Wednesday, December 8, 2010

As the Year Ends...

Photo of a scene from "Dancing with the Clown of Love" courtesy of Pat Mezzara
...and another begins, we want to give a special word and prayer of thanks to all the women who are a part of this special blog and our Medea Project community.

We have come far over these last two years, working together, learning to trust each other, learning to create together, and learning to trust ourselves, and most especially our own voices. We are a group of a dozen or more women who came together in the name of solidarity with the struggle all women face with the disease called AIDS, and taught others who needed to know that stigmas are made to be broken. That life continues after diagnosis. That pain can be shared, lifted and released through the power of movement, voice, song, love and acceptance.

We cannot express all of the feelings of deep joy we feel when we see each and every one of us grow in creativity. We've witnessed women who have found their voices and are writing stories, songs and poems that fly in the face of the terror of this disease. Women whose very existence and thriving while living with the disease stand as living testament that fear can be conquered.

All of us who worked and performed at the recent event sponsored by State Senator Mark Leno in October came to a realization about how important our participation in this work--this theater project that is a living, breathing force for hope--is also so very crucial to the lives of others. Performing before a group of 200 high school women from the San Francisco Unified School District was a revelation for audience and performers.

What was supposed to be a ten-minute Q & A after our twenty minute show was stretched to 45 minutes out of necessity. What started out to be an audience of sometimes distracted teenagers turned into a rapt audience wanting more. Tears were flowing, long-held secrets, pain and fear were opened, ready to be let go. To their great credit, young women exploring their sexual lives are extremely interested in finding out more about the risks of sexually-transmitted disease in this day and age.  That we were there, along with our physician-consultant and collaborator Dr. Edward Machtinger from UCSF's Women's AIDS clinic was more than a great resource. Many of us felt afterwards that we conducted an intervention. Hopefully, just in time.

The realization that our voices matter, that our stories are not horrible secrets but truths that can liberate us and our audiences is what we came together for, and what we continue to do. We need to continue telling stories. We need to continue singing, praying, and dancing with the love of life, not the clown of love.  We need each other to fight this disease and the stigma attached to it like an army. An army of poets and dreamers ready to engage.

So, to all the women of the Medea Project's HIV Women's Circle, we send this out to you with love and the deepest pride and joy. Happy holidays.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Am I More Than My Body?

With a special shout out to all the young women today, October 15, 2010 at the Annual Young Woman's Conference sponsored by State Senator Mark Leno. These young ladies, whose questions moved us, and for all of us who have secrets, who wonder and worry deep in the night, we bring you one of our bloggers Chai, who writes:

Am I more than my body? Deep brown eyes. Soft skin. Silky black hair. Beautiful curves. Normally I would say that I love these things about myself. That I love my body - every inch. But not today, not right now. I hate the way men have looked at me. I hate the way I have been sexualized. I hate how every man from my past wanted my body first. A fist punches my stomach to the floor every time I see all of their faces in my mind - men I trusted, men who would not talk to me in front of other people but would want me in bed, men who I dedicated myself to, men who violated me, and men on power trips. I can relive how they've touched me, the ways they grabbed me and exerted dominance. The psychological manipulation and emotional guilt that was dispensed. It makes me sick to think that this happened to me, yes, but more so that this has also happened to many of you.

What I hate more is how I did not see this before. Did I have to get infected with HIV to realize that not only was I being abused, but that I was abusing myself? I never fought back. Is it the gender confines of being raised Japanese and Indian? Is it internalized beliefs that a woman ought to be submissive? Is it because women are supposed to "swallow" the world's miseries and not complain? I have strong women in my family - however none who found strength in their sexuality. They have all been silenced. I was raised silenced. And continually reminded that it is my fault if I get pregnant and it is my mistakes that led to my HIV-positive diagnosis.

I am not a victim. I am not helpless. I know I am beautiful. I know I am strong. I know my sexuality is a powerful force. Now, I need to feel those things. My body needs and wants to heal from its abuse, it needs to feel beautiful. It needs to feel respected and able to speak out when disrespected.

I am not broken. I am not in pieces. I am finding the courage to wash my wounds and mend them.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

There is a Ladder

Image "There is a Ladder" by Lorraine Caparell

There is a ladder

that you are longing

to find

that leads you

to a higher ground.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Deep in the Night

There are times when all we can do is pray with everything we've got. Here is such a prayer, offered up to you from ZooZoo Girl.--af

Deep in the night is the only time I sob for I want no one to know.

I prepare for deep in the night but never on a full moon there is too much light. Deep in the night I walk around peering in windows that I will never live. Deep in the night I long for you-I check to see if your here by calling out your name.. it is silent, like deep in the night.

I am terrified for I know you run amok. My baby boy deep in the night. Evil lurks after midnight, deep in the night. I only know cuz I've been there. You lurk and do your dirt. I writhe in the middle of the floor, deep in the night.

I feel connected to you this way. I fight your demons while on my knees with a primal scream to the GODS that you make it to the light of day. Deep, deep, deep in the night we are one. I pray for your protection when deep in the night you terrorize because of your perceived rejection.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Three Variations on the Theme of "Now"

The hits keep coming from our Medea Project community. Given the assignment to write on the theme of "Now", we have three more providing insight on that theme from the positive community. 

We'll start with a thoughtful piece from Chai, who asks some important questions:

Who am I? What defines me? What am I composed of? What are the details of my character? My career is centered around public health, human rights, and social justice. I work to advocate for those living with HIV and to spread awareness for those who are not. I empower myself by performing with beautiful women who join hands to break the silence. Women living with HIV. I have found my voice with theirs. My voice has strengthened because of theirs.

I have transformed because HIV told me to.  I learned to love deeper. I know my dreams, my desires, my deceptions, my defeats. I am learning how to appreciate the cosmos, how to forgive, how to perform, and most importantly, the ritual of understanding these revelations unfold because of HIV. I  am a strong vibrant woman and that is a lot to keep up with -- this confidence and this humility because of HIV.

But who am I? Has HIV defined my life? Has it sculpted the person that I have become? If I was HIV, what would I be like? Where would I be? Who would I be dating? How fulfilled will my soul be? Would I be searching? Would I be full? Would I be empty? Would I have direction? Would I be lost? Is HIV just a mask, a veil that has smothered me? Am I letting this virus mold me or have I developed myself in the face of it?

Here's another view from Medea member Mackerel:

Today a year ago my life was turned upside down
Today a year ago I got the bad news
Today a year ago I thought I was gonna die within a few years
Today a year ago my mind went into shock
Today, I actually had alot of fun
Today I celebrated my first year anniversary
Today the world looks completely different
Today I am me again
Today I actually cried tears of laughter and not of sadness

Yes, my life has been affected by HIV and if not treated--life threatening. But I had time to get over it. My doctors have been taking fantastic care of me. I started my meds a few months ago even though I didn't need to yet, but I wanted to preserve my brains and guts. I made a lot of new friends and some of them have become really close. I have been on stage, which I never thought I would. I even had sex again -- felt like a virgin but I did it (;-). I went through ups and downs as have everyone, but overall I have to say I made it another year and it was definitely not my worst and also not my last. So people, watch out -- here I come again, better than ever.

We will conclude with Sunkist who writes:

"Hey, what do you know? What do you say?
When you walk into a room, you should be celebrated, rather than just tolerated!
Sometimes, I'm at the end of my rope and HIV is tuggin' at it.

I changed from fall to rise. I chose the greater. Think about that for a second. I had another virus hit in April 2010. T-cells dropped to 200, and changed in June back to 411. I'm back on track. In my eating habits, I'm relentless with cloves of garlic and tons of colorful veggies and fruits. Change. Believe. Follow. Change will work hard for you: in having HIV-AIDS you can change for healthier blood and life.

Thank you blood! I feel free as a bird on its wings, with gentle breeze against my back!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


 "Dancing With the Clown of Love" - The Medea Project: Theatre for Incarcerated Women's most recent performance, in partnership with Women's HIV Program at UC San Francisco, is an exploration of love, life and wholeness, from women living with HIV. After the show, the group was given an assignment by Medea founder Rhodessa Jones (Lady Rho) to write about what is happening in our lives now. Where are we at? Who are we now? How does the world look? How are things different?

Here is a response from one of our own Medea Project company members, Cassy.

With all the pain HIV caused me, I have found a way to live with it. I have found away to have faith, and not fear my future, but to embrace today. I have surrendered and accepted the fact that HIV might always be with me. I’m powerless over HIV and what might happen. My life has and may become again unmanageable because of it, but I will not let HIV stop me from living. I will not let HIV stop my dreaming; I’m prepared to fight, and don’t have to be afraid anymore.

There are many things I can do to slow the destruction of HIV, to lessen the pain. It may be able to damage my body, but I will not let it damage my spirit. I will not hide from it, and HIV cannot have that power over me. I will not let it!! I’m continuing to have a positive attitude toward the rest of my life because life doesn’t stop after diagnosis. My life keeps going on. I have to keep that attitude of optimism and not look at the bad things related to HIV. Well it does have its side effects that go along with it, but also there are positive things about being positive.

For me personally, it’s being able to share my story, I’ve grown a lot through these challenges in my life, and it has given me character and definition and a feeling of compassion. I’ve done well, so hopefully I’m a role model of what is possible. However, where there is despair there is hope. I have a strong HIV positive community that provides emotional support and counsel for its members; and as long as I use them responsibly, medical advances now give me every opportunity to lead a normal life. I’m one example of someone living with HIV and managing my health care well.

How does the world look now? How are things different today? There are many other HIV positive people who are isolated, either by the physical manifestation of illness, or who simply don’t have the confidence to ask for help and support. I have learned one thing from my experience since the day I found out that I was positive. It is that if we don’t ask for help, no one can guess that we need it. My positive experience in every sense of the phrase is that there is an overwhelming amount of unconditional love and support when you ask for it.

I was diagnosed being positive. It was really hard to deal with at first, but now its just part of me and my life. I can’t turn back the hands of time, so I accepted it as a part of me, but not who I am. I’m still a mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and a wife that has been living with HIV for 24 years now. At first I was scared and lost, but now it feels like a chronic disease that I have some control over, with the help of modern health care. I’m living a normal life. Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning how to dance in the rain, if I can do it, live through it, survive through it, grow stronger from it, heal from it. So can you.

I realize that I’m a very fortunate woman due to that fact. I firmly believe that by being open and honest and making people realize that we can make a difference from the inside by showing the world that, yes this is a horrible disease, but everyone deserves the right to be treated with respect -- that I am happy to be able to stand up and be counted.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

We Are Only as Sick as Our Secrets

I have fallen in love with the night.

The night brings me to the lyrical, magical spiritual world of ideas. I embrace my insomnia. It has afforded me the dawn to peruse the world of an artist living in the 21st century.

Living at the very center of the culture of women, I have been assigned the task of building theater that speaks to the reality of the modern woman's life. A life lived on the edge. This speaks to the wild, the wounded, the feral heart of the quintessential Bad Girl.

As fate would have it, I find myself face to face with The Virus. I should have known it would show up in our circle as we "check-in". Who have you told? How did they respond? How did YOU find out? What were you doing before the diagnosis? Has arriving at this place changed your life? How do you cope now? What new sexual expressions (intimacy) have you found?

Auntie Fi reminds me that the creative process begins with the "check-in", where we women listen and share our stories of survival, heartbreak, fury, fear and redemption. And yes, we do break our own hearts.

But how do we honor our bodies, ourselves, our children, as we struggle to get up off of our knees? Are we taking hits because we've been hit? Can we claim our scars?

If all this is a secret, why?