We Have to Take Care of Each Other
When I was in college my uncle died. I grieved his death and grappled with a host of emotions. That experience continues to influence how I see myself and the world. At his funeral I saw his ex. I was standing alone near the exit door, and he came over to offer his condolences. He and I had never held any real deep conversation. Until that point, we’d only exchanged hellos and goodbyes, typically when he accompanied my uncle to my grandmother’s house. I didn’t know much about him other than he was my uncle’s boyfriend and for once my grandmother seemed to approve of the guy my uncle was dating.
It was brief, but it was the longest talk we’d ever had, and I was grateful he saw me, maybe more than I saw myself, and thought it important for him to make a connection that day. I don’t recall all that we talked about, only the feelings of comfort and visibility and the last words he said just as he walked away. “We’ve got to take care of each other.” Over the years those parting words have come back to me, time and time again. Those words have provided a springboard for my actions and courage for my voice a thousand times over. We must take care of each other.
A couple of weeks ago, I opened my social media and there was a surprising and brave video posted by a buddy of mine. He was experiencing early symptoms of what he believed to be and later was confirmed as monkeypox. For the next week and a half, he shared openly what was happening with his body, his emotions, and his process of navigating the health system to get the assistance he needed to diagnose and ease his pain. This friend of mine is well known in his community, has more than 20,000 social media flowers, and didn’t at all have to share his lived experience, but he did so because he thought it could help other people.
Not only did he share content of himself and what was going on with him, he fielded questions from others and repeatedly posted updated information from the CDC and links from health departments from multiple jurisdictions that provided information for vaccine registration. Shame could have prevented him from doing any of those things, but instead, he used his platform during his illness to be transparent and connect his community to resources and accurate information that he knew others may need and not necessarily know where to get it or be comfortable going to find it.
The current monkeypox outbreak spreading across the United States is not exclusive to gay men and other men who have sex with men, but it is disproportionately impacting the community. To that end, now is a time when we can commit ourselves to taking care of each other. We can take care of ourselves and others by keeping informed on the latest news and updates provided by the health department, hospitals, and trusted community health organizations. We can take care of each other by monitoring our own bodies and if we have reason to believe that we need medical attention, we seek it, or that if we should isolate, that we do so to reduce the risk of harm to someone else. We can take care of each other by being mindful of our words and how we talk about the disease and not using language that stigmatizes, shames, blames, or furthers the hurt of people with the disease.
Monkeypox is a global problem, a national challenge, and a local opportunity to take care of each other. Our community has risen to the moment in the past in order to keep each other and others safe and we can individually and collectively commit and take actions do it again. We have to take care of each other, and we will.
Clarence J. Fluker is a public affairs and social impact strategist. Since 2008, he’s also been a contributing writer for Swerv, a lifestyle periodical celebrating African American LGBTQ+ culture and community. Follow him on Twitter: @CJFluker or Instagram: @Mr_CJFluker.