Archive for November, 2008
Wednesday, November 26th, 2008
At a meeting last night, the subject of this campaign was brought up. There was one comment from someone at the table that he felt that there was a paradox with this campaign in that by (if I understood correctly, as we didn’t have time to get into it) putting this stigma campaign out there we may be creating more stigma.
I’m open to all discussion. This fellow is someone who knows and grasps the realities of living with HIV, and stimga on personal and systemic levels. I respect his point of view.
What do others think? Do we visually reinforce stigma by having HIV Stigma as the title? Would we be generating homophobia by having a Gay Stigma campaign. I can kind of see his point to a degree.
I’m not suggesting that his viewpoint is motivated by political correctness, I think there is more to it that how the campaign called itself, and I look forward to exploring this with him.
However in thinking about some of the reasons why one might think that the campaign in itself could be stigmatizing I have to think about language. And when I think about language it’s not always about righting off the need at how we look at it as a simply case of PC’ness.
Are we on the cusp of looking at different language, and if so, is it because we really need to do, or are we entering the never ending cycle of political correctness of changing labels and then as the former semantic baggage moves on to the new title, a new label is created until we have reached the status of anti-immune-suppressing-viral-apprehension campaign?
Is a rose still a rose by another name, or in the third decade do we have take a new look at how we present and look at these issues.
Tuesday, November 25th, 2008
While in Montreal I was privy to survey results prior to their official release yesterday. There were few things in it that struck me, especially in the context of anyone claiming “stigma” does not exist. It’s kind of a reverse of “I think, therefore I am” to “I do not see, therefore it does not exist.”
Great for a title of some sort of metaphysical book sold in a new age shop, but doesn’t help much when looking at the broad macro experiences of living with HIV.
The title of the document is:
HIV+25 SURVEY ASKS WHERE ARE WE IN CANADA TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AFTER DISCOVERY OF THE VIRUS
Five Canadian AIDS service organizations (CAS, ACCM, AIDS Committee of Toronto, COQ-SIDA ) with the support of Merck Frost Canada to look at stigma and HIV twenty-five years into this epidemic.
The survey was conducted national wide last summer 2008 by an independent research firm. They had 391 people living with HIV fill out a questionnaire to check in on various experiences.
Out of this national pool (and this isn’t meant to be scientific research, but you cannot argue with people’s experiences) 82%, yes all you “oh people don’t experience stigma” take a look at that. A very large majority felt they continue to combat as the press release says, “huge stigma.”
In addition, over half (55%) feel depressed, and 45% felt there were isolated as a result of living with HIV.
I won’t get into the treatment related aspects of the survey. As I am always happy of hearing about those who have been able to carve out a way to live with HIV in a way that hasn’t brought about any rejection or negativity, this is not the experience of the majority.
It’s time we wake up as a community as stop caring about how fast we can get juiced and buffed up for the next big party, how many guys are cruising us, are turning heads, how much attention am I getting, how much sex I can get, and start trying each other with a bit more humanity. (ok that was my Larry Kramer moment)
It no wonder guys don’t feel like disclosing.
Oh by the way, I’m doing my annual “She’s still here” Tour on Proud FM with my friend Shaun Proux. It’s a tradition that started last year with a story far too long to go into here.
Monday, November 24th, 2008
I’m being really lazy here and giving you the same post that I put on my blog. This saves me some time.
I’m quite busy today. Back from my HIV-glamour status raising trip to Montreal. Just when I thought they were going to take my card away, I was able to be whisked off to Montreal, no TTC here, full on Taxi, stayed in an expensive boutique hotel in Old Montreal, Place d’Armes, and then whisked back to Toronto 24 hours later.
Not only did I get 500 airmiles, I once again felt glamorous. Truth be told, ever since I was given the title of HIV Glamour Emeritus, I risk no angry mob demanding the retrieved of my glam status.
Let’s face it, anyone can become HIV positive, but how many of them get the HIV/Glam combo. The ongoing debate of nature vs. nurture on this one is ongoing. I’m biased towards the nurture argument. Just as the American Dream, I believe in my heart, anyone with the desire and the motivation to overcome obstacles can make this dream come true as well.
Besides, I need some peers.
Anyway, the real reason for this post was not for me to be silly and ramble about glamour points.
It was to plug the upcoming online discussion on stigma between 8-9 pm facilitated by Steve Lincoln from the Ontario AIDS Network.
I invite anyone who may be so inclined to join the chat. And contrary to popular believe, HIV, and stigma is not a topic relegated to those who are positive.
This affects HIV negative men in many ways, but you have to take an interest and connect the dots that this also involves you. We are only going to move forward as a community if we discuss this together from both sides.
Besides, I’m getting tired talking to all those positive guys, their all trying to steal my spotlight, we need some of you negatives around to balance things out.
If anything it brings the average CD4 count per participant way up, and that can only be a good thing.
Friday, November 21st, 2008
I lied, I wrote a post here this morning saying it’d be my last for the weekend. Here I am though, more awake, feeling less fogged up from a cold, and on top of it all, finding myself with some extra time in my very expensive boutique hotel here in Montreal.
This is just for one night for some meetings and I fly back tomorrow. Sometimes I joke with negative friends, “Now don’t be going out and getting this just because I manage to pull it off so glamorously! Many have tried only to be disappointed.”
That’s always my disclaimer. In fact, once, a long time ago, a friend came to my place just after going for his test result. He was still stressed and I couldn’t tell which way it went.
Sitting beside me he looks at me, very seriously and says, “I went and it came back….and it was negative.”
Because I couldn’t believe how serious he was still about it, I consollingly put my hand on his knee and said, “You know, “A,” it’s ok, It’s not for everyone. Not everyone cam pull it as gracefully as I can. It takes a lot of work to make this effortless, it’s probably best this way.”
“A” had this look and then suddenly smiled. Unfortunately a few years later he did find himself to be positive, but it wasn’t me who welcomed him in to the club on that one.
For me, fighting against stigma has meant using humour. I have my blog, I joke about the AIDS star status system and how, and write how I became the Kathy Griffin of AIDS on my Blog, Acid Reflux Presents: My Life on the AIDS D-List.”
This is my way of just being myself, shocking people, and more or less thumbing my nose at anyone who wants to define me as “diseased, dirty, unclean” etc etc. By writing so openly and laughing at my life, I feel as if I’ve taken the power away from people like that.
This is the voice that I’ve created over the years. It’s kind of in your face, well a lot. I hope to provoke, and I even hope to make some feel uncomfortable.
I hated the acronym AIDS so f’ing much. I’d correct someone who suggested that I had “AIDS” in .5 of second and they’d never do it again. But now here I am throwing it around. Suddenly I’m not so bogged down by the word. I don’t have it, well, I did for about three weeks when my CD4 went below 200, but then it went up again and I went to being the average positive. Maybe I could still qualify as “poz, depraved and undetectable” skipping the healthy adj. all together.
This week I’ve been feeling not well, edgy, and well pretty cranky. It’s probably been obvious. But at least a 24 hour trip to a boutique hotel in Montreal for one day of meetings out to give my back my glamour card and boost my spirits.
I’m not sure the point of this post was, but what the hell.
Maybe it is, “What do you do to cope? These have been some of the ways I have, what about you?
Wednesday, November 19th, 2008
While preparing for a discussion tonight on stigma with a group of positive guys, I decided that perhaps I’d focus on the stigma website as a template of what kind of issues to covers.
Thank god for this website as they’ve done all the work for me. Plus it’s in French and the site has everything available translated giving me any vocabulary I might have been missing.
Under one of the sections speaking to examples of stigmatizing behaviour the subject of gossip came up.
This is a HUGE problem. You don’t know how many stories that have been recounted to me about someone pulling a prospective fuck in a bar a side so they can be warned of the fact the guy is positive.
Once again, I know what gay men can be like, and beating them to the punch by disclosing to the world has always blown the sails out of anyone’s gossip wings.
I do though have to recount one story from the days I lived in Winnipeg, which I thought it was actually funny.
My 6-foot Jewish drag queen friend, who had a razor sharp wit, one night, went out to “The Club” as we called it. This must have been 18 or 19 years ago.
He wasn’t in drag at the time. While sipping on beer, someone, I can’t remember who, came up to him and said:
“I didn’t know that Brian was sick.”
“Sick” he replied back making a squishy as in I can’t believe you just said that look, and continued with, “Depraved maybe, but not sick.”
And don’t think that this doesn’t go on today. This is an Ontario-wide campaign so lets not get GTA-centric here. The realities of gay men in smaller centers are very real. Even still the gay community is still a small community within a large city.
What does this mean? Well many guys don’t want to disclose because they are afraid that they will lose control over their ability to choose who they share this information with, and who they don’t.
Even though I’ve very public, it still pisses me off is someone decided that he has the need to discuss my status with someone else. It’s simply bad etiquette and says to me this is not someone to be trusted on any level.
Once a friend told me about being in Woodies to meet a guy for a drink. He went to the washroom, then upon he discovered that potential date had gone through his little “man purse” only to find this Abacavir reaction card, or something alike.
Again, for those who think it is always our responsibility to disclose, I challenge you to tell my way in the face of such horrific behaviour why we wouldn’t think about protecting ourselves first when faced with these kinds actions.
What I’m trying to do is slowly peel off the layers of complexity that exist for gay men living with HIV in our community.
There are a few people who need to get off their ivory tower of judgment and see what our lives are really like.
Saturday, November 15th, 2008
I’d like to openly muse about exactly what is stigma. It seems to be discussion that needs to be revisited over and over again.
I’ve had friends make the statement “I’ve had no stigma therefore it doesn’t exist, that’s something of twenty years ago”. That always shocked me.
Why is it that I am able to see it if even if my experience of and out and out rejection has been extremely rare? Maybe that’s due to the fact that I’ve lived almost half my life out in the media in a way that very few do. Overwhelmingly I’ve been supported and have had great experiences engaging with the media.
Nonetheless, the feeling of vulnerability when living in a city of 108,000 people and having just done a three-day media blitz is a feeling that few people living with HIV have had. Now I’m back in the media, writing for Fab, a blog, a mirror site on Gay Guide Toronto, and this campaign. I’m feeling exposed again.
You don’t know that feeling, but just imagine that you have no idea if every person you meet in a day knows what about you, and the assumption has to be made that your status and everything is out there.
Yes, having something in the public will lend to that feeling, but putting HIV out there like that is completely different. It’s different because it is HIV, and thus carries the baggage of stigma.
This says to me that stigma is much more than a “no thanks” because of ones sero status.
To anyone who is HIV positive and claims stigma is a thing of the 80s I’d have to ask you the following: Does everyone in you life know you are positive? And if not why? Do any or all of your work colleagues? Does your entire family including aunts and uncles, cousins? Would you be prepared to be out full name in the public writing about your experiences living with HIV? Could you even leave your name on a site like this outing yourself with your full name?”
If there were absolutely no HIV stigma out there, then why would any of this be a problem?
This campaign confronts us as Canadians who believe we are so polite that stigma and discrimination no longer exists.
We state preferences, it sounds really “nice” we say Clean UB2, where’s there harm in that, I’m just trying to protect myself. No blacks, Asians, fems or fatties. Well I can’t help what I am attracted to.
In the end you will like or dislike, do or not do what you desire. But it is all about how you do it, and communicate it, and treat others in the process. This seems to be one of the huge points that is being missed.
That, and infection rates are going up with gay men, so whatever your protection strategy, if it’s one with emphasis on preferences than behaviour, you’ll probably be another statistic.
Tuesday, November 11th, 2008
Looking for discussion inspiration, I surfed back the “The Again” Australian site on HIV discrimination issues. Under issues affecting one’s desire to not disclose, or better said a drawback to disclosing was:
He may want to talk about it and you might not want to play the role of a counselor or educator at that time.
Here is a big one for me. It’s not as if I never want to play this role but it depends on a few issues. I’d never not disclose because of it. As most people know, by example of this campaign, I disclose far and wide. It’s easier and gets it out of the way, allowing me to rarely think about it.
The biggest variable is “How much do I have invested in this guy?” If the answer is “About an hour.” Chances are that I’m not going to want to spend the time at all. I’d hand him the number to the information line, and wish him well.
If this was a guy who had the potential to be more, or there was a connection on a deeper level than by the hour, then I’d be willing to get more into it. Again, it would depend on where he was at. He if was totally freaked out, he may be in a play that is beyond repair, at least for me.
These are the cases that are best outsourced to real counsellor who’s been funded to take care of those needs. If the guy was hesitant, but just didn’t seem to have all the information, but was committed to working with me on this journey, I’d spend the time.
What gets me though are these negative guys who freak out with absolutely no awareness about how this affects the positive guy, AND THEN, expects the positive guy to hold his hand. First, in the negative guys mind, it’s OUR responsibility to disclose vs. their responsibility to protect themselves, and then when we do disclose, we’re supposed to proved them with emotion support. This doesn’t add up.
I don’t know about you folks, but I can’t think of a better way to spend my night that counselling someone about the fact they are terrified to be with me.
Could you imagine someone dealing with Cancer who had to go around consoling others in order for them to be comfortable around them?
I think not, and for me, it’s this unawareness that is the real turn off. Perhaps I’ve got a chip on my shoulder, but living with this since the mid-80s, I’ve paid my dues. There was a time when I could understand ignorance, in this day and age, 25-years into this, my tolerance level for it has gone way down!
How do others feel?
Tuesday, November 4th, 2008
A controversial poster by the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center to try to focus attention on the rising rates of HIV among the gay male population in the region.
The mainstreaming subject came up when recently challenged someone’s comments that was “tired” of HIV being linked to gay issues. This extended to funding all the while saying things such as “Well it affects everyone now.”
Had this been an ordinary private conversation, I would have left it. Instead, it was very public, and this person is the executive director of an NGO that is supposed to represent the gay community.
The basic summary is that some folks out there in our community resent the resources and attention being diverted to HIV in the gay community, and try to use the mainstreaming argument of the 80s to support it.
This is why comments such as “Gay guys [with HIV] have it so easy.” It used to be in the 80s we fought to be recognized by the outside world such as government, and no we are fighting within our own community.
It feels as if we are a mere once-a-day pill away from becoming invisible. I hadn’t realized that we have become so mainstreamed and marginalized. So much so that we have come full circle fighting for our place again.
After having worked in Rwanda, I personally have seen, and have friends who struggle with HIV and abject poverty. Yes, for those of us who have access to resources, we are privileged, nonetheless, our path are not easy relative the context of our lives.
Lest not forgot that many in Canada also live in poverty. Anyone without a proper disability will live thousands of dollars below the poverty line. Depression is depression, stigma is stigma, discrimination is discrimination, no access to the right drugs is no access, side effects are side effects, lack of housing is lack of housing, and so on.
In Kigali, it was amazing on how much we did have in common, even though gay men do not exist (in their culture) in that part of the world.
Initially the only way we could get attention to HIV was to make it mainstream. Gay men didn’t matter. It took Reagan five years to even say the word. We’ve moved passed this now. Decades later gay men remain at greater risk, and there is no getting around it. All risk is not equal within the Canadian population.
My view is that HIV is touching so much of us, and I didn’t put my face in the media twenty years ago, having my father find out my status on TV, so that others sweep us under the carpet of mainstreaming.
Taking ownership of this issue 25 years later is not the same as claiming it our own along with the other sub-epidemics back so many years ago.
Probably those who are negative see this as an integration of positive guys in the gay community. But really it’s, in my view, it’s a comfortable invisibility for those who wish to not see us.
Saturday, November 1st, 2008
Another Gaydar moment…..
“Hey there guy, interested in hooking up, health poz, undetectable here.”
When I receive a message such as this I’m struck by a few things. First, I have to give some context in that I always put my status on my profile. Most of the time I try to do it in a non-declarative way, but more matter of a fact. The more blasé I am sneaking it in the better.
Remember this one thing: People often take their cues from us when we disclose. If we are dramatic and tragic about it, often we will be seen in a dramatic and tragic way. The less of a big deal about it, the better, and in conversation it almost never comes out as “I’ve got something to tell you…” these days.
So this guy wants me to know he’s positive too. I’m pretty neutral about that part of it, as status doesn’t matter to me. Combined with undetectable may mean that he’s looking to get into barebacking, to each their own, and that’s another discussion.
What I’m trying to get at today is “healthy & undetectable” intentionally or not, what I see is, “It’s ok to be positive as long as you are untouched by it.” By this I mean, working, to issues relating to health, pretty much the same like a negative guy would have, minus maybe some pills and a few more trips to the doctors.
Again, being on disability, having my own issues, although I’ve never been sick with anything that classically related to HIV, and living a life upon which HIV has a huge impact, means that I do not qualify for the “healthy”
Does this mean I’m at the bottom of the heap, or is that reserved specifically for those requiring supportive care.
Is this a question of my own internalized HIV-stigma filtering what I read into the above statement, or is it someone else’s need to appear as “ok” as possible.
Perhaps it is a complement to have someone say, “You don’t look disabled.”
What do others think? Do we take on the stigma we face, and if so, how is it expressed?