As a woman living with HIV for less than ten years, I continue to consider my place in the HIV community, and wonder how the things I have learned while participating in this community have shaped my self-awareness, and my understanding of the wider communities I am a part of.
I have met some incredible people within this HIV world, and have experienced numerous barriers along the way. The “incredible” people inspire me to continue working in HIV, and I want to let you know a little bit about how this inspiration works, by telling you some things about how one particular man has helped me to feel included and important, even as the barriers creep in from a few directions.
This man is also living with HIV. He lives and works in southern Ontario (as do I), and he continues to hold a position of authority within an AIDS Service Organization that I have come to know well.
He has taught me about living well as an HIV-positive person who also works in the HIV community. He seems to work hard, probably long hours, but maybe not. He is always making connections between people, between ideas and opportunities, between organizations and issues.
His sense of humour, his pride in his own work and his own history, along with his analytical abilities have helped me to learn how to live and work well in the HIV+ community. His private life is not a secret, but it is only briefly exposed.
He has taught me some of the history of the HIV movement in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and the world. He has taught me why it is important to know some of this, in order to be more effective as an HIV-positive community member. He has pointed out ways for me to continue this learning process.
He has connected me to some of the people who are newly emerging as leaders in the HIV community. He has also connected me to others who have been, and continue to be, influential in the HIV community.
By staying connected to him, my exposure to this world will continue. By being connected to him, and picking up from the connections he has led me to, I can establish my own relationships with some of these people.
He has principles, and he shows how they have come about and how they can influence plans and actions. His work helps to keep these principles alive and relevant. He continues to learn through his actions, and by observing actions of those around him. He can adapt his principles to new and emerging situations that affect the lives and experiences of HIV+ people.
He does not take care of everything. He does not cause expectations to be built, especially when they are, or might be, unsustainable. He does not nurture a relationship of dependence. He makes no promises that he cannot keep. In fact, he makes no promises at all. He does, occasionally, make opportunities, and opens doors that might otherwise not have been seen.
I have learned, from him, to trust my own instincts in this community I am now a part of. He has led me to believe, without always saying so, that some of my instincts have been right. He has an empowering influence.
He makes suggestions. He plants ideas in my head. He might not even recognize some of the ideas that he has planted in my head. We are not so in tuned with each other that he would always recognize his part in some of the ideas that come to me. But I feel his influence, I feel his support, even when he is unaware that it has been given.
He is quietly an influence on my life. I expect this will continue for some time. I will make sure I continue to be exposed to his work, to watch how he follows his own instincts, how he makes his own transitions within the HIV community. I will try to nurture his ability to plant ideas in my head.
Some day, I will be able to tell him of the ways he has influenced me, in this HIV community work and in my own experience as an HIV-positive person. I expect he may be surprised to hear all I will have to say to him, about his influence.
About the author: Sandra Evans (not her real name) lives in southern Ontario and has been living with HIV for less than ten years. Since becoming Poz, she has volunteered and worked in the ASO sector doing peer support, volunteer co-ordination, group facilitation and research, while also working in other sectors. She cruises through the HIV social media world on a regular basis, and might just share some of what she has thought about as an occasional, but anonymous, contributor for Positive Lite. Stay tuned!"