Many of you have likely heard the announcement from Charlie Sheen that he is HIV-positive.
When I first saw #CharlieSheen as a top trend on Twitter, I immediately wondered what ridiculous statement he had made this time. When I clicked the hashtag and saw the news, I immediately felt two things: first, compassion. It’s not easy news to get, and it’s certainly not easy news to share. Second, I felt a sense of panic; I felt panicked because this is what people will be talking about. The workplace, friends . .
Inevitably, “did you hear about Charlie Sheen?!” will come up in conversation. Given that nobody but my manager knows about my status at work, it could lead to some interesting comments…
I also made the mistake of doing what I should not have done… I scrolled through some of the comments. My heart sank as the level of misunderstanding about HIV became obvious. The stigma that exists is so potent. I saw comments about how Charlie Sheen must be gay, or that this was just a matter of time, or how he deserved this. I refuse to share any of them here, because I’m so disgusted and hurt by them.
HIV doesn’t just happen to gay men; it can and does happen to anybody. Nor is it something that people “deserve.” I got HIV because of an unfaithful partner. Did I deserve to be cheated on, and deceived?
This post isn’t even fully-thought out, because I am so incredibly sad to see the lack of awareness or compassion in people for a virus that can and does happen to anyone. It isn’t just for “risky” or “promiscuous” people. You can be born with HIV.
If someone comes across this post, I want them to know who I am. I want them to know I am healthy, active and happy. I want them to know that if and when I become sexually active again, that I won’t and don’t hide my status because ethically, morally and legally, I am required to disclose.
I want you to know that I didn’t get HIV by having multiple partners, by abusing narcotics or doing something “dangerous.” I was diagnosed after someone I loved lied to me, cheated on me and did not consider the consequences of unsafe sex with someone outside of our what was supposed to be monogamous relationship.
I want you to know that I take one pill, once a day and the level of HIV in my blood is undetectable. I’m not cured, but I am healthy.
I want you to know that HIV and AIDS are not the same thing.
I want you to know that I work full-time, in a job that I love, with people who can’t tell I have HIV by looking at me.
I want you to know I have a family and friends who care about me.
I want you to know that your mean comments about Charlie Sheen impacted a person living with HIV. I want you to know that you can stop the stigma and learn more about HIV, and instead of judging, you should have a bit of compassion.
This article previously appeared in Josh’s own blog The Plus Side of Life here.