Pissed off . .
XTRA’s cover story yesterday was about criminalization, a treatment sympathetic to our cause by Sky Gilbert, which (mostly) hits all the right notes, even though he couldn’t resist criticizing at some length some of our community’s most vocal supporters. You can read the article here: http://www.xtra.ca/public/Toronto/HIV_stigma_radiates_from_behind_the_bench-6193.aspx
Predictably the article has already provoked a flurry of comments on the XTRA website, including the usual fodder for campaigns like ours. “Take the disease spreaders and hang them up” is one quote. Nice!
By chance, I had planned to revisit criminalization here today anyway, given its relationship to stigma, and the fact that it doesn’t seem to want to go away. I’d already noticed that some in our community continue to debate what is a suitable response to people being pilloried for having sex without disclosure.
Is a fairly simple issue becoming overly complicated through neo-conservatism and the power of hot air? To people living with HIV, I don’t see much appetite or even need for debate. Most of us recognize criminalization for what it is - an attack, an affront and a useless, counterproductive prevention tactic, always. From too many others - and I’m not talking about the Margaret Wente’s of this world but some of our “supporters” - the view is often heard that, well, maybe we poz folks need to feel the strong arm of the law, some of the time. Because, we’re told, some of us are “irresponsible”. Some of us are “deliberately infecting others”
Even XTRA raises this spectre in a side-bar, by characterizng some of us this way, although thankfully it’s challenged by at least one reader.
I could document where and when I’ve heard this notion of “deliberate infections” countless times, and from whom, but that would win me few friends. But in every discussion I’ve witnessed where criminalization is debated, it always - always - comes up. Namely, what do we do with “these people” who intentionally infect others, the psychopaths. No matter that this phenomenon is virtually non existent, no matter that the criminal code quite handily deals with intentional harm anyway and doesn’t need laws on disclosure to do that, no matter that the debate on criminalization is not - or should not be - about “deliberate infections” at all, we go down this path ad naseum. It’s depressing.
Sometimes it becomes a stumbling block. I’m saddened that the community doesn’t seem to have a response to criminalization that’s universally accepted. Even the recent Ontario paper that recommended we re-examine the law and identify alternatives - hardly conroversial - gets bogged down in the debate about what to do about those non-existent psychopaths.
To repeat; the law deals with psycopaths already. It worries me that in discussions that should focus on the legal challenges that face normal, sexually active poz guys daily, we end up talking about psychopaths. I think that is very telling about our attitudes to poz folks generally.
It’s also telling that this debate is not usually within the poz community, or hardly involves us at times. We have few forums that would otherwise enable this, we don’t have the equivalent of NAPWA in the States, for instance. So community boards often devoid of poz folks, composed instead of well meaning folks with little knowledge of HIV, talk about us - but don’t get us. Agency staff, who are better informed but often similarly devoid of poz folks’ involvement, sometimes fall in to the same trap. So perhaps it’s the lapses in implementation of GIPA (greater involvement of people living with HIV) coming home to roost. It’s hard not to notice that decisions about our future and judgements about our conduct sometimes reflect the mainstream views of the general public, which can be less supportive than we would like - rather than being inclusive of a poz view of the world. That’s why talking about the state-sanctioned stigmatization of people like you and me ends up talking about our role as psychopaths.
So I started talking about criminalization and ending up talking about GIPA. But there is a connection, and there is definitely a connection with both to the perpetuation of HIV stigma, don’t you think?
Anyhow, I find the debate on criminalization disheartening and depressing. One organization is asking me to come and talk to their board, to present a poz guy’s view of criminalization. It’s good that they welcome the dialogue. But honestly, I’m so pissed off with the whole thing, I hardly want to go. I feel like I’m done with debating it. Some times the weight of oppression - and stigma - does that to you. And that’s not good.