All of Us

This morning I was supposed to be out of the door bright and early but got caught up watching this documentary on Showtime called, “All of Us.” See the trailer here. It’s about a young doctor, an Ethiopian chick Dr. Mehret Mandefro, doing research in the South Bronx about why Black women are being infected with HIV at such alarming rates. It watches her on this journey, and two other ladies as they struggle with social issues that continue to put them at risk. In particular, Dr. Mandefro was trying to teach these women how to negotiate around when to have sex and how that would happen, including the use of condoms. She continued to bring up the theme of power dynamics within the relationship, and how many of the women in her research were in positions where they did not feel as though they had the option to say no or to bring up the subject of condoms.

What was most interesting though, was while Dr. Mandefro was conducting research and giving presentations, the documentary also showed pieces of her relationship. Apparently, she was dating some guy, they were supposed to meet up on her very limited free time and he never called. Then sometime later they hooked up and apparently had sex, according to her she said he “inhaled” her. The documentarian asked were they a couple and Mandefro started spouting about her faith in the relationship was strong, and you can’t always put titles on things. I just shook my head because it felt familiar, some rhetoric we tell ourselves to cover up the fact that we know there are other people in the picture. It seemed to me that the power dynamics in her relationship versus her clients weren’t that different.

Eventually the doctor realized the parallels between her life and her patients and came up with this idea of “truth circles.” This would be a safe place where women would discuss sexual issues to understand the power issues at play in their previous and current relationships and how to negotiate for their sexual health in the future. She did a trial run with her friends at her apartment, all college-educated, employed, from all different races. Their conversations were so similar to my experiences and those that my friends have shared. We don’t always come prepared with condoms, we don’t ask for HIV-tests, we make assumptions about how “safe” someone is based on their resume, we move to non-condom use without a committed relationship, we aren’t always consistent.

Those conversations really hit me, because I know that the experiences of her patients and me and my friends aren’t that different. The only differences are that they got caught and we haven’t. These truth circles are important, because once we admit that we don’t always put ourselves first, we can think about it the next time we are in a situation. I’m going to try to have a couple in the upcoming year.

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