Let's talk about sex...Baby, lets talk about you and me…

OK, I hate to lie, but this post is not really about sex; I am posting a day early to beat the rush that I hope I will see flooding social media around World AIDS Day!

Oh right, that thing... AIDS, something no one really wants to talk about. Recently after launching this project, I had a few friends post nice things about my personal involvement with HIV/AIDS on Facebook and my new HIV/AIDS awareness project. As a third party reading a post about myself, I could not help but shudder and think to myself, OMG what if they think I have AIDS? ... and just like that (not that I really need much of a reminder) I thought to myself: asshole, that's why this project is so important… STIGMA!

Tomorrow is World AIDS Day, and as long as I can remember, AIDS has been a big part of my life. As I headed to bed one night this past week, I gazed upon the bedroom wall at a grid of family portraits my father painted. One of the paintings caught my eye. I saw something I had not seen in years, something I maybe never really noticed in one of the portraits. It is a portrait of my mother and me; I was resting my tired head on my mom’s shoulder when my dad snapped the photo. It was a moment I vividly remember: it was my first time seeing the Statue of Liberty; I was thirteen.

Portrait By Kevin Callahan

In the bottom corner of the portrait, pinned to my mom’s blouse, is an AIDS ribbon. Looking at the painting 20 some years later, I wonder when she took the ribbon off and stopped wearing it?

I am definitely not calling out my mother; this family portrait made me reflect on the past. I am not using it as an example to call anyone out, but to share my own introspective thoughts on my own personal journey.

I see my mother as one of the strong ones who took her children to AIDS walks all around the country. This was before some thought we should even know about sex. She had us on Broadway, sitting front row at Rent, talking about HIV.  She also had no problem handing my brother and I condoms before she knew if we needed or would used them. And certainly before it was cool, mom accepted and loved her gay sons, regardless of what others thought. 

AIDS WALK - Central Park May 18th 1997 - I am the boy on the very right, alongside my brother and other family friends.

Looking at this portrait of young me, tired from a blessed day with a loving family on vacation, my thoughts become less about my mother but when did wholesome America… when did “we” decide it was okay to take the ribbon off?

Journal entry from my fathers Book of Sketches # 1

Most of you who will read this post to the end will already know this, but HIV/AIDS is still very real and with us today. Regardless if the mortality around the disease has lessened and the medicine has improved, HIV/AIDS is still with us. Think about how you say the word HIV even in your head... the stigma around HIV/AIDS is just as real and just as harmful today. 

Once again... “You might not ever truly know if you could have contracted HIV, until you have, but one thing I am sure of, we have all contracted an issue!”


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For your listening pleasures, or to just take a trip down memory lane:

Music video by Salt-N-Pepa performing Let's Talk About Sex. (C) 1991 The Island Def Jam Music Group

HIV/AIDS statistics from the AIDS Services Foundation of KC


·      More than 1 million people are living with HIV in the United States. Up to 25% are unaware of it - and may be causing more than half of new infections in the U.S.

·      Approximately 56,000 new infections occur each year, a 40% increase from previous CDC statistics estimating 40,000 annually.

·      Up to half of all new infections are not covered by insurance.

·      34% of all new infections occur in people 29 years old or younger.

·      In a random test, 79% of people ages 18-24 who tested positive to HIV/AIDS were unaware of their status. In addition, 70% of people ages 25-29 were unaware.

·      The death rate among those with less than a high school education is approximately 5.5 times the death rate among those with some college.

·      According to research conducted in 2006, an American diagnosed with the AIDS virus can expect to live for about 24 years at an average cost for treatment in excess of $600,000.

·      The monthly cost of care is $2,100, of which about two-thirds is spent on medications. That equates to $25,200 a year.

·      27% of new infections are among women, 73% among men. 80% of new infections in women are heterosexually transmitted.

·      Approximately 50% of those infected with HIV/AIDS will need housing assistance at some point during their illness.

·      45% of new infections occur among African Americans, while only representing 13% of the U.S. population.

·      The death rate related to HIV/AIDS among African Americans is 10 times that of whites.

·      AIDS is the second leading cause of death in African American men ages 35-44. AIDS is the leading cause of death among black women ages 25-34.

·      Though Hispanics make up about 14% of the U.S. population, they represent 17% of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses tallied by federal officials in 2006. In major U.S. cities, it is estimated as many as 1 in 4 gay Hispanic men are HIV positive.