R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet” Plays the HIV Blame Game
Behold: The first five episodes of R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet"
One fatal assumption of the HIV blame game is that those who contract HIV welcome the virus with their dangerous sexual habits. The reality is that healthy people engage in the same sexual activity—they just don't get hit with HIV because they aren't fucking in the right circles. Instead of having sex with gay men or low-income African-Americans, they're screwing North Dakotans, or white women, or straight people.
But these healthy people, so quick to blame the HIV-positive for their deviant behaviors, have one night stands, too. They have unprotected sex, too. They have anal sex, too. And often, they don't know their HIV status, either—they're above that, right?
Nothing better illustrates the danger of this attitude than R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet."
For the uninitiated: "Trapped in the Closet" is a 22-part urban opera conceived, scored, recorded, and performed by popular recording artist and alleged child molester R. Kelly (cleared of all charges). The hip-hopera follows a social network of friends, lovers, religious advisers, and public servants, all of whom are connected by one link: They've all fucked somebody who's fucked somebody who's fucked somebody else, and everything is totally fucked.
The series opens with Sylvester (the R. Kelly character) waking up in the bed of Cathy, a woman who is not his wife. When Cathy hears her husband, Rufus, approaching, she ushers Sylvester into the closet, where he is forced to watch Cathy and Rufus prepare to get it on—until Sylvester's cell phone rings, and, unable to quickly turn the ringer to vibrate, he is discovered. When Rufus learns his wife has hid her lover in the closet, he gets pissed. Then, he reveals he's been living his life in a more metaphorical closet: He is gay, and is himself carrying on an affair, with a man named Chuck. (Rufus is also a pastor).
The story continues like this: One partner reveals they've been cheating on their spouse with an extramarital honey; their spouse gets pissed; it is then revealed that the spouse is cheating on the original partner with their own extramarital honey; the original partner gets pissed; the extramarital honey reveals they have been cheating on the spouse with an extraextramarital honey; repeat.
Currently, the series is at a cliffhanger (Kelly has said he plans to release new episodes in the series this summer). Episode 22, as it stands, finds Kelly's considerable cast of characters finally learning the extent of their fuckupedness when Chuck is overheard telling Rufus he is in the hospital with a mysterious affliction known as the "package." The news quickly spreads that each and every character is now at risk of contracting "the package," too. A Brady Bunch style split screen shows all the characters heatedly discussing this "package." "The package," of course, is a euphemism for HIV.
As it stands, R. Kelly's hip-hopera work-in-progress relies on a dangerous homophobic stereotype: That gay men on the "down low" are the ones responsible for the spread of HIV in the African-American community. But the series' continual "blame game" reveals a far more insightful truth: Everybody is responsible, and everyone is quick to blame everybody else. Those who blame their partners for infidelity, casual sex, and homosexual activity are all people in no position to pass judgment on infidelity, casual sex, or homosexual activity.
Nobody knows what's going to happen next. I'm hoping that, true to form, R. Kelly swoops in with a surprise ending, wherein "the package" is not HIV at all, but rather something far more awesome. Until then, "Trapped in the Closet" is a useful—and totally sweet—parable for the problem with making assumptions about who is affected by HIV, and who is above it.