Stigma on the net
Below is an article I wrote several years ago for GayGuideToronto.com that I wanted to share. It touches on how as a community of gay men, we often interact on the internet in ways that contribute to HIV stigma.
A few years ago at the Toronto Pride celebrations, a very sexy man was wearing a T-shirt with the above caption. A take off on the many forms of classified ads that we thrive on in the gay community. It was so perfectly in your face that of course I had to get one.
Anonymous advertising allows gay men to say things that they might never say in public. Somehow, the idea that they might actually meet someone who has read their ad and therefore has certain expectations (like that you’re 6’2” when you’re just pushing 5”10 or that you’ve got 8 inches when it’s closer to 5) doesn’t seem to register.
Apparently men also seem to think that classified and internet jargon is a safe way to be insulting. Of course I understand that if you are into a scene or look, you might as well let people know that up front. It limits the responses you have to wade through. However, there are ways to do and not do this. I’ve been chatting with guys who’ve asked if I was clean. Well, no as a matter of fact, I just got in from mucking the pigs. Of course I’m clean! If you mean am I HIV positive, of course I am but ask what you mean. What you’re saying is that I’m dirty or unclean because I’m HIV positive. I would have thought even the most insensitive person could see how insulting that is.
Another common classified phrase is HIV-UB2. My emotions are a little more complicated on this one. I am beginning to understand the more subtle fears and emotions that might contribute to a negative person’s desire to limit there interactions to negative boys. From my experience, I do see this attitude as somewhat dangerous in most incidents. What is it that you would do differently if the guy were positive? If anything came to mind for you, you’re taking some pretty significant risks. Does the person know for sure if they’re negative or do they just not know that they’re positive?
Two of my friends who tested positive last summer have discussed with me the fact that the rejection rate for positive guys on the internet is disproportionately high compared to other venues where gay men meet. Again, this is not surprising to me. It is much easier to turn someone down on the computer when you have several other guys you’re chatting with at the same time and when all of them are basically just a picture on the screen.
Of course some of the jargon and internet situations trigger all sorts of personal emotions for me. If I’m single, they can emphasize my fears and insecurities about ever finding someone that would be interested in “damaged goods” like me. The person using classified jargon likely doesn’t realize how the phrases perpetuate concepts like people living with HIV being “damaged goods”.
There is a whole classified jargon that I am slowly starting to understand through discussions with friends. While generous, I’m not likely to pay for sex and party favours in my mind are the little birthday hats and streamers that decorate the tacky baby shower type of party. If I can commit to learning more about this jargon and being honest in my communications, do you think that others might consider being a little more conscientious about how there jargon contributes to an environment of stigma, hurt and division in our community?