Ryan Lee

Ryan Lee: A discourse on disclosure

Last month, an Atlanta social media “celebrity” posted a series of videos on Facebook in which he outed his former roommate (and unrequited love interest) as being HIV-positive. The videos were salacious and vindictive, even though the celebrity, who I’ll call Queen Meathead, tried to frame the disclosure as a public service to the presumably unsuspecting partners who had raw sex with his former roommate.

Rarely does a jilted ego respond with altruistic deeds, and there are millions of people who have done far more good in this world than Queen Meathead, without being half as petty. The outing sparked an impassioned online discussion about disclosure and decency, and inspired the non-profit NAESM to host a recent forum on the stigma and responsibility placed upon HIV-positive individuals, whether while dating or in their daily lives.

It was disappointing that Queen Meathead was invited to be a panelist, but not surprising that he accepted the invitation and ensured his mere presence was antagonistic. He wore a black shirt with bright red letters that screamed, “HIV NEGATIVE” above the city’s skyline, the message being: I’m different from, and better than, all these dirty ATL fags.

In reality, Queen Meathead is a caricature of messiness. He’s built a social media brand off of being viciously sloppy, and much like Donald Trump, the more outrageous things he says and does, the more attention his brand receives.

Good, bad, vengeful — it doesn’t matter what type of attention it is, as long as everyone is talking about Queen Meathead (which is why I’m not using his name in this column). It was sickening and insulting to see him onstage at the NAESM forum, relishing the attention his messiness earned him, while smugly spewing more misinformation and judgment.

There were technical problems with the microphone Queen Meathead used that night, which is appropriate since nothing he said was worth hearing. Granted, the forum, and the difficult but critical discussion about HIV disclosure, probably wouldn’t have occurred without his initial tabloid postings, but there is nothing Queen Meathead can contribute to a strategy to fight HIV among black gay men in Atlanta except more messiness.

It’s unfortunate that someone who perpetuated such a vicious betrayal upon his roommate and the larger black gay community in Atlanta was given a platform to further malign a majority of black gay HIV-positive men as reckless and predatory. It’s a characterization that is easily accepted and echoed by heterosexuals when they hear that the HIV rate in black gay men in Atlanta rivals that of third-world countries, but it distorts reality.

Undoubtedly, the HIV epidemic in black gay Atlanta is devastating, and there is a legal and ethical imperative for HIV-positive individuals to disclose their status to their sexual partners before intercourse. Yet, a majority of new HIV cases are not caused by HIV-positive men seeking to infect new partners, but rather by those who are unaware that they are living with the virus.

HIV-positive individuals are not supposed to partake in sex, especially without protection, and those of us who do are cast as wicked even when the risk for transmission is negligible or non-existent.

One way to help gay men not fear getting tested for HIV, or disclosing their status, is correcting the misconception of those living with the virus from dirty and dying, to affirmed and thriving — in their physical, emotional and sexual health.