24 June 2014

PrEP: "Truvada, The Other Little Blue Pill"

It's been nearly a year. I haven't posted not for a lack of interesting material, but for a lack of passion to express my experiences until now. This week has been pretty transformative for me in that I have had the opportunity to take new steps to protect myself from an infection which has devastated the lives of many individuals, families, economies, and cultures. HIV is a virus which is relatively new to our awareness, and surrounded by stigma. The topic has come up on this blog before, but the difference is that now there are new options available which we can take to exponentially decrease risk from infection in the event of an exposure.

"What about condoms?" I'm sure some of you are saying/thinking. Well, you're right! But they only work when they're used 100% of the time, and assuming they're used properly, and assuming they don't break. There are a lot of "What if's" when dealing with barrier-method (condoms/receptive-partner condoms, dental dams, etc.). PrEP is a great second-line defense. Or even a first line defense, depending on how you look at it.

For those of you who are a little confused:
(What the hell is this guy talking about??)
Pre (before) Exposure (contact with ____) Prophylaxis (protection)
In other words -it's a pill you can take daily to protect yourself from HIV infection in the event you might have an exposure. It gives your cells the ability to stop HIV from infiltrating it, and forcing it to reproduce. Without the ability to reproduce, it dies. Therefore: no HIV infection. But this is only if you take it consistently. And as we all know -people are great at being inconsistent. In other words (and in the eternal words of Dorothy from the Golden Girls, "CONDOMS, ROSE!"

It's not for everybody, and a prescription is required to start the regimen, but it's nothing short of ground breaking, and while the option has been FDA approved since 2012, it has remained a little-known fact for the vast majority of mainstream society. THIS is why I'm recording my experiences and sharing them with you. I've said it before, I'll continue to say it: KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.

So: while I'm not a physician, nor licensed to give medical advice, I have been working in the field of HIV outreach, prevention, and treatment for over 10 years. As such -ask any questions you might have -and if it's not a question I'm qualified to answer, I can tell you where to find your answer if it's out there.

I'm not the best at video editing or any of this. And it's nearly 10 minutes long... so bare with me. Please share your thoughts. No hate, though. This is a forum for open, honest, nonjudgmental communication.

Thank you!


Oh! And to prevent me from getting sued or any of that business, here's some disclaimers:

*I do not work for a pharmaceutical company.
*I have not received any payment/funding/incentive for expressing my views.
*The views expressed are my own.
*I am not a physician. I do not provide medical advice nor diagnosis.
*The experiences expressed are my own, and may (obviously) fluctuate widely from person to person

28 June 2013

This Is Important To Me (and to you too):

My younger brother, a police officer, recently asked me why people dress in drag for pride. He told me he asked a guy in drag who didn't know. It got me thinking about how little we share of our history with our next generations. We might have come a long way in terms of civil liberties and human rights (and still have a long way to go), but without an understanding of what our predecessors endured to achieve these freedoms, which we often (through no fault of our own) take for granted, we cannot ensure that history will not repeat itself.

It's good that people, like my brother, have the courage to ask these important questions instead of jumping to conclusions leading to fear and judgement of what we don't understand. It is equally important for us to share what knowledge we have of these and other events when we're confronted with people who haven't had the privilege of learning.

I know that there are a lot of people out there, especially throughout the month of June (LGBT Pride Month, for those of you who are not aware), who wonder why LGBT people dress up so flamboyantly, hop on floats through towns and cities, and celebrate in ways which might appear to an outsider as completely hedonistic. A lot of people from our own (LGBT) communities, even participants, don't fully understand. I am still learning. The following is a little bit of a "spark notes" version of my understanding of our history, followed by a few links of some important events which influenced the evolution of our struggle toward equal rights. This kind of knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. There are plenty of obstacles to the open communication of this information -even today in the age of communication- so please be patient with me if there are (because there will be) gaps and/or mistakes.

Please click on these links to learn more:

The Stonewall Inn, New York, NY 1969
Important because this marked the popularization of the LGBT movement toward equality and was first major victory against the years of institutionalized/police brutality and murder of innocent LGBT people. It also explains why there exists so much flamboyance in the pride parades we see every year. After years of drag queens and transgender (easy targets for bigots) being rounded up and arrested under ridiculous vice law/crimes against nature, the LGBT people marched proudly up NY's Fifth Ave marking their victory after days of fighting the police on Christopher Street.

The Upstairs Lounge, New Orleans, LA 1973
Not as widely known or publicized. But I'm sure this atrocity will be better recognized after the upcoming release of its documentary. Nevertheless, jump the gun and read about it before all your friends and family go watch the documentary so you can say you were in the know first. WARNING: this is a sad and graphic event laden with violence. Prepare yourself before jumping in.

GRID, or Gay Related Immune Deficiency (later renamed AIDS) hits New York and San Francisco, 1981
We cannot talk about the LGBT movement without mentioning the impact of the HIV epidemic which hit our community hard, and let to even further marginalization of our communities. The Kaiser Family Foundation provides a really great timeline of how HIV was first identified and the long and painful struggle to better understand, treat, and prevent this virus.

The Murder of Matthew Shepard, Laramie, WY 1998
By now most Americans know something of the Murder of Matthew Shepard. There are documentaries, books, online articles, etc. detailing the torture and murder the of Mr. Shepard. In 2009, President Obama signed into law, The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expands upon the original 1969 hate crimes law to include crimes motivated by hatred toward a victim's perceived gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Lawrence V. Texas, Supreme Court Decision 2003 effectively striking down sodomy laws nation-wide
This legislation prevents the government from punishing us for having consensual intercourse between two (or potentially more) adults. Basically -this was the case which told the final few conservative (read homophobic) states that they could not arrest or fine LGBT people for being who they are. Especially not in the privacy of their own homes.

United States V. Windsor (and the repeal of DOMA), June 2013
Most recently, (along with the repeal of California's Prop. 8), The Supreme Court decision to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (stating that our federal government would only recognize heterosexual marriage) was unconstitutional because it violates due process. This judgement opens the floodgates for lawsuits in states with similar legislation against marriage equality, and will most likely lead to further protections for our communities.


17 June 2011

New York State Marriage Equality NOW

It's almost cliche to say that growing up gay is not easy. But that doesn't make it less true. The knowledge that you exist outside the realm of the mainstream society -and their protections- is a terrifying one. Science and thousands of years of experience (let's face it, there is clear archaeological evidence of same-sex love going as far back as humanity) have taught us that sexual orientation cannot be changed. We are innately who we are, end of.

But then there's religion. Cultural taboo. Societal stigma. We're the underdogs, and our opposition makes no bones about it. Nothing new there; in 1553, English King Henry VIII passed legislation punishing our kind with death through the "Buggery Act." Thomas Aquinas argued in 1265 that homosexual acts were second only to murder in sins. There continue to exist more than 8 nations in which homosexuality remains illegal. But we are not victims. We are survivors. We can be told that God sees us as an abomination. God, however -in both my opinion, and that of the conservative zealots- is the creator of all things. God makes no mistakes. Therefore, God wants us here. Equally.

If you read my blog, you probably know I am a New Yorker. Raised in Poughkeepsie, NY, I was lucky enough to have the MTA Hudson Train Line just a stone's throw away from my doorstep -allowing for a quick and easy escape to a more rational world: Manhattan. It was in Manhattan that I witnessed my first LGBTQ Pride Parade. This is a misunderstood event that most Americans despise due to a lack of understanding breed through a lack of education. Few people among or outside our relatively small LGBTQ world remember that the NYC Pride parade is held annually on the last Sunday of June to commemorate our pivotal victory in 1969 against institutionalized discrimination at the Stonewall Inn. A victory against search and seizure. Against violation of privacy. A victory FOR EQUALITY.

The heroes and survivors that fought for us on June 28th 1969 were fighting against the Public Morals Squads (Yes, they were part of the NYPD) of their time. They fought for their friends who disappeared into the East River for the crime of wearing "the wrong" clothing at the hands of the very people appointed to serve and protect us. In no uncertain terms: In the land where we live by Separation of Church and State, they were fighting the religious police. Through their momentum, we have the ability to demand our equality today.

Whether we achieve marriage equality or not this year, we have a few things to remember. We owe no apologies to anybody. Through concepts as simple as the Golden Rule we deserve equal treatment from our peers -whether they are like us our not in their orientation. We are doing a huge favor to the public at large because, as Dr. Martin Luther King pointed out, "No one is free until everyone is free." We are not liberating ourselves, we are validating the rights they currently have and take for granted. So stop begging. Enough with the meekness and timidity. Our LGBTQ communities have so much to be proud of. So when you do call your elected official -and you WILL call them- don't just ask them to vote for us. Remind them how embarrassing it will be when history remembers them for supporting discrimination.

06 February 2011

It's been two years since my life-changing journey to India. I doubt a day goes by that I don't think at least once about some aspect or experience that I was lucky enough to be a part of. A lot has changed in my life between my departure to India and now. I've moved my life from the beautiful and wonderful Hudson Valley of New York to what I think is the most charming city of the United States, Philadelphia. My professional life has shifted from Crime Victim Assistance and Advocacy, to Archaeology, to Public Health Outreach.

My love of language has remained constant and has evolved to include my latest interests; Hindi and Japanese. With the help of some loving friends and a large investment in time and literature, I have learned to read Devanagari Script (Hindi). I wish I could have learned this before my trip to Rajasthan and Gujarat!

The ripples in my life that have lead me to move to Philadelphia are complex, confusing, and not much worth raking over. Suffice it to say that I hadn't imagine myself leaving the shores of New York's Hudson River, but at the moment, at least, I'm glad that life has lead me here. Currently I work for an organization charged with preventing the spread of HIV and improving the lives of people affected by the virus. I go home very proud of the work I do, but I hold a second job to make up for the income that is impossible to earn while serving in a struggling non-profit organization. This is not to say I wont for anything. Along with my beloved, I live comfortably in health.

It has been too long since the last time I have written a blog entry. Let's hope this is the beginning of a new era of inspiration and creativity. With any luck, I'll write to you guys again soon.

As always,
peace and love,

01 March 2010

Sorry, George Michael. You don't need faith.

Inspired by the request of a close friend, and fact that a blog post is long overdue:

I don't go to church. Raised a Roman Catholic, the idea of religion wasn't introduced to me as a matter of spirituality, but instead of pure, unyielding, blind faith. The kind that allows you to believe one thing even when absolutely everything points in the exact opposite direction. The kind that would allow a person to believe their lying, cheating, abusive partner when they say, "nothing happened." Or the kind of faith that would require a Catholic to believe the interpretation of the Vatican on everything written in their version of the bible.

Growing up I went to church at least once a week. I was raised by a Brooklyn-born Italian mother who sees her religion as a cultural imperative. According to her it doesn't matter whether we agree with our religion. We must follow the religion because it is our heritage. So for me, Sunday School wasn't an option. What was to her an important part of raising good little Italian-American kids felt to me like an obnoxious waste of a precious weekend day. Questions like "how?" or "why?" were never welcomed -and met with an angry and impatient calls for more faith. This was in direct conflict, though, with the encouragement from my parents and school to ALWAYS question the unknown. Needless to say I never made it past the sacrament of holy communion.

When asked by a Christian whether I, have accepted Jesus as the only son of God and the savior of human kind, my response is a simple "No." This doesn't mean I don't believe in Jesus as a prophet. In response I'm told that I don't believe in God. Called an atheist. The claim inspires an exasperation inside me that burns like the worst reflux. I firmly believe in God. But I'm not an unquestioning zealot willing to go to war or fight with others over a personal interpretation of spirituality.

The concept of faith allows governing bodies -be they religious, political, or a mix of the two- to manipulate large groups of people. A common faith in something unbelievable allows immense bodies of people which would otherwise have little in common to experience something important together: their religion. It creates an "us" and a "them." One Nation Under God, in the case of the United States. A curious body of states claiming to separate Church and State. Lies! You only have to turn on your TV to hear our country referred to as a "Christian Nation" on any number of channels. News channels. It's my firm opinion that the notion of faith is contrary to a healthy spirituality. With spirituality, a person utilizes their God-given ability to analyze the nature of the universe. The nature of things which science and civilization have not given us the ability to comprehend at present. Spirituality allows a person to question how people and things are interconnected. And maybe even ask "why?" Spirituality should be the shared ground of a Muslim and a Hindu, for example (or people of any religion), that invites heterogeneous groups to sit together and enjoy a friendly dialog. Through spirituality, people coexist. Through religions, people use faith to draw lines.

On my forearm I had the words Om Mani Padme Hum tattoed. The Tibetan Buddhist mantra for compassion. Without compassion there can be no spirituality. No ability to forgive, or to look into a person who you were raised to believe is your enemy and realize that they are your brother or sister. As far I understand it, compassion is the train toward love. Spirituality is the set of tracks that bring you toward the ultimate goals of love and understanding: oneness. And religion is the scenery that we enjoy on our way. Faith is the toxic smoking exhaust that the train leaves in its wake.

06 January 2010

The Winter Cold (or Flu)

Winter is indisputably here. If you live anywhere near the Northeastern part of the country you'll know what I mean when I say the cold has been bone-chilling for the past few weeks. I'm half Italian in heritage. This always seems to work in my favor. But as our strengths are usually also our weaknesses, my South Calabrian genetics don't get me far with the American winter. My body yearns for the temperate Mediterranean hillsides studded with olive orchards and palm trees. Maybe a view of the Ionian Sea. As fate has it, though, it's 22F and frosty.

Every year as our breath becomes visible in the air and the grass turns to tiny blades of chlorophyll-laced icicles I remember that it's time to start taking vitamins in preparation for the annual cold season. Except I don't just get the cold. I get sick. It's a futile ritual, but it makes me feel like I'm not giving in so I strive on doubling my water intake, limiting my alcohol and caffeine, getting more sleep. Then it happens. The weather runs me down and the viruses and bacteria that my body can handle in reasonable weather take over for their annual death parade on my body. High fevers, night sweats, chills, severe migraines are all among the symptoms I'm lucky enough to experience during these week-long bouts of excitement.

My siblings and I all love our mother dearly. She brought us life and nurtured us well into adulthood. Perhaps too much. She gives her all, and when we decide to do something that isn't exactly as she would do herself, she takes it personally. For reasons that are difficult to explain, but probably rather simple to understand, my siblings and I call this form of my mother The Pterodactyl. It was the Pterodactyl that came out when my mother found out that I had begun my annual dance with Old Man Winter. Apparently, I hadn't been dressing warm enough, nor had I been eating enough. Shame on me. So after a tirade of choice words, a trip to the ER, and a Flu Rx I'm well on my way to recovery. But only after a sad annual conversation between my mother and I.
Being gay has its perks. I'll give you that. There are plenty of downfalls too, but most of you that read this are with me on the inequality stuff so I'm not going to waste my breath as it doesn't relate to this post and it would be preaching to the choir. The downfall you get to hear about tonight consists of three letters and strikes fear into the hearts of millions. HIV. The stigma is with us, owing to its original false-nomer, GRID (Gay Related Immuno Disorder). Since then it's gone through a number of other wonderful nicknames, "The Gay Cancer," etc.. To the point where now I can't even cough without my mother asking me, "Could this be HIV, Adam?" Even when I was in a committed monogamous relationship of over four years, my mother was convinced that my being gay alone put me in prime cadidacy for contracting HIV. It's not that I don't already know that she doesn't intend this comment to offend or worry me, but what else could it do to a person who has been conditioned by the society that he lives in to believe that his most likely cause of death will be A) The result of a brutal hate-crime or B) The slow and inhumane wasting away that goes with dying of AIDS-related illness. Why couldn't she have asked if it was Bird flu? Needless to say, people: we need to continue to fight ignorance with education. Both in preventing the spread of HIV and in understanding that we are neither the source, nor the cause of the pandemic that affects ALL humanity. Damn the statistics. I trust few statistcs about the gay community based on the fact that nobody knows what the population size is. In short, we're in this together. Stop looking down at us... and let me recover from the flu without the added stress of worrying about the possible ways I might have contracted HIV. It doesn't help!