Charlie 31, Gay, Auckland
I was diagnosed with HIV in 2006 while I was living in Sydney. Some parts of that time stick out in my memory more vividly than others. I remember the diagnosis coming a week after turning 22 (which could go on record as the most dubious birthday present ever). I remember being determined that it wasn’t going to be the end of the world for me and I wasn’t going to fall to pieces or any of that. I was, and still am, of the mind-set that a manageable condition like being HIV+ isn’t the worst thing to happen to me in my life. What was harder to come to terms with and deal with in my opinion is the ignorance, misconceptions, and stigma about HIV.
With HIV, in this day and age and in a first world country such as NZ, you can take control of your health with access to a wealth of information, specialists in the field and ever-improving antiretroviral drugs. But what you have very little control over is how people respond to your HIV status. In my nine years being positive I have experienced the full myriad of responses, from the surprising to the unacceptable. The ugly side of HIV stigma: people treating me like I’m sick or dying, a time bomb, like I’m irresponsible or a pariah. I’ve had people use my status as a weapon to shame and hurt me on the scene, and people have painted me as a lesser person or unclean.
The negativity and counter-productive nature of stigma is, funnily enough, what made me want to start taking stock of my HIV. I joined the Institute of Many, an online group for HIV+ people and through it became more informed and secure about being positive. With the support of amazing and inspiring people I met there, I decided that I was ready to start living out loud and do my part to help. I publicly came out as HIV positive on World AIDS Day 2014, both on social media and in an interview with SameSame. The response has been overwhelming and gratifying.
The fact is I am happier and healthier than I have ever been in my adult life.
HIV isn’t a cause for shame or some dirty little secret. It’s made me a stronger and more compassionate person than I’ve ever been. I firmly believe that the more honest and frank discussion we have about HIV, the better.