We are family

Families can sometimes drive you crazy. But if it weren’t for family, I would be lost.

One of the first disco albums I ever owned, “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, I didn’t actually buy, but I won in a radio call-in contest in the spring of 1979. I was still living at home at the time, and remember driving down to the local Southwest Michigan radio station to pick it up, excited to be a winner. The enduring club anthem about having “all my sisters with me” has always been a part of my ethos for my entire adult life, and I still have the vinyl record in my possession. I can’t seem to part with it.

The people in our families can be a source of unconditional love, those who we can always rely on, and will support us no matter what, who share in our joys and accomplishments, and we in theirs. Families for many can also be a source of frustration, pain, suffering, despair, conflict, anger, resentment, and drama.

At one point in my life I thought I might make a good parent, but by the age of 30 I figured I wasn’t able to have a child because I was HIV-positive—the technology and methods that are available today were not around then, or were prohibitively expensive. I knew though that raising a child would have altered the course of my life for sure, judging by my reaction to my partner Stephen bringing home a puppy one October day in 2010, unannounced. (I believe my exact words were, “What have you done?”) I knew then and still today that there is a lot of work that goes into raising a puppy, let alone a child, but the rewards are immeasurable.

I guess I’ll never know whether I would have been a good parent, but luckily I have other children and people in my life through my extended family with my partner’s mom, sister, and nephews, who were always incredibly welcoming from the very first time I met them.

While the stories in this issue focus on families with children, there are also the families we choose, and sometimes it’s a combination of the two.

In Jourdan Barnes’ article “Modern Family” on page 12 we’re introduced to one couple that is redefining what it means to be a family. Aunsha and Michael, who are married and in a serodifferent relationship, are raising their young daughter Jadenna Monae, while learning how to navigate the world as same gender loving men of color.

We hear from Kathy, who adopted a child with HIV from China, in “Easiest Special Need Ever,” on page 19. Kathy, whose son David (not his real name) is “undetectable and thriving,” takes every opportunity to educate others who are considering adopting children with special needs on misconceptions about raising a child with HIV.

For those who may be considering conceiving a child in situations where the man is HIV-positive and the woman is HIV-negative, the article “PrEPception,” by Emily S. Miller, MC, MPH, tells us how access to conception methods that protect the HIV-negative partner, such as PrEP and TasP, remain limited. Dr. Miller explains how recent activism spurred the CDC to change their outdated guidelines, but more provider education is still needed.

Speaking of activism, “The Erotic Militarism of AIDS Activist Art” by Rick Guasco on page 28 showcases a new book by long-time POSITIVELY AWARE contributor Dan Berger, MD, which focuses on the ACT UP affinity group ART+Positive and its political impact. In the film BPM (Beats Per Minute), which I review on page 29, the story centers on the relationship of two young gay men who are members of ACT UP Paris during the early nineties at the height of the epidemic. But BPM is also about a “family” of activists that lean on each other for support, while seeking to effect change for the larger family of people living with HIV and AIDS, who were literally fighting for their lives.

Families come in all shapes and sizes—there are the families we are born into, and those we choose. I have my relatives, my extended family, my family of friends, and my work family, to name just a few. Families can sometimes drive you crazy. But if it weren’t for family, I would be lost. We cannot exist in isolation, as much as we think we’d like to sometimes. We need the social support, connection, and interaction with each other, to learn, to grow, to forgive, and to give back. I am grateful for my family and my families, and hope that all of us appreciate them in whatever form or shape they may take. One type of family is no better than the other, but each family is an opportunity for us to stay connected, and to ultimately understand the good qualities that we all share in common.

Take care of yourself, and each other.