Op-ed: Shedding My Stigma Inspired My Ride
I probably have more HIV-positive friends than the average gay guy, largely because of the work I do for organizations like AIDS/LifeCycle. And there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t worry about one of them getting sick or their HIV becoming unmanageable.
I start with this as the premise for what I’m about to write because, of course, I’d love to have a prophylactic that prevents transmission and also a cure.
But that’s not why I ride.
I may also have more HIV-positive friends because, unlike many of my gay brothers and sisters, straight allies, and even the homophobes, I no longer have any stigma around what it means to be HIV-positive. Ending that stigma and bringing together HIV-positive and HIV-negative people versus letting this disease artificially segregate them is the reason why I’m so passionate about AIDS/LifeCycle, and it’s why I ride.
My journey toward addressing my own stigma started five or six years ago, when I met a guy online named Corey. He was cute, funny, and we shared many common interests – it was definitely moving into dating. Then he told me he was HIV-positive.
At that time, my reaction was to completely shut down all lines of communication, and up until this last month, I didn’t speak to him again. I remember thinking that my reaction was typical, and I wrote it off for some time. Only a few months later, a close friend who is HIV-positive called to catch up, and I had a real moment of truth about my experience with Corey. What I had done was unintentionally but extremely hurtful, steeped in judgment and fear, and representative of a lack of knowledge and information and wisdom about the topic. I was ashamed of myself and moreover, thought of how hurtful this would have been to any of my close friends who are positive. I knew I had to change.
Like with most things I do, I do them quickly, decisively, and full force. I’m proud today to be HIV-neutral and to work within my community to change the stigma around HIV/AIDS. As with any stigma, the consequences here impact our ability to do most other things related to HIV/AIDS, like finding a cure, getting people access to the appropriate resources they need to stay healthy, and getting youth educated about sexual practices. Ending the stigma also stops the “poz-bashing” that I believe is so damaging and divisive.
AIDS/LifeCycle brings awareness to the disease, the people who have it, and the people who love or have loved someone with it. It is a physical, visual manifestation of a community coming together to address an issue, and hopefully, end the stigma associated with the disease as an outcome. That’s why I ride.