To mark LGBT History Month, 2013, Polari asked its contributors to recall a song that had an impact on their own stories.
‘We Are The Champions’ – Queen
by Jim Akers
Coming of age in Detroit, Michigan during the disco era meant two things: owning at least two “Disco Sucks” t-shirts and a constant hoarding of rock anthems. My first LP, purchased at the tender age of nine, was just as tender as my age … the Grease soundtrack. But the first “mature” music pick – and my first cassette tape – was Queen’s Greatest Hits in 1981. And the power ballad I forwarded to play, then rewound to play again, was always ‘We Are The Champions’. But I was 11 years old and that purchase had no significance to my yet-to-be-discovered sexuality.
That significance came a decade later as a young man who both came out and tested positive for HIV in the same year. Early on in my gay life I felt I’d paid my dues time after time. And now, many years later, I’m still reminded that I’ve done my sentence. Twenty-two years with this virus. Sometimes feeling locked in solitary. Sometimes feeling judged. Sometimes even feeling a bit felonious even when I’ve committed no crime. Of course, there were bad mistakes. And like everyone, there’s no doubt I’ve made a few. And those early days – those teen years, that coming out year, or those early years of HIV – I faced many opponents and challenges. Whether they came from a group of conservative religious parents who felt I shouldn’t speak to their children about protecting themselves from STDs, or from a group of straight fraternity brothers at a university who wanted to gay bash me, I definitely had my share of sand kicked in my face.
But, you see, I’ve come through.
The first years I had HIV, I became an HIV educator and spoke to groups in numbers as intimate as ten and as intimidating as 2,600. I took many bows and made many curtain calls … meeting with the audience after I stepped off stage. Sharing my experience. My story. And my life. As I became more involved in this work, I took to the national stage which brought me an odd form of fame and fortune and everything that goes with that. Not the type of fortune you’re thinking… that type of “fame” isn’t bestowed on an HIV poster-boy. No, it was the blessing of community … of strength … of winning. And I have to thank so many for that.
Even with the most amazing support network, it’s been no bed of roses. And, although I’ve spent my annual vacation the past seven years on an HIV+ Caribbean holiday, the day-to-day has been no pleasure cruise. But I’ve never let it get me down. Early on I saw many friends who allowed pessimism to creep in and it took a toll on their health. For me, I considered it a challenge before the whole human race. Prove myself. Help others. Live long. Stay healthy. Today I continue that by committing to AIDS/LifeCycle and riding a bicycle 545 miles in seven days to raise money for HIV/AIDS services and awareness. From day one, my mantra has always been, “I ain’t gonna lose.”
You see, we are the champions. My friends, all of you, who’ve faced adversity of any sort and haven’t let it get you down will always be winners. And I know we’ll keep on fighting ‘til the end. We decided early on there was no time for losers. We used our combined strength to win our battles and survive…. whether it was to fight homophobic politics, racial discrimination, gender inequality or, like me, fighting HIV for my life. We stood up, stood proud, and yelled out, “We are the champions of the world!”