I don’t think HIV stigma, or any other stigma for that matter is something that you can oppose in order to stop. To me it’s like waging a war to end a war, it can often be self-defeating. However I believe that HIV-stigma and related oppressions like racism, sexism, and homophobia can be worked through, in open discussion. It has me think of SuperMario Brothers. In the old game, there were these ghost characters that only came to life if your character didn’t face them head on. Stigma for me, operates the same way. Just speaking about it, facing it head on, begins to stop it in it’s tracks. That’s one of the most productive components of this site, these discussions. From time to time however, discussions can be silenced. Not always intentionally, but none the less, eventually. I get how that can happen. HIV is such a personal and emotional topic in the gay community. We all have a relationship to it whether HIV-negative or HIV-positive, it triggers so much in each one of us. Even as a facilitator I have found myself challenged by some of the things being said on the site from both community members, and at times even from other facilitators. That’s okay though. Challenge is more than okay, if we approach it in ways that while not necessarily having us all agree, at least have us better understand one another. That all being said, I guess my question then is this; Is understanding always possible as it relates to HIV and HIV-stigma given this difference in the lived experience of HIV-positive and negative men? Are there too many layered walls between us (defensiveness, resentment, blame etc.) , for HIV-negative guys and HIV-positive guys to completely understand where each other is coming from?
Posts Tagged ‘HIV-negative’
“Am I automatically a stigmatizing person if I choose to not be in sexual or romantic relationships with HIV positive people” a gay male friend recently asked me. I contemplated what would be the most appropriate answer to give him. I have to stay I contemplated hard. “Well it depends,” I said, “on just how you go about ensuring that you aren’t (being in sexual or romantic relationships with HIV positive people), and what that would change about your sexual behaviour if you were (with someone with HIV) “.
Does the end of stigma in the gay community mean everyone in sero-discordant relationships? and does choosing to not be sexual or in a relationship with someone of a different status automatically make someone stigmatizing? I know that these questions have been tossed around the comment postings throughout the other facilitators pages. There seems to be three main stances on this subject from both HIV negative and positive men: 1. that sorting based on HIV status is wrong, and stigmatizing towards those living with HIV 2. that it’s not wrong, but simply inneffective 3. that people living with HIV should be quarantined and not having sex with at all.
Obviously, I find number 3 very problematic and a bit concerning. It represents HIV stigma at it’s best.
However I feel that there’s some conversation to be had around number 1. These questions have been on my mind recently as I have been exploring a possible relationship with a very, very attractive and intelligent man living with HIV. For all my knowledge around HIV and the effects of stigma, I’ve found myself contemplating whether or not I would be completely prepared and/or capable of being in a sero-discordant relationship.
I’d be interested to know peoples thoughts on this. Is stigma the main reason gay men both HIV positive and negative sometimes choose to avoid sero-discordant relationships? Is HIV status sorting always a “bad’ thing, or is it simply the ways in which people go about it?
We can all suffer from the “Other Amnesia”. It keeps us from seeing things from an-other context. As negative guys we can sometimes forget a hugely important fact: HIV positive men were once HIV negative too. Same dreams, hopes and intentions. In some instances, positive guys can suffer from this amnesia also, forgetting just how much anxiety the impermanence of an HIV negative status can build-up in neg men.
Stigma, has done a thorough job of convincing both it’s victims and it’s perpetrators that somehow there is a difference between us beyond our HIV status’.
It falsely tells HIV negative men, that we’re different, better, more moral, clean, less slutty. We choose to believe it because it makes it easier to rationalize that HIV infections only happen to “those people” and not to us. As neg gay men post-AIDS we live in fear. Fear drives the way we engage or disengage POZ men in our community. Ultimately, this fear and the stigma it creates can only be deconstructed and dissected with open dialogue. That’s what this site is all about. Building community through hearing each other out. Correcting the myths, and not pointing fingers. It only makes sense that both HIV negative and positive men are at the table for this dialogue.
I don’t claim to understand the nuances of this issue as intimately as those of you who live with HIV and its stigma, however I am interested in getting engaged.
In this discussion there aren’t “bad people” and “good people”; there’s only those who don’t get it and aren’t interested, and those who don’t get it and are willing to learn. HIV status doesn’t determine which side of that fence you fall on.
I would like to pick up on some of the interesting points and questions made in response to my last video and blog posting.
Some points raised spoke to the possible stigma created by the use of my language such as my “intention to remain HIV negative” and the discussion about my negative status at all. One comment looked at changing the language of gay men generally around the topic of status altogether, as our HIV Negativity may be unknown or assumed. Others said that prevention efforts and messages are often inherently stigmatizing to those living with HIV. I’d be really interested to know what others may think.
Given what’s been said, what are appropriate ways HIV negative men can talk about status and wanting to remain HIV negative, without contributing to stigma?
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?