Amor Vida: Living with HIV without stigma

By Jorge Diaz, MSW Clinical Social Worker

On October 15th we will celebrate National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, but before we celebrate, let’s have a conversation about stigma associated with HIV and how many of us are either rejected due to our status or are held responsible for our partner(s) health and well-being. Why do so many gay men reject and stigmatized those living with HIV? One would think that among our own community, we would be more accepting of this matter, but more and more we hear comments such as  “must be clean or disease free.” What the hell does it mean to be “clean?” When I hook up with a guy, I tend to show up “clean.” I mean, I showered and “cleaned out”before arriving. Is that what you mean about being “clean? “It’sheartbreaking to see people state “you must be disease free.” Oh I’msorry, I didn’t know I was a walking disease. How is it that we celebrated 35 years of fighting HIV yet we are living in a world of stigma and shame?

The dating and hook up game is not over simply because we are positive. Our status does not make us less “boyfriend material. “ And we certainly are not “promiscuous” simply because we are HIV positive. Every person living with HIV was impacted differently and every story is unique. If we as gay men do not begin to change our vocabulary and choice of words, we will continue to stigmatize those fighting HIV on a daily basis. If we don’t begin to reject and redirect those negative comments-we will continue to stigmatize the disease and those impacted by it.

This disease has changed and taken so many lives and so many of you continue to utilize other’s HIV status to destroy their perception of themselves or self-esteem.Living with HIV is a tough journey, finding love or dating should not be any harder due to our status. And then there’s the feeling of being “obligated” to disclosure.Many have different opinionson this matter and whether we agree or disagree, there are laws that continue to criminalize those living with HIV. However, do not forget that HIV disclosure is not an easy process. It’s a personal and difficult journey that you must be prepared to embark. However, you decide when and to whom you disclose. Self-acceptance comes before disclosure. We must be open about our status and not shame one another. Be bold and ask your sexual partner(s) their HIV status with no shame or stigma. We must continue to use the proper language and ask the appropriate questionsprior to sexual activity.Asking someone if they are clean or disease free is not a question, it’s an insult-fueled by shame, stigma and fear.