Between Two Worlds
Thank you for your contribution to HIV disclosure to sex partners.
“There’s maybe twenty percent of the population which is relatively educated, more or less articulate, plays some kind of role in decision-making. They’re supposed to sort of participate in social life — either as managers, or cultural managers like teachers and writers and so on. They’re supposed to vote, they’re supposed to play some role in the way economic and political and cultural life goes on. Now their consent is crucial. So that’s one group that has to be deeply indoctrinated. Then there’s maybe eighty percent of the population whose main function is to follow orders and not think, and not to pay attention to anything — and they’re the ones who usually pay the costs.” Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, 1992
Lately I have been in a celebratory mood with all of the scientific study evidence deriving from various HIV research conferences. The results of scientific evidence are strongly indicating that a person living with HIV with an undetectable viral load cannot transmit the HIV virus to a sexual partner. Within the HIV community there is much cause for celebration as this is a major break though in advances towards addressing fear and stigma relating to HIV transmission through sexual contact.
Not all of my daily interactions are within the HIV community as I have an eclectic group of friends,colleagues and acquaintances. While feeling in the mood to celebrate this news, news which I never thought I would see in my life time, I thought about how this would play itself out when I step outside of the HIV community. I thought about going to a local bar and having a vodka to toast the news. After all isn’t this what people normally do in celebratory rituals to major events! But what would I say? I am here to celebrate the news that we can have sex without fear of transmission because scientific evidence has proven this to true. I did discuss the news with a friend who is HIV negative. Although he is familiar with HIV as an involved member of the LGBTQ community, my exciting announcement was met with silence. At no time did he show enthusiasm or ask for references or information. It would be an understatement to say he was not impressed and there was an obvious sense of relief when we moved on to another topic of conversation.
I know this is going to be a common scenario with many of my HIV negative friends and potential sex partners, as thought processes do not change overnight, with the eighty percent Chomsky refers to, those of us who do not or cannot think, who prefer to pay little attention to new developments and remain in keeping with information that although outdated and ridden with fear and stigma, floats about in our consciousness, unaware it is there even when challenged.
As I was walking in my neighbourhood thinking about the challenges that lay ahead for the HIV community an acquaintance suddenly appeared. He was very happy to see me and gave me a big hug and kissed while suggesting we go out for a glass of wine. As I was not expecting this invitation I reacted as I often do – I got rather flabbergasted and declined his offer saying I had plans to meet friends that evening and suggested we re-schedule for another time. I got scared and all of those feelings of vulnerability and fragility rose to the surface and took over. I felt frustrated with myself at that moment as I just missed an opportunity to announce the news I was celebrating and imagined how I would have shared with him – “guess what, I am HIV positive, my viral load is undetectable, I cannot transmit the virus, I am celebrating this news and yes we can go out for a glass of wine and yes I will have sex with you tonight as this is what you have been conveying to me in a subtle way for a while now”. I missed the opportunity but I will see him again soon and I do not know how I will react. I would like to tell him the exciting news as more and more I am leaning towards caring less about reactions and facing my feelings of being vulnerable and being “outed” with my HIV status. That is what I say now but I will see what transpires as I see him again in the neighbourhood.
I realize more than ever how we need to be united at this crucial time. We need to be organized, co-operative, collaborative, presenting strong in numbers and voices as we tackle this change in public perception. Fear, stigma, ignorance and discrimination on many levels, cannot be addressed in a splintered fashion. Change in public perception can be addressed on a personal level as we work away on continuing to insert the topic of HIV into everyday conversation. It will not be challenged when I get scared and withdraw from opportunities to share information because I am concerned and frightened about the loss of control over information shared in my tightly knit community.
As we have known about this information for years and now have scientific evidence to reinforce and legitimate the statement,policy makers, legislators, and those at governmental and institutional levels, the twenty percent of decision makers Chomsky refers to, need to be convinced of the importance of changing perceptions.
I recently started watching television but am deterred for the most part by the advertising and aggressive marketing campaigns for menial useless commodities. There are some powerful public service announcements interspersed with the advertising. I saw one public service announcement for HIV prevention. It was a low key, quiet message, I have not seen again.Mind you I fast forward through the aggressive advertising and campaigns which are tedious. I wonder if and when there will be similar advertising styles for HIV with new developments aimed at changing perceptions. If corporations can convince people they need useless crap by repetitive advertising, think of how they could make an impact on perceptions about HIV. I am beginning to realize how we need allies in influential places, the twenty percent Chomsky refers to, particularly in media, as this will ease the challenge on more personal levels in convincing people to change their perceptions and fears.
In the meantime I will continue my efforts to insert HIV into everyday conversation, to make every attempt possible to “normalize” the topic of HIV, as I continue to be an active and productive member of the HIV community, albeit somewhat anonymously. I will carry on even if this means being shut down or being told in various ways to be silent.
I will keep you posted on the outcome with my friend who invited me out for a glass of wine. Will I tell him about the congratulatory news? Will I retreat and remain silent to protect myself from stigma and discrimination? Will he accept the news and be more educated about HIV or will he reject me and decide this is great gossip for other friends in the community? As mentioned I am at the point where I am caring less and less and welcome in many ways, with an element of relief, whatever reactions come my way because as Chomsky stated, it is us, the eighty percent who will otherwise pay the price.