After about a 4 year break, I finally found myself back at the agency I left in 2008. Bay Area Young (BAY) Positives is a little gem of a non-profit agency. BAY Poz holds the distinction of being the world's first peer-based non-profit agency serving HIV positive youth. I worked there between 2002 and 2008, and, although I was the one to leave, the agency still holds a special place in my heart.
It's not as if I haven't been back inside the agency since I left. My BFF, who I had the most fortunate luck to meet while working there, remains the Executive Director. We try to meet for lunch every few weeks, but sometimes that turns into every few months. We trade off meeting down on the Peninsula with meeting in the city. Deciding to volunteer at the agency one day a week was a no brainer for me. Not only do I get to see my BFF on a weekly basis, but I can support the agency that meant so much to me. Also, between you and me, working on my own and mostly from home has begun to make me feel pretty isolated. I'm also really, really dismayed by all the youth who are taking their own lives because of being bullied just for being who they are.
As far as the agency is concerned, not much has changed. It still mostly looks the same, but the staff turn over is pretty high. This is nothing new for the agency, and it warms my heart to see some of the people who are currently working for the agency. It is pretty freaking weird though when I can pin point exactly what items in the agency were either purchased by me or I had gotten through donations. My lucky bamboo (that is apparently thriving--I think I want it back), the desk lights I brought from home, recognizing my writing on binders, and hearing my voice on the agency voice mail are all reminders of how much the agency meant (and still means) to me and my identity.
As soon as I settled in, I had the most overwhelming feeling of belonging. It's hard for me to describe. When I left the agency in 2008 I was severely burnt out. Spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally. I had little contact with anyone for the first 6 months after I left. I felt like I had nothing left to give, and even speaking to friends made me almost shut down. Funny how some of the stuff that used to annoy the shit out of me in 2008 (like not having ANY privacy) was now a delightful change in 2012.
Because the agency is a drop in day center, there are usually at least a few "members" (that is what we call clients because it is a peer-based organization) hanging out. The agency is technically a youth agency where anyone with an HIV/AIDS diagnosis and between the ages of 18 and 26 are welcome. Due to the nature of HIV in the city of San Francisco, more than 70% of the members identify as something other than hetero. There are also a fair number of transgender women, but heterosexual women are in the minority. In other words, the agency tends to be super gay. And, that is exactly were I feel my "tribe" is.
I was able to really expand and refine the skills I use when coaching clients around dating and sex while working for BAY Positives. I loved being able to talk openly with the members about the type of sex they were having, what kind of challenges they were facing, and basically just being sex positive. You might think that fostering this type of environment is not likely amongst the HIV poz youth community--you know, because people who are HIV positive shouldn't have sex<---sarcasm alert.
What I know for sure is that BAY Poz is the only service provider that allows youth to safely explore and embrace the different aspect of their sexuality. In fact, it is one of the only places youth feel comfortable discussing sex at all.
In just a few hours of being back at the agency I was making connections with new members and talked very openly with them about when they became HIV positive, if they are currently dating, what is going on with their life and housing situation, and so much more. The ease of conversation was such a welcome change considering my recent bout of depression and professional doubt.
It was a relief to be accepted back in the gay trenches right away. Although, in all honesty, it's not like I really ever left. Being at the agency was a wake up call for me. It is liberating to feel truly comfortable with who you are. I got to hang out with youth, accept them for who they are, talk in depth about sex, use the word "gay" liberally, and all the while help people who are going through significant crisis.
Tuesday was a really good day.