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While introducing R. Kelly, the final performer of this year’s Soul Train Awards, host Erykah Badu claimed that Kelly “has done more for black people than anyone.” The compliment sparked a visceral reaction in many due to Kelly’snoted history of accusations of the sexual assault of minors. I myself yelled back at the TV screen, “What has that sum’bitch done for black folks?”

However, a friend and person also sharing a deep disgust of Kelly offered me a dose objectivity. As far as influence goes, Kelly alongside Babyface and Teddy Riley, have literally shaped R&B for the last 20 years. One could even make the case Kelly’s influence is the most pronounced.

That is why even though I choose to personally not support R. Kelly monetarily anymore, it is difficult for me to write off those who choose to as “bad people” as others have opted to. There will always be a debate as to whether or not it is okay to listen to R. Kelly, and even I struggle with a clear answer.

It’s been easier for me to ignore R. Kelly’s music for more than a decade, majorly because I find it comically terrible. However, have I listened to songs from 12 Play recently? I am guilty of that. Do I still listen to Aaliyah’s debut album? All the time, says my iTunes player. Do I still listen to songs from the Life soundtrack, which was majorly written and produced by Kelly? Again, I am guilty.

I’m not sure if that places me on any moral pedestal ahead of those who purchased Black Panties. I don’t know if that makes me just as bad as them, or even R. Kelly, as some have suggested. That’s an easy, sanctimonious response that’s easy to read but not easy to put into practice. If I did wipe my computer and phone clean of anything R. Kelly has touched, I’d have to do the same with Marvin Gaye. Then, perhaps I’d have to question whether I can watch The Cosby Show ever again or anything Bill Cosby’s name is attached to – including my beloved A Different World.

I’d probably call my mom to tell her to turn off Elvis Presley forever. She might listen. She might tell me to shut up and get off her phone.

How does one truly separate the art from the artist? I don’t know. What I can do in the meantime, and what I invite others to do, is to learn to embrace a little more duality.

It’s okay to say that R. Kelly is a musical genius and, more than a likely, a terrible person and sexual predator. This is not a difficult task. There is an ample amount of evidence to help one race to such a conclusion.

With that realization comes a certain responsibility, though – namely accepting that while we can acknowledge that R. Kelly may never face the consequences of the crimes he’s been accused of committing over and over again, we don’t have to literally roll out the red carpet for him while he walks freely.

Read the rest at VH1.

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Although I tend to straddle the line between being guarded like Beyoncé and live-out-loud à la Rihanna when it comes to discussing my private life, over time I’ve come to be jealous of friends who have big, prying families. As much as I love and adore my mother, she will not discuss my boy problems with me – outside of her uncertainty as to where having sex with men will place me in the afterlife.

In my family, it’s love with limits – and before anyone argues that love shouldn’t come with limits, spare me the Diane Warren ballad you’re quoting. Life is complicated. The “complication” for my family – my sexuality – makes for a consistently awkward exchange with my kinfolk, and nothing tests these limits more than holiday-season dinners.

They’re not completely comfortable with my sexuality, but they don’t want to totally alienate me either; my family may not be comfortable getting an invitation to my gay wedding, but they wouldn’t miss the baptism of the baby I made in a lab with my gorgeous homegirl from college.

So suffice it to say, when it’s time to sit with family for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, my mother will not be asking me if there is any special man in my life helping me sin to the best of ability. I can talk to my siblings and my niece about my personal life, but that’s a whopping three people – two and a half, actually, since there’s only so much you can tell a teenager. As for my parents and the rest of my extended family, the actual contours of my dating life will remain totally undiscussed.

I already know what they will actually say to me: I will be asked innocuous questions about the weather and Times Square (aka the most horrific place on Earth). In a sense, I get off easily; some of my other friends in similar situations have relatives that make inquiries only in code.

“So, do you have any friends?” they’ll ask. “Friends” is the word older people use to describe someone they assume you’re having sex with, but that acknowledgement gives them the willies so they tone-police themselves.

But I’m now at the point where I wouldn’t mind being asked uncomfortable questions – even coded ones – like “Are you the boy or the girl?” I’d happily explain to them that’s not how any of this works, but I need a starting point first. I would even love to finally start being asked things like “You’re not getting any younger. Isn’t it time you think about settling down and marrying someone now that you can?”

Read the rest at The Guardian.

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If there is a heaven, I would not be surprised if Whitney Houston asked God to step outside its gates for a second to unleash her fury properly. I know Allan Raible meant well when invoking the late legendary vocalist in his glowing review of Adele’s new album, 25, but I so wish he hadn’t done so. Comparisons – no matter how cringe-worthy they can be at times – are employed to contextualize. That said, context is key, and in the case of comparing Adele to Whitney Houston, essential.

Writing for ABC News, Raible claimed: “It is Adele’s flawless execution that makes these winners. She is, after all, the closest successor we have to Whitney Houston, who could definitely sell a crowd-pleasing ballad while keeping things from getting too cheesy. Adele seems to have a similar universal appeal.”

I’m actually impressed by the varying levels of wrong crammed into just three sentences.

Adele is an extremely talented singer, but Whitney Houston is a once in a lifetime vocalist. There will never be another Whitney Houston. Whitney Houston, notably at her prime, was such a premiere talent that Whitney Houston herself struggled towards the end of her life living up to such a high standard of singing. Houston could literally do any type of singing and do so flawlessly.

And as much a fan as I am of Houston, some of her material was very much cheesy (some of the pop fluff from the mid 1980s, certainly “Whatchulookinat”). She was not the singer-songwriter like Adele, but her voice was so powerful that it could make any song crafted better than what it actually was.

Of course, Raible was not necessarily arguing Adele’s voice rivals Houston’s, but he did speak of it enough to put in the same conversation. It’s just not the case. Anyone who likes Adele should never put that kind of a burden on her.

As far as Adele being a Houston-like figure in terms of appeal, only someone white would think to say this.

What bugged me about Rolling Stone comparing Justin Timberlake to Michael Jackson in 2003 and what grates me about Raible’s claim now is that there are certain factors at hand that makes it much easier for the likes of Justin Timberlake and Adele to have widespread appeal than Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston – no matter how successful the latter were in their respective careers.

Adele will never have to know what it’s like to be marketed as a mainstream balladeer and face resentment from those who look like her – something Houston initially struggled with in the late 1980s. Houston made it easier for the likes of Beyoncé and Rihanna. If anything, I liken Adele to someone more like Celine Dion, and while I don’t want to strip her accomplishments away, Adele also benefits from our current climate of music. That is to say, one that offers a dearth of singers who can actually sing.

Read the rest at VH1.

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It would have been too much like right if Mary Jane Paul’s [age undetermined] birthday were solely centered on love, celebration, friendship, good food, and lots of that high saddity liquor I’m sure she only drinks. Sure, there was some of that seen on the latest episode of Being Mary Jane, but there was also drama, resentment, pain, and sadness. Lord almighty, these folks are draining, but in the most entertaining of ways.

Let’s get to talking, beloveds.

Why does Mary Jane’s stylist sound half asleep?

Based on the lines the actor is no doubt forced to say, I would expect a lot more energy from him. However, he’s quite the lethargic one when it comes to his delivery. Like, I’ve never heard someone say they’re “getting life” while sounding like they’ve just awakened from a coma. That’s no shade to the actor in question. Maybe he was told to be that way. I’m not entirely sure, but I couldn’t keep going on with my life without mentioning it in this space I’ve been allotted to dissect the show.

This show really understands Twitter, right?

When Mary Jane’s fans were tweeting her birthday wishes, one stuck out in particular: “You fine for a drk girl. HBD.” That is exactly some rude bullshit someone on Twitter would say. By the way, if you use, “HBD,” do humanity a favor: quit it. That is some laziness that is unforgivable. Type out “Happy Birthday.” It will not give you arthritis and it’ll only require a few paltry more seconds of effort.

Did Mary Jane’s co-worker really drop that bomb at her office birthday party?

Okay, so I would surely want to know if my brother was a part of some scandal that’s subject to federal investigation, but I wouldn’t want to know 1) at my birthday party thing at work, and 2) in the context of potentially putting my brother on blast on national TV. Have some decorum, sir. You could have just sent a follow up email the next morning.


How long before B.J. asks Mary Jane to put some money on his books?

My main is going to jail, y’all. While that speech he gave about white folks getting away with gaming the system was cute, I’m glad Mary Jane clapped back with the real: sure, but your Black ass won’t. He is so one of those really smart people who have no patience, thus they turn into a get rich quick scheme that ultimately lands them in handcuffs and stuck wearing the color orange. I also didn’t appreciate him going, “Oh yeah, it is the 21st.” More on that soon.

Is Kara going to have sex with her ex-husband soon?

I’m inclined to say no and she’ll end up back with the boo thang from Madam Secretary, but because she’s so horny, she might end up giving her estranged, annoying hubby some mercy sex in the name of self-care.

So Patrick is getting high again?

I’m assuming those pills are to help him stay awake for the night shift and do the extra work necessary to stay employed. Poor thing. He’s a fiend. It won’t be long now before Mary Jane gets a call about him being butt naked under the freeway turning tricks from a hit.

Read the rest at VH1.

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I have never known black people to go crazy over store-bought pie. Store-bought pie is the sort of thing that I’ve only understood to be permissible on a weekday when you don’t feel like cooking but you really want to get into your feelings and sweets (with Sade playing in the background). Like, more often than not, a relative will be cursed smooth out for daring to bring a store-bought pie to a holiday dinner. I can literally hear the voice of an auntie judging a cousin as I type this.

Yet, over the past few weeks, nearly every black person I’ve ever met has been obsessing over Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pie. While that is quite the coup for Patti-Patti, much of the fanfare is rooted in James Wright’s now infamous YouTube video endorsement. If not for that man screaming, shouting and singing about that pie, I would have never known of its existence.

And based on reports now, neither would you.

Sales were described as “just OK” before Wright’s very enthusiastic endorsement, but skyrocketed not long after. The pie has since been dubbed the “Tickle me, Elmo” of food. LaBelle herself reached out to Wright, calling to thank him for his video and even complimenting his singing voice. However, when TMZ caught up with LaBelle more recently, she dismissed the weight of his contribution.

When asked about Wright and if there would be some sort of future collaboration, LaBelle said, “I did it myself.” After the paparazzo noted that the viral video—which has amassed 10 million views—helped the pies sell out, LaBelle said in response, “I was selling out before the guy did his wonderful video.”




We live in an age of media in which people are afraid to call a thing a thing. I know this is not as bad as Donald Trump’s flat-out lies, but a lie is a lie is a lie. And Patti-Patti, what you told that TMZ cameraman is a lie.

You were not selling out those pies before James Wright turned on his camera and devoured that pie like it was his last meal. Those pies were not flying off the shelves before James Wright acted as if he had just climaxed before lodging that pie down his throat. Those pies were not being marked up and sold on eBay until James Wright started eating that pie—without heating it up, but different strokes—and singing your songs as only one of “the kids” would.

All I can hear right now is President Barack Obama’s “You didn’t build that” commentary. It takes a team—starting with Kinna Thomas, senior buyer of cakes and pies at Wal-Mart, who got this whole Patti LaBelle sweet potato pie chain going.

I feel like I’m being disrespectful to an elder, and I may or may not have to go and cut myself a switch for writing this, but Ms. Patti-Patti, you have got to sip some chill, topped with reason. You may be known as a crooner and quite the cook, but the masses were not scouring the earth for some store-bought pie sold only at Wal-Mart until James Wright sent them there.

Does that mean you owe him a check? Technically, no. I mean, no one told him to upload that video and essentially create the best commercial ever. It would be nice, but Wright created that moment of his own volition. That said, you do owe the man the credit he is due.

Read the rest at The Root.

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adele-25-coverFor the most ardent Adele fans, their pre-orders of 25 officially began to download around 11 p.m. and by 12:30 a.m. Thursday night. They were surely curled into balls of despair on their floors—no doubt clutching wine glasses in one hand and cell phones in the other. While it’s unclear if they’re presently still drowning in a pool of their own tears, I am here to assist the rest of you who are curious to hear the new album but need to be briefed appropriately. As in, which of these songs will make you want to text your ex? Or have you crying on the subway? Make you scream out in pain while stuck in traffic? And of course, doing the absolute most on social media to attract sympathy to you and your boo-less life only to find yourself looking a damn fool?

Fret not, y’all. My tear ranking is here to help.

11. “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”
I was immediately caught off guard by this lil’ number because it sounds—insert audible gasp right here—upbeat. And then Adele begins to sing. To the surprise of no one, it’s about love lost. However, this is very adult subject matter about a breakup. Like, Adele is wishing her old boo and his new bae well. She acknowledges that the two were just not a good match and that’s perfectly OK. It’s a little melancholy, but it comes with some shimmy-inducing production. Unlike most Adele songs, you can listen to this in the dark without anyone needing to feel concern. Cherish this moment: It does not last for long.

10. “Sweetest Devotion”
Believe it or not, she’s not mad at the guy here. You have to pay attention to the lyrics, but really, she’s happy about the man.

9. “I Miss You”
The title suggests that you will be drenching your pillow in liquid emotion, but the song itself is more about longing, or to be blunt, the sex. Check Adele out, singing about boning motherfuckers and shit. My girl. This is another safe one. Not the most upbeat way to sing about wanting to smash, but if you listen to Drake, you’re used listening to “moody but I still have a boner” music. Flourish, children.

8. “River Lea”
THE RIVER LEA. THE RIVER LEA. YEAH, I BLAME IT ON THE RIVER LEA. Damn, that’s some catchy shit. And it’s even better when you try to copy Adele’s accent. You probably sound stupid as hell—I think I do—but hey, you’re not tearing up. Success.

7. “Remedy”
The first few seconds of the song sound like you might as well crouch down and curl into a ball, but once you get to the actual lyrics, it’s not so bad. Adele sings, “When the pain cuts you deep/When the night keeps you from sleeping/Just look and you will see your remedy.” This is her version of an inspirational Instagram word meme.

6. “Water Under the Bridge”
Wait—you hear that beat? I’m swaying. It’s definitely about rejection, but like “Send My Love (To Your New Lover),” Adele doesn’t sound like she wants to cut herself. However, she’s not as fine-fine-fine-fine-fine with it as the other. Be careful and watch for social media triggers. Do not like the new picture. For the love of God, watch yourself.

Read the rest at Complex.

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For many former white boy band members, the keys to transitioning to full-fledged adult star include muscles, showing off more skin, and more often than not, a flirtation with R&B. Last year, Nick Jonas did all of these things, only he added a notable twist: A full-on courtship—and embracement—of a gay fan base.

In September 2014, Jonas spoke to Logo’s NewNowNext about this move with an admission of previous effort. First, Jonas explained, “I grew up doing theatre here in New York, surrounded by [the gay community] and loving it at a young age.” Then he added that when it came to his past life as a member of The Jonas Brothers, “When my brothers and I started touring and had some success, naturally [gay men] became a pretty big part of our following. I don’t know that we ever did enough to really own that.”

The solution: “I really want to make an effort to embrace the community with open arms.”

So he did. This included a spread in Flaunt magazine’s “Grind Issue” that served as a tribute to Mark Whalberg’s infamous 1992 Calvin Klein underwear campaign. Jonas was photographed in a homoerotic way—touching his crotch, revealing his very well sculpted abs and grabbing his own bare ass (taunting us). I imagine women enjoyed it, too, but if felt like a nod to the gay gaze. Additionally, Jonas has started frequenting New York City gay clubs—dancing to his new singles, lifting up his shirt to tease the boys (or gworls, depending on the gay you’re talking to), looking quite awkward, but making an effort to engage.

He’s also opted to play gay characters: First in Kingdom, and more recently, on Scream Queens. Although some were touched by his efforts—or at least titillated enough to embrace whatever Jonas served—others were less than impressed.

Enter Adam Lambert, who tweeted this time last year: “Anyone find it interesting how straight male Pop stars r pandering to gay audiences lately!? Should we be flattered? Progress or strategy? No shade. I just wanna hear about music! Not be teased on weather someone MIGHT be bi curious or gay or straight. Who cares?! Lol”

Jonas responded to this, telling PrideSource that “everyone’s entitled to their opinion,” but ultimately, “I think it’s unfortunate that some people have to find a negative in every situation.”

Later Jonas echoed this sentiment, and the manner of it bugged me.Speaking with Daily Star Online at the Radio One Teen Awards, Nick teased fans about the upcoming season of Kingdom – notably whether his scenes will get steamier. “Well I’m gay in Kingdom, if you keep watching the series you’ll see more of that,” Jonas said.

However, when asked if he had ever sexually experimented with another man, Jonas answered, “I can’t say if I have or haven’t, but if you watch the show you’ll see more of that.” Actually, you can say if you have or have not—especially if you’ve been essentially putting the tip in with your gay fans.

Jonas was once again asked about “gay baiting” and said, “In every situation when there’s an opportunity to be negative some people find the need to be.”

I loathe that he dismissed legitimate criticism under the very vapid pretense of “positive” or “negative.” Not every critique is trying to call you the worst person who ever lived on this Earth. This is a silly deflection tactic.

I am appreciative that a straight American pop star isn’t running away from the gay fans who helped make him a star. Even so, Jonas’ methodology is a little heavy handed. Granted, I appreciate the sight of his body, but there’s something irritating about Nick Jonas’ refusal to answer whether or not he’s ever actually experimented sexually with another man, given his consistent courting of gay fans.

Read the rest at Fusion.

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Last night’s Empire offered a rap battle that looked more like one of those dance battle movies your nieces and nephews beg to take you to see. Meanwhile, Cookie slapped the hell out of her new boyfriend after he shoved her son as Jamal pursued a huge deal with Pepsi. Oh, and Anika lost her damn mind. Yes, more than we thought she did before. I have questions. Help me answer them, beloveds.

Does Lucious understand how much of a bitch he is?

Valid question, but let me unravel a little more. What is Lucious so attached to Dej Noap again? What is it about Freda that has Lucious so enamored with her? Is it because she, too, has an overinflated ego, very little empathy for others, and has crazy eyes? Is this how sociopaths bond? Whatever the case, I don’t quite get why Freda is so willing to participate in Lucious’ little game of torturing his son Hakeem. If he does that to his son, Dej Noap, what in the hell do you think he’ll do to you?

Why was Dej Noap glowing?

No disrespect to whoever did the lighting on that opening scene last nite, but we have the real Missy back now. Let’s not do that again.

So is Def Noap so desperate for attention that she disses someone she’s never met?

I’m asking again as I am still confused by this story arc.

So Jamal is an icon already?

In that scene with the Pepsi execs in which they featured a future commercial with Jamal in mind, they dubbed him an “icon.” That’s cool. I mean, most people couldn’t get away with becoming an icon with no album out yet. However, ‘bout two weeks ago, Jamal was whining about the Staples Center not letting him perform in it for some mysterious reason. Now he is an icon with an endorsement deal shared by the likes of Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, and Beyoncé. Is this that David Geffan-like character’s magic working? If so, is he the lost witch fromHocus Pocus?

I want Jamal’s character to be this big star, and in turn, usher in this conversation about why that has to happened in real life, but the structure of his impending stardom is jumpy.

Does Andre regret not sticking with his mama yet?

Andre was trying to be all Carlton Banks with Lyon Dynasty, feeling like he was too good to be in the startup trenches with his mama and baby brother. The end result is him being bitched out week after week by his father and Satan’s best frenemy. That’s what his ass gets.

Who is the stud with the interesting haircut in Hakeem’s crew?

Apparently, that was AzMarie Livingston, a former America’s Next Top Model contestant and ex-girlfriend of Raven-Symoné. I was intrigued. Thank you for answering me, Twitter.

Read the rest at VH1.

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Usher is the most successful male R&B artist of the past 20 years – actually, one of the most successful artists period – yet he often feels left out of the conversation when it comes to our generation’s premiere stars.

Much of the narrative about his success now focuses majorly on the juggernaut that was 2004’s Confessions, which sold more than a million records its first week. However, the entertainer had already cemented himself as crossover smash with 2001’s 8701. In fact, I recall being frustrated that Rolling Stone crowned Justin Timberlake “The New King of Pop” in 2003. Clearly that honor should have gone to U. But even with accolades –including Billboard naming him the Top 100 Artist of the 2000s– we’ve been undervaluing Usher for years now.

Some of this is his own fault. It’s no secret that it’s harder for R&B artists now that it’s been in year’s past (unless you’re white), but unlike Beyoncé, Usher tried to keep up with the times. He grabbed a glow stick and joined the EDM kids, resulting in songs like “Oh My God” and “Scream.” Usher also began to collaborate with Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias, which is not wrong in theory but is in its subsequent end result. All of those overly pop-dance singles were cynical attempts to maintain Usher as a radio mainstay.

They were successful in that sense, but they also began to strip Usher of what made him so successful. He stopped being the consistent great album maker. He began to rely more on clichés with only glimmers of forward-leaning R&B such as “Climax.” He essentially didn’t own that he is Usher, thus above that sort of music making. Even if I loathed R&B’s brief but no less painful flirtation with EDM, I understood why many felt compelled to do so. I will never understand why Usher felt such pressure.

Even so, considering his catalog and the millions upon millions it sold and hit after hit it produced, you would think he’d have more capital to quickly recapture past glory.

Especially when you consider he’s beginning to make such good music again. This would include the delightful ode to oral pleasure in “Good Kisser.” I’m not sure I will ever forgive the masses for not making that song a bigger deal.

Now, I understand the division over “She Came To Give It To You” featuring Nicki Minaj. I enjoy it, but it does feel like a retread of that Robin Thicke song I dare not name. Usher got even better with the Mike WiLL Made it produced “Believer” and “Clueless,” which was distributed by way of a Honey Nut Cheerios box.

Read the rest at VH1.

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While watching Charlie Sheen this morning on TODAY, all I could do is think about Magic Johnson.

When Johnson revealed that he was HIV positive, and thus, would immediately be retiring from the NBA at the advice of his doctors, Johnson said during the press conference, “Life is going to go on for me, and I’m going to be a happy man. When your back is against the wall, you have to come out swinging. I’m going to go on, going to be there, going to have fun.”

Johnson would make a brief return to basketball, and in 2011, revealed that he regretted that decision to leave basketball. Still, Johnson stayed true to the commitment he made in that 1991 presser. Life indeed went on for him as Johnson blossomed into hugely successful entrepreneur, advocate, and philanthropist. (Full disclosure: I am a recipient of his foundation’s Taylor Michaels Scholarship Program.)

And yet, more than two decades after Johnson and many other faces and names helped changed the way we look at HIV, the stigmas continue. I’m not comfortable with the reality that some sentiments I heard at the age of 6 remain in my 31st year of life. I’m equally bothered by the circumstances that led to Sheen’s disclosure.

Sheen did not come out willingly; he was pushed into it by way of being gossiped about in tabloids and being blackmailed by the people he allowed into his life.

Look no further than the National Enquirer whose cover story leads with “World Exclusive! Charlie Sheen Is HIV Positive — Inside His Shocking Diagnosis.” The story begins with “Decades of debauchery have finally caught up to Charlie Sheen.” Then there is TMZ, who reported details about Sheen leading into his announcement this morning.

 Sheen revealed that he has known for four years that he was HIV positive. He also noted that he’s been millions of dollars in keeping his status a secret. As a result of this interview, Sheen said, “I released myself from this prison today.”But what kept in his personal cell for so long is remains clear. The “tiger Blood” jokes have already started. As have the comments about him associating with prostitutes – which further vilifies sex workers, who need greater access to prevention efforts than they do further condemnation and criminalization. Even in the Sheen interview, Matt Lauer asked him about the various laws across the country aimed at those with HIV/AIDS. The problem with that line of inquiry is that many of those laws are archaic about based on perceptions about the disease formed in the 1980s.

If Sheen had already claimed that he has revealed his status to each of his sexual partners, why press him about laws that need revision in the wake of medical developments in treating the virus?

Thankfully, there were teachable moments by way of Sheen’s doctor, but too much of the conversation felt stagnant.

Make no mistake: I do not pity Charlie Sheen. It is hard to ever feel that empathetic towards a man with a history of violence against women. Nonetheless, he deserves better than what brought him to this interview. To gossip about his health is deplorable. To extort money from him in this manner is despicable. To continue to damn him and other people living with HIV points to lingering shaming tactics that ought to face certain death.

Read the rest at VH1.

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