of gay relatives that have come out during my 24 year absence. Unfortunately, I was a little sad to find out that they are also HIV+.
I have mainly stayed in contact with them through facebook. I've spoken to them both on the phone and offered to give any advice and answer any questions they might have about their newly diagnosed conditions. One of them I think is intimidated by me because I am a little more educated than he is. So, he stopped really communicating. The other I actually speak with on a semi-regular basis.
I remember when I found out I was so scared and had no one to really talk to. So, I hope that they will take me up on my offer. But something else has occurred to me. I have been watching their facebook pages and they both seem to be following the same path even though they are not in touch with each other. In fact…I don't think they even know each other at all.
You can tell a lot about a person from their facebook page. Their statuses and photos give a pretty clear picture of their ambitions and daily activities. And they both seem to like to post photos of themselves smoking pot. One of them seems to be very narcissistic, posting many selfies and some partially clothed or completely nude.
From what I have gathered from talking with other family members, these two young gay relatives both did not have father figures (like myself). Their fathers turned their backs on them because they were gay (like mine). Both seem to be very creative and have great potential, but I wonder if their environments are contributing to their behavior.
When I was in my twenties I (like many in their twenties) thought I knew everything. Obviously I didn't. Had I known that you needed a water based lube while using condoms I probably would not have become HIV+. I spent almost a year beating myself up after I was diagnosed. I thought I would never find someone who would love and accept me because I was positive. Obviously I was wrong. I have had many relationships and have been in love several times since my diagnosis. I wish I had someone around that could have given me some advice or who would just listen and understand.
Now…I know you are both grown. You are adults and make your own decisions. But I would like to share some personal things about myself that might give you some insight on where you are in life and where you might be heading.
From a very early age I was molested by a relative. This relative realized that I was gay back when I was seven years old. The sexual abuse happened until I was ten. He was actually jealous of me because I was the first born grandchild and I took the focus from him being the youngest. So, being sexualized at such a young age made me promiscuous in my twenties. I can't speak for everyone who has been molested, but this was my experience.
I have to say that I am glad that I was born in the time that I was. I witnessed a lot of amazing and historical moments in my life. I often feel like today's youth is so bombarded with information and images that they couldn't pay attention if they wanted to. How could they? Texting while taking a selfie and checking your facebook all at once. And with role models like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton (I'm being sarcastic here) showing you that bad behavior makes you famous, why wouldn't you post nudes of yourself on social media. Maybe you will get discovered? (really? if everybody is doing it then who's gonna stand out?)
I feel blessed to have had the life that I lead. I have been blessed to be loved and to love. I have been blessed with talents that have kept me able to feed and clothe myself since I was 16 years old. I am in no way rich or famous, but I am known and respected by people around the world. The values that my grandmother taught me have served me well. And I hope that I can share some of those with you right now while you are still young enough to apply them to your lives.
First thing that I would like to do is ask you a few questions……"What are your aspirations in life?" "Where would you like to go?" and "What is your plan to get there?" And then the most important question……"Is what you are doing right now going to get you there?"
When you answer these questions honestly then you can put things in motion. I knew from a very young age that no matter what was going on (good or bad)….I was gonna be in control of my own life one day. And all I had to do was get to that day. I wanted more out of life. And sometimes that means getting up and moving away from everything you know so you can put things in perspective. Some leave their hometowns and never return. Others leave and find their way back home. And like in "The Wiz" when Lena Horne said "Home is not just a place where we eat or sleep, child…..home is knowing your heart, your courage. If we know ourselves, we are home anywhere."
Regardless if I am in Toronto or New York City or somewhere in Europe…..I am home anywhere because I learned to love myself. Often when we are acting out and doing reckless things we are actually crying out for help. We are longing to know where we fit in and where we belong. So, all the selfies of you smoking pot or half naked in your bathroom are you trying to fit in. I'm not one for smoking pot, drinking or doing drugs. I learned from my parents' mistakes with those things. And plus I want to experience everything unclouded. I want to know what I just did was real and not some drug induced fiasco that I wished I had not done.
I know you think you are living in the best of times right now. Lord knows, I definitely felt that way back then. But I can't even begin to tell you how wonderful it is to look back and realize how much I have grown as a person. How I have really learned to love and be loved. I want you to have the best life you can. And it starts right now with you and the decisions that you make right.
You see….life is basically a set of decisions. Some will lead you down one path or another. I want you to be ready. We can't know the future but we can be prepared. Living in the moment can be even more dangerous than you can imagine. Remember that every action has a reaction or consequence. It may not seem like it but trust me…..they do.
Believe it or not, what you post on your facebook page could cost you in the future. If I were twenty-something right now I'm sure that I would be tempted to post all kinds of provocative photos of myself on facebook. I'm sure I'd have all kinds of nudes and even videos on some site like Adam4Adam or an app like Grindr. But with the knowledge that employers and colleges now look at you on social media when considering who they hire or accept would give me pause. Just something to think about. What does your profile online say about you. Nudes and pot smoking photos give a pretty negative image of who you are as a person. Remember…it's not what you do, but how you do it. And not everything needs to be posted online.
Learn to have some mystery about yourself. Many think that they know everything about me, probably because I am so open about my life and my past. But what they don't realize is that what they have heard or read is only the tip of the iceberg. And when it comes to rumors, I would rather they heard it from me and not others. Only I know the real story and can tell it correctly. The rest is "lies and sissy gossip." So, always live in your truth. No one can hurt you if you tell the truth first. Everything that I was afraid of has already happened. So, now I live fearless.
And the last thing that I want to point out is something that I totally had a hard time learning. "No man is an island." You can not make it in life completely on your own. You need people around you. People who are going to encourage you and support you (and I am not talking about a "sugar daddy"). I'm talking about friends and family. But not everyone is your friend and not all family is good for you. Both can be toxic. Learn to recognize the difference.
Remember that I am here for you. I will do whatever I can to help you on your journey in life. If I can share some knowledge that might help you through the hard times, please ask. You can talk to me about anything. I'm gay and much older than you. And I'm sure there is not a situation that you can find yourself in that I have not already found myself in. And if you do find something that I have not experienced…we'll get through it together.
I love you and we are family.