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Queer, Ill, and Okay: Artists Write to Their Younger Selves on World AIDS Day

Timm West 1

Tim’m West, @thebraveeducator

Educator and multi-disciplinary performance artist, author, hip hop recording artist, poet, activist, youth advocate. Photo by Justin L. Martin II.

Dear Tim’m,

I know you’re anxious about your doctor’s visit. Nearly 18 years since your diagnosis, there’s the possibility that this fifth HIV drug cocktail you’ve been on, since the toxic lifesaver Crixivan, will be met with resistance. You’ve survived other daunting moments. That moment sitting across from the counselor in Oakland to hear the words “You have AIDS” seems part of a not-so-distant past. It forced things that may have never happened: the break from PhD studies to pursue the drum of your heartbeat, a pioneering queer rap collective that forever changed the boundaries of hip-hop music, your first book extending the brave legacy of writers like Essex or Anzaldua, or the blessed burden of being a bold enough POZ poster child to inspire hundreds of youth seeking a more immediate reference for thriving than Magic Johnson.

Disclosure is still hard. The anxiety about health sometimes pales in comparison to being shamed for living with HIV. As a queer man, many feel you “deserve” the disease. This is hard to manage when it’s other gay black men who shun or whisper about what they regard as sickness. There’s lots of education still to do. You give a lot—and not for the profits your creative work has never seen. Whatever happens with this new cocktail, hold onto hope—a great love awaits, you’ve got a novel to finish, and there are countless people who will fight for you. When it seems cloudy, remember your sunshine.

We are who we should be,



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