Thursday, April 1, 2021

25. If You Are Good At What You Do You Will Be Attacked

 “I knew I was going to be attacked for who I am.  I didn’t know I was going to be attacked for who I’m not.  It’s very odd to be hated for someone that you’re not.”  - Marianne Williamson, 2020

“I answer to two people.  Myself and God. And I don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks about me.” -- Cher, 1999

If there is one piece of advice I’d give to individuals starting to practice in the world of HIV prevention and Social Justice it would be this:  When you get really good at what you’re doing, when your message is resonating on a larger scale, you will be skewered and attacked.  If you approach this rationally, you’ll find that the lovers outnumber the haters, that the voices of gratitude far outweigh the protestations.  But make no mistake about it, expressing your views openly makes you a magnet for mismanaged trauma, unexamined projections, and sociopathic impulses.

I was 20-years-old the first time I went to see Madonna’s “Truth Or Dare” in theaters.  I remember being mesmerized by her sheer glee in offending others by simulating masturbation on stage.  The raw footage captures her exuberance the moment Pope John Paul II declared her 1990 tour “one of the most satanic shows in the history of humanity”  and called for a ban on her concerts.  I watched with envy and amazement secretly hoping that someday someone would find my words as incredulous and threatening. 

Fast forward to June, 2015.  I was already two years into running the PrEP Facts Facebook group, and three years into my role as the accidental poster boy for bareback anal sex, when  Michael Weinstein, the CEO of AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), released a full double-page print ad naming me solely in his view of the “War on Prevention.”  

Many friends and family reached out to me concerned for my well being.  They were worried that this public taunting would be traumatizing or challenging to my mental health or professional career.   

But like Madonna, I was beyond elated. 

First of all, I was grateful that Michael Weinstein and his cronies spelled my name correctly, as many in the ensuring years did not (I still can’t get CNN to spell my name correctly today).  

Second — Michael Weinstein quoted one of my favorite things I have ever said about PrEP and HIV Prevention.  It is something I first wrote in 2014, spoke at Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in 2015, and will be proud of until the day I die:   “People want to experience the maximal pleasure, with the minimal consequences.  They want to have more connections, with fewer barriers.  They want to feel heightened physical sensations with lower medical risks.”   I remain thankful today to AHF for parroting my words accurately and succinctly!

Third — There is no way I could have bought this level of publicity in 2015.  I couldn’t purchase it today either.  This ad was published in gay newspapers all across the U.S.  And although print media was definitively on its way out by then, it still made the rounds in enough echelons to afford me some very comfortable speaking gigs in the years to come.    

Fourth -- I couldn't fathom how the CEO of an international agency was threatened by me "brazenly" talking about sex.  As mentioned Lesson 46 , this was just something I was doing for fun on the side.  I created that "PrEP Facts website" in my underwear in my living room in Brooklyn.  How someone who runs a 1.7 billion operation could be afraid of a gay dude in boxers is beyond me.   

So for me this was an experience of elation.  Sadly, this was not the case for many of my peers.  Between 2012-2017 there was a slew of younger queer men who also spoke about PrEP and U=U, and were subsequently scrutinized, stigmatized, and harassed by individuals and organizations.  Most of them have stopped talking publicly at all.  I wish I had the wherewithal and insight then that I have today.  I’d like to be able to go back 7-8 years and say, “You are bright and you are bold.  If you speak truthfully about sex, and you do it well,  then some incels will come at with you with pitchforks. They will use any means necessary on social media to discredit your value and diminish your brilliance.  Let’s support each other and have each other’s backs when that happens.”  

In the ensuing years, I’ve come to see that being targeted is no laughing matter.  It is well understood now that the absurd claims that Barack Obama was not an American citizen gave birth to the Tea Party movement and Donald Trump’s political ascendance.  Whoopi Goldberg has spoken at great length how rumor and speculation against her led to her inability to find work for many years, even after she became one of the few living EGOTs.  Janet Huber’s career was decimated in the 1990s once she was labelled “difficult” by Will Smith.  Hillary Clinton lost the U.S. presidency largely because of a false rumor perpetuated by James Comey about her emails.  Marianne Williamson was mocked for being a witch and a host of supernatural accusations when she ran for U.S. President in 2019.  And so on.   

When you spread love in this world, people will attack.  When you talk about sex in this culture, people will attack.  If you live your life fully, passionately, creatively, and boldly fight for what you believe, people will attack.  That is one of the consequences of living in a fear-based ego world.  At fifty years old, I hardly see this changing in my lifetime.

At the same time, I have learned time and time again the peace in maintaining resilience and integrity.  As long as I’m speaking the truth, they can say whatever they want.  As long as I’m being honest, they can accuse me however they want.  I love learning new things and having civil discussions with people who don't agree with me, but attackers rarely want to engage in rational productive discourse.  So I continue to live my life, speak my truth, do my work with as much love as possible.  Or to put it another way,  “I answer to two people.  God and Cher. And I don’t give a shit what the rest say.”  I just ask that they spell my name right.  

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist helping individuals and couples enjoy life with peace, purpose, and pleasure. His books "Absolutely Should-less" and "Rational Relating" help people experience connection with joy, serenity, and meaning. His work has been featured on CNN Health, The New York Times, MSNBC, USA Today and more. He can be reached at or 347-227-7707

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