We are at a watershed. That watershed is exemplified by the knowledge that with an undetectable viral load I cannot transmit HIV. That is huge. But how did we – how did I – get to that place?
One of the really great things about my contracting HIV has been the renewed sense of purpose I have and the way it has galvanized me to learn and do what I can to further the struggle against this epidemic and the multitude of social and economic factors that fuel it. I've always had these concerns. But in the time just before my diagnosis I was in a hopeless place, my hope replaced by cynicism and anger, my resolve blunted and a sense of being overwhelmed hanging over everything. I was looking for the next step but not seeing it. HIV gave me something I was sorely missing: the chance to feel wholeheartedly about something.
My HIV diagnosis reminded me of what's important to me and helped me to rearrange my life accordingly. And immediately after I was diagnosed, I began to meet the most wonderful people. A lot of them are people living with HIV, just as I am. They come from all walks of life and most of them have a hell of a lot to say. Some of it I agree with, some I don't. That's OK. I'm not impervious to reason and those conversations are important to me.
Meeting these new friends with whom I feel so much commonality and having the chance to work with them, with the accompanying realization that we are all more similar than different, has been a strongly affirmative factor in my post-diagnosis life.
That's not to say there aren't things that get me down. Stigma, the enemy of people with HIV everywhere, ranks high on my list. Don't get me wrong, these days there's plenty of good news in the HIV continuum. But stigma and prejudice are alive and well almost wherever I look and I spend a lot of my waking hours looking. Now that I'm assistant editor here at PositiveLite.com (can world domination be far behind?) my life has more or less become a kaleidoscope of all things HIV.
It isn't stigma about just HIV; it's about who we are, or who we fuck or what we do for a living or what sort of drugs we take, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseam. Sometimes it comes from within our own ranks, but for years now, HIV has provided a handy excuse for those uninfected who are so inclined to persecute and prosecute HIV's “key populations.”
So when those same key populations were not recognized at the High Level UN meeting on HIV/AIDS, that was stigma in action. And when I read recently that a consensus was emerging at AIDS 2016 in Durban that there isn't enough money being put on the table to treat everyone, that was stigma in action too. And when I read, for another example, that “Any person in Kenya can now be legally tortured to find out if they are gay” (that'll really encourage people to get tested, won't it?) that’s stigma to the nth degree, alive and as hateful as ever.
And closer to home, in North Bay Ontario, a friend's HIV status was recently outed by someone she trusted. As a result, she soon found that no one would speak or have anything to do with her. The main complaint seems to have been that she had endangered some of them by sharing a joint. So she was shunned and driven from the community.
That's stigma as well and it diminishes us all. And it gets me down.
"The Undetectable = Uninfectious message, although some may quibble with the language, is a rare opportunity for people living with HIV to own the issue of combatting stigma. I want it to be the broom that sweeps it aside."
But right now I'm feeling really, really up and the main reason for this is the Prevention Access Campaign and the fact that PositiveLite.com has endorsed its message. That message is a simple one: undetectable equals uninfectious. Prevention Access Campaign with NYC’s Bruce Richman its most visible spokesperson, is a global initiative to coordinate and improve messaging, marketing and access to HIV prevention. You can read the consensus statement here.
The Undetectable = Uninfectious message, although some may quibble with the language, is a rare opportunity for people living with HIV to own the issue of combatting stigma. I want it to be the broom that sweeps it aside. As a person living with HIV I am thrilled to think of what can happen as the message and the science behind it continue to penetrate the courts and our culture at large. And I'm even happier about the fact that this campaign is being driven by people who are living with HIV.
That's what's different. It's knowledgeable peers who have studied the science well letting other peers in on what the science tells us. Many are unaware they are uninfectious or have been told otherwise, or the science has been misstated. The facts badly need to get out. So it's about us doing just that while taking control of our narrative, our lives and our future in a way that's never been possible until now..
I think Uninfectious = Undetectable will have far-reaching ramifications sexually, legally and as a tool for combating the stigma and prejudice that remain for many of us - the most punishing thing about contracting HIV these days.
So yes, we are at a watershed moment. The science supports us and we need to ensure that the law starts to as well. But it's up to us to take ownership of this message in our own lives and in our advocacy for others. If there ever was a time to call out ignorance and prejudice wherever we find it, now is that time.
This campaign and the conversations that come out of it represent an important step on the way to ensuring a modicum of dignity and freedom for people living with HIV in this country and abroad.
I'm thrilled to endorse the Undetectable = Uninfectious campaign. As a person living with HIV I wish everyone would. I can’t think of anything more empowering or capable of improving our lives by changing the way we think about HIV.