Changing . .
This is my last post here on HIVstigma.com. It’s been a great opportunity for me - and I hope for many guys out there too - to explore an important but rather nebulous topic in some depth. Pinning down HIV stigma - what it looks like, what we think and say about it and what it does to folks - seemed at first like nailing jelly to a wall. Our first few conversations here, even our early video blogs . . . .
are evidence of that. Now, stigma seems like - well, jelly on a plate. It’s still a bit hard to contain, to come to grips with, but we know better now the nature of it and what it looks and tastes like. Quite well, in fact, I’d say.
Too well, I wonder? Have some of us become so sensitive to stigma that we see it lurking behind every bush? Here’s an experience that just happened to me this week that caused me to ask that question.
I’m a researcher (believe it or not, because that is soooo not my background) working on a trial intervention with poz guys. The objective is to see if a group of guys’ approach to risky behaviour can be changed by a series of group sessions which stress a holistic approach to sexual health. It’s largely untried, anywhere, and potentially very worthwhile. The normal way to fund research like this is to approach various bodies for grant money. One such body, an incredibly esteemed one here in our province, turned down our application. That’s OK, we can likely resubmit. But in declining us, the reviewer - a behavioural scientist (I imagine) experienced in HIV research who remains anonymous - made what I thought were some startling observations.
“Despite continued unprotected anal intercourse among HIV+ people, an overwhelming majority of HIV prevention efforts continue to focus their efforts on HIV-individuals. This is problematic because working with men who are already HIV+ has a greater impact on the epidemic than focusing on those who have not yet acquired the virus“ he said.
Now this struck me as stigmatizing us poz guys - and I said so. It seems to be fingering positive gay men as drivers of the epidemic, when we know - or at least we should know - that they are not. Here are the facts one last time. the majority of new infections come from so called “neg guys” who aren’t aware of their positive status. Talk that suggests otherwise, I think, is stigmatizng, and I’m finding it increasingly annoying.
But in raising the issue of stigma lurking in the response to our grant application, I also raised the question of whether I’m being a little bit too sensitive. Has participating in this campaign led to me seeing stigma where it’s either not there, or perhaps more likely, not intended?
I honestly don’t know.
What I do know is that I’ve learned a lot. We all have here, I think. We’ve learned about how we think about stigma, about sex and about life. We’ve learned about strength, and about frailty. We’ve learned about our community too - about some of its very real strengths and some of our collective weaknesses we need to work on. We’ve learned to listen. We’ve learned to be respectful but we’ve also learned to be opinionated when we need to be (We’ve seldom minced words here.) We’ve learned about technology too and new ways to play with it, to exploit it and to explore it in future. And we’ve gained new friends. (If we’ve gained some enemies in the process too, they’ve been well-behaved ones.)
There are people who’ve left comments here - lots of them - that I only know by their first names, I’d love to meet them in real life and carry on these conversations over coffee. Perhaps one day I will. But to everybody who has dropped by and who has contributed to the discussions - or not (we have had lots of lurkers, and we love them) a big THANK YOU from me.
Now we go in to evaluation mode. We may be taking the show on the road too; it looks like I’ll be speaking about this campaign in both Toronto and in London shortly. And then, for me, it will be back to blogging about more everyday topics - the ebb and flow of my life in the country in particular. Follow me there, if you want, at http://ruralrob.livejournal.com/
Here’s looking at you, kids . .