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Articles tagged with: lgbt

Dec23

Speaking in public about the lived experience

Wednesday, 23 December 2015 Written by // Patrick Italo Ettenes Categories // Activism, Gay Men, International , Living with HIV, Patrick Italo Ettenes

The UK’s Patrick Ettenes reflects on speaking publicly in front of an audience on World AIDS Day and shares a video of his speech in Manchester

 Speaking in public about the lived experience

What is love? I guess that is the biggest mystery, because nowadays we know so much about it and yet so little. Love has been spread out over the years into many classes - love for life, love for a person, love for a possession.   

We take it for granted, but the biggest love is a result of affection and feeling;  that’s what we believe. I’ve been in love many times, I watch my parents together for nearly four decades and it gives me hope and sadness at the same time. Wen would I ever get to experience such dedication? 

But then I kind of realized recently a whole new aspect of love.  

RuPaul’s famous words “How are you going to love anybody else, if you cannot love yourself?“ echoed in my head. Those words are easier said than done. We sometimes say we love ourselves, but with that comes protecting ourselves so much that we don't let in love from another for fear of being hurt.  

And here is where I realized something. Since my last article, certain activities started to roll out on the calendar, important ones. Here in the UK it was HIV testing week, followed by Worlds AIDS Day.  

Anyone and everyone who works in the HIV community around the world would know the significance and importance of this day. A lot of work, time, media coverage, campaigns and charities all work together to remember this day and bring more awareness to a day  of hard times from a not too distant past where many people like myself wouldn't have survived when the AIDS epidemic first exploded and started to take lives. 

After many years, I was asked to do the closing speech for the World AIDS Day ceremony held in Manchester’s  Sackville Park. 3-400 people would turn out to hear a speech I would give to close the memorial event. I accepted, of course; what I didn't realize was how I was going to feel. 

You see, what I mentioned before about love and my revelation about loving myself came to me and I started to tear up.   

I was proud of myself for doing something so meaningful and to be asked  was such an honour. I don't think I’ve ever really appreciated myself. And here is the part I think we forget through our lives, or maybe never really understand: how do we respect ourselves and realize that we are not as bad in our heads as we make ourselves out to be.

I know many of us are not in the position to do volunteering, or getting involved with the community, Some may read this and think “that’s all nice for him but what does this have to do with me?“ 

All I ever wanted was for you all to take from my stories hope. This isn’t a story just about me, it’s a story about yourself. Through every article I’ve ever written, I’ve left little messages in them, little questions for you to pick up on, so maybe it could motivate you. 

HIV has taken away a lot of us, and just when you think you have the ball in your court you realize it’s a lot more slippery than expected. But sometimes your situation opens up doors for you that are incredible, doors that would have never been there, if it wasn't for the situation you are in at the moment. 

Here is my speech. But before I go, I wanted to wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

********   

11 years ago, I remember an event that shook my world. This event changed and shaped the person I am today.  

It tore through me so quietly, and was so damaging, that it felt like my skin was slowly ripping away.  

Over the years I have lived with a virus that clung to me like a dark shadow. Every person I met would soon find out about THAT monster that hid under my bed.  Ashamed of this curse, this sin that followed me, I prayed to God for answers.  

What was its purpose? What was my purpose? Why at 20 years old, deeply in love with my boyfriend, did something like this have to happen? What am I to do with this? As if being me wasn't hard enough. 

Five years ago I walked into an organization that indirectly gave me a purpose, a voice, and an ability to write. People could hear and read my stories of my sadness and struggles coming to terms with a curse that engulfed me.   

One day someone came to me and said that my article saved their life. As they sat in the waiting room of the Manchester Royal Infirmary, absorbing their news, they said that as each second passed, a part of their heart and soul started to shift into darkness, they started to feel suicidal.  

By chance my article entitled “DEAL WITH IT” was lying right next to them.  This article was all about me sitting in a waiting room just like that guy, receiving my diagnosis and how I felt and how I overcame it. 

This man later found me on the street and said thank you. Thank you for saving his life. 

I am no different to many who have suffered, who have, and still are fighting to come to terms with a virus that has changed our world. We today are all connected one way or another through this epidemic. 

And on this day we remember everyone, near and far. And I wonder what message could I bring, an honour to myself, a nobody, from nowhere, why me? What words can I say to you all to give hope? 

Here is what I have to say.  

11 Years ago I contracted HIV. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. For it gave me a purpose, it opened my eyes, helped to understand who I am, and my empathy for others grew.  My journey taught me how to help myself, and teach others how to help themselves.  I’ve gotten into the minds of people and made them realize that it’s OK to feel ashamed, it’s ok to be scared, it’s ok to cry, freak out and break down. 

I hope that my kindness will pass on to someone else. 

You see HIV just didn't destroy many lives, it created new ones. In a way it brought many of us together. As we stand here in the cold, we are together, the person next to you, the person in front are all here for the same reason. And that reason should, and will always be why we are here today. 

Don't ever think that you are not important, for you are. 

In time your inner light will shine, and when it does, try and pass on that light of hope to someone else, because you never know who's life you might change, and who's life that person then can go on to change.  

Let’s not just use the word “positive” as in ‘HIV-positive’, but let us actually use it to be positive. Let’s take this curse and make it a blessing. 

Before I end I would like to thank one person who gave me a purpose. His name is Andrew Gulliver. He's the person who found me five years ago and made me realize that no matter how many times I failed I had a reason to be here. He believed in me, and believed that my stories could help others.  

Organizations like LGBT Foundation are a beacon of hope for many. They are the stronghold of life within our society and they should be encouraged, fed and watered, nurtured like a living being because they give life to those who feel like they have lost their own. 

Today, I don't just remember and pay tribute to an event that shook our world. Today I thank an event that changed my life for the better! Let us truly be positive from now on. 

Vulnerability gives us empowerment, and knowing your fears will make you invincible.  

Thank you.

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