sexual stigma

Are you HIV-negative? If so, why do you want to talk more about HIV? Is there a particular story or situation that changed how you understood HIV?

I am HIV-negative and want to talk more about HIV because I feel that there is something profound when a negative person does so, specifically when it comes to challenging stigma. The same is true for when men stand up for the rights of women or straight people for the rights of LGBT’s. It’s less defensive and also shows the ‘other’ that they have allies outside of their group.

My journey with HIV started when I dated an incredible man who also happened to be positive. I call him The Catalyst because he challenged every fear and stigma that I had towards the disease and to those who tested positive for it.

He was the first openly positive person I’d met and it just so happened that I also fell in love with him. I remember trying to process my feelings and fears in my journal, writing that I had finally met HIV, my fear, for the first time and that it had come wrapped in the body of someone who filled my heart with joy. Up until that point it was the disease of rural Africa, not something that came into my first world conservative bubble.

His transparency around his status set me off on a journey to learn more about the virus so that I could make an informed decision around dating him. As knowledge empowered, fear started to slip away and I have since dated two other positive men, knowing full well the intricacies of this relationship.

I included friends and family with me on this exploration and, as a result, a group of 50 odd private-school educated people learnt for the first time about mixed-status relationships, PrEP and the advances in treatment. As people raised in the fear-culture that exists in South Africa’s around HIV, we all saw it as a death sentence but learnt together that things had changed.

A combination of love, education and an open mind changed my stigma and I hope to be a voice that rids shame from the idea of getting tested or having the virus.

South Africa faces significant racial and economic disparities that affect access to HIV prevention and treatment. In an ideal world, what would HIV prevention and treatment look like throughout the country?

While travelling the US and UK this year I decided to get tested in every city I visited to see how they all handled it. From a men’s clinic in the Castro to a truck outside the Abby in West Hollywood, I watched as 1st World countries provided free and easy access to those looking to get tested. Even with the ease of access, I still felt a tinge of embarrassment as I stepped into each venue, my conservative up bringing telling me to be more discrete.

What I took from these places was that, in conservative countries like South Africa, testing needs to be brought to the population as they should not be expected to have the courage to look for it themselves. It should also be coupled with something less stigmatised like a cholesterol or diabetes test so that people don’t feel like they are being tested for their shameful sins.

I’d love to see churches provide testing facilities on their premises (pipe dream I know) and think that if we are able to get the religious and community leaders to embrace a culture of testing and treatment, we will see more people getting tested.

Add to that the visibility of proud, positive public figures and I think you will see more people going forward to be tested.

Are you an activist or do you work in academic or scientific fields that deal with HIV and sexuality? If so, describe the work you’re doing, talking about how you got involved and what you hope this work will accomplish.

I am a published author and feature filmmaker with an activist tendency and strive to just be transparent about my life as a gay man and also my support of people who test positive. I do this by being vocal and telling people’s stories, be it through a post on Facebook or characters that I write

 

On the surface, HIV has not had a big impact on my life. I’m HIV negative -or so the tests have claimed. I have used protection most times. And I don’t know many people who are HIV positive or who have shared that part of their life with me. I do not have big, personal stories to tell regarding the virus, and I’m not an activist. I’m simply a gay man who, like most others, has sex. That is, however, enough reason to engage in discussion: I consider myself part of a group of people where infection rates are higher compared to the general population, so simply turning a blind eye with inner hopes that disease won’t strike, as I have done before, is not a healthy strategy.

There are still many double standards that permeate gay life in Mexico City. Some are reminiscent of Mexico’s traditionally catholic and macho culture. It is in this context that HIV gets to play an uncomfortable role. There is definitely a stigma associated with the virus, a lot of misinformation and shame associated with being a carrier (I consider myself guilty of not being informed enough). For instance, once I was getting tested in one of the main clinics that specially caters to the LGBT population in Mexico City. I was shocked to feel scolded by the counselor that gave me my results in a conversation that felt like an attempt to bring shame into the table. As I said before, the test turned out to be negative, so I was only left wondering how that particular exchange would have been had the results been positive, when I would have been at a most vulnerable moment.

Lastly, and this is of course something I state from personal experience, I feel that is a consensus among some gay men on how casual sex is fine, as long as it’s safe. That’s fantastic. Yet to treat unsafe sex as an outlier to be rebuked is probably just to hold an unrealistic goal that may even do more harm than good. In the end, it states a line of thinking that dictates how people should act, and ignores how people actually behave. HIV is probably not going away, at least in the foreseeable future, but neither are risky sex practices. It’s an unfortunate combination, but the pressing matter is to know how to deal with it. Of course, I do not claim to hold any answers, but I do think it is of utter importance to open up dialogue.

The Stigma Project is an organization founded in 2012 by Chris Richey and Scott McPherson. Their mission is “to lower the HIV infection rate and neutralize the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.” We wanted to highlight one of their great visual campaigns called “Live HIV Neutral,” which tackles some common sources of stigma surrounding HIV discussions, including the “clean” vs. “unclean” dichotomy that plagues those using dating apps and the misinformation that continues to spread about how HIV is transmitted.

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In an action on World AIDS Day December 1st, ACT UP London fought back against comments by a prominent UK political party leader whose remarks against people living with HIV/AIDS highlighted just how much stigma is fueling the epidemic. This was their “gift” to UKIP, which was coordinated with a #ukipstinks campaign.

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