“I would rather get cancer than get HIV,” a Facebook friend had told me while chatting online. He lives in Germany and we had never met. But after seeing my openness about my status, he felt he could talk with me about it. “Isn’t that crazy?” He wrote, fully aware of his own irrationalities. It is indeed a crazy thought. However even crazier, it’s still not an uncommon one.
Like most of us, when I originally got diagnosed with HIV the first thought that crossed my mind was “death.” After getting told repeatedly that my health would be fine, my next thought was, if nothing else, I would at least die of loneliness.
“It’s just not really the type of thing I tell people,” another friend told me while we were working out. Even though he lives here in Denver, we originally met on Facebook as well. He hadn’t ever mentioned his status when we chatted online. He only felt comfortable talking about it after I casually commented on mine. “I just want them to get to know me first.” It surprised me to hear this from such a seemingly confident and sexy man.
If Facebook does one thing extremely well, it echoes the many ideas (crazy or not) of a modern culture. With all of the medical advancements, such as undetectable viral loads and PrEP, one would think these conversations came from the past. But rather they are all still too present.
When it comes to HIV, ignorance ain’t bliss. It just pushes the cycle of confusion, misinformation, mistrust, and WAY too much hurt. Once I got comfortable with my own HIV status however many years ago, I realized my own silence would keep that vicious cycle going. Thus I decided not to be so silent about it. Ever.
Apparently opening up SO publicly about my HIV status, at that time, was somewhat of a revolutionary thing. Not only did I receive an overwhelming amount of support, but the negative reactions barely seemed to exist. I am sure that some people called me hurtful names behind my back. But with everyone else calling me names like “hero” and “brave,” who-the-fuck cared?
I wasn’t being fearless. I just ran head on into the fear to see what would happen. And I realized that the more pride I took in being a strong, healthy HIV positive man, the more praise I got. But even better, I created awareness. Both HIV naive and newly diagnosed people alike turned to me for help. Eventually I went on to write a successful column about poz life and became a public speaker - eventually getting the honor of speaking alongside the mayor in front of thousands of people for AIDS Walk.
I continue to experiment with being outspoken of my status in my own, bold ways. Last year for World AIDS Day, I tried attempting something a little more sexy. Let’s face it, sex always sells and dammit… I am selling a cause, selling awareness, and even still selling a fight.
So I had a photog friend take his photo of me undressing and photoshop in an AIDS ribbon in a superman-esque kind of way (see above - the original photo can be found in the gallery section). I then took the photo right back to Facebook where the chaos and confusion seems to openly reign. The response was once again extraordinary - gaining the most “likes” of any post I had ever done.
Okay, here’s the part where I gotta quote some Gandhi. He once said “As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.” And I realized the bastard was right again! And Facebook was now echoing the proof.
People are hungry to not be so unblissfully ignorant about HIV. Perhaps they are even a little excited to normalize this disease. But if those of us who are comfortable with HIV (positive and negative) can't even talk about it openly, then have we even normalized it for ourselves?
I've learned that HIV is only as perplexing as we let it be. Clearing the air can help stop that cycle of confusion. But airs cannot be cleared until conversations are willing to be had. Now, just as much as ever, we all need to open up about HIV.
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