LaJoyce Brookshire: Faith In The Face of AIDS
By Angela Bronner, BlackVoices.com
LaJoyce Brookshire has certainly been through the fire, but thanks to her unrelenting faith, came out unscathed.
The former power publicist turned author (she novelized the black film classic Soul Food and also wrote Web of Deception), ordained minister and doctor of Naturopathy, recently released a powerful piece of non-fiction — a deeply disturbing, though increasingly common story, about courage, AIDS, marriage, deception and ultimately, redemption.
In Faith Under Fire: Betrayed By a Thing Called Love, Brookshire shares the riveting true-life account of marrying a man with full blown AIDS, and using her rock of Gibraltar faith to get through an ordeal which would have broken most. Brookshire opens up with BlackVoices.com.
What was your process in coming to write the memoir?
I wrote ‘Faith Under Fire’ primarily because the statistics for HIV infections were continuing to rise. And I heard my story over and over more times than I even cared to. So it was time that I broke the silence and stopped trying to keep the privacy of a dead man, and let people know some information that could possibly save their lives; because for the people who are most at risk, I have the most information.
And who are the people most at risk, black women, married?
Black women are highly at risk, yes . And heterosexual women of all walks of life are highly at risk.
How did you maintain your Christian faith when you knew that this man knowingly had AIDS and still slept with you?
You know what it is, honestly…because I didn’t know that I was being deceived until he was almost dead. It was easier for me to maintain my Christian faith, because I was staying true to my wedding vows. And I thought back to the day of my wedding, when the only tear I shed was when I said, “through sickness and in health”. That was the only tear. And we ironically got married on World AIDS Day in 1990- December 1st. That’s how I was I able to hold on and just through the grace of God honestly.
Do you recommend that people in marriage get HIV tests?
Absolutely, I think now, its become routine. HIV can slip up on you and you might not ever know. I think what health systems should do is make blood testing mandatory to obtain a marriage license again. When I got married in 1990, to this guy, it was mandatory in 28 states, and now its only mandatory in 14. In the life and times of which we live now, why are there less? It is the responsibility of each individual to gather information; before you swap spit, swap information. No test, no touch! But we say that in theory and it’s all fine and good, but here I am in this situation when Mr. Tall, Fine, and Handsome came strumping up in my life sending roses to my job every week, and my nose was open like a Mack truck. There’s nothing you can tell a woman when she’s in love.
I know you do the book tour with churches, how is the feedback from the church?
Oh incredible. And here’s the deal, this is why I do this. This is why I stand naked and not ashamed because of the people who are able to see themselves in me. And for the people who are harboring a secret too, and who are now able to be set free. People who are willing to stand in their truth, no matter what it is. After I finish speaking, especially at churches, women just come up and they’re in tears. They come to whisper in my ear and they can’t say anything, but I know what they want to say. One women at a church in New Jersey got the strength to go to her pastor’s office when I spoke there in February, but since November she’s been harboring the fact that she found out that her husband was HIV positive. She didn’t even tell her mama! After I spoke and told my story, she told her pastor and he handed her a piece of paper with my number on it. And he knew he didn’t need to check with me, because that’s why I’m there. I’m being really bold about what I’m saying so that people can become honest and come clean about the truth and where you are. The truth is the only thing that is going to stop this epidemic…and I’m trying to help do that.
Has there been any backlash?
From his family, yes, his sisters. Outside of that, no. There’s been backlash from people, who feel that I preach abstinence… well I do. I don’t think that you can put your faith in a condom. You can’t put your total and complete faith in a condom. I ask this…If you know the person has AIDS, do you still trust the condom? The answer is generally no! Why then, do you trust it and you’re not really sure? You’re rolling the dice.
So abstinence outside of marriage?
Abstinence outside of marriage… or until you find out enough information. We don’t want to hear that… because it’s very hard to hear.
How do you feel about the Down Low phenomenon?
Here’s the thing, I never caught him in bed with anybody. But like I said, I have is compilation of lies. And how I came up with my conclusion of him being on the down low is because women who have caught their men in bed, we say the exact same thing and have the exact same story… exactly. We have the disappearing acts, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde behavior, or the sweeping you off your feet like Prince Charming. The monopolizing all of your time and he disappears with certain male friends in particular, you know you can name a couple of friends who are not accounted for after they die. He sabotages your relationship with the other friends so that its just you and him riding off into the sunset. Lying about mostly anything to get their way, its narcissistic and sociopathic behavior because they prey on women who are straight. And they are willing givers of oral sex, without wanting to receive it. A gay friend of mine put it quite succinctly by saying, because, once a man has given another man oral sex, that a woman’s jaw strength is just not the same.
Do you think being more open or accepting of homosexuality is part of taking the stigma of hiding away?
The gay friends that I have, who acknowledge that they’re openly gay, men and women, I embrace them, because they are standing in their truth. The people who are tipping, whatever kind of tipping that you are doing… if you’re a man and you’re tipping on the other side of town with another woman, even that is down low behavior. But certainly if you do it with the opposite sex, you’re not standing in good truth. I have already embraced this community because I have personal friends of the community So the stigma then doesn’t lie within them, the stigma then lies within you.
Why then do we have to wait until catastrophe happens, meaning one person getting infected with HIV for it to all come to light that you’ve led a duplicitous lifestyle and for it to all blow up in your face? Then you’ve got to backtrack and make notifications and see who you’ve been with- or not -because some people are not even doing notifying others. Saying you have HIV is just not something that people can easily say to others.
So how involved have you become in just educating yourself about AIDS? Do you follow it in the news or not necessarily?
I wouldn’t call myself an expert. I do keep very close to the statistics and I’m very close to the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS. I have been probably their most returning employee. Seriously, I have worked there, like five times in my career. And because of that relationship, it keeps me close to the epidemic. And it keeps me close to the stats, every time I need new stats, they make sure I get them. I would consider myself a health expert now because as a classical naturopathic doctor I’m an expert on keeping the immune systems healthy.