“’20 Years Strong’ means Atlanta Black Gay Pride is about more than just a party. It's about expanding the mind for the true meaning of Black Gay Pride; affirmation, advocacy, unity and educatioRead More Read More
Images of heterosexual couples as thriving, traditional families have been the primary frame in which society conceptualizes love, sex and relationships. As generations grow to be more expressive, open, and independent in thought, traditional ideas that often call for suppression of one’s self and conformity to societal norms are being challenged.
Although they do exist, there are very few highly-visible couples taking the stage to exemplify committed relationships between gay and bisexual men of color. In the South, these public images seem to be even less frequent than in other parts of the United States. As a result, the idea of long-term monogamy feels like a mythical concept for some African American gay and bisexual men.
Perhaps the real myth among same-sex attracted men of color is the idea that HIV is inevitable – and that eventually all members of the community become infected because of widespread, sexual promiscuity and infidelity. The fact is, HIV is a preventable disease, and MSM of color have not been found to partake in more risky behavior than other groups.
During AIDS 2012, The Involvement study at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health presented findings from an ongoing cohort of black and white MSM in Atlanta. According to that study, black MSM faced a 39 percent chance that at least one partner had transmission potential, compared with an 18 percent chance among white MSM at the same risk behavior level.
OPTIONS FOR PREVENTION
The light at the end of the tunnel shines upon increasing conversation about HIV; reinforcing the fact that there are options for reducing an individual’s risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, that extend beyond condom usage during sex.
The option of monogamy sparks an introspective evaluation of how a person chooses to frame their sexual experiences. Although the choice of how one engages in sexual practices is ultimately left to the individual, risk for contracting HIV is reduced when two uninfected people agree to be monogamous – meaning that they are only having sex with each other.
At a time when marriage is considered an inevitable failure by many, there are still couples who opt to invest in, enjoy and commit themselves to long-term, monogamous relationships.
The process and pursuit of partnership can be difficult. Along with ensuring that an individual is well prepared for a committed relationship, consideration for personal health and safety must also be a priority.
After the joy of meeting someone who seems to have the desirable qualities one seeks, talking about HIV status can be awkward. However, choosing not to prioritize this important conversation can be risky and regrettable.
The Johnsons dropped by to discuss asking each other the difficult but important question about HIV status while dating, married life, attitudes about long-term relationships among men of color, social media support groups and how they proactively care for each other’s general health.
Rafer and Kelly Johnson are a pair who seem to have found their ultimate partnership, love connection and as a bonus – risk reduction for STIs. Initially, the hubbies never even planned on being in a relationship, but the sound of just one laugh changed all of that for Rafer.
Randevyn: “How do you think gay and bisexual black men perceive relationship? Is there any resistance to the idea of commitment in your interactions, friendships, and social circles?”
Kelly: “I’ve seen my generation become more accepting of ourselves. The examples of relationships we have our reflections of family and what has been taught through church, etc. We [gay and bisexual men of color] have a lot of issues with the lack of examples that reflect us..the opportunity is for couples to become more visible.”
Rafer: “They just don’t believe that it can happen. Even men who are living completely gay lives, I don’t think that they have accepted that I’m ready to be fully committed and out, living authentically.”
Randevyn: “One of the things I’ve heard about relationships over and over among [same sex attracted] men of color is that monogamy is not realistic, men ultimately end up cheating, somehow things won’t work out. As a monogamous couple, what would you say to those kinds of thoughts – that kind of notion?”
Kelly: “…A lot of men that I know have come from single parent homes. That’s been their reality – ‘someone is always gonna do me wrong some kind of way.’ That’s the reality we’ve created. We’ve done detriment to ourselves. The most important thing about relationships is being able to sit with your flaws and sit with another person’s flaws and be happy. It’s being able to own my stuff, and own theirs, too. That’s why a lot of people run away [from relationships], because they can’t own their own stuff from the beginning.”
Rafer: “Look at your family. We all know the uncle and the aunt who cheated in their relationships, but we [same sex attracted men of color] set this bar for ourselves that is unrealistic. Then we say, ‘okay, we can’t get there. It’s not my fault, it’s society’s fault. Because I’m gay, I can’t get a good relationship’ – that’s a cop-out. That’s where we fail ourselves – relationships are not just about sex. What about the intimacy? What about building financial [stability]? We don’t really give ourselves the opportunity…there are many of us out here. I don’t think we give ourselves permission to be happy.”
Randevyn: “How long into the courtship did you ask about HIV status?”
Rafer: “It was 2 weeks in that we had the conversation.”
Randevyn: “I know there are a lot of folks who wonder, ‘how do I have this conversation, when do I bring it up, when is it appropriate, what do I say?’ Walk me through how that conversation went for you guys.”
Rafer: “The question was, ‘do you know your status?’ When we decided to be a couple, we both went to the doctor and got tested [and] did the full physical.”
Randevyn: “So, was this before you became comfortable exploring the physical part of the relationship?”
Rafer: “No, but we ensured protection until we had the tests together.”
Randevyn: “How often do you test for HIV?”
Rafer: “We get our annual physicals and test for everything regularly. It’s not just about STIs….to me, it’s about living healthy.
Kelly: “It’s really important that you do maintain a healthy life. To me that’s the whole mantra – stay healthy.”
As a way to support other gay and bisexual men of color seeking long-term relationships, Rafer and Kelly have formed an invitation-only Facebook group designed to help singles. They are also part of a couples group that Rafer helps lead – all designed to help singles and couples function at their best potential.
The singles group offers a Workshop – My Perfect Mate to help individuals identify exactly what they are looking for in a partner, and work through personal barriers that may be hindering them from being the best possible candidate for a long-term relationship.
The couples group provides a network of support and socialization among partners and spouses. Members in the couples group actually out-number those in the singles group by nearly 2 to 1. The couples group has a range of partners who have been together as little as 6 months, and as long as 30 years. This virtual outlet serves as a safe space for couples to express and share their happiness and love for one another as they embrace monogamy.
The Center for Black Equity, formally known as the International Federation of Black Prides, is an American institution with a global reach strongly committed to supporting leaders, institutions, issues and programs that lead to social, economic, and cultural equity for all LGBT people of African descent.