I’m HIV positive and that doesn’t make me ‘reckless’ or ‘risky’ - My Label and Me

‘If I’m looking to have sex with someone HIV positive (which, frankly, I wouldn’t) I’d ask myself if they can be trusted to have taken their meds regularly.

‘I’d come to the conclusion that they were reckless in the first place – hence how they got it – so why wouldn’t they be reckless now?’ That was the message I received from a professor of sexuality studies, three days after being diagnosed as HIV positive. I learnt about my status during a routine sexual health check, and the result came as a shock. The nurse reassured me that, with treatment, not only would I have an average life expectancy but once my viral load was ‘undetectable’ it would be impossible to pass the virus on. My medication, is so effective that HIV negative people can take it to prevent themselves from becoming positive, whether taken daily (like me) or before they have sex without condoms. When taken to prevent, it’s called PrEP (the blue parts of the necklace I’m wearing in the photos) Despite my best efforts to educate the professor about these facts, he refused to listen, and our relationship ended.

Unfortunately, his attitude was shared by others in our social group. In fact, the only people I have experienced HIV stigma from have been other gay men. On social media, I’ve had comments such as, ‘You’re a filthy prostitute, you deserve HIV’, or the belief that an HIV diagnosis is still a death sentence. Drawing on the professor’s words, the notion that HIV is a ‘killer’ which only affects ‘reckless’ people started in the 1980s, when sexual health was thought of in terms of individual responsibility, rather than public health or education. According to social surveys, this conservative view of sex contributed to the most homophobic period on record, when panic about the so-called ‘gay disease’ was bolstered by right-wing politicians and religious leaders. More recently, a similar ideology was deployed to discredit NHS funding for PrEP, described as a ‘promiscuity pill’. We also suffer from a cultural hangover, with images of ‘AIDS’ emblazoned across tombstones on TV or photographs of Princess Diana shaking hands with patients in the newspapers seared into our collective memory.
Back then, many people feared to even touch someone with HIV. Yet those who refuse to have sex with us today are no less bigoted or unaware of the science than those who refused to shake our hands 30 years ago. Nowhere is this social and sexual exclusion more apparent than on dating apps such as Grindr, where asking if someone is ‘clean’ implies that HIV positive people are ‘dirty’. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, where the LGBTQ rights movement was launched by sex workers, gender non-conformists, and trans women of colour, many of whom would become HIV positive. Those intersecting identities were erased by the respectability politics of white gay men who wanted to blend in with straight society: a husband, two children, and a dog in the suburbs. Although many of us want the stability and security that stereotype seems to represent, keeping up with the Joneses can be exhausting. And sometimes the easiest way to elevate your own social status is to trample on someone else’s.
That is the best explanation I can come up with for why so many gay men remain hostile to people living with HIV. HIV has never been an exclusively ‘gay’ issue, of course, given that groups including migrants, people of colour, sex workers, trans women, and bisexual people have been demonised by association, or described as ‘vectors of transmission’ into seemingly ‘respectable’ communities. This ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality continues to shape our politics, with figures such as Nigel Farage suggesting that HIV positive people should be banned from coming to the UK.
The criminalisation of HIV transmission is also likely to target certain groups such as sex workers, despite the medical evidence showing that such laws are out of date. For me, the HIV positive label has changed my life. It has boosted my career, increased my empathy, and improved my sexual politics. Without these experiences, I would never have met my boyfriend, who participated in the PARTNER study with me, proving beyond doubt that – when we are trusted to look after ourselves and others – HIV positive people pose no danger to our sexual partners.

Source: Metro co uk

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