So here we are . . .
I have to say that I have learned a lot over the past few months. This campaign – although primarily constructed for us to engage with one another about the environment of HIV stigma that we all live in – has opened my mind to try and understand some other interesting constructs of “our reality”. In considering what it means to be a young HIV negative gay guy of colour trying to navigate my way through the world of HIV and related fear, shame and guilt I have found myself asking some really difficult questions. Some of my blogging is reflective of those exponential thought processes and, I hope of my growth as well.
Before this campaign I had always placed myself in the very positive yet sedentary category of “ally” when it came to the issue of HIV stigma. My understanding of the issue, not unlike the understanding of many other HIV negative gay guys I know, merely followed the linear “1. I do not have HIV, 2. This isn’t really an issue for me, and 3. I don’t think I discriminate against positive guys” model of thinking. Through the rich and albeit at time difficult/emotional dialogue that I have participated in through this website, lunchrooms, bars and sidewalks stemming from the campaign I have learned and come to a realization of where and how I fit into the picture – and it wasn’t always pretty. There were a lot of things that I was doing (not discussing sero-status before sex, buying into “clean-UB2” type language etc) that negatively contributed to the experience of positive guys. Digging a little deeper, I found that a lot of the reasons that I was engaging in these harmful behaviors was because I didn’t realize how it was impacting HIV stigma – there was NO DIALOGUE in my community, social networks or otherwise. But I hope that this is changing. I believe this campaign is an important beginning step in that change.
Creating a space (even if it was in cyberspace) where we could honestly discuss our feelings, thoughts and perspective about these hard-hitting issues has helped me tremendously in my development as a person and as an advocate. I use the term advocate because being an “ally” isn’t good enough anymore. I believe that I, just like you, have a role to play in combating HIV stigma. This means questioning and calling out friends and family and community members who are participating in activities that contribute to stigma. This means being open to the idea that each of us carries some responsibility in the healthy development of our “communities” regardless of what that looks like because we are all stakeholders. This also means being conscious of the fact that stigma doesn’t just happen but stems from within us.
I would like to extend a sincere thank you to all of the bloggers, participants and individuals with whom I have crossed paths with in this journey. Good look to all of you and I look forward to growing together again in the future.