WORLD AIDS DAY: Michael Ward On Being Vulnerable, Saying The Words He Never Thought He Would
Today, December 1, 2020, is World AIDS Day. And as we reflect on the lives lost to the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic, we also celebrate the resiliency of those living and thriving with HIV. Michael Ward, 34, is one of those individuals. In a year rife with devastating loss, global financial instability, food insecurity, mental health challenges, and a lack of national leadership in response to the coronavirus pandemic, many Americans were forced to navigate life in unfamiliar ways and with varying degrees of success. Ward, whose public profile increased in 2020 is no exception. As the host of CNPs “Revolutionary Health,” a weekly Facebook Live series focused on the health of Black queer men, and as co-creator of “Black, Gay, stuck at home,” a virtual film series centering Black LGBTQ stories and filmmakers, not only is Ward’s visibility increasing, but his vulnerability and willingness to speak about his experience of being a Black gay man living with HIV is as well.
“I’m really just getting into the path of using my voice more openly for Black gay men and people living with HIV,” said Ward. “I’m finding out every day, honestly, who I am. It’s been a journey.”
From his HIV diagnosis at 19 to mental health challenges, to self-medicating with sex and drugs, to a failed suicide attempt—Ward is quick to point out that people often mistake his smile as a permanent fixture on his face and not an expression that sometimes requires additional work on his behalf.
“I feel in my mind that I put out an image that I’m always happy. I’m always smiling, you know, when you see me sitting in front of the bookshelf, that I’m in good spirits all the time,” said Ward. “And a lot of times I have to work myself up to it. I had such a big issue with vulnerability, of asking for help, of telling people that I’m not okay. I’m not feeling good today because I felt like people would be dismissive or they wouldn’t know what to do with it,” he said.
“It’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay not to have it all together every day. There are moments when I just get under the covers, and I don’t fucking move, and I cry, and I have to work myself out of that,” he said.
For Ward, it would be less than authentic for him to openly discuss his journey living with HIV without discussing his three-year journey in therapy, which he credits as a major factor towards his mental wellness.
The Reckoning recently facilitated a conversation with Ward and Dr. David Malebranche, a renowned clinical researcher and a physician specializing in HIV/AIDS, and a member of the CNP Tribe. During this intergenerational conversation, Ward reflects on his initial diagnosis, the challenges that followed, the impact of the diagnosis on his mental health, and his ongoing effort to live the best version of himself. You can read an excerpt from the wide-ranging conversation here.