The Curious Case of Michael Johnson and the Unhealthy Fear of HIV Shaming
This is a tough essay to write. Really, it is.
I don’t want to come off insensitive. Well, that damage may have already been done by the title alone. This isn’t an attack; I genuinely have concerns and a few contradictions that I need to bring to light.
Many people are already forming their opinions of this article and have clicked away or scrolled down to leave their angry comments of disapproval. How dare Nick Delmacy blame the victims!
All I ask is for you to hear me out. Lets look at this epidemic from both sides of the coin.
If we as men, young and old, can’t even have discussions on these important issues, I feel that we will create more divisions within our communities and cultures.
Anyway…advanced trepidation aside, I journey forward.
Recently the Internet has been abuzz with news that 22-year-old former champion Missouri Lindenwood University wrestler Michael Johnson had been charged in back in October for exposing at least 30 sexual partners to HIV and gonorrhea.
On top of that, Johnson had allegedly secretly videotaped nearly all of his sexual encounters, giving investigators the impression that although Johnson knew that he was HIV positive, his fellow student victims likely had no idea.
Slowly, the men in the videos began to come forward. Johnson now faces quite a few felonies: Recklessly infecting another with HIV and counts of recklessly exposing someone to the risk of infection.
From what I could see, Michael Johnson was a young athlete, personal trainer and bodybuilder who also went by the online name “Tiger Mandingo.” If you peruse his social media accounts (Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Facebook and YouTube workout videos) you can clearly see that he is attractive, masculine and very gay friendly.
No…let’s face it…
He’s not gay friendly….He’s gay.
There are plenty of photos and videos of the young man living la gay vida loca.
But who could blame him? He’s young, sociable with a great body.
“Live your life to the fullest.” That’s what I’d normally say…but Michael Johnson’s case is different.
He had been diagnosed with HIV on January 7th 2013, long before his arrest on October 10th of last year.
So let’s recap: Tiger Mandingo was a young, masculine champion athlete with a very desirable, chiseled body living on a college campus having (likely very hot) unprotected sex with willing participants.
If he were not HIV positive, this would describe nearly every athlete enrolled in college right now. Hell, it probably still describes quite a few of them…the difference is they don’t know they’re infected with The Virus.
Ah yes, The Virus.
This is what really makes Tiger Mandingo and his possible actions unconscionable. He KNEW he had the HIV Virus and he still engaged in unprotected sex, possibly without informing his victims.
I have to be careful how I word this because this is America and I believe our citizens are innocent until proven guilty.
Also, this case is a tricky sword’s edge to walk on…There are likely clear indications that Johnson’s sexual partners willingly engaged in unprotected sex with the young man, even knowing that he could have been infected with something.
There it is.
Boom, goes the dynamite.
The fire has been lit. Nick Delmacy has just implied that some responsibility also falls on the HIV positive man’s “victims.” Gay men everywhere are Z-snapping all up in my face for engaging in HIV and/or Slut Shaming.
Before I continue this (dangerous, possibly career ending) train of thought, let me step back a little.
When I was a teenager, I was taught two things more than anything: Don’t do Drugs and always have protected sex.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a loving mother who took care of the home and did her best to teach me how to be a man, but she never had a conversation with me about sex and/or drugs. Ever.
I learned everything though movies, television and through seeing results of other family members’ bad decisions. I had crack users in my family, deteriorating right before my eyes. So ending up like them was out of the question.
Also, keep in mind that his was back in the fucking 90s, nearly 20 years ago. You couldn’t watch an episode of Family Matters, Growing Pains or even Perfect Strangers without eventually seeing a “Very Special” episode about the dangers of unprotected sex.
Hell, even in this raunchy Snoop Doggy Dogg video for, “Gin & Juice,” Dr. Dre ushers a group of girls into a room for Snoop to have orgy sex with and promptly hands him a long roll of condoms. Even Gangster rap music pushed safe sex!
Snoop may not have “loved the hoes” but at least he wasn’t stupid enough to have bareback sex with hot bodied strangers!
Back then, HIV and AIDS were seen as a death sentence, not the “its inconvenient but you can still live a normal life” non-issue that many gay men make it out to seem nowadays.
I was a young discreet black gay man who didn’t want to die. Especially not from that.
My HIV Spidey Sense really began its perpetual tingle in 2002 once I heard about Nikko Briteramos. Nikko was a sexy 6’ 9” college athlete (now a male model) that knowingly infected multiple sexual partners with HIV on his Huron University campus (do you see the theme here). After pleading guilty to “Intentional Exposure to HIV”, Nikko ended up spending 18 months in a South Dakota Penitentiary.
After his initial arrest, 237 people were tested for HIV on his college campus. Think about this for a moment. Nikko had been busy. Very busy.
This was the ultimate cautionary tale for me. There were HIV positive people out there knowingly having unprotected sex with others. After this, I learned not to assume that anyone is free of STIs just because they “looked good.”
Remember, this was long before the many episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit shoving this fear down our throats (pun intended).
This was long before EVERY black gay website (except Cypher Avenue) became littered with advertisements for either Bareback Porn, Gay Clubs, HIV/AIDS testing or Elite Condoms (is there nothing else we’re interesting in purchasing…a video game or book maybe).
So now, a heavy stone’s throw away from 40 years old, I’ve gone through my entire adult sexual life without ever getting a sexually transmitted disease. That’s not to say that I’m been 100% smart 100% of the time. However, I never engaged in the high-risk behavior seemingly displayed by Tiger Mandingo’s sexual partners.
Even as a 21-year-old man, I could never have imagined having casual bareback sex with anyone I’d just met online, even if he was a fellow college student and all-star athlete.
Some may argue that I had a better upbringing. Or better education. I wasn’t special. I wasn’t smarter than any of the other average gay men out there. I just knew the risks and chose not to play the odds. Like everyone else, I was aware of the seat belt in the car however I made the decision to always wear it.
I knew that there was a chance other people I had sexual experiences with were infected with Herpes or HIV even if they told me otherwise. I might have passed up on many nights of much desired sex but I have no regrets when I see the doctor hand me that paper with the expected HIV Negative status results. My cautious decisions led to me being HIV-free to this day.
There it is.
We’re back on that fragile ice that I started to walk on earlier.
We live in a day and age where HIV is so common amongst black gay men, saying that you DON’T have it and that you’re proud of your negative status is considered as a possible insult to those that do. This is like not being able to brag about your college degree for fear of offending the high school dropouts of the world.
We live in a society where not only do the masses perceive us to be obsessed with sex, we happily perpetuate this negative stereotype ourselves. Gay men wave their judgmental gay fingers at people that speak frankly on issues like protection and HIV yet later they log onto MyVidster or Xtube to watch the latest up uploads of bareback porn.
No matter what the Pseudo-Intellectual Gay Elites tell me through angry tweets or blog comments, I will never be ashamed of my homosexuality, my love of male masculinity or my Negative HIV status.
Case in point, when I used the image below in a past essay about HIV and my experiences with safe sex, I was besieged with emails and tweets from angry gay men. They were offended by an image that portrayed an infected sexual partner as a huge scorpion waiting to sting his victim.
This is where we are. We live in a day and age when it’s wrong to dissuade people from getting a deadly virus ravaging our community in epidemic numbers with imagery or speech that could elicit fear/offense.
Last I checked it was a bad thing to get HIV, wasn’t it?
Getting HIV isn’t like getting dope star/paw-print tattoos or new pair of Jordans. Is it?
Don’t get me wrong. I do realize that not all men and women who live with HIV were infected due to irresponsible sex. There are many tragic stories of people who received the virus from blood transfusions or from a “monogamous” long-term partner that they trusted…these men have to deal with the shame of being rejected for doing the right thing and revealing their status whenever they meet a new guy to date or have sex with….I’m not insensitive to their feelings, but they are the exceptions.
True, there are good men and women living with HIV…but the Virus itself is not a part of the Gay Community…Last I checked the initials weren’t LGBT-HIV.
Protect Yourself, Not Your Urges
There are many men out there who live or lived a young, carefree life akin to drag racing without a seat belt and now they are HIV positive. Whether drugs or alcohol were also involved, this doesn’t negate their own responsibility in protecting themselves. They failed.
Bringing this back to Michael Johnson (aka Tiger Mandingo) I admit without hesitation that if the allegations are true, he is a horrible and selfish human being.
However does the responsibility for the health of other men lie solely on Tiger Mandingo’s shoulders? If Michael Johnson had no idea about his status yet still had unprotected sex infecting his partners, would as many people still be outraged?
Past experiences tell me, “No.”
I’d bet a paycheck that none of the men he had sex with even asked the question, “what’s your status?” Or if they even cared.
Take this story that I told in my HIV essay from 2011:
There was even one guy I met that was attractive, funny, affable, intelligent, employed, lived alone, etc…I really was diggin the dude…but then he wanted to have bareback sex on our first time. Dammit if I wasn’t tempted (naked, in the heat of the moment) to just say, “Fuck it” and go raw…But the “good angel” on my shoulder yelled the loudest and I resisted the temptation. When I denied and asked if he had raw sex often, he replied, “yeah sometimes.”
This was many years ago, but my training still kicked in to protect MYSELF. I didn’t “trust” this man I’d just met. I didn’t assume he was “clean”…I took responsibility for MYSELF.
A guy I dated once asked me the question, I proudly told him “Negative.” Once he responded by asking me for proof, I knew he was a keeper (turns out he really wasn’t, F.D.B.).
This is what gay men, young or old, should do more: Take responsibility for themselves. Fuck worrying about embarrassing the other man by asking him if he’s HIV positive. Fuck worrying about embarrassing the other man by not taking his word for it when/if he tells you he’s negative. Fuck worrying about the gay black feminists that will accuse you of HIV shaming. Always use condoms.
I’ve never seriously worried about the (alleged) Tiger Mandingo’s of the world because I always assume that everyone has something…and I’ve always protected myself.
Imagine this: Instead of a world where we’re walking on eggshells about how serious the transmission of HIV is, what if we were allowed to imply that people should fear contracting the virus? Wouldn’t that have made the 30+ men that Tiger Mandingo had unprotected sex with a little more hesitant to have bareback sex with a man they only just met?
Some would argue that even bringing up this topic is HIV shaming…some would argue that I’m pushing for an unrealistic, overly cautious way for young black gay men to live.
I respond by showing all of those naysayers the results of my last HIV test.
Still Negative, Bitch.
After 17 years of condom only sexual intercourse with men.
And you were saying?
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