In Canada, AIDS is over.
I know it sounds like a shocking statement, but in my thesis the death of AIDS is not about the actual virus.
In Canada AIDS is a subject that's not talked about much anymore, unless it's in the context of where someone is yet again being charged with aggravated sexual assault.
World AIDS Day coverage, at least in Canada, has gotten less and less, signs that the western world is letting go of what was once considered a crisis.
Since we are at the beginning of a new year I have some predictions to make. And I hate to say it but on the federal level we are in the perfect economic and ideological landscape to see cuts made to most of the federal funding to AIDS Service Organzations (ASO’s.)
The federal government doesn’t like those organizations anyway. Cuts will fit in perfectly with their viision that they shouldn't need to fund a million groups. Meanwhile, in Ontario I can see the AIDS Bureau disappearing, if we get a Hudak win in the next Ontario provincial election.
One reason I say AIDS is dead is that we have now had generations grow up who are fully familiar with the existence of the virus. It is pretty normal to them, not like those of us from an earlier generation that can't remember life without the virus. It is something that is just part of life for them now.
On the advocacy front, loud demos will continue to achieve nothing with this present conservative government. My advice would be to work with both the NDP and Liberals, as one day we will not have Harper and their dimwits running the country.
Old school stigma-fighting techniques are not going to work anymore. I question the effectiveness of presenting us as news. I live with a virus, there is nothing much newsworthy about that. Suggesting otherwise is one more way to separate us into a state of "otherness". If we are in the news at all, they look at us like, ‘Thank god that’s not me” - and switch to the next channel.
One interview I saw read in the headline that someone with HIV “Escapes Death Sentence” All I will remember from that piece is death, and that’s it. That’s really not that helpful.
The AIDS star system of people who are public is great for a small community where people seem like big fish in very little ponds. I used to be part of this. I did lots of interviews. However I started in the 80s where the context was entirely different. In those days very few people were public, especially in the Prairies in Canada.
Another positive guy posted on Facebook "I am HIV positive and speak for those who can’t" and who uses his physique to garner most of his attention. (You definitely don’t speak for me.) His statement then includes the words stigma and discrimination. The only words I remember are HIV and negative attributes.
Shouldn’t we be focusing on building a voice for those people who feel trapped by stigma?
Much stigma, by the way, is in our minds. Yes, there are stupid things that go on, but overall I have to say I’ve not had that much happen. It’s not a popular thing to say, but people living with this virus need to take some responsibility in their lives to make it better and not play the victim role.
Our imagination comes up with all sorts of catastrophic scenarios for simply being ourselves.
If the AIDS world wants to create it’s own celebrities, go for it. But remember, being a celebrity for having AIDS, to the outside world looks really fucked up.
The people out there doing the real work are not one-person self-promotion machines. There are people doing great work such as Maria Mejia, Shawn Decker (born with HIV, uses humour, and plays in a band). Closer to home Alphonso King Jr. (D.J. entertainer) and Michael Burtch.
Here is a case where Shawn, touring in a band and being so public, is meeting people all over the U.S. who normally wouldn’t meet someone HIV-positive. This is what activism is going to look like in the future. The same with Alphonso; he is simply open about his life without making it his primary function. I like Michael Burch because he reminds me of me back when I was that age. He’s cute and he’s challenging our ideas about HIV and sexuality.
So you see I don’t hate everyone out there.
This is what we need more of - people being themselves first and positive second. Being open about one’s status when it's playing a secondary role is a lot harder than the other way around. It means being out with your friends, family, work environment, etc. It means being authentic.
For myself I’ve extended my openness about HIV into comedy. And I feel like I’m dong a lot more for HIV in a non-traditional peer environment. In this case, it is the stand-up comedy/performing community. I can tell you it’s much more difficult to be vulnerable while doing stand-up than in a CBC interview. When I get a twitter message from a comic notorious for his hard-core rape and pedophile jokes saying “#MuchRespectBrotha” I feel as if I’ve done something important. Here's a young 20-something-year-old who actually respects me, but also now understands HIV is no longer a faceless thing that happens to "skuzzy people".
So . . . that’s my long way of saying that I see
- ASO funding drying up.
- End of the AIDS Bureau
- Service delivery mostly moved over to government services such as public health and other agencies
- Old school advocacy not working
- “Exhibit A”- type speaks and media interviews becoming passé.
- Approaches to stigma becoming bottom up. Instead of high level campaigns and events, people need support to open up in their own lives and become their own heroes. But this means people who are positive have to get out of their self-imposed fear and take risks and responsibility for their lives and how people interact with them.
This won’t happen in just a year, but I see this as where the trend is going. Eventually I see HIV being so mainstreamed it’s just going to be one more communicable disease that public heath deals with and for which social service agencies handle patient's psychosocial and practical needs.
And that, my friends, is the death of AIDS as we know it.