As a HIV positive person, I’m all too aware of the rejection that often comes with disclosure. Thanks to the stigma and discrimination which is still to entrenched and festering throughout our society, fear of rejection seems prevalent whenever we disclose; be it looking for sexual partners, or simply telling family or friends about your status. This contributes to why many choose not to disclose their status. Jack Degnan is the Clinical Trials Education Manager for the UCSD Antiviral Research Center in San Diego. He writes:
“Over the years, I have heard many stories of rejection from people with HIV infection. Whether it be at the first on-line connection, in a bar, after the first date, or well into the relationship, rejection never feels good.”1
It’s an unfortunate reality that many PLHIV experience unwanted disclosure. There are endless reports of unwanted disclosure: friends, colleagues, lovers, family, and even medical professionals. HIV Futures 7 report states:
“Respondents were asked if their HIV status had ever been disclosed without their permission. 52.8% said that it had at some point, and 25.4% said that this had happened in the previous two years. When asked if this disclosure had a negative effect, 67.5% said it had.”
If we analyse the data a little further, we can see that the majority of these unwanted disclosure reports come from friends.
Now let’s take a step aside, and have a look at one (unfortunately) common stigmatising comment too often used instead of simply and respectfully asking “Do you know your HIV status?” or “When was your last sexual health screen?” How often have you heard the phrase “are you clean?” The insinuation of this comment is that if you are HIV positive, you are dirty, or unworthy of having sex with someone that is “clean” (HIV-negative/STI free). Reflecting on my time using online dating platforms I cannot even try to put a figure on how many people asked me this question. I used to challenge them head on, often stating something along the lines of “well yeah, I shower twice a day, and certainly before I meet anyone.” Then I would wait for the comment clarifying that they wanted to know my HIV status. I would then end the conversation by stating that I am actually HIV positive, and that their choice of words were in very poor taste and quite offensive. I’d like to say I was this diplomatic every time, but the more and more I saw this kind of attitude, the more fatigued I became with it. I have to say I’ve used a few choice swear words to respond to this question, and I certainly became very favourable of the good old block button.
In my observations we are seeing more and more PLHIV standing tall and saying openly, and proudly “I am HIV positive”. Certainly platforms such as The Institute of Many (TIM), people are sharing their personal stories and coming out as such, to more than 700 people. Also, In the lead up to World AIDS Day 2014 I witnessed one of the most inspiring campaigns challenging HIV Stigma, as well as raising awareness and fundraising all rolled into one, very intuitive campaign. #weareALLclean. The campaign was launched by Jack Mackenroth, an American swimmer, model, fashion designer and HIV activist.
“I was inspired by the use of the word ‘clean’, especially common in gay culture, to describe oneself as STI free. This implies that HIV-positive people are somehow ‘dirty'”, says Mackenroth. “I thought a PG or PG-13 shower selfie or video would be a fun way that everyone could easily show their support on social media for finding a cure by using the hashtag #weareALLclean when they post their photo with the donation link. Then they donate what they can and nominate 3 or more other people to participate.”2
People from around the world used this as their platform to publically disclose their status – very openly mind you. Support was offered far and wide; with many HIV-negative people getting involved and sharing their shower selfie with the world as well. Jump on just about any form of social media and search the hashtag #weareALLclean – you’ll find thousands of these shower selfies promoting awareness and challenging stigma. And besides, what’s not to love about checking out a bunch of shower-selfies?
Other Reading: http://www.samesame.com.au/news/11663/Aussies-join-fight-against-HIV-stigma-with-weareALLclean-photos
Image credited to Jack Mackenroth (Twitter @jackmackenroth)