The Night Don Lemon Hugged Me

Published: December 13, 2012

Our first meeting on-camera was six years ago. The memory of it pains me still, despite my enthusiasm for appearing on national television for any reason whatsoever.

“And how long have you been off drugs?” he asked. The look in his eyes carried a journalist’s skepticism. The intense lights of the CNN studio seemed to brighten at the question.

“Six months,” I answered. The idea of appearing at the anchor desk with Don Lemon was losing its allure. Granted, I wanted to help promote the documentary Meth, and discuss gay men, drug abuse, and my own crystal meth addiction. But the interview had become too real, too well lit, and far too direct for me to escape the truth with my usual manipulations.

“And where are you living now?” Don asked me. I felt flush, reddened by shame and by the pitiful answer I was now obligated to give.

“I live in a halfway house with other men recovering from addiction, Don.”

My mother is watching, I thought. My friends. And people who know me who will be far too polite to ever mention they saw this.

Don Lemon’s news story was insightful and illuminated a very real health threat to gay men. And it featured an actual gay drug addict on camera. A well-spoken one, but an addict just the same.

In the six years since those uncomfortable few minutes, I published a book about living in Los Angeles during the dawn of AIDS. I embraced my HIV status by launching my blog, My Fabulous Disease. And despite relapses and lessons along the way, I have faced my addiction and loosened its grip on my life and productivity.

And so, as fate would have it, I found myself back at Don Lemon’s desk recently, live on the air, to talk about living with HIV and how I was combating stigma with weapons of joy and good humor (pictured above, with video below).

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