As I wrote about here a recent Brock Press opinion piece got me revved up and I sent in a lengthy follow-up comment today after deciding, with another commenter declaring himself as gay, to disclose my sexual orientation as well as my HIV status:
I appreciate the dialogue this article has generated and, following up on Kyle’s views as a gay man, and “in the interest of full disclosure”, I also need to declare myself – not only as a gay man but as someone who, since at least 1989, has been living with HIV/AIDS.
If my initial response to the opinion piece was a little inflammatory I can chalk that up to the experience of years and years of stigma. In true Canadian fashion this is often subtle and even unspoken. This stigmatizing pokes its head out as simplistic, declarative statements such as from those who believe abstinence, for example, is as easy – and one size fits all – as Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no” campaign against drugs.
I was diagnosed a few years after AIDS began impacting North America’s gay community. It could be argued that the moment we heard about this mystery illness abstinence should have swept through the community like a tidal wave. However it did not and, besides, there were – and are – many other factors involved in bringing about behavioral change – as every HIV prevention program, like reproductive information programs before and since, shows.
In the African context it is often explained as a case of lack of empowerment of girls and women – as if the same could not be said about Canada where women represent a growing segment of the HIV-positive population.
In the gay male context, even with earlier ‘coming out’ and wider acceptance of homosexuality here in “western culture” than there was in my youth, there are many complex reasons for inconsistent success rates in HIV prevention programs.
Among youth, gay and straight, there can be a collective feeling of near-immortality. It’s just the couldn’t-happen-to-me way it is often. Even with the new reality of same-sex marriage, abstinence until marriage is unlikely to be the norm any more than it is among heterosexuals. While that might be an ideal to strive for, ours is not a Utopian existence, and even Desmond Tutu has called ABC, alone, naive.
Having made my position, and perspective, a little more clear I can also tell you that my life’s work for the past few years has been about extending the hope and survival I have experienced to anyone, regardless of where they live or how they became infected. My mantra, so to speak, has been a rhetorical question: what makes my life any more valuable, worthy to extend with antiretroviral medicines, than the poorest of the poor in less affluent countries?
To that end, Canada’s much-praised legislation a few years ago, making it easier for generic drugs to be made available in less-developed nations, has so far delivered not one single pill and Parliament needs to be pressed until this is rectified.