In a Facebook post, Kenny Brandmuse writes:
He said his best friend just tested HIV positive, and he’d rather end his life somewhere in Abuja, Nigeria. He stated that he told him to go on Facebook and check out Kenny Brandmuse’s pictures. “That’s how infected people look like,” he claimed. As they looked at my pictures, he said his friend lit up and realized that being HIV-positive is not the end of the world after all.
As I read his message, my spirit rose within me. I looked in the mirror and whispered to myself, ”Mission accomplished.” Yes, as terrible as it may seem, I am privileged to be one of many thousands who have braved up to defy the HIV stigma.
See, my friends, I’m HIV positive. I wish it were not, but I am. So instead of crying you a river and inviting you over for a pity party, I celebrate every single day I have to #live one more day.
In 2007, I was bedridden for more than four months because my CD4 had dropped below 15 counts. CD4 cells (often called T-cells or T-helper cells) are a type of white blood cells that play a significant role in protecting your body from infection. According to the medical personnel, I had full-blown AIDS. I weighed less than a three-year-old child. Due to complications from carelessly operated tonsillitis, I couldn’t pass food or water, and I couldn’t talk to my loved ones. Talking was too painful. My sisters and my late mother took turns to stay by my bedside. My elder sister, Muti would not go home for months. She bathed me and cleaned my shit. My pastors prayed every manner of prayer. (No, they are not gay-friendly, don’t blame them. Most believers are not educated about human sexuality, sadly. But you know what? I still love these people unconditionally. ) My employer, Centrespread FCB DRAFT continued to pay my full salaries. I can write a whole book about the CEO, one of the kindest human beings but is mostly misunderstood out there.
My condition was so bad that I was admitted to the only ward reserved for worst cases of cancer at the Federal Hospital in the old 1004, Victoria Island, Lagos. Every patient around me started to die one after another. And I was only waiting for my turn. Don’t forget that HIV care was still very complicated in Nigeria.
You gotta thank Science. As soon as I started the antiretroviral drugs, I began to come around.
In 2009, as I recovered painfully and slowly, I promised myself one thing: I’m going to look after myself, no matter how bad HIV had damaged my body. Slowly, I started to draft out my #LIVE philosophy. For me, back then, to #live was to wake up early in the morning and lift heavy at the gym. All my years as a church minister, I was taught to deprive my body of good things of life and “seek ye first the Kingdom of God.” It was some sin to spend time on your body. The body is called ‘the flesh.’
I realized that actually, to #live was to try on the best outfits at the shopping mall and feel them on my skin. To #live, I eventually discovered, was to indulge in sinful scoops of ice-cream and bars of Swiss dark chocolate. To #live, as I eventually began to know, was to get my passport stamped and travel to places I had never been before. Take pictures. Post them on Facebook and Instagram. Gate-crash people’s parties. Dance like a bastard and go back home to take your pill to keep HIV at bay. To #live was going after my dreams of higher education. I couldn’t do my Masters when I wanted to because the USA had banned people living with HIV from coming to the States. I guess I was the oldest graduating student in my graduate class of 2015. Whatever! I did it. I #Live.
And above all else, to #live fully is to #live one’s truth. In my case, I always liked men. You know what I mean? I came to accept myself as a gay man at an awful old age. Even when I was caught once rimming a guy in college (ok, I know some folks will Google ‘rimming’; well, go for it!), I swore by my Bible that I was only ministering to this guy. Oh, those years of pretense and lies! Oh those nights of secretly admiring my wife’s brother, preferring him to her. Those nights I stayed back in the office to watch enough gay porn before heading home to go and make love to wifey with some pious face that reeked of hypocrisies and self-hate.
If you are HIV-positive or suffering some form of challenge that scares you, take courage. Get help as quickly as you can. I’m not stopping you from praying, but please go see an infectious disease doctor. If you need assistance, write www.isanyoneinafrica.com. We are not an NGO. We just take delight in introducing people to people.
#Live Revolution: Because when all help each other to #Live, we #Thrive.