You Can Sit with Us
Early on, I did what I so often ask the patients I work with not to - I perused the internet in search of answers. I advise people to stick to the facts, especially during those first few months. But here I was, young, dumb and wildly reading everything I could, including other people’s opinions.
Stigma and shaming within the HIV community
One such opinion, the writer alluded to how the beloved young people ought to know better, that we should’ve been using protection and shame on us if we didn’t. The generation before mine worked so diligently to make sure mine was aware of the risks.
That thought hit me in an unfamiliar way. While I had anticipated stigma and shame from the outside world, nothing can prepare you for the way internalized stigma can affect you, especially when it originates within our own community.
Where does this leave young people like me?
So here I was reading this and thinking: I knew better, but I didn’t.
So I had to wonder: where does that leave me and the others who didn’t take heed to the warnings? Is there room for us at the table if we didn’t do it right?
History and generational differences
Now please, don’t misunderstand: I get why people might find my generation's unashamed, unapologetic flaunting of our statuses on dating apps, on social media, and in a blatant manner that just wasn’t accepted before now upsetting.
The history of our HIV community is important
They have lived through a darker time. One with an immense amount of trauma that took the lives of people who would’ve likely shaped my life in ways I will never know. The pain of those losses they experienced is something I will never fully understand.
Our history is important. It’s imperative that we remember where we have been and, at the same time, I believe it’s equally important to keep our eyes on the road ahead.
I wasn't detered in finding community
Which is why I’m glad that reading that opinion didn’t make me shut off from others in our community that has shown me not only our history, but their strength has helped me move forward.
Being part of the AIDS Walk Kansas City family has introduced me to people who have shared incredible stories of loved ones that are no longer with us, people I feel like I know from those stories have been imperative in keeping my passion alive.
I'm inspired by kindness and strength
It is my work with those who are still here that has truly changed me. The kindness and compassion. The strength I see in those who have gone through hell and come out the other side inspires me daily.
Create space and make others feel comfortable
It was people like my friend Chuck who has been living with HIV for 30+ years who have shown me kindness and made me feel as though I belong in spaces I felt initially so uncomfortable in.
I admire his strength, warm heart, and his ability to make anyone feel welcomed. He has taught me how important it is in that if you are visible, then create space for others.
Let's foster a welcoming community
I hope we see a future where my job is obsolete, where I never have to sit with a crying young person who immediately feels shame and worthlessness.
Until that day comes, instead of chastising those young people, I hope we are brave enough to embrace them, and invite them to find a place of belonging with those of us who already sit at the table.
At what age were you diagnosed with HIV?