When I was raped, first he bought me cigarettes.
Both of us hilariously drunk, he followed me
into the bathroom, came up behind, then yanked
my pants down and pushed me into the tub.
This was at some rich girl’s apartment downtown.
When we were invited to the same wedding
(years later) and I told the groom why I didn’t want
to see him again, same boy texted me about
“what you think happened that night” because
he never realized what he did, maybe, scarily
easy to believe how obliviousness works.
But I remember: days later, going to the clinic,
telling them I was assaulted, getting tested.
“Oh honey, why didn’t you go to the police?”
Back then I didn’t fuck sober and loathed my body.
In 2012 the FDA approved Truvada as PrEP.
Antiretroviral medicines were used as post-exposure
prophylaxis on an “occupational” basis for nurses
stuck with needles, risked by strange blood. Now
taking pills as prevention was becoming a thing.
I researched the drug and went to Callen-Lorde
where a tidy doctor shot me down, denying the script
because “you’re not a sex worker” and telling me,
“Just try not to hook up with guys when you drink.”
I thought I’d hate him when I seroconverted.
There was an unreasonable terror situated bone-
deep that belied comprehension, the magical
thinking convincing me a virus could possibly
render you less worthy of love. What a fucking lie.
I realize that stories about HIV don’t have to be
couched in medical concern or whited moralization.
Nothing othering will gain subsists reputedly,
as a game tide of men turns on the axis of knowing.
“Good luck with your little blue pill!” spat the poet,
suspicious of Pharma, plague survivor, watched
a boyfriend end on AZT (his breath smelled chemically).
“Bet you never had to go back into the closest
just so you could die in your childhood bedroom.”
My therapist wants me to have a problem with sex
but I figured out most of my shit before I got there.
He asked me if I thought older gay men might
be jealous of the resurgent bodily freedom
enjoyed finally by an undeserving generation
who never threw their friends’ corpses at Congress
nor made the world budge to stanch the crisis.
I’ve waged private battles, monumental to myself,
know the value of information and communication,
after no help from parents, teachers, or the government.
The generation preceding, thrown away in the trash:
Bob Hope smiled, “The Statue of Liberty has AIDS!
She either got it from the mouth of the Hudson or
the Staten Island ferry.” Arriving untrammeled
at a healthy praxis, let me tell you friends, is no light
feat after that kind of cruelty routed the discourse.
When HIV enters your body, it expects open doors,
receptive cells to infect and use to replicate itself,
but what if there was an intervention to block the enzyme,
preventing reverse transcription, leaving the virus to die?
That sounded like science fiction to some, slut shamers
reveled in insinuation, even gay nonprofits clutched
their pearls for years, but best practices evolved,
I switched doctors, and now I get a monthly bottle
of ocean blue gum drops that costs more than
the computer on which I am typing this poem.
I swallow them at golden hour, becoming now an
active participant in the course of my sexual health.
Put on your raincoats, lads, there’s a storm outside!
Scary posters incriminate my sexuality: pleasure,
judgment, oblivion. Not even in the worst of it
did the men stop fucking; so raze the dunes, drown
the piers, lock the bathhouses forever, convert a
traffic island into an adorable memorial for those
who left this place screaming and covered in blood…
none of it matters to a cock clothed in your rectum.
Thank you, violent advocates with incursive demands,
inscribing your church-crushing rage into the concord,
whose bravery forged a safer home for homos to come.
Bless you, glittery whores: swapping fluids, dressing up,
taking what you need to survive, cunningly challenging
this heteronormative panopticon they built around us.
Nobody taught me much; I figured it out on my own
with some help from my friends and perfect strangers.
The world is full of people diagnosed yesterday
and slow progressors who knew they had HIV
back when it was a different acronym. Some of us
take many pills, others only one; technology ameliorates
what was once a plague and these cherished pellets
won’t always remain under strict corporate control.
The patents will break, options increase, and culture
habilitates glacially around the needs of others.
Some may presume we’re just chilling atop
Chateau Truvada, painting our nails, but we
made it through some treacherous shit to get here
and nobody’s diminishing the struggle of the past
by radically caring for ourselves in the present.
So I hope you don’t find me to be too didactic,
cliché, or sentimental in ending the poem with this:
Undetectable equals untransmittable, treatment
is prevention, ACT UP, fight back, end AIDS!