In essence, moral character makes for a flat character when you neglect to be a character. That being said, I think the inverse of the old saying, “Just because you are a character doesn’t mean you have character,” bears equal, if not amply more, wisdom: “Just because you have character, doesn’t mean you can be a character.”
You might be asking yourself, “What’s this racket doing in an HIV column?” Well, I asked myself the same question the other day when I realized I had wildly veered off course from my original topic. But I went with it, and my fingers skittered about the keyboard until I cornered whatever had diverted me into germane territory.
Recently, I’ve been wrestling with conventional dialogues surrounding poz life, how it often revolves around the myriad woes poz folks must manage to be happy. (This includes columns such as mine.) While these woes are inevitable, there is a unique opportunity in poz life (and othered life in general) to redraft that dastardly narrative about an endless, HIV-borne winter, where poz folk can merely learn to find warmth in the snow.
I’m not a paragon, and I never want to be one. I strive to be a rogue — a floating summer inspiring mid-winter summers — who, with hearty “namaste,” levers germy words and pardons to flaws we’ve banished out of shame. I strive to become one who starts, sparks, stirs and strikes and, too, one who soothes, simmers, sheaths and silences.
We all have a mythic character we secretly strive to become. But this character isn’t destiny; its realness can easily dwindle to a shade in the back of our minds. This happens quite a lot with poz folk in that they slave for virtue to depart from inferiority (stigma), but only to achieve mediocrity.
What’s profoundly ironic about these soldiers of strife is that they, given their dogged perseverance, have probably accrued immense intrinsic wealth. But this wealth has been stashed in a vault with a lock to which they haven’t a key. And where’s the key? In the hands of others: the loved others; the divine others; the dead others; the hated others. And what happens to the key? It gnarls and rusts into a useless clump of metal.
So why not take the key back?
Because we think the key is no longer ours to have.
That pursuit of virtue can make you a dull boy. But truly virtuous people actually understand that there are as many paths as there are characters (in the theatrical sense) of virtue. And the ones that bear true happiness (whatever that is) are laden in glaring, indelible imperfections — ones that can be scrutinized far and wide.
Unshackle the weights and be absurd. Sacrifice conventional methods for personal development for things that a righteous person would condemn. Don the consequences of mistakes and turn them into ballroom gowns that make most shudder, and some wonder.
HIV makes us feel othered. Embrace it; don’t shoulder it like a sack of potatoes. Having HIV doesn’t just teach compassion: It blasts the boulder sealing the tomb to childhood dreams, where more than likely you’ll find the shade of your roguish character. It may be no more than skin and bones when you find it, but it will bear a visage of contentment, as if it has been but a moment since you last beheld one another.
We’re all in this together, folks. Now get out there and talk about it.
Aaron Stella is former editor-in-chief of Philly Broadcaster. He has written for several publications in the city, and now devotes his life to tackling the challenges of HIV in the 21st century. Millennial Poz, which recently won first place for excellence in opinion writing from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and best column writing from the Local Media Association, appears in PGN monthly. Aaron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org