I believe in the power of confrontation. Confrontation with self can be the most powerful tool in engaging evolution for the purposes of walking in our most- highest selves. For me, that has meant looking directly at the parts of myself that are the most difficult to bear. Sometimes it is these parts of ourselves that act as the greatest barriers to change because it is easier to tell ourselves things that feel good. So we say things like, “I did the best I could with what I knew” or “that wasn’t my intention so it was not that bad.” While these things can support us in not getting stuck in guilt, we are bound to repeat what we do not name.
How can we allow ourselves to be uncomfortable for the purposes of evolutionary and potentially revolutionary action? It is from this vantage point that I reflect on what it means to be an aspiring accomplice to loved ones living with HIV. In the work that I do as a political organizer and teacher, when discussing strategies that can increase the chances of freedom (also known as anti-oppressive strategies), we use the term aspiring accomplice to frame showing up for marginalized groups as a process…not a destination. In other words, at the end of the day, our accomplice card expires, and we need to earn it again the next day.
Being an Aspiring Accomplice allows us to examine how we show up for groups who have been pushed to the margins of society critically instead of just engaging from a feel good, “can I get a cookie?” place.
This following is a list of how to be an Aspiring Accomplice. It is by no means an end point and this list will grow and change over time. This serves as a reflection of me participating in my own process of self- reflexivity and striving to move authentically as an aspiring ally to folks living with HIV. I am learning in this process. I hope this can contribute to a road map of tools for other HIV negative folks who seek to be a part of creating a world that is truly free.
Often, one product of being pushed to the margins is that the burden is placed on the group who is struggling to educate those who already have power and access in a particular category—be it race, gender, class, sexuality, gender identity and expression, ability and the list goes on. HIV is no exception. Understanding this allows us to actively lift the burden of having to educate those with privilege. How many issues have you taken great interest in and done the work of watching documentaries, reading books, doing active research to learn what it is you want to learn? When we truly care about expanding our mind, we invest through action. Finding the right resources are important. Sometimes we find things that simply promote stigma and the criminalization of poz folks. Invest in resources that affirm the lives and voices of poz people and that work from places that seek to expand access, center poz voices, and eliminate stigma.
I was confronted with my own blind spots when the issue of disclosure and status arose. Up until this point, I had believed that I was further along as an accomplice than I actually was. While I understood that poz folks should not have to disclose their status, I had not considered the subtly details embedded in the why. I had not confronted the ways in which I had taken in messages around HIV and disclosure. I did not know then, what I know now: That the burden of disclosure being placed on poz bodies is a product of a society that values power structures that are committed to magnifying the choices mostly white cis straight HIV negative people have over their bodies while also working to criminalize any action rooted in choice and autonomy for poz bodies—particularly Black poz bodies. The deeper questions often live right under the surface of what we think we know. For example, have we considered the place of state seeks to assert control over poz people and the ways this impacts HIV poz people on a daily basis? These things are of course made more intense by other pieces of identity such as race, class, sexuality, gender identity, ability, and citizen ship status. Many times, in the process of unlearning the violent messages we have received about ourselves and others, we engage in this half-hearted understanding of what it means for each and every person to be free. Truly free. From a privileged point of view, we miss the subtleties of lived experiences because we are not living it. Challenging the most destructive forms of socialization means looking squarely at what you have taken in, feeling that shame deeply, and then deciding to release that belief. This is not easy. If you are feeling discomfort, do not retreat from this feeling. This is often the starting point to change.
Baring witness is a powerful act. Holding space authentically. Sometimes this alongside of asking, “In this moment, what do you need” or “how can I best support you right now?” can make the difference between…
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