I have a couple of positive friends, but . . .
I’m suffering from education fatigue. One of the reasons I went so public about my status so many years ago was with the hope that I’d be able to make a difference for those who would follow. The rational thought was that as time went on people would become more educated and that lives for people living with HIV would get better.
The context then is different from today's. Back then hospital staff slid the meal trays into the rooms of patients on the floor for fear of entering. I was once not invited to a dinner party because of the old “you can get it from the dishes” stupidity.
Back in my Regina days around 1990, I had gone public by allowing my name to be on a Saskatchewan Health press release for a panel discussion that resulted in three days of media in English and French. I was even filmed while part of a phone-in radio as it was so newsworthy.
A week or so after that I had gone to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned. I didn’t know when or if I should disclose and I didn’t want to do it over the phone. I waited until I got there was no privacy. In the end I just got my teeth cleaned and I said nothing.
A few days later a pre-recorded interview aired on the radio. The dental assistant heard it resulting in her giving my confidential information to her husband. He called me at home. I was told about how they had to use condoms and get tested, which was completely ridiculous.
I explained that if his wife was a professional then she would follow universal infection control procedures. She called the agency I worked for. My greatest fear was that this would hit the media.
This is just one example of the irrational phobia of someone else becoming my problem. I’m tired of other people trying to make their problem my problem.
The positive guys were so afraid that anyone would discover their status that often the only health care they got was in emergency after being hauled there by ambulance.
At a clinic I went to for routine bloodworm the technician entered the room masked and gowned. I repeatedly asked why they were doing this, the answer: "You’ll have to talk to you doctor." I was looking at uneducated people treating me as if I had Eboli. I complained and the policy was changed to taking universal precautions.
What I had truly hoped is that the equation of time + education + treatment advancement would = less stigma, more rational thought and less phobia.
Instead the trajectory seems to be the further we go from the crisis years, the more phobia is present.
Just look at this 21 year-old who was taken out of a basket ball game in Florida because of his status.
Here in Israel, ignorance is bliss, and don't ruin it by sharing your status.
The result again is not dissimilar to telling someone that you carry the plague. This is why the HIV infection rates have gone up 55% in about six years.
Upon being asked my status and being rejected online, I got this first time and now a classic:
I have a couple of positive friends and I’m cool with that, but I can’t take the risk.
It's never good when you start saying "I have (fill in the blank) friends, but...(I'm not racists, HIV phobic or whatever).
The irony I never dealt with such stigma as I do now, or at least experienced in Israel. A month-long Skype conversational with a guy suddenly stopped when I got closer to coming to Tel Aviv. I didn’t want to fuck the guy, I wanted people with whom I could socialize.
I’ve written about him already, our status conversation went as follows:
“So how does that work?”
“You know one negative and one the other not”
“Like it does all the time.”
How about upon disclosing another time and being told, When I think of that I think of the devil.
Well at least that clears a few things up like why I love the Exorcist and horror movies so much!
This has created a culture of driving positive guys mostly underground where status is not revealed. If the rejection rate becomes about 95% what choice would you make? The more they act this way, the further underground positive guys are driven. The facts are that treatment and being undetectable means prevention. Prevention means lack of transmission.
I'm not sure what part of that is hard to understand. This at least is understood in Canada to allow non-disclosure when one is undetectable and using condoms. While this recently ruling was a step backwards in many ways, at least this this awknowledgement.
Of course there will always be those who aren’t comfortable with us or need to learn. However there does come a time when enough is enough already.
To be honest I’ve never felt this way before in all my time being out since the mid-80s.
I’m tired of the phobia. I’m tired of the irrational fear.
I felt I was lucky that I managed to get through the difficult days decades ago relatively unscathed. Here though, it's another story. It's very isolating psychologically.
This doesn’t feel good. It's not that I need to profess my status, but it is a large part of what I've done, who I am, the work I've done. Ironically those who are fighting to not have to hide their lives are forcing others to do just that.
But, ultimately I have no choice as I will always play the role of educator, like it or not. I just need to take a deep breath and continue. After 3 decades, I am suffering from teacher's fatigue.
Thanks for reading, as this is a rant I needed to get off my chest.