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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

 

   


 

BODIES OF EVIDENCE

AIDS AND RELIGION CONFERENCE
ATLANTA, GEORGIA 1998

PROF.DR.ELIAS FARAJAJE'-JONES

I greet the Four Directions of the universe and ask permission of our First Nations sisters and brothers, the FIRST PEOPLE, to gather on their soil, near their waters. I also call upon all of those who have gone before us, all of those whom we have lost to HIV and ask them to be present here with us today, to bring us the strength and resilience of their spirits and to ask them to remind us today and every day of our lives the crucial importance of the work in which we are engaged. Without them we cannot exist and if we do not do what we are challenged to do then perhaps there will be no tomorrow.

I come to the task of doing HIV thea/ologies with an intense passion. It is my firm belief that "theology", as we know it, has been radically changed by the HIV pandemic. We can no longer continue with business as usual. HIV theologies are indeed grassroots, subversive thea/ologies, for they arise from the lives and dreams and struggles and fears and triumphs of people living with HIV and those who love them and make community with them. These HIV thea/ologies challenge the complacency of "theology" in the face of HIV disease and also force us to look at the role that "theology" has played in fostering the kinds of conditions that allow HIV to be where it is today in this country and elsewhere, especially amongst those people whom the dominating culture considers to be "disposable people". I have been arrested several times for committing acts of civil disobedience connected to HIV -related issues. In 1992, 1 lost my partner, Zawadi, to HIV. By the end of that year, most of my circle of friends had died of HIV-related complications. And I am the father of a 23-year old, Kuji, who is living with HIV. For the last 15 years, my community has been the HIV communities. I worked in HIV first in Switzerland and from 1986 until the present here in the United States. I have worked as an HIV- test counselor/educator, and as a safer sex activist I have also taught a course on HIV Theo/ologies in seminaries since the late 1980s. It is about how to develop grassroots Theo/ologies and practices out of the multiply intersecting contexts of people living with HIV. The only requirement for this course was that one be trained as a safer sex educator,, an HIV educator, a test counselor, etc. and be directly involved in HIV work. As part of this class, people have been tested and then reported back on their different experiences with test counselors and clinics and the ways in which they were received based on the assumptions that the counselors made about them, about who they were. This is helpful in getting people in ministry to understand that often there work in regards to HIV might be a ministry of advocacy and agitation. One of the most important theoretical parts of the course was looking at religious attitudes towards the Plague and particularly the role of the poor during the Plague.

CHRYSTOS, that great Native American (Menominee) /Two-Spirit/lesbian poet and critical thinker, activist for queer rights,

First Nations land and treaties rights; and prisoners' rights, says in her poem, "FROM THE OTHER WORLD" :The dead call to me singing in voices I barely remember....

We are a people for whom death is common as colds We stagger under grief not even able to lean on one another because no one stays rooted in a hurricane Rain comes from the south blowing hard the grass lies down until it is over We hardly speak of the deaths for we know we have years more to carry The hatred we have had to withstand storms on There is little pity for us in the hearts we live among as we face time with no shelter

  


How do we create new ways of facing time "with shelter"? In 1851, Sojourner Truth gave her great "Ain't I a woman?" speech, in which she makes it very clear to us that there is nothing "ESSENTIAL" (as we would say today) or fixed in stone about gender, anymore than there was anything immutable or fixed in stone about race, class, sexuality, or the right to self-definition and self-determination. Sojourner Truth, that great escaped slave, abolitionist, womanist theologian, traveling orator, preacher, gender outlaw and over-all paradigm subverter points to the intersections of race and class in the construction of gender. Sojourner is my hero, because, instead of trying to adapt herself to The societal-accepted definition of WOMAN of her time, she challenged both the definition and The standards that had created it. Her speech, but more importantly her life, exposed the concepts of "woman" and "man" as being socially constructed and therefore, like notions of race, class, sexuality, or self-determination, subject to change according to social, political, geographical, historical, ideological, economic, etc. factors and circumstances. Sojourner Truth deconstructed with her words AND WITH HER BODY. For her, there was no conflict between Sojourner Truth the abolitionist and So Sojourner Truth The women's rights activist; the one j informed the other, for the same power of white male supremacy substood both. And the example of Sojourner Truth leads us to look at HIV as we know it today as being at the intersection of many different issues that we have to begin to address simultaneously. HIV is pushing us to move beyond either/or thinking. This is what I call "HIV-in intersection"": At The end of the 201 century and facing the beginning of the 21 a' century, HIV-in intersection means acknowledging the particular issues of women of color with HIV in their struggles against multiple oppressions. HIV-in-intersection means acknowledging that it is impossible to understand these issues without a class-analysis of The socio-political economic factors contributing to SEXISM (understood as systemic oppression perpetuated by a process of sociosexual power relations which reflect and reproduce male dominance) as compounded by WHITE SUPREMACY (not just "bad" white people). Without sexism, gender oppression, heterosexism (the systemic display of heterosexual male power and privilege), ableism, classism, racism, erotophobla, etc. coming together to shape and inform religious and societal discourses, the response to HIV in this country could have been profoundly different. So, HIV-in intersection means also being a lesbian of color single mother with HIV living right here in Atlanta who risks losing custody of her children for a whole host of reasons. HIV-in-intersection means acknowledging that race lass/gender sexuality/spirituality are not monolithic distinct categories; it means creating a space where we all can come to an understanding of race that must include an understanding of The elements of class, gender, sexualities, geographies, etc. that go into shaping notions of race. how race, gender, sexualities, geography, go into shaping notions of class, how race, class, gender, geography, religion are factors and facets in the shaping of sexualities, how race, class, sexuality, geography, religion, are factors in the shaping of gender,, how racism, fear and hatred of women, erotophobia (The fear of the erotic and of its power), homohatred,, fear of the earth, and HlVphobia/aparth AIDS all came together so that now we can see how the war against women and their bodies from the Inquisition until the beginning of the dismantling of women's reproductive rights, is connected to The masculinisation and The industrialization of healing; which is connected to the hardening of Western Christian religious dogma in Northern Europe; which is connected to the driving out of all feminine manifestations of the Divine; which is connected to the expulsion of the OTHER, of Muslims and Jews from Spain; which is connected to the African slave trade and the invasions of the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific Islands, where Indigenous Peoples, Africans, and Asians were enslaved and massacred because they were considered to be like women: Incarnations of evil/unbridled lust/too connected to the body and sexi too filled with disease (like HIV)/too connected to the earth, the black and red earth which, like women, was to be destroyed because, like women, it was considered to be wild and needing to be dominated; like darkskinned peoples,, it too needed to be dominated and controlled. We cannot understand or effectively struggle against HIV in all of our communities if we do not attempt to grasp the complex ways in which HIV and the problems surrounding it are all inextricably bound-up together.

In THE BIRTH OF THE CLINIC/ An archaeology of medical perception, Michel Foucault writes: "Doctor and patient are caught up in an ever-greater proximity, bound together, the doctor by an evermore attentive, more insistent, more penetrating gaze, the patient by all the silent, irreplaceable qualities that, in him, betray-that is, reveal and conceal-the clearly ordered forms of the disease. Let us call tertiary spatialisation all the gestures by which, in a given society, a disease is circumscribed, medically invested, isolated, divided up into closed, privileged, regions, or distributed throughout cure centres, arranged in the most favorable way.... it brings into play a system of options that reveals the way in which a group, in order to protect itself, practices exclusions, establishes the forms of assistance, and reacts to poverty and to the fear of death. "(pp. 15-16).

Why does it sometimes seem that HIV-prevention and education efforts have not been able to do what they set out to do? The deeper issue, again from the perspective of tertiary spatialisation, is that HIV is not a separate, isolated issue. It cannot be seen in isolation from other issues such as the prison industrial complex (in which people of colour are grossly disproportionately present), sexism, heterosexism, sexphobia, racism and classism, just to name a few. Especially in the communities of colour, HIV represents an entire complex of issues. We have consistently avoided dealing with these issues,, and that is why it often seems that we are back at the starting point. In order to move wisely into the future,, the interconnectedness of these issues will have to be constantly addressed. This might mean that we will have to develop much more complex and complicated approaches to prevention, education and health-care, but is there REALLY any other solution?

According to an article entitled, "The Death Penalty: AIDS and Medical Care in California Prisons" which appeared in the August 13,1998 issue of San Francisco Frontiers, a local queer publication, the California Department of Corrections held more than 165,000 prisoners in its system as of 1997. It also identifies only 1500 prisoners with HIV/AIDS. However, according to Judy Greenspan, the chair of the HIV in Prison Committee of California Prison Focus, even the Department of Corrections' own studies conducted with the state Department of Health Services revealed a seroprevalence rate of about 3%, which equals approximately 4000 HIV positive prisoners. There are, however, according to Greenspan's findings, approximately 10,000 prisoners living with HIV. Needless to say, they receive absolutely substandard medical care. Prisoners relate how they are deprived of their HIV medications when prison doctors feel that their attitudes are too negative. One doctor at Corcoran has been known to refuse to give vitamins to an HIV positive prisoner. Furthermore, pain medications are often systematically denied to women and men prisoners with HIV since it is believed that they are all drug-users. HIV-positive prisoners state that when they are relocated from one prison to another, their medications are stopped when they enter a new prison. This seems to be especially the case when it comes to combination therapies including protease inhibitors; this, of course, creates the context for HIV to develop resistance to these particular medications. Others state that those prisoners who are on combination therapies are often subjected to 7-14 day prescription delays when they run out of their medications. They are required to request a new prescription every time they have exhausted their supply of medications. This, of course, creates the kind of context that leads to HIV developing drug resistance. Prisoners who try to created hidden supplies of HIV medications so that they will not run out are punished. 4-6 week waits to get medical attention are not unusual. The situation for women prisoners with HIV is even more grim: according to Greenspan, at the Central California Women's Facility, the only on-call physician is a retired pediatrician whose information about HIV/AIDS is limited to what he has learned from the prisoners. Guards with minimal medical training do triage; this means that women prisoners with HIV are often misdiagnosed and opportunistic infections go untreated. Some prisoners die simply because their medical complaints are ignored; they are often sent back from the infirmary with their problem never having been addressed. Women prisoners in California are basically in a system where there is no medical care. At the Central California Women's Facility and the Valley State Prison for Women, the one and only infectious-disease physician does not do medical exams. Women hardly ever (if at all) get to see a gynecologist; this is particularly dangerous since many of the HIV -related complications in women impact on their uterine system. Being in prison should not mean that one is subjected to substandard health care; being in prison with HIV can become its own death sentence. And the problems are magnified when it comes to issues of Transgendered prisoners living with HIV. If the conditions that foster the development of HIV strains that are drug-resistant are allowed to persist in prisons, then we are actually facing new forms of the death penalty. And this will have an effect on how HIV will develop in the general population. Foucault, in the above-mentioned work, does point out that in the history of medicine, it was understood (for example, in post-revolutionary France) that the first task of the healer (be that healer religious worker/social worker/cultural worker/health-care worker) was POLITICAL: "The struggle against disease must begin with a struggle against bad government."(p.33)

  


We live in a world of fluid constructions of sexualities, desires, and genders, where there are many people who have sex with all genders in varying and dazzling relational configurations: this should shape the ways in which we see the many faces and facets of HIV prevention and education. to HIV is not a separated and isolated issue; community development and empowerment are part of HIV prevention and education. HIV cannot be seen in isolation from other issues such as anti-immigration, erotophobia, racism, classism, ableism, ageism, domestic violence, lesbiphobia, transgenderphobia, etc.. It means that we must move beyond a way of thinking rooted in binary oppositions ("either or" thinking) so that we can understand how injectable drug users might also be lesbian/gay/bisexual/Transgendered/intersexed/ queer/questioning; where women with HIV also means lesbian/bisexual/Transgendered/intersexed/queer questioning women; where erotophobia hampers prevention and education strategies by not letting us talk openly about sex (it cost surgeon general elders her job). That when we talk about HIV in prisons

we are NOT ONLY talking about, but WE ARE ALSO talking about lesbian/ gay/ bisexual/ Transgendered/ intersexed/ queer/questioning people in prison, not just situationally, but who went in that way and will come out that way.

HIV-in-intersection provides ways for us to say that boundaries are blurred, that erotophobia,, the fear of the power and uses of the erotic and sets us up to be dominated and controlled and kept in neat, monolithic categories. Part of our colonized mentality has made us think that if we deny the centrality of sexuality in our context, in our experiences, in our lives, in our thought, in our creativity, if we trivialize it, then we will be more acceptable.

Erotophobia, The fear of the power of the erotic, is rooted in hatred of the body and anything that reminds us of it. So, since this society fears and hates women, it depicts them as temptress, as the very incarnation of the BODY, as the very incarnation of the libido, sex, the dirty. So, you cannot separate erotophobia from the fear and hatred of women.

Erotophobia and racism intersect in the investment of people of color as THE exotic/erotic Other, people who are seen as the very incarnations of the erotic (all women of color considered to be "available") and the libido (and therefore, of evil) and who need, like women, to be dominated because of being dangerous, disease-filled, but inferior.

Erotophobia keeps shame around rape to silence women who are believed to just be asking for "it". Poor people of all colors, are to stay controlled because they are too erotic. Anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish and anti-earth-based religions propaganda spread images of Muslims, Jews and practitioners of earth-based religions as being too erotic and therefore to be annihilated. Just as desire is to be policed and women's bodies are to be controlled for profit by men, and people of color controlled by white people (who are pure and virtuous by definition), so is the environment to be controlled.

Instead of acknowledging the ways in which women in the sex industry have taken leadership in teaching and practicing safer sex in the context of commercial sex work, erotophobia perpetuates images of them as carriers and spreaders of disease. Erotophobia keeps us from talking about safer sex in terms that are unmistakably clear, keeps us from distributing dental dams, needles, or condoms; leads us to exclusively advocate abstinence, yet at the same time, the marketing industry makes fortunes using sex and pleasure, or at least the illusion of it, to sell everything from underwear to whiskey. This has greatly impeded us from talking about all that goes into our sexualities, the expression of our desires. It has led to a desexualizing of AIDS that sends a double, and definitely extremely negative, message, especially to those of us who are lesbian/gaylbisexualitransgenderedlintersexed/queer/questioning people. The work of creating and fostering the conditions for safer sex goes back much further than just telling people to use condoms. What are the psycho-spiritual conditions of people who have been told that they can only have sex involving latex barriers for the rest of their lives? What about those who after 15 years or more of being HIV-positive decide to have latex-free sex with other HIV-positive persons? How are HIV Theo/ologies present to them?

Erotophobia keeps us from talking about sexualities of young people because they are not supposed to have sex; nor are older people. We never say that we have another way of viewing sexualities and bodies and health and illness because we know that OUR BODIES blur the personal/political split When your body is always on the line, you know that you are transgressing the public/private split by your very existence. When you can be arrested because of your body (skin/colour/height/hair/lack thereof/what's on your skin/perceived health condition/clothes/lack thereof, etc.)then you know that your body is political and that it does matter. When the power apparatus of this country expends incredible amounts of time, money, and energy to legislate on controlling and policing

our bodies and the ways in which we decide to use them, (but does not spend equal amounts of money on housing, feeding, educating, healing, nurturing,, etc. those bodies), then you know that your body is political and that it really does matter. And this brings us back to the primacy of the body and the centrality of our sexualities.

Bodies matter; in the ways in which the dominating culture has organized its meaning and conferred and confirmed identities, we have been led to believe that just rich, white, male, heterosexual, temporarily able-bodied bodies matter (or those that resemble them the most closely); that these are the PERFECT BODIES that really matter. But all bodies matter; not numbers, not statistics. BODIES MATTER: not ball gowned and tuxedoed and academically-attired bodies matter, but just plain old bodies matter. Dead bodies matter, dying bodies matter, infected bodies matter, disabled bodies matter, decolonizing bodies matter, decolonized bodies matter, poor bodies matter, injectable drug-using bodies matter, commercial sex-workers bodies matter; ghetto bodies matter; projects bodies matter; lesbian/gay/bisexual/Transgendered/intersexed/queer/questioning bodies matter; coloured bodies matter; working-class bodies matter; children's bodies matter; women's bodies matter; public assistance bodies matter- immigrants' bodies matter; prisoners' bodies matter; HIV bodies matter; cervical cancer bodies matter; breast cancer bodies matter; hypertension bodies matter; sickle-cell bodies matter; diabetes bodies matter; prostate cancer bodies matter; homeless bodies matter; lesbian/ gay/ bisexual/ Transgendered/ intersexed/ queer/ questioning bodies matter; Earth's body matters; BODIES MATTER.

For us, HIV-in-intersection is about recognizing the intersectionalities of our very own bodies and minds. We should be able to take cognizance of a rich , variety of possibilities of existence, of wholeness, of life.

HIV-in-intersection challenges us to understand that disability does not mean incomplete, that the tendency to equate disability with tragedy keeps us from struggling together for justice and access for people living with disabilities. Disability makes us confront issues of access and accessibility which are issues for all of us, in many differing contexts, disability makes us address its social aspects such as poverty, class, isolation, alienation,, social erasure, marginilisation; it makes us understand that bodies are not just flesh-and-bones bodies, but that they are also bones-and-b races bodies, bones and-wheelchair bodies, deaf bodies, blind bodies. The refusal to address concerns of people living with disabilities is to reinscribe oppressive notions of the PERFECT BODY (read: white/temporarily able-bodied/heterosexual/male body) and to perpetuate marginilisation and discrimination.

HIV-in-intersection also forces us to acknowledge the issues of youth with HIV, but also those of elders with HIV. These people, as well as all others living with HIV, must be allowed to advocate for themselves.

In the years to come, the struggle against HIV must be continually rooted in a war against all those structures that do not facilitate this process of liberation of the whole woman, of the whole man, of the whole child. The HIV-in-intersection perspective of our HIV thea/ologies leads us to acknowledge the following fact: We are fighting for all of our lives. Our bodies do matter.

 

 

 

 

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