Ways to Accept and Support HIV
My mother and father never talked to me about my HIV status; my mother had my doctors tell me. They know I have HIV, but they act as if our status doesn't exist; that creates a disconnect between them and me. It feels as if they are trying to erase that part. But for me - since I was born with HIV, I can't erase that part of myself.
How we feel about our HIV status
Everyone born with HIV feels differently about their status; it is tied to who I am born to be. I view my HIV status just like how I view my heritage and my gender: these are parts of me that I can't and won't change because I embrace all aspects of me.
For my parents, HIV is a part of them that they could have changed, so they can view themselves how they did before their diagnosis.
They are not the only ones that choose not to accept HIV; our society does too.
Eliminating HIV isn't the solution
I still struggle with voicing my lived experience with HIV because my needs are dismissed.
The only messages I hear in the media about HIV are “Get tested, know your status,” “undetectable equals untransmittable,” “Get PrEP,” and “funding an HIV cure” which is intended to erase HIV.
Eliminating HIV isn't the solution. It teaches people not to connect HIV to themselves and others. It also doesn’t remove the damaging narrative that will still exist afterward.
Accepting the existence of HIV
I remember when I used to waste every day of my life waiting for a cure because I was told that was the only way my suffering will be relieved. I discovered that I needed acceptance; envisioning myself as HIV-negative is self-hatred because I’m disconnecting myself from the real cause of my traumatized emotions.
I chose to face those emotions. The support I will like to see from others is acknowledging how our society devalues people living with HIV to heal and protect them from more emotional pain.
How to truly support people living with HIV
Ways we can make a change is by supporting the movement to decriminalize those living with HIV.
Stop criminalizing people who are HIV positive
Every day, I live in fear that my status will be used against me, and I will be sentenced to many years in prison. I would have to register myself as a sex offender, which will put restrictions on where I can live, what job I can hold, and I will have to face permanent public humiliation.
We need to put laws in place that protect those living with HIV so that their status is not easily used against them. The person should at least have a history of past assaults to validate intentions.
Specialized HIV mental health care
We need to normalize mental health and provide specialized HIV mental health services.
Those living with HIV are deeply scarred by how our society portrayed them: we are viewed as being damaged, less than, and as an endangerment to our community. Therefore, the mental health support we receive must be tailored to that.
Sex-positive education and language
We need to provide sex-positive education and language. The way we talk about sex matters. We need words that we can use to express our sexual feelings positively. Sex negative words are kinky, nasty, freak, slut. We should be using positive words such as sexual expression, sexually connecting, self-love, self-exploration.
We need to normalize the relationship between sex and STDs; they go hand and hand with each other. Let’s positively talk about getting tested and not shaming people for testing positive. Current sex education teaches people to run away from STDs. What we need to be teaching people is what to do if they tested positive and accepting the reality that other people test positive every day. Normalizing this is important if we want to stop the spread of STDs.
Treating everyone as equal encourages HIV prevention because people will feel comfortable talking openly about their sexual and STD experiences because society isn’t telling us that we are less than if we test positive.
Education on how HIV affects the body
We also need to categorize HIV as primarily an immune system condition. From my own experience, it seems like most people living or not living with HIV don’t understand how HIV affects the body. People often view it as a sexual defect that destroys a person's body because HIV is a "punishment for having sex outside of heterosexuality and monogamy."
In reality, anyone can get HIV because we all have immune systems; HIV isn’t only transmitted sexually.
We are all human beings
We also shouldn’t connect a person's HIV status to their sexual behavior. Humans are sexual beings, and we should embrace that so that we can improve our lives overall.
We may not have the ability to cure HIV yet, but we do have the ability to create a new way of navigating sex that involves acceptance, diversity, openness, and empowerment right now.
At what age were you diagnosed with HIV?