Our Enduring Stories of HIV in the Midst of a 40-Year Pandemic
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COVID-19 has turned the entire world on its head, and it’s easy to forget that this is not our first pandemic. We have been living through HIV for 40 years and gay men continue to be disproportionately impacted by another virus that exposes structural homophobia, racism and various injustices. Four decades into it and we still don’t have a vaccine, but we’ve persisted as we’ve endured the loss of so many people and so many important elements of our culture. December 1, World AIDS Day 2020, is an opportunity to speak openly and honestly about how we have survived a 40-year pandemic and to demonstrate why me must continue to share our stories with the world.
I have been HIV-positive for nearly 25 years, and I still forget that I need to come out to people about it. For me it’s just like being gay; I assume everyone already knows and yet I regularly encounter people who don’t know my status, and I have to go through some version of coming out again. I don’t mind, because I realize the value in being able to affirmatively declare my HIV status. And I should be clear: I am not talking about disclosure. I am talking about coming out about HIV. It’s an intentional strategy to reduce stigma and raise visibility of people living with HIV.
People living with HIV are certainly more visible than ever before, but too often representation is lacking in diversity or it is a means of reinforcing respectability politics — holding up good and “respectable“ HIV-positive people who regularly adhere to their medication and can’t transmit the virus. This desperate quest for validation allows people to overlook the complexities of the lives of HIV-positive people.
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People living with HIV are messy, imperfect, complicated and sexual beings. We can’t count on NGOs or social media marketing campaigns to capture the complex nature of who we are, so it is up to us to tell those stories. Each of us has the ability to expand the narrative of HIV and contribute to our community in a way that is affirming and uplifting. We all have a voice, and some of us are fortunate enough to be able to share it with others. We can do this because others cannot, and it will make it easier for those who come after us.
We have a unique opportunity with World AIDS Day 2020. The entire world is gripped by a global pandemic. People are learning more about viruses and science, they are working to increase access to health care, and many are striving to better understand the various ways pandemics impact our lives. We can remind people that we are experienced when it comes to living through a pandemic. Our stories and our perspectives provide valuable insight into how people can endure an epidemic and still be resilient.
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This Dec. 1, on World AIDS Day 2020, our stories can demonstrate how we’re empowered by and proud of our sexualities. We have fostered community and found a way to educate and inform one another. We’ve offered support, visibility and affirmation when the world has sought to shame or devalue us. Ours is a story of how we can continue to thrive in the midst of a pandemic. Our community needs to know these stories so they too can find strength, inspiration or comfort from our shared experiences.