What would Audre do?
“Your silence will not protect you.” When Audre Lorde famously stud that in Sister Outsider (1984), I believe she was speaking to me. Certainly she had no way of knowing that some 15 years later a young man she inspired with her passion, anger, and wit would begin a column in The Advocate–and five years later he’d be celebrating his 20th such essay. And asking himself, What have I left out?
“If we wait until we are unafraid to speak, we will be speaking from our graves.”
“There can’t be much left,” you say if you’ve followed Final Cut. The Political Paris lambasted Bush at the start of the war (November 26, 2002) and questioned the value of the word marriage–while supporting the concept, of course (May 23, 2000). Hollywood Paris interviewed a closeted movie star (February 29, 2000), celebrated the then-gayest show on television in “An Ode to Will & Grace” (November 21, 2000), and predicted the rescinding of human rights and the near-destruction of Tinseltown in “A Blog From the Future” (March 2, 2004).
The African-American Activist Paris attempted to galvanize support for changing the look of gays on the small screen (in my first column, September 28, 1999). Personal Paris shared an extraordinary amount: revealing my feelings after the death of an ex (November 23, 1999); recounting how I missed by a hair being on board Flight 11 on 9/11 (November 20, 2001); and excerpting a letter my partner and I wrote to the adopted son we’re still waiting for (November 25, 2003.)
That’s quite a lot of exposure. But Ms. Lorde would not be satisfied.
“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”
I was considering themes for this mini-milestone of a column while at a retreat last weekend sponsored by the Black AIDS Institute. There, along with 25 other gay African-American men from all over the United States and from a wide variety of professions, I was challenged to do more to battle the disease that has become the scourge of minority populations. In particular, how do we tackle–and reverse–the trend of increasing infection among African-American women? Statistics published in The New York Times recently hit home: A black woman is 23 times more likely to be infected with HIV than a white woman, and almost 72% of new HIV cases reported among women from 1999 to 2002 are black women.
“The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives.”
Audre Lorde would not be happy with those statistics, and I don’t think she would be happy with me. Here I am, a person of prominence, a person of color with a space to espouse my point of view. And I have failed.
“It is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence.”
I have failed because I have not been open and honest about being an African-American man who is HIV-positive. I have failed because I have allowed fear to take that bit of information about who I am off the table and, not unlike my brothers (both “down low” and otherwise), have avoided committing directly to the struggle to turn the tide of AIDS in my own community. I have failed because so many things have become more important in my glamorous little life. I have made the same token efforts as many of us have–only I have probably received more acknowledgment for them.
“When I dare to be powerful–to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
Audre Lorde has been speaking for us. Now’s the time for me, and any of you who wish to join me, to earn the right to speak for her. By being honest and educated and passionate–and committed to making a real difference in a troubled, and troubling, world.
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