Question to other HIV negative gay and bisexual men
Being part of this campaign has been a great opportunity for me to step back and think about the work I have been part of for the last couple of years of my life, and how much stigma plays into the work I do with other gay and bisexual men around HIV prevention. What’s been also great is the chance it’s given me to speak about the effect of HIV stigma in my personal and professional life as an HIV Negative person, and how this stigma is a part of all of our lives as men loving men, both HIV Positive and Negative.
Taking on the issue of HIV stigma was an unexpected by-product of my choice to begin working in AIDS services, and in my choice to be a very public voice and face around the issue of HIV and prevention in the community. I began to experience the shifting attitudes and behaviours of people I knew well, and others who knew me only in passing. Eventually adding the pieces together, I came to realize that by virtue of my work, as well as my willingness to discuss HIV and other sexual health issues with my peers, by association I had been branded.
While my experiences likely pale in comparison to the ones had by those actually living with HIV in our community, it was a much needed teaching lesson for me as to how my words and actions, while unintentional, had in their own way contributed to the stigmatizing environment of fear, shame, and silence. What was even more enlightening for me, was learning how the beliefs and behaviours of my peers (and myself), were in fact doing little to keep us safe from HIV (as many of us think) and instead have been making the social environments that are a breeding ground for HIV transmissions in the gay community.
I’m HIV negative, and intend to remain so, as most of us do. However my question to other HIV negative gay and bisexual men is this, what are ways we can continue to maintain our HIV negative status, that don’t involve resorting to the very behaviours and beliefs that in fact put us at risk, and are the cause of shame, guilt and fear among those living with HIV in our communities?