There are few issues about which I feel more strongly than HIV/AIDS awareness and I take my advocacy/activism quite seriously, for a variety of reasons both globally-effective and intimately personal. I've found Twitter to be a fantastic resource for me in finding individuals, charity organizations, and hospitals/research centers to educate myself, lend support, and a million other uses when it comes to the disease. I cannot recommend it enough in this regard.
But...there's a downside, of course. For all of the people out there trying to educate, inform, and enrich life for everyone, there are just as many ignorant, corrupt, and hateful folks.
So -- one of the people I follow on Twitter (whose tweets are normally hilarious) posted a joke, a joke about HIV. Now, I firmly believe none of us should ever take ourselves so seriously that we can't find something to laugh at ourselves about, even if that laughter is in response to something as dire as illness, death, or catastrophe of some kind. I'm not saying I'm gonna do a 10-minute set of my best blond jokes at your funeral, but I have experienced the cathartic release of laughing at something truly devastating as a means of coping.
The tweet made me curious though; just how far would I be willing to go for a healing laugh? Are there certain subjects that are strictly verboten in any and every setting, or just around me personally?
With that in mind, I started digging around in the Twitterverse searching through thousands of tweets, and links, and blog posts for HIV/AIDS jokes. Believe me, there are A LOT and some of them are so repugnant I wouldn't even dream of sharing them here. Take my word for it, OK?
But the jokes are just that -- jokes. In bad taste? Of course! Not suitable for sharing in mixed company? Most definitely! But there is still an underlying intent of humor that cannot be denied, it softens the blow and makes them less painful, at least to me. But there's a lot of other talk going on out there, besides jokes and the tweets for doing good when it comes to HIV/AIDS. I'd like to share a tweet that stopped me dead in my tracks and caused me deep pain to even read:
"I feel the same way about people with hiv/aids as the nazi's did about the jews."
Now, all I know about the person who wrote this is that he lives in Iowa, has a wife/girlfriend, and generally likes to go out hunting, fishing and drinking with his buddies. I have no idea if there's some context that I'm missing, or if there's some extenuating circumstance that's not easily seen nor any of my business. But that doesn't change how I feel about it, right? Nor should it, if it's posted in a public forum such as it is.
The fact of the matter is, this young man (at least, that's what he looked like in his avatar photo) put this kind of ignorant hatred out into the world. Whether he believes it or not, was joking or serious, regrets it or is proud of it...it's there to inflict pain on anyone who reads it. At least, I should say, anyone who has any respect for the persecution and injustice that Jews withstood and suffered at the hands of fascist Nazis, or the pain, illness, and fear that anyone who has HIV or AIDS deals with on a daily-basis.
There are so many instances -- too many -- that emphasize the extremity of the hatred and intolerance that seems to be prevalent throughout our country these days. I know that I might be a tad hyper-sensitive about the whole HIV/AIDS issue, but to glibly liken yourself to a Nazi and their deplorable attempted genocide of the Jewish people?
And in such a sweeping, generalized way? I mean, I'd almost have preferred him saying, "...fags with HIV...", than to so callously throw all people battling this virus into his vile statement! Again...I'm utterly astounded and generally frightened to my core by this.
But that's what drives activism most assuredly, no? To be so affected by something that you feel compelled to action? I genuinely believe that all of us are capable of creating great change in any number of ways, but most definitely by simply sharing our experiences with the people we care about. So, I share this with all of you in hopes that it stirs you to action of some kind in making our world better for us all.
Where does that leave me and my (usually) inappropriate sense of humor then? I could get angry; ranting and raving at every offensive reference to HIV/AIDS, or find another approach. Is it possible to keep my sense of humor while trying to educate and raise awareness?
Let me share the line that started this whole voyage: "I wonder if people with HIV say 'I've got the Magic (Johnson) in me!'?" I think what offended me the most was...it's just not that funny. So, I replied to this tweet with my own: "No, we don't. We'll sometimes say, 'Let's go spread a little Magic!' though. (HIV Stigma isn't very funny, is it?)"
In a similar vein to the "Fighting Fire With Fire" approach, I've decided to combat this type of ignorance with better punch lines, sharper wit, and somewhat sardonic levity. Activism through comedy, if you will. Will I offend some people? Certainly. Will I make some people think about an issue differently? Maybe? I hope so. As they say..."See you in the funny pages!" LOL!
This post originally appeared on The Bilerico Project
Jim Swimm is a forty-year-old Texan transplant in New York City: Gay, HIV+ and simply trying to make the world a better place... “ ‘cause I’m a superhero like that”. You can follow him on Twitter @Jims_Whim