HIV is still a scary thing. I think that the first step to fighting this epidemic is to start talking about it. I now label myself as HIV-neutral, as the virus no longer has any transmittable power, not once it’s controlled by medication. I also hate an acronym, so I vowed to change HIV into ‘hope-is-viral’. Hope can be spread through both art and communicating openly about subjects that were once taboo, which is why I’m still writing and talking about them. I am unashamedly, unapologetically a proud out HIV+ gay man.
In my opinion, medically HIV does not kill people anymore but mentally and socially it still does. In my 7 years of being positive, that is the main area where we need to focus our efforts. Stigma is everywhere and people still hold onto those old narratives from the 80s and ’90s.
The LGBT community continues to face stigma, discrimination, and an increased risk for health issues like HIV/AIDS, which disproportionately impacts our population. It is very important for people in my LGBTQ community as well as people all over the world to get tested and know their status. First, you can save your life by knowing your status and getting on treatment- is not a death sentence anymore, and we can live long, productive lives with HIV and grow old.
Second, “treatment as prevention” means that if you know your status, you are not only saving your life, but you are saving other human lives too. We know that if you are on HIV medication and become undetectable (which means that the virus is dormant), it’s almost impossible to pass the virus to another person although I promote always using condoms to prevent others.
I urge everyone to take an HIV test annually and to be proactive with their health. I’m showing people that this virus won’t kill you and that you can live a long, normal, healthy life. We have to raise our voice and fight against this outdated health education, the stigma around the disease, and abstinence-based sex education, things working against us. I was quite restrained in terms of who I’ve told and I haven’t told in my family, though I’m naturally an open person.
When I came out as gay, there were relatives that said your ‘choice’ will mean you will get AIDS. Now I have HIV, I know there would be people who would say I told you so, all the gays have it and I don’t want to give them that pleasure. It’s sad that some people are hopelessly clueless, but that’s where we are. There’s a higher degree of stigma to this than almost anything I can think of HIV is no longer a death sentence, because of the medication, and the fact that I look after myself, my health is really good.
The public and the media aren’t aware that by being on treatment and having an undetectable viral load, people with HIV have a functional cure at the moment. I think there’s a risk that even with younger more liberal people, in their head somewhere is the incorrect ideas that you can catch HIV from toilet seats, handshakes, breathing on you, sneezes and things, right back to the 80s stigma.
When in fact, with undetectable status even if I kitchen knifed my hand by accident and bled all over you, you would be fine. Many people seem to feel like getting HIV would be the worst thing that you could possibly imagine. That fear is preventing a lot of people from getting tested. They’re exposing themselves and others to harm as a result and by not testing they’re missing out on the opportunity I had to get diagnosed early and get on top of it from the very outset.
I’m more careful about my daily habits. I used to push myself too hard when I was exercising but now I allow myself recovery time. Being open about my HIV is really important to me. There’s no shame. I’m a normal gay man, I didn’t do anything risky, I just crossed paths with someone selfish. That could happen to anyone and I want people to realise that. Once they will understand and realise it, that day I’ll able to say yes my India is truly independent. It’s no doubt a difficult task, people love to pint finger on me, still thinks it’s my mistake but I’m doing my part and I know it’s not only good for me but for my fellows, poz people of India who are suffering from this virus and this stigma is making there life hell. With our love, strong will, acceptance, compassion, we can end this horrible disease and make our future HIV free.
I suppose the reason I always share my beliefs and experiences is that I want people to know that having HIV isn’t always about life stories full of disaster and woe. For me, I’m not letting this get me down, I’m glad I got tested. I just wish everybody would because it’s so discreet, so confidential, so professional. Anyone that’s sexually active should be getting tested. I believe that I could be able to speak out about HIV and demonstrate to other people that, don’t judge someone, if you don’t know about something educate yourself and listen to a positive person telling you about who they are. See them as another human being, not just as somebody with HIV. Because we are the same people, it is just we have the HIV virus in us.
Ignorance isn’t always bliss. HIV was able to take many lives because we were ignorant about this disease. But we can ensure an HIV free world by making everyone aware of this disease. For a safe and better future, we have to change our mentality and spread awareness. Today, let’s make India and the world a better place for those suffering from this virus.