I have to apologize for not being as interactive as some of my colleagues on this site. It’s turned out to be really bad timing but I’ve had some exciting personal opportunities come up that have had to be responded to and are taking more time than expected. None the less, I’m really enjoying the opportunity to read everyone’s thoughts and experiences and the dialogue that has been created.
One of the challenges that we know exists in relation to HIV stigma in the gay men’s community is that many negative guys don’t realize that stigma exists within our own community. There is no question that Poz and Neg guys alike along with many of our lesbian friends stepped up and responded to HIV/AIDS when no one else would. Forcing the medical world to listen to our needs, creating care teams and support systems when the health care system wasn’t enough are only a few of the roles we’ve all played together. That shared history (and loss) makes it difficult for us to acknowledge that within the Poz community and within the Neg community, of gay men, we contribute to HIV stigma in subtle and unintentional ways.
Often times, this happens due to ignorance and lack of knowledge. When I was dating an ex, we were invited to a house party of one of his friends. The invitation was a little ackward because I was invited but they didn’t want me to go into the hot tub. They felt that some of their other friends might be nervous. I’ve gotten to know this couple better since and they are very supportive and great people. But at the time, their ignorance really contributed to HIVstigma. Talk about making me feel like a pariah! I know it was unintentional but the effect was the same.
Another time, this same ex was in a bar and someone who had had too much to drink came up to him and started commenting on my ex’s ex and his HIV status and that they knew my ex was dating me now and asking why he was dating Poz guys etc. It escalated and was so incredibly hurtful to my ex. Of course, I felt terrible knowing that by dating me, some members of the gay community were judging him. I also knew that their judgement was based on fear. Again, that didn’t change the fact that this person’s comments contributed to HIV stigma.
So many younger gay men haven’t had the experience of loss and the intensity of HIV/AIDS in their lives. As a result, sometimes, the level of ignorance of basic information results in their behaviour not only contributing to HIVstigma but also putting themsleves at risk.
Hopefully, this website and conversations in our community will open up this difficult discussion and provide a safe place for Poz and Neg guys to talk and understand our role in this.