Wherever you may be reading this – at the kitchen table with a spoonful of cereal in your mouth, at the office while you should be working, on your cell phone as you wait for the bus – please stop and consider this: what if your doctor calls you in the next five minutes and says that you are HIV-positive? What is the first thought that would enter your head? What is your next step?
At least in my peer group, most of us have foolishly done something in our lifetime which allowed for the transmission of HIV. The fact that we either are or are not HIV-positive is often times a matter of chance and circumstance. Still, stigma and discrimination against those who are HIV-positive is rampant and worldwide. It is a snowball effect: discrimination leads to silence and silence contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS. Silence also creates misunderstanding and misinformation about what it is really like to live with HIV. A few of my friends have told me that they don’t want to get tested because they feel like their lives would be over if they found out that they were positive. Certainly life changes, but it is far from over. (Since 1993 the average life span after diagnosis has more than tripled from 7 years to 24 years.) As Magic Johnson and so many others have shown us, if you detect HIV early, take medication, and live healthily, you can still live a long meaningful life full of the ups and downs we all experience. And you can do so without infecting others.
Some brave bloggers are defying the stigma to fight against the silence. They are living and blogging openly about their HIV status, and in doing so they are providing support and information for others.
At Rising Voices we have created a guide to celebrate those brave bloggers, and to encourage others to join their ranks.
This is a project that has been in the works for a long, long time. In fact, I mentioned it nine months ago while I was in South Africa. Literally dozens of people have contributed to the guide’s creation, but it was Janet Feldman of ActAlive who took it upon herself to turn the vibrant soup of ideas into a 9-page reality that we’re all really proud of.
Throughout the creation of the guide I have become acquainted with many of the HIV-positive bloggers that we feature. Brian Finch’s dark humor kept me laughing. Pavel’s relentless determination never ceases to amaze. But it is Justin’s HIV Journal that has touched me the most. I think it’s because of how open and fearless he is in his writing and videos. It is difficult for anyone to live so openly in such a public space as the internet. I have experienced this many times myself. But for a black gay man to be so open about his HIV status while surrounded by so much stigma and discrimination … that really shows a lot of courage. And living so openly online has meant that he’s had to disclose his status offline as well. One of the most moving posts is directed at his two younger brothers after they discovered his status from his blog.
Justin seems to have a close family, a good job, and a supportive husband. His life is what we all aspire to. And I can’t help but think that this is so because of his outlook.