Now before we begin, you can go ahead and unravel that tight wad your panties have wound themselves into. This is not an article intended to promote the transmission of HIV and in no way is it meant to glamorize HIV/AIDS. Is it even possible to glamorize such an abysmal disease? I think not. But I have noticed that when an HIV-positive man takes a public stance without the “woe is me” pretense, that is the general dissent. To glamorize HIV would be like trying to Photoshop a picture of the Holocaust. No matter how you manipulate it, the ugliness remains. However, I am not HIV itself, and its time that people who are HIV-positive stop wearing the face of the virus as if it was their own.
Sometimes life can deal you a hand that can make you feel like you will never win. Being diagnosed with HIV is just one example. But unlike some other unfavorable traits that we carry in our deck, being HIV-positive can seem like the only card you have to play.
When I was diagnosed with HIV, all the characteristics that assemble the person who I am, both good and bad, suddenly seemed to fall to the floor. For months, it felt as if I was clutching this new card with an ugly plus sign close to my chest. The game of life continued, yet I found myself willingly sitting on the sidelines and forgoing any chance at making a play for happiness.
The worst part of HIV stigma is that it always starts from within. No matter what your background or level of HIV education, a positive diagnosis can send even the most self-assured into a tailspin of self-doubt. After I learned I was HIV-positive, I immediately began to see my reflection differently. My interaction with friends and strangers alike had a new sense of reticence. I vexed over the opinions of people that weren’t even real, yet they seeped into every pore. I assumed everyone would see me differently, because that was how I viewed myself.
But there is only so much self-pity a boy can take before nausea starts to kick in. There are two ways you can approach life. Either life happens to you, or you happen to your life. We have all been knocked down so hard we think we’ll never get up. No matter how long you choose to stay down with your eyes shut tight, eventually you have to open them and realize that you can stand again. And if you can’t stand, get a wheelchair. Unless you are dead, life can only get better… if you want it to.
Everybody is subject to gossip, ridicule and rejection. We all have to make a choice. You can either anguish over those that cause you to hurt or you can thrive off of those who only want happiness for you. No matter who you are or what your status may be, the two will always exist. Just make sure and check if your own hand isn’t holding the knife that has been wedged in your back.
Confidence is just waking up in the morning and knowing you have what it takes to make your own life good. If it is love or a relationship you seek, someone will believe that you are worth taking to breakfast the next morning only if you do. There are countless reasons why someone will reject you, but the right person will only stick around if you believe you are worth it.
Coming out as HIV-positive may seem like about as good of an idea as a face tattoo. If these feelings seem eerily familiar, it’s because they are the same ones you probably experienced when you came out of the closet the first time around. You fear for your job security; you worry about losing friends; and you don’t want to disappoint your mother. This fear of rejection will gnaw away at your self-confidence while you toy around in your newfound closet until you start talking. The more you talk, the easier it gets. Before you know it, you will find yourself holding a full deck of cards (and you might even find some new playmates). Most importantly, your reflection in the mirror will start to look like your own again, and it can be as glamorous as you want it to be.
Finding your way back to holding a full deck can be difficult after being diagnosed with HIV. But it is just that, one card out of many that you just have to learn to play. So what if you lose a hand or two (or a hundred), there will always be another game to be had.
I have been accused of making light of HIV. That is the furthest from my intentions. Becoming HIV-positive will change your entire life, but how it changes is solely up to you.
It can change it for the better, but only if you want it to.
So what are you waiting for? Get in the game!
TYLER CURRY created the Needle Prick Project as an editorial and visual campaign to elicit a candid and open conversation on what it means to be HIV-positive today. To learn more about the Needle Prick Project, visit Facebook.com/getpricked or follow Tyler Curry on Facebook or Twitter at @iamtylercurry.